Nearly one year after the Orioles cut ties with right-hander Bud Norris following a disastrous first four months of the 2015, Norris has resurrected his career and is back pitching for a contender.
Meanwhile, the Orioles' current starting rotation has its share of holes. Two members of the Opening Day rotation — right-handers Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson — have been jettisoned to Triple-A Norfolk. Despite his own struggles, right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez remains, in part by default and in part because of the money owed to him through 2017.
Norris — who was designated for assignment by the Orioles at last year's trade deadline — signed with the Atlanta Braves, a rebuilding club needing a veteran to round out its rotation. And despite a short stint in the bullpen, Norris' resume was impressive enough for the Los Angeles Dodgers to acquire him last week in a trade for prospects.
And in the Orioles' Wednesday afternoon series finale at Dodger Stadium, Norris make his second start for his new team against his old team. Norris is familiar with the feeling — when the Orioles acquired him from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline in 2013, he simply changed clubhouses at Camden Yards and pitched against Houston later that series.
"My first Baltimore start was against the Astros, so that in itself, you definitely have a little extra adrenaline," Norris said. "I know how to pitch in that situation. I have some great friendships on that team. … But no hard feelings toward the organization at all. I really love Baltimore. I love the city. I loved my time there. I just wish it didn't end the way it did, but it will be fun to see them on the field. The other thing is they're in the American League, we're in the National League, so if we see each other [again] it will be in the World Series."
Norris' resurgence is less of a cautionary tale of what the Orioles rotation could be and more of a reminder that a pitcher's success is cyclical. When the Orioles released Norris last August — he finished the season in San Diego — he battled a lengthy stint with bronchitis that zapped his strength. When he returned from the disabled list, he struggled, and a move to the bullpen didn't help. With the Orioles needing room to add deadline acquisition Gerardo Parra — and Norris boasting a 7.02 ERA — the team ate the remaining $8.8 million Norris was being paid in his final season before free agency.
Norris was 3-7 with a 4.22 ERA with the last-place Braves, but he posted a 2.15 ERA in five starts since returning to the Atlanta rotation and held Colorado to two hits over six scoreless innings in his Dodgers debut on Friday.
"He's got a good arm," Showalter said. "It's just a change of scenery, getting a start-over [helped him]. Bud's a good pitcher and we've all seen that. Timing is everything. I'm happy for him. I know it really bothered him that he couldn't make a contribution that he's capable of. Now he's in a place where he can do that. He was pitching well in Atlanta."
Former Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who was released in the final days of spring training so the team could free itself of most of the $5.1 million he was due to make in arbitration, is currently a contributor for the contending Chicago White Sox. Gonzalez's 1-4 record and 4.88 season ERA is pedestrian, but he has logged three quality starts in his last five outings, and he still remains a force against AL East competition.
Meanwhile, the Orioles rotation is coming off a four game series in Seattle in which they accounted for only 18 innings in the four games in Seattle, and allowed 21 runs while doing it. On the season, the Orioles starters' 5.15 season ERA ranked 14th out of 15 AL clubs, and their 32 quality starts are tied for second-fewest in the AL.
And the Orioles currently field just three starting pitchers. Jimenez's spot remains in limbo, and they don't need a fifth starter until following the All-Star break, so they are going hope to piece it together between now and then.
"We're trying to leave Mike [Wright] alone right now," Showalter said. "We're trying to get guys down there with major league experience to provide some depth, but we've got to have five here, too. We're able to do some things because of the All-Star break and the off day. We currently don't have five starters on the roster that have been starting for an extended period of time, so like most teams do this time of year, you're kind of playing with the off days coming and how you're going to line up after the break, which we've already looked at.
"We have, what, six games left?" Showalter added. "So put our best foot forward, like many nights here, it's let's see where we are when the smoke clears and see how we attack the next day. It's real tough here on the west coast because you really have to be ahead of it. … You have to be a day and a half ahead."
With the trade deadline looming at the end of the month, the Orioles' top priority will unquestionably be getting the rotation on better footing. Showalter indicated the Orioles actually asked the Braves about Norris about before he was dealt to the Dodgers.
"There were a lot of people talking about him, including us," Showalter said. "As usual, the Dodgers had more to offer."
As for Norris, he admitted that he probably benefited from getting out of the American League East. Pitching in Atlanta suited him well, especially as he gained confidence in his cutter — a pitch he seldom used in Baltimore but replaced his changeup with.
"The one thing you really have to remember is that that's the American League East," Norris said. "That's the toughest division in baseball. I've played in a couple now and those ballparks don't help pitchers. I've said it before. The AL East is all about the bombers and that's what the team markets to a certain degree, but I know what that staff and what we did that year [in 2014] and how we really picked up off each other's back, especially in the second half.
"To win the East by the margin we did, that spoke volumes to the defense, the guys behind the plate and the starters on the mound," Norris added. "Starting in the American League East is that difficult, to be that consistent [is tough]. …. It's a tough division and it's a growth process for young pitchers to figure it out. You're not trying to play two years, you're trying to play 10, and as a starting pitcher, it's tough."