Orioles' starting pitching continues to disappoint

For the second time in a little more than a year, the Orioles will hold a bobblehead night on Saturday for a young player who will not be on hand to enjoy it.

That couldn't be helped, because the promotion — like a similar one honoring Nolan Reimold last May — was scheduled well before erstwhile top pitching prospect Brian Matusz was shipped off to Triple-A Norfolk, but it also can't help but focus more unwanted attention on the Orioles' sputtering attempt to grow enough arms to compete in the American League East.

This was supposed to be the year that a very promising group of young pitchers crystallized into the starting rotation of the future. Instead, their apparent leader came up sore on the first day of the regular season and every one of them has, for one reason or another, failed to establish himself as a sure bet to be a productive member of the staff in 2012.

Matusz is attempting to build up his arm strength with the Tides after a mysterious decline in velocity. Jake Arrieta is headed to California to find out if he needs surgery to remove a mass in his pitching elbow. Rookie Zach Britton, battling to regain his confidence and command after a devastating midsummer slump, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Throw in the struggles of Brad Bergesen and the stalled development of23-year-old Chris Tillman and it's hard to envision the Orioles being at all competitive next year without a dramatic turn of fortune or an infusion of talent from outside the organization.

Of course, it's theoretically possible that Matusz will find himself by next spring, Arrieta will avoid extensive surgery and Britton will be back feeling like he can shut out the world. While we're at it, we can also fantasize about Tillman taking a developmental leap back into a regular slot in the rotation.

The way things have been going lately, however, you'd have to be in a Kool-Aid-induced coma to dream up that much good fortune. The Orioles are riding a bad-luck streak that started with Matusz's Opening Night intercostals strain and is showing no sign of abating.

If you want proof of that, all you have to do is dissect the hours leading up to Friday night's series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles roster was in such disarray that manager Buck Showalter was still trying to finalize his lineup less than an hour before first pitch.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy, who recently signed a three-year contract extension, came back from Kansas City with a sore ankle and was not in the starting lineup. He's expected to undergo an MRI on Saturday morning.

New first baseman Chris Davis was in the original starting lineup, but Showalter scratched him before the game without explanation, inserting Josh Bell into the lineup at third base and moving Mark Reynolds to first.

Britton went on the 15-day DL with a shoulder problem that was pretty much news to everybody, though it might explain why he has struggled with his command and lacked movement on some of his pitches.

The result of all this is that the Orioles now have just one starter (Jeremy Guthrie) who has remained in the rotation from the start of the season, and speculation persists that they may try to deal him ahead of his final shot at salary arbitration — as impractical as that may seem at the moment. In the meantime, Showalter has been unable to project his starting pitcher more than a day or two at a time.

Obviously, the club is hoping that newly acquired right-hander Tommy Hunter will be able to fill one of the holes, but his first O's start Friday night was not particularly auspicious. He gave up four runs and allowed nine base runners over four innings before giving way to reliever Troy Patton.

Dealing for Hunter made sense at midseason, but the Orioles cannot stop there. They must go into the offseason with pitching as a top priority, even if there is every indication that Matusz, Arrieta and Britton are going to be ready for spring training.

The front office knew going into the season that the Orioles could not weather a string of key pitching setbacks.

Hopefully, they will not be so vulnerable next time.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal com.

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