Some of the greatest O's starters began their careers in the pen
My MASN guest post this week looked at the history of the reliever-turned-starter in Baltimore. It turns out Alfredo Simon is following a similar course as some of the Orioles' best pitchers.
Nowadays, it seems unusual for a reliever to take the mound as a starter. You typically don't serve shutdown sauce as a first course. Nevertheless, that's exactly what the Orioles are doing as Alfredo Simon, the 2010 team leader in saves, has recorded consecutive quality starts with 13.2 innings pitched and four runs allowed against the Indians and Angels. Meanwhile, there continues to be talk of Jim Johnson following Simon into the rotation.
The reliever-turned-starter model speaks to the patchwork nature of the Birds' rotation this season. To borrow a popular NFL phrase, it's become "next man up" for Baltimore pitchers. This all-hands-on-deck approach in 2011 was once the norm in Baltimore and the sport generally, but for different reasons.
Jim Palmer, the greatest pitcher in Orioles history and a vocal proponent of Johnson's potential as a starter, began his career in 1965 as a 19-year-old reliever and spot starter. Palmer appeared in 27 games that season, only six of which were starts. He finished more games as a rookie (seven) than he started. Palmer then started 30 games in his second season, posting a 15-10 record and a 3.46 ERA.
A decade later, in 1976, 24-year-old O's lefty Mike Flanagan started half of the 20 games in which he appeared. Flanagan, like Palmer, finished seven games. One season after splitting time between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Flanagan again mirrored Palmer with an identical 15-10 record in his second full season alongside a 3.64 ERA.
This is a far cry from the current system where pitchers are groomed to be starters - if not from birth than at least from the moment they demonstrate arm strength while shaking their baby rattle. It's reflective of the changing nature of baseball philosophy that many of the Orioles' greatest pitchers had to prove their stuff in a relief role before getting the starting nod.