Jake Arrieta said it really hit him after a terrible outing against Triple-A Gwinnett on Aug. 7, in which he allowed five earned runs and lasted just 3 2/3 innings.
Arrieta stewed on Norfolk's bus ride that night — "I had a long internal conversation with myself" — and then he picked up the phone the next morning and called sports psychologist Don Carman, who spent 10 years in the majors as a pitcher.
They had worked together a few years ago, and Arrieta, the Orioles' 2012 Opening Day starter who had compiled a 6.13 ERA in 18 starts this year before his demotion, felt he needed Carman's perspective. Carman told him to simplify things, to clear his mind of expectations and pressures and just throw strikes.
"I had so much clutter in my mind, I just had so many thoughts racing through my mind at one time that it was so hard for me to put all of that aside and just pitch," Arrieta said. "You never know what it's going to be that helps you click. But talking to Don was one of those things."
Arrieta, who was in the Orioles' clubhouse Thursday and will be activated Friday to likely pitch out of the bullpen, struggled in his next start for Norfolk before turning things around on Aug. 17 against the Gwinnett team that lit him up two weeks before.
In Arrieta's final four outings at Triple-A, the 26-year-old right-hander allowed just nine hits and nine walks and struck out 31 batters in 24 2/3 innings. His ERA in those games was 1.82; he had a 5.75 ERA in his first six starts after his mid-July demotion.
"I could have been in rookie ball my first few starts down there, I wasn't going to have success. I wasn't going to pitch well. I was so stressed on throwing seven innings or not giving up this amount of runs, I was so far away from the thought process that I need to be successful at any level," Arrieta said. "In my last four starts down there, I took the mound with one thought: That was giving everything I had for each pitch individually. Not only did I start to get the results I was looking for, but I started getting that clarity of mind."
Arrieta said he expects to start for the Orioles at some point in the future, but right now he is excited to come back and contribute to a team in the pennant race. Although he doesn't have much experience pitching out of the bullpen — he did it some in college — he's embracing any opportunity to help.
"You have to be able to adapt, and right now our rotation is throwing well, so I have no problem throwing out of the bullpen. No problem with coming into any situation where our team needs me to get outs. Whether that is as a starter or reliever, I am ready for it," Arrieta said. "I think long-term there is no question I will start, but right now I'm just here to fulfill a need for this team, no matter what it is."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Arrieta's role has not been determined yet. Showalter is looking at Arrieta as another good option in a season that surprisingly has been filled with them.
"We know that Jake is capable of pitching real well. I think he's got the potential to have some real good outings for us if we choose to go that way," Showalter said. "The organization has done a good job with presenting us with options."
Ripken on Machado
Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. was honored Thursday — the 17th anniversary of his setting the majors' consecutive games played streak — with the unveiling of his sculpture in the center field plaza and with an on-field ceremony before the game.
In a news conference after the festivities, Ripken was asked about the Orioles' new shortstop phenom who is currently playing third base — 20-year-old Manny Machado.
"You can't help but be impressed. His poise, his maturity," Ripken said. "I think him coming in playing third base has helped stabilize the Orioles' defense."
Machado, considered the Orioles' shortstop of the future, was called up Aug. 9 from Double-A Bowie and has started every game since at third base, a position he played just twice in the minors. Machado has excelled defensively, making just one error. And that was on a play that should have been ruled a hit.
"I had a chance to talk to [Machado] at the All-Star Game. He really understands himself, he really understands the game and he understands what he has to work on," said Ripken who initially was a third baseman before being moved to shortstop in 1982. "I think ultimately it will help him a lot by playing third. If he does go back to shortstop, he'll be a better shortstop as a result of his experiences at third. But right now the Orioles are a better team with him playing third every day."
Tillman hopes to pitch soon
Right-hander Chris Tillman, who had to leave Sunday's game in New York due to elbow discomfort after pitching three innings, was scheduled to be re-examined by team doctors Thursday, just prior to the game.
Diagnosed with inflammation of the ulnar ligament, but nothing more serious, Tillman is hoping to be cleared to play catch Friday. He's been skipped in the rotation for the Yankees' series, but Showalter hinted that he could be available to pitch out of the bullpen.
Tillman said he hasn't had any pain since Sunday night, and he's hoping to pitch soon.
"I feel fine," said Tillman, who is 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 11 starts for the Orioles. "The only time I really felt pain, other than when I was pitching, was that night. It was a little throbby and achy, but that's all it really was. An achy, dead kind of feeling. I had a feeling that's what it was [only inflammation], because I've dealt with this kind of thing before."
Around the horn
Before Thursday's game the Orioles held a moment of silence for , the former Ravens owner who died Thursday at age 87. … Ripken was announced to the crowd again before the fifth inning and received a lengthy standing ovation from the capacity crowd. … Lefty Troy Patton (right ankle sprain) will throw Friday from a flat mound in Sarasota, Fla., and if that goes well, he will throw from a regular mound Monday. The Orioles will set a timetable for Patton's return after that outing. … Designated hitter Jim Thome (herniated disk in neck) saw a doctor Thursday and is being slowed down a bit as he tries to ramp up his return. There is no timetable set for Thome re-joining the Orioles. … Right fielder Nick Markakis is dealing with a nasty biceps bruise after being hit by a pitch Monday in Toronto, but he's playing through it.