Coming into the 2011 season, the O’s starting rotation looked to have a good deal of promise.  They had a group of young guys (Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen) that all showed flashes, some more than others, of being very good pitchers in this league.  They also had a veteran in Jeremy Guthrie, who brought some experience and leadership to the group.  Matusz was the most promising of the young bunch especially after finishing last season on a roll, winning six decisions in a row and seven of his last eight.  He looked to be on the fast track to be the ace of the staff and lead the charge of the O’s young and talented arms.  That is, until he was placed on the 15-day disabled list before the start of the season with a rib injury.

Matusz’s injury forced the O’s to call up rookie Zach Britton and toss him into the rotation, making a starting five of Guthrie, Tillman, Britton, Arrieta and Bergesen.  Out of the five, only two, Guthrie and Arrieta, have avoided being sent to the minors.  The rotation, which at one point seemed to have so much promise, is now only a glimpse of what it once was.  And whether the pitching problem stems from a result of inept run support, nagging injuries or just flat out poor performances, it has contributed to the O’s currently being 17 games under .500 and headed toward another underachieving season.  So here’s an update on how the opening day starting rotation has fared this season, as painful as it may be to look at. 

Jeremy Guthrie (3-13, 4.45 ERA)

It has been the same old story with Guthrie again this season.  He pitches well for the first half of the season while keeping a respectable ERA, but poor run support plagues him and sticks him with losses in games he very easily could’ve won.  He still allows more home runs than he should, which is expected for a guy who relies on location, not power, to get batters out.  His 13 losses could very easily be in single digits and his three wins don’t quite give him the credit he deserves, albeit not very much.  But we’ve come to know who Guthrie is by now – a decent No. 2 or No. 3 pitcher who can give you over 200 innings, most of which are mediocre and frustrating to watch, while showing flashes of respectableness.

Chris Tillman (2-3, 4.69 ERA)

Tillman’s biggest downfall this season, besides being wildly inconsistent, is not being able to pitch deep into games.  His longest outing of the season was 6 2/3 innings and he averaged just under five innings in his 10 starts.  He allowed one run or less in six of those outings, but left it up to his bullpen to finish the job, which didn’t turn out too well.   Tillman was sent to Triple-A Norfolk on May 29 and he’s been there ever since.  It’s hard to say if he’ll make his way back to the majors this season, but he needs to fine tune a few things before he gives it another go.

Zach Britton (6-7, 4.05 ERA)

Britton came out of the gate as hot as any pitcher in the league, going 5-1 with a 2.63 ERA in his first six starts.  He has cooled off since then, to say the least, and after allowing seven earned runs in 2/3 of an inning in his July 8 start against the Red Sox, was sent to Double-A Bowie.  It was hard to believe that Britton would continue his brilliant start for any considerable length of time, even though we all wanted to believe he would.  There’s no doubt Britton has good stuff, though.  He is a confident, calm and collected young man on the mound and should be a very good pitcher in this league.  But hopefully that prediction comes to fruition sooner rather than later.

Jake Arrieta (9-6, 5.10 ERA)

Even though Arrieta leads the team in wins, he hasn’t pitched as well as projected.  You usually don’t see a starter with nine wins and an ERA over five, but Arrieta has been the beneficiary of excellent run support (7.44 runs in his nine wins).  Like the other young O’s pitchers, Arrieta is battling through some growing pains that seem to be gettting worse instead of better.  He has been especially bad in his last three starts and is winless with a 8.79 ERA so far in the month of July.  He better turn things around quickly or he’s going to find himself in the minors as well.

Brad Bergesen (1-6, 5.76 ERA)

 Whether he is starting or relieving, losses seem to follow Bergesen wherever he goes.  He has appeared in 18 games this season (10 starts) and the O’s have lost 17 of those 18 games.  What’s even more odd is that the one game he won, he pitched a complete game shutout, allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out five.  I don’t know exactly what it is with Bergesen, but he just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to be a consistent part of the starting rotation.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he was sent back to the minors again before the end of the season.

Submitted by Steve Giles