Jake Arrieta took the mound last night for a team and a fanbase desperate for something to cheer about. Back in March he was looking forward to joining the rotation of a decent team to add a bit of life- perhaps work into the bullpen and eventually beat another of the young guns for a starting job before taking over full time in 2011. It was a process. Instead, he found himself taking the mound in front of the most potent lineup in the majors in a hostile stadium (yes, I am going there since there are more Yankee fans than Orioles fans), bearing the weight of a city that has seen its young guns shooting blanks so far this season.
The line wasn’t great after all was said and done- 6 innings pitched and 3 earned runs over 106 pitches, but it gave the 24-year-old one more win than Kevin Millwood and gave Orioles fans a reason to believe that help was on the way for this beleaguered team. The concern for Jake Arrieta has been his command, yet he only walked 4 batters last night, and two were intentional. Moreover, he only allowed the Yankees to get 4 hits off of him and struck out 6, impressive considering the lineup he was facing. Perhaps most importantly, Arrieta was as poised on the mound as he has been made out to be, getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth to give the Orioles a chance to win. One of the pitchers he may have replaced in the rotation, David Hernandez, picked up the save.
Hernandez has long been considered a better fit in the relief role, though his difficulty with his command and tendency to give up the home run has made the front office hesitant to move him to a closer’s role. Given the lack of other options, he was given the ball in the ninth inning and delivered- sometimes it is better to have a young player who doesn’t think about the situation than a veteran who understands himself as a closer. Not that the Orioles should get too comfortable with his role, or the role of any relievers.
We ought not read too much into one start, and Arrieta was forced by the Yankees to throw a lot of pitches to get his outs. Then again, the Yankees were waiting for it and tried to take advantage of his command difficulties and any jitters he might have. On a team that seems to either be demoralized or pressing on every play, it was refreshing to have a player who just got up and pitched and didn’t allow the gravity of the situation to get to him. If the Orioles had 25 players like that, they wouldn’t be staring down quite so many losses.
This was the perfect time for Arrieta to make his debut. While he might have gotten a bit more work in at Triple-A, his 1.85 ERA speaks to his dominance, as does the second half of last season, when he started adjusting to International League hitters and improving his overall numbers. There wasn’t much more for him to learn there, and he was needed to bolster a promising but underachieving pitching staff. For a fan base that needed a pick-me-up, Jake Arrieta may have arrived just in time.