A year ago, the Orioles’ starting pitching didn’t look very strong. It’s a lot stronger now.
For the first half of the season, the Orioles had a fairly set rotation: Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel, Brian Matusz and Wei-Yin Chen.
Hunter was sent down to Norfolk briefly with Dana Eveland taking his place.
As the All-Star break neared, only Hammel and Chen were pulling their weight. Arrieta, Hunter and Matusz all were sent to Norfolk.
Hammel missed substantial time after right knee surgery, but manager Buck Showalter showed his faith in him by pitching him in the first game of the Division Series.
Chen was the only starter to stay in the rotation for the entire season.
His transition to the major leagues went well, and he was especially well-liked by his teammates.
Despite his ignorance of football, he was a willing participant in the team’s NFL pool. He laughed and joked easily in the clubhouse.
Both Hammel and Chen are sure things for the 2013 rotation.
Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman will probably join them. Gonzalez was the happiest surprise of the season. An easy-going man who had bounced around the minors for years, Gonzalez was a late spring training signee, and his fine work at Norfolk gave him an opportunity in Baltimore.
Tillman belatedly fulfilled his promise in 2012. Though he didn’t pitch in the postseason, Tillman performed well enough that a rotation spot in 2013 is likely.
If the Orioles re-sign Joe Saunders, he’ll assuredly rejoin the rotation. They probably won’t get into a bidding contest for him, and he might have to accept an incentive-laden deal.
There was some thought that he would sign with the Orioles a year ago, but he returned to Arizona at $6 million. It’s unlikely the Orioles would spend more than that on Saunders, perhaps not even that much.
He was acquired to help in the postseason, and that he did. After spending his career pitching out west, Saunders also enjoyed pitching near his home in front of lots friends and family.
If the Orioles don’t re-sign Saunders, they have lots of in-house candidates to start: Arrieta, Hunter and Steve Johnson. While Brian Matusz is often mentioned in the mix, he pitched so well in the bullpen and was so inconsistent as a starter, that he’s now best suited for relief.
“We found out Brian Matusz can pitch in prime time against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. And we found out Tommy Hunter can do the same thing,” Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said.
”I think that when you look at your team and you have a lot of pitchers, I think a lot of those decisions can be made in spring training. I think all pitchers should start out as starters, frankly, so that they get the experience of pitching and pitching and pitching and developing their pitches."
Arrieta was the Opening Day starter, but three months later was back in Norfolk. He’s been coveted by many teams, and perhaps this off-season the Orioles will seriously listen to an offer for him.
Hunter has garnered some interest, too. He pitched better out of the bullpen than as a starter.
Hammel would probably be the team’s No. 1 starter now, followed by Chen. By the mid-point of the 2013 season, Dylan Bundy should move ahead of them, and Kevin Gausman may not be far behind.
“They have the type of stuff that could develop into the top end of the rotation. We have a couple top starters. Do we have a No. 1 starter yet? I think we need to continue to look for a No. 1 starter. But we might have a couple right here," Duquette said.
Tsuyoshi Wada, who was signed last year, is rehabbing in Sarasota, Fla., and he’s a possibility for the rotation, too. Wada had Tommy John surgery in May, so he won’t be ready for Opening Day, but should be able to pitch not long after.
Duquette could make an additional signing from the Far East and probably will add a marginal starter as he did with Dana Eveland last year. Eveland, who started twice this season, declared for free agency last week.
In less than four months, the Orioles will start spring training. Duquette likes what he sees.
“We have depth to our pitching staff now. That's really to be decided in spring training. I like to look at the team and say: 'What role does the player fulfill on a championship team?’” Duquette said.