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Jake Arrieta emerging as frontrunner for Orioles' No. 5 starter role

The Baltimore Sun

Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta made a huge push toward solidifying his case for the team’s fifth starter spot on Thursday night, tossing six shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates -- his third straight scoreless Grapefruit League outing -- at Ed Smith Stadium.

Arrieta hasn’t allowed a run over 14 2/3 innings in his past three spring outings. He allowed an unearned run in an exhibition start against Spain’s World Baseball Classic team in the outing before that stretch.

In five Grapefruit League outings, Arrieta has allowed just three earned runs and 11 hits, recording a 1.56 ERA with 16 strikeouts and eight walks.

“I think the one thing I need to clean up a little bit, to be better at getting ahead of guys and put them away when I’m in favorable counts. I did a better job of that today,” Arrieta said.

As the final week of spring games approach, Arrieta is entrenched in battle with Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz and Zach Britton for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. But Arrieta’s six-hit, nine-strikeout, two-walk performance against the Pirates has to make him the front-runner.

“He probably could have given you seven tonight, so that’s deep in the game,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s getting better. I would like to have seen him a little sharper out of the windup. He’s a different pitcher out of the stretch. He’s a lot more compact, but the breaking ball, everything was working. He didn’t throw many changeups. I thought the slider was pretty good tonight, too, [and] of course the curveball.”

For his second straight start, Arrieta battled through adversity to keep a shutout intact. He stranded five runners in scoring position on the night.

Most impressive was Arrieta’s aggressiveness in the strike zone. Sixty-four of his 88 pitches were strikes and he consistently threw first-pitch strikes.

Arrieta allowed four of the six Pirates hits against him from the windup. And eight of his nine strikeouts came from the stretch. Of his 57 pitches from the stretch, 45 were strikes.

“If we can get that out of the windup we can have a pretty solid outing,” Showalter said. “He had good crisp stuff on a pitcher-friendly night.”

For his second straight start, Arrieta battled through adversity to keep a shutout intact. He stranded five runners in scoring position on the night.

In the fourth, he faced two on and one out before striking out Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes to end the inning. With runners at the corners and one out in the fifth, Arrieta struck out Pirates cleanup hitter Pedro Alvarez and induced a long fly out to right from Garrett Jones.

“I think a big thing for me last year was not being able to minimize damage when I got into [difficult] situations,” Arrieta said. “Things just kind of got out of control and I just wasn’t able to manage it. So that’s my mind set when I get the leadoff guy on or there’s two guys on in the inning. Just give up one and get back in the dugout and keep your team in it. That was my mind set when guys got on base early with less than two outs. I made a lot of good pitches to get out of the inning with no runs.”

Asked if Arrieta believed he’d made a strong case for the fifth rotation spot, he said: “I think so. But it’s not in my hands. I feel all I can do is go out there and show that I belong on the team and after that, it’s their decision.”

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