The Orioles' calvary has taken a detour to the bullpen
Sept. 9, 2012
Chris Tillman is the only pitcher among the quartet of young arms former Orioles manager Dave Trembley deemed the calvary who has yet to put in work as a reliever. The starters who were believed to represent the future of the organization are currently following a pattern that was decidely more common in past. From Jim Palmer to Mike Boddicker, many of the O’s greatest arms honed their craft in the bullpen before becoming full-time starters.
Brian Matusz pitched one-third of an inning Aug. 24 against the Toronto Blue Jays, striking out Colby Rasmus in the seventh inning of a 6-4 Orioles victory at Camden Yards. The starter-turned-reliever has made seven additional appearances out of the bullpen since then. That includes one-third of an inning Saturday night when he induced an eight-inning pop-up from Curtis Granderson with runners on first and third and the Orioles holding a 5-3 lead. Matusz has been clutch so far in a limited role.
On Sunday, Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta pitched three innings in relief of Zach Britton, allowing three hits and three runs while striking out four and walking one.
Meanwhile, out in Arizona, Brad Bergesen has made 12 relief appearances for the Diamondbacks since being acquired on waivers in late July. Only 12 of Bergesen’s 34 appearances for the Orioles in 2011 were starts.
Pitching out of the pen used to be part of the natural progression to the starting rotation for a young pitcher.
Palmer, the greatest pitcher in O’s history, appeared in 27 games as a 19-year-old rookie in 1965. Only nine of those appearances were starts. His first trip to the mound was April 17, 1965, when he entered in the third inning, tossed two innings of one-hit ball, walked two and struck out one. Overall, he compiled a 5-4 record with a 3.72 ERA and 7.3 strikeouts-per-nine-innings in 1965. He started 30 games in 1966 as a full-time member of the rotation.
The remaining members of the famed 1971 Orioles rotation that featured four 20-game winners followed a similar path as Palmer.
Mike Cuellar spent more than two years as a reliever before transitioning to a starter’s role, totaling only seven starts out of 32 appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 and four starts out of 25 appearances with Houston in 1964.
Coming up with Detroit, Pat Dobson made one start in 28 appearances in 1967, started 10 of 47 games in 1968 and started 8 of 49 appearances in 1969.
Dave McNally started his first game at age 19 in 1962, started 20 of 29 games in 1963, 23 of 30 games in 1964 and 29 of 35 games in 1965.
And the list goes on. Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, Boddicker and other successful Orioles pitchers spent significant time in the bullpen before becoming starters. Outside of Baltimore, Pedro Martinez finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting in 1993 after appearing in 65 games, only two of which were starts. His career numbers suggest he figured out the starter's role pretty well.
The Orioles are taking outs wherever they can find them in 2012 with some of their high-ceiling starters moving to the bullpen to contribute to the stretch drive. The young hurlers are helping the team finish games, but by no means does this mean their careers as starters are finished, too. History tells us otherwise.