For three straight seasons now, we’ve come into the season with high hopes for Jake Arrieta. Coming off his promising 18 starts in the second half of 2010 he figured to be a fixture in the rotation. That year he started in AAA and cruised to a 6-2 record over 73 innings with a 1.85 ERA and a 64/34 strikeout to walk ratio before being promoted. He premiered against the Yankees and looked pretty good for his age. He gave off a Mike Mussina sort of vibe. He went on to post a 6-6 record with a 4.66 ERA over 100.1 innings, striking out 52 and walking 48.
Arrieta started the 2011 season looking to build on his solid rookie campaign as part of the ‘cavalry’ but ended up going 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA over 119.1 innings with 93 strikeouts and 59 walks. After coming out of the gates strong in 2012 pitching the Orioles to a win in the home opener but quickly derailed to finish with a 3-9 record over 114.2 innings with a 6.20 ERA. His strikeout to walk ratio was much better with 109 strikeouts and 35 walks but that didn’t help much. He was demoted and seemed to turn things around a bit with a 4.02 ERA over 56 innings in AAA.
With an unexpectedly great spring training, Arrieta earned himself another chance in the rotation and started the home opener yet again. Unfortunately it was the same old guy we’ve seen over the past few years and he was just demoted to AAA after four starts resulting in a 1-1, 6.63 ERA record over 19 innings with 20 strikeouts and 16 walks. Hes always been frustrating because his stuff is really good and he looks dominant at times but you can bet there will be a point in each game he starts that he’ll unravel. His command abandons him and he seems to get rattled when he gets in trouble with things just getting worse and worse. The Orioles think it has to do with his nerves making his mechanics go out of whack and want him to work on things in AAA Norfolk.
The problem is that even if he goes down to AAA and looks great, it is hard to imagine that he will keep it up when he comes back to Baltimore. He Is Who He Is at this point. The O’s should have traded him when he still had some decent value. Do not fear, hope is not lost. He could be great as a late inning reliever, and in my humble opinion, that is what his focus should be while in Norfolk. That doesn’t appear to be the path the O’s are taking, but it seems to make sense with him only having to worry about ramping it up and focusing for one inning. His stuff would play even better.
I’ve heard people say that its not a good idea to put him in the bullpen because he struggles so much out of the stretch with men on base so pitching out that exclusively would end badly. While that may be true, he’s already pitching out of the stretch plenty as a starter and perhaps he can focus on correcting his problems in that area if that is all hes focusing on. The control problems might also be offset a little if his 93 mph fastball turns into a 96-97 mph fastball pitching in relief. My thinking is it doesn’t hurt to try. With the depth we have in the rotation (Zach Britton, Jair Jurrjens, Freddy Garcia, Josh Stinson, Steve Johnson, etc.) we don’t just need Arrieta’s arm to fill a spot. Why not see if he can be something special as a reliever. I think its pretty obvious that even if he improves a bit hes not going to be anything special as a starter. Whats the worst that could happen?