Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Birdland Bulletin Part 2: Staff Infection

By Ben

I was relatively positive when discussing the lineup of my beloved Orioles, and I do not want to make this a negative rant on the pitching staff, but frankly there have not been very many positive results. Our starters have not been able to go deep into games which has put a serious taxing on our bullpen.  Our bullpen has some sturdy arms in Koji Uehara, Jim Johnson, and Kevin Gregg, but over use on their arms will become a glaring detriment for the rest of the season. I also have a very special section dedicated to Mike Gonzalez and his new nickname.  I do not want this to come across as a hate filled venom-spewing tirade, but I want this to bring attention to some very alarming trends mostly around the regression of all of our young pitching prospects.

Chris Tillman was the top pitching prospect in the Mariners system in 2008 and was one of the key trade chips in the Erik Bedard trade.  The guy is still only 23 years old so clearly there is still a lot of hope, but for whatever reason he cannot bring it all together in order to stay in the big leagues for good.  His season debut against Tampa Bay was very promising when he had a no hitter through 6 innings. However, in standard Tillman fashion he had already thrown 101 pitches and had to be removed by Buck with the no-no intact.  He scuffled a bit in his next few starts watching his ERA climb to 6.15 while compiling a 2-3 record.  He was then hung with 3 straight no decisions because he could not pitch further than the 5th inning.  Tillman has struggled going deep into games because of his alarming drop in velocity.  When the Orioles called him up two years ago he was sitting 92-93 and topping out at 94.  This year…he was topping at 89. The drop in velocity is very unsettling to say the least and we shall call this the Matusz Syndrome, but more on that later.  Due to the drop in velocity, Tillman is afraid to throw strikes and thus is forced to nibble around the strike zone.  He has not yet earned these borderline calls from umpires because he is still a young unproven pitcher and thus his pitch counts escalate. Many do not feel that Tillman will live up to the promise he showed early in his career, but this Orioles fan still holds out hope. Sure, Tillman was sent down to the Minors to learn how to pitch with his lowered velocity which is a very common thing in baseball.  Except this situation generally happens when pitchers reach their mid 30’s, not when they are 23. Tillman has been in the Minors since the end of May and will hopefully come back up to the Show in the 2nd half, and tap into that promise so many of us still believe in.

Brian Matusz, the Founding Father of the Matusz Syndome.  Louis Pasteur came up with ways to prevent milk and wine from causing disease, and his techniques are known as Pastuer-izing.  So when you have a top of line pitching prospect who tops out at 94 and sits at 91-92 with great off speed, yet all of sudden without explanation loses 7-8 miles per hour on his fastball, it is called Matusz-izing. Yes, Matusz missed the first two months of the season with an oblique injury, but he claims to be healthy and says there is nothing wrong with his arm.  He looked great in his first two starts of the season, yet only going 5.2 and 5.1 innings.  His pitch counts were under 90 in these two starts, but Buck was just playing it safe and did not want to over exert the prized young arm fresh off the DL.  Then the reality train pulled into the station and Matusz went 0-4 with an ERA just a shade under a bajillion over his next 4 starts, and Buck even helped the kid back his bags for Norfolk (Orioles Triple-A team) just to get him off the roster quickly.  It has not been easy watching Matusz struggle.  He is supposed to be the best of our prized young pitchers, and our leader towards the bright light at the end of the tunnel.  He has been nothing close to that, and it is due to his lack of command and a disturbing drop in velocity.  I hope either he can regain his velocity (I don’t know how likely this is) or learn to pitch without it. Matusz’s regression is startling and really disheartening for many Orioles fans, but he has so much talent and appears to be very smart so I expect him to bounce back.  If not it will be just another just another punch in the gut for Birdland and its faithful tenants.

Go to your room young man and think about what you've done! -Buck

 Jake Arrieta has been a semi-bright spot for the Orioles this season.  I say semi because he has a team leading 9 wins, but has an ERA of 4.90 to go along with 6 losses.  He too came out of the gates strong and has tapered off quite a bit. I firmly believe that Arrieta has the best stuff of our young pitchers because he throws a hot fastball, hard breaking balls, and is still developing that change up. One of his major problems though is that he is still developing/discovering what his out pitch is.  Many times he gets two strikes on opposing hitters, but can’t put them away, so batters fight off his pitches to the point where either Arrieta walks them or gives up a hit. He too struggles with command and thus has elevated pitch counts which keeps him from consistently going deep into games.  As long as Arrieta stays healthy (already dealing with elbow inflammation), he should be productive in the 2nd half of the season and going further…that is unless he too begins to Matuszize. 

