Of all the positive signs that have developed for the Orioles over the past month and a half, none has been more pleasing to new manager Buck Showalter than the sight of the organization's young pitchers getting better as the season has gone on.
In what could be his final start of the 2010 season, rookie right-hander Jake Arrieta provided the latest visual Tuesday night, throwing six scoreless innings before the Orioles bats took over in an 11-3 pounding of the Toronto Blue Jays in front of an announced 16,589 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (57-88) turned what was an uncomfortable lead over the home run-happy Blue Jays into a rout with a six-run seventh inning, matching their highest scoring output in an inning this season. Their eight-run win was their largest margin of victory in 2010.
The Orioles had 16 hits, with every starter getting at least one and six players recording multi-hit games. Matt Wieters had three hits, and Nick Markakis and Adam Jones each hit a home run. Robert Andino had two hits and drove in three runs with a bases-clearing double in the sixth.
"It was just one of those innings where we just exploded," said Andino, who got the start at second base in place of a hobbled Brian Roberts. "We had great momentum, good chemistry. Everyone was just having fun."
The tone, however, had already been set by Arrieta, who didn't buckle while locked in an early pitching duel with Blue Jays right-hander Shawn Hill.
"I think we've really turned the corner as a team, defensively, offensively, our starters, our bullpen," said Arrieta, who allowed just four hits and a walk while striking out five. "Everybody's just stepping their game up. Obviously, Buck has something to do with that, but the players, we're the ones out there getting the job done. But Buck deserves a lot of credit for the things he's done with this team. It just feels real good to win games like we are right now."
The victory, their eighth in the past 10games, clinched the Orioles' fourth straight series victory, something that they hadn't accomplished since August 2004. They are 25-15 under Showalter, and they'll go for a series sweep of the Blue Jays tonight after losing the first 12 against them this season.
"I think a lot of it feeds off pitching. They always say momentum's the pitcher the next day, and I think that's real true," Showalter said. "Our pitchers have been attacking the strike zone a lot more. I look down at my sheet every night with the walk totals. ÃÂÃÂ There's a certain presentation that young pitchers have to have to other teams. You can't be iffy because they sniff that and they run through that in a hurry. They're trying to smell, I don't want to say fear, but anxiety. You have to trust your stuff.
"I told all these young pitchers, 'Don't go home at the end of the day and go, "Gosh, I wish I had been a little more aggressive because I didn't like it ended up being that way." Let the pellets fly, man. See what happens.' "
Orioles starters have posted seven quality starts in the past eight games, with the exception being Brian Matusz's injury-abbreviated outing in Monday's series opener. The starters are 4-0 with a 1.79 ERA during that span, and going further back, the rotation has pitched to a 3.00 ERA in 40 games under Showalter.
Arrieta (6-6) has figured prominently during that run. He has allowed three runs or fewer in five of his past six starts. In his past three outings, he's 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA and has walked just two batters in 17 1/3 innings. He had issued at least two walks in each of his first 15 big league starts.
"I think it's just a matter of finally getting comfortable and knowing I don't have to give these hitters as much credit as I might have thought I needed to initially," Arrieta said. "That just comes with experience and innings."
Arrieta, 24, has logged 173 1/3 innings in 30outings between Triple-A Norfolk and the Orioles. His previous career high was 150 2/3 innings, set last year in 28 combined starts between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk. The Orioles consider 30 innings over a young pitcher's previous high as being a "danger area," so it's very possible the fans who gave Arrieta a partial standing ovation after he left the mound after the sixth have seen the last of the right-hander this season.
"Ask me tomorrow," Showalter said when asked whether Arrieta had made his final start of the season. "It's possibly my last one, it's possibly yours. One-hundred eighty-ish [innings] is probably the limit you take him. He's about 20-plus over [his previous career high], so that's a real quality question. If he hears something about that, he'll hear it from me first."
Arrieta is hoping he doesn't hear about it at all.
"I definitely don't want to be shut down," Arrieta said.
"I'd like to finish the season out with everybody. The rest of the guys are going to be here working for the last two or three weeks of the season, and I want to be doing the same thing. But anytime you finish the season, you want to finish on a high note. If something like that were to happen, an outing like this is a good one to end on. But I'd like to make my last two starts."