So that’s what the cavalry was supposed to pitch like? Well why didn’t you say so! Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta certainly looked the part of future stars of the rotation during this weekend’s 4 game sweep of the Rangers, the Orioles first 4 game sweep of any team on the road since 1995. 1995 may be tough for some of you to remember, it was way back when the Orioles had a great team. Once again, a long time ago. Regardless, this weekend showcased young talent that may finally be turning a corner- Tillman after getting his act together in Norfolk (though I personally wanted him to stay there a while longer) and Arrieta showing that his first two starts weren’t just flukes due to a lack of tape on him. The lineup sent some moon shots in that thin, warm Texas air, and hit just well enough to orchestrate two comebacks to start the series and two convincing wins to end it.
Dave Trembley was often criticized for pulling his starters too soon in favor of matchups even when his starter was on a roll. Though Juan Samuel’s tenure has seen this team perform slightly better on the field, he is guilty of the same mistakes. Yesterday with Jake Arrieta cruising into the 7th inning and getting the first batter out, Samuel inexplicably pulled him in favor of Will Ohman. Arrieta hadn’t allowed any runs since the third batter he faced in the game, and was showing no sign of losing his control. At 24 years old it shouldn’t bother the team if he throws more than 91 pitches, so I don’t think they were saving his arm for later. Nevertheless, Arrieta took a seat and watched Ohman allow the tying run to get on base before being lifted for Jason Berken, the starter-turned reliever/life preserver who got the Orioles out of the jam. This time it didn’t bite the Orioles, but I had flashbacks of a million other instances when an O’s starter was lifted with disastrous results. Look, we aren’t exactly handing the ball to Mariano Rivera here, though Will Ohman has been good this year.
Arrieta has shown exceedingly good command compared to where he was in Norfolk last year, walking 20 batters in 39 innings of work. While that isn’t where you’d like it to be, he has yet to walk more than 4 batters in a single game and isn’t allowing many balls to get up in the zone. He won’t strike out many either, but his ability to induce ground balls will allow him to work deeper into games even if he winds up walking a batter here and there. Aside from two terrible starts against the Giants and Expos (Nationals), he has exceeded my personal expectations for this season (I was never all that bullish on him to begin with despite what my brother projected) and could turn out to be a gem for the second half of the season.
Chris Tillman pitched an even better game on Saturday, though his story isn’t one of exceeding expectations- it is one of validating his status as one of the O’s top prospects. After giving a lackluster performance in Spring Training and being yo-yo’ed back and forth from Norfolk to the majors, the dreaded word “bust” was already being bandied about amongst some of the less patient members of the fan base. Then again, can anyone who has sat through 12 losing seasons be considered impatient? Anyways, Tillman sensed this during his first time around this season, and wasn’t shy about revealing this was a statement game for him. As he said after his dominating 7 1/3 inning, 2-hit performance, “When I went down last time, I felt like I had the feeling from my team that I didn’t belong. I wanted to come up here and make a statement and prove to them I did.”
However, I think this performance was as much about his cut fastball as it was his attitude. He unveiled this pitch for the first time in the majors after toying with it during Spring Training and using it increasingly in Norfolk. Fans should remember that Tillman has been pitching this season while trying to learn a new pitch and variations on his existing pitches, and the majors is a tough place to experiment with things. His cut fastball worked exceedingly well on Saturday, a performance which will hopefully be a sign of things to come. Chris Tillman is 22 years old and has a lot of development yet to go before he is a solid part of this rotation… but he is on the right track.