Ineffectual, hurt, or both. In trying to come up with a way to put my head around the rash of injuries and failures this team has endured in the most excruciating start to a season since before I was a fan, that is the only thing I can come up with. Brad Bergesen and Felix Pie are the most recent Orioles casualties so far this season, with Pie living up to his reputation as injury-prone and Bergy exchanging his groundballs for home runs sometime over the winter. Who knows, maybe there was a sale.
In all seriousness, an ungodly 12.19 ERA is too high to ignore, even only three starts into the season. I understand that pitchers can take a while to get going, but Bergesen had not shown any poise on the mound characteristic of someone who was going to get their act together. In short, he looks like a bundle of nerves right now, and it shows in his inability to stay relaxed after giving up a big hit or adjust to the batter – he is just struggling to get the ball over the plate. In fact, at times last night I wondered whether Bergy just wanted to go home. And that was in the 1st inning! The coaches surely saw this and more when they decided that Bergesen, almost a full year after being brought up to the majors, needed some more time down at Norfolk to get his bearings and rediscover his 4 quality pitches. And so Brad Bergesen has been optioned to AAA and will try to work on his mechanics or whatever is bothering him, but it is another knock to an already reeling Orioles ballclub.
I once went to see Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold in Bowie but was blown away by Brad Bergesen on the mound, who quickly and effectively dispatched of the Akron Aeros without any flash or 96 mph fastball. He could simply locate all of his pitches and deceive hitters with his delivery. I believe that with some time in Norfolk and perhaps without the stress of feeling that he has to do it all he will be able to return to form. Remember, he blew out his shoulder before Spring Training because he was trying to go all-out for a commercial. Perhaps in his rush to come back from his devastating shin injury he developed some bad habits, but whatever they are I trust the staff in Norfolk to straighten them out. Then again, I thought the Orioles could fix Rich Hill as well.
Who will replace Bergy? Let’s not forget, Jason Berken was pitching very well in the spring before losing the 5th starter job to David Hernandez, and he could easily move from the long relief spot into the rotation. In fact, it may have been his disastrous ’09 that kept him from ever having a real chance to start this season in the rotation. I loved his attitude last season, when even his good starts were wiped out by poor hitting and despite his skyrocketing ERA he always wanted the ball. He is a player you want to have on the mound when things aren’t going well, because he has the poise not to let it get to him, and while he doesn’t have the best stuff he has the right mental makeup for this club. However, there is that problem of his gigantic ERA from last season. But who knows, maybe he’s worked it out- it certainly couldn’t hurt to give him another shot, and even his 6.54 ERA from ’09 would be better than what they are getting out of Bergesen.
Another option is Jake Arrieta, who in three starts has a paltry 0.50 ERA, giving up his first earned runs of the season last night in a 6 inning, 5 K performance against Gwinnett. However, the sample size is too small to be convinced that Arrieta, who had an up-and-down season in Norfolk last season, is ready to come up to the majors- especially when he didn’t exactly blow anyone away in Spring Training. Arrieta is an incredible talent, one who could be near the top of the Orioles rotation one day. The time to bring him up is not now, not when the Orioles are about to go through a murderers row against the Yankees and Red Sox and especially not when the plan was to leave Arrieta in Norfolk until at least July or August at the earliest. I understand bringing him up early if you have to, but he has yet to dominate the level he is at in the minors; so I would definitely give him a few more starts in Norfolk.
Felix Pie is a different case entirely. There is no AAA for Pie, and there shouldn’t be. The young left fielder was hitting .400, albeit in a small sample size, and performing admirably in the field in the absence of Nolan Reimold. There were some mental errors in the field and on the base paths, but Pie was picking up where he left off in 2009 and developing into the player the Cubs always hoped he would. With news coming out that Pie could be out for the next three months, it is a harsh way of clearing out the glut of outfielders the organization is carrying. However, it gives an intriguing opportunity to Lou Montanez, who will be getting the majority of starts in left field while Reimold continues to heal.
Montanez has nothing left to prove in the minors, and tore up opposing pitching during limited action in Spring Training. He knew that he wouldn’t get playing time unless someone got hurt, and rather than complain or ask for a trade he accepted it and showed his disappointment in more polite ways. He was a class act even when placed in a terrible situation for any talented player. Before the Orioles even acquired Pie they had picked up Montanez in a minor league contract in 2007. The former #3 overall pick has been a late bloomer but has had no problem with his bat, homering in his first ever at-bat in the majors. I could easily see him being another breakout outfielder for this team in 2010. While he won’t replace Felix Pie’s speed, he could add some pop after winning the 2008 Eastern League Triple Crown despite missing almost a month of the season after being called up to Baltimore.
Before the season fans were counting on Bergesen to be an of the rotation, and hoping for Felix Pie to keep up the torrid pace he had in the latter part of 2009. Just three weeks into the season, fans are faced with Bergy showing no signs of life, and Pie is parked on the DL. Luckily for the Orioles, it seems that they might have just enough organizational depth to fill those spots for the moment. Besides, at 2-12, the replacements can’t be that much worse… right?
UPDATE: Alberto Castillo has been called up from AAA to take the roster spot, indicating that Berken will move into the rotation and Castillo will be added to the ‘pen. This is a great move, I would have called up Castillo even before Kam Mickolio was.