Zach Britton burst onto the scene at the start of the season and showed that he will be in the rotation for many years to come.  Britton was 4-1 in his first month in the big leagues with an ERA of 2.84.  “Great Britton” is a hard throwing lefty with a power sinker.  I mean he induces more double plays than Derrek Lee hits into (which we all know is a ton).  After his meteoric rise, Britton has come screeching back to Earth watching his record fall to 6-7 with a  4.05 ERA (which is the best of the starters…oye).   He has struggled mightily as of late, but before we all go jumping off the Wilson Bridge there is something we need to keep in mind that I’m afraid has gotten lost in the shuffle.  Britton only started in the season opening series against Tampa because Matusz came down with his injury and Britton was called up in a pinch.  The reason why Britton did not make the big league team out of spring training was because many within the organization felt that Britton just was not quite ready for the big leagues and has some more learning he needed to do in the Minor Leagues.  He was ushered into the big leagues a bit prematurely and after an electric start, it has caught up to him.  This is all too common, a prospect comes up, baffles hitters because they haven’t faced him before; then the scouting reports come out, video-breakdowns are in every clubhouse, aand the big league bats figure him out.  It is then up to the pitcher to make the necessary adjustments and Britton just hasn’t learned all of that yet.  His stuff is awesome, his command is solid, and that sinker is the best Baltimore has seen since the glory days of Mrs. Lisa Guerrero, ahem, I mean Scott Erickson.  Britton was demoted to Double A right before the All Star break, but he will be back Birds fans, he just needs to iron out the kinks.

 It is really hard to get down on Jeremy Guthrie for his pitching.  I will however get on him for tweeting unmercifully about “The Bachelorette” and his not so secret fanhood of Justin Bieber.  Guthrie has been a class act and the de facto ace of our staff since he burst onto the scene in 2007.  He has always had great stuff and great command, but his worst enemy was the lack of run support and the shoddy defense that has plagued the Orioles for years.  Time and time again he has been the tough-luck pitcher for the Orioles and yet you would never hear a gripe or a complaint from Guthrie. This year has been a bit of a struggle for Guthrie enduring a 3-12 record while seeing his ERA climb over the past few starts to 4.18.  Yet despite his personal struggles on the mound, Guthrie continues to mentor the young pitchers, go about his business in a professional manner, and set a good example for how a pitcher is supposed to conduct himself despite the myriad of shit that surrounds this ballclub.

 Yea right like I have anything to say about Brad Bergesen, Chris Jakubauskas, Mitch Atkins, or Clay Rapada. 

 Justin Duscherer (or as I like to call him Maury Bernstein) is getting paid $1.1 million to live in Florida and rehab his ailing hip. He sounds like every resident of Del Boca Vista except they are all older than 75 and they aren’t getting paid a million bones to act like they’re 75. 

Jim Palmer (Left), Justin Duscherer (center), Rick Dempsey (right) catch up in Sarasota.

 The bullpen has been a mix of quality outings, and outings that make you want to watch 2 girls 1 cup instead of watching some of these guys pitch. I’m looking at you Jeremy Accardo and Jason Berken.  There have been some total bullpen efforts in the meltdowns at Boston on May 16 and at the Yankees on April 14 where they all do their part to blow the lead. This bullpen sails together and goes down together like the string quartet in Titanic.

 Jim Johnson has been effective as always, but he is being over used, over extended, and underappreciated.  He has already thrown 52 innings this year, while his career high is 70 innings pitched.  Johnson has a history of elbow problems so if this pace continues his elbow ligaments will resemble wet spaghetti. Koji Uehara has been awesome; he has clearly been out best reliever.  He has great command and knows what it takes to get big league hitters out, and his 2.08 ERA indicates this.  The only problem here is that Koji may have the worst side burns in the league.

For much of the season I have had a lot of bitterness aimed directly at Kevin Gregg. I even petitioned Bud Selig to have MLB change the term “blown save” to a “Gregg”, this petition was given about as much consideration as inventing toilet paper made out of barnacles.  I attribute this Gregg-directed venom to his blown saves, which he only has 4 of.  I guess it’s just that the Orioles are in a winning situation so few times, that when a closer blows the save it hurts that much more.  In reality though, if you were to tell me the Orioles closer, whomever it may be, would only have 4 blown saves at the All Star break I would have punched you in the face for being a liar.  4 blown saves at the All Star break is Randy Myers-esque, scratch that, that man never blew saves. But it’s pretty darn good for what we’ve been accustomed to around Camden Yards.  Jorge Julio would Simon* for only 4 blown saves in one month let a lot alone half a season.  So for all intents and purposes, Kevin Gregg has been solid in the closer role going 15 for 19 with an ERA of 3.41.

*Explanation: Simon is now a term used in lew of the word kill.  So in this context, Jorge Julio would kill for only 4 blown saves… Or “hey man you were great up there, you really Simoned (killed) it.” Questions? Good, let’s make this catch on.

One of the main reasons I came around on Kevin Gregg took place Friday night July 8th when the Orioles were yet again getting their butts handed to them by the Boston Red Sox.  It was the bottom of the 8th at Fenway and the Red Sox were winning 10-3.  Gregg was on the mound and in strolled David Ortiz who is sneaky arrogant and a diva.  Gregg’s first pitch clearly had no intent and it ran inside on Ortiz.  Big Papi, or I guess I should call him Boston’s Other Big Baby, decided this pitch was too close to him and therefore decided to stare out at Kevin Gregg.  (This reminded me a lot of when Clemens threw a pitch that Manny Ramirez thought was too close, too which Joe Back exclaimed “talk about looking for a reason”. Could not find the clip online…thanks Bud Selig).  I’m pretty sick of Red Sox players thinking no one should be allowed to pitch inside to them, i.e. Papi, Youkilis, and Pedroia.  But I digress, back to Papi staring down Gregg for really no reason at all.  Gregg noticed this stare down and rather than backing down like many Orioles would have in the past, he said, “Inside huh? I’ll show you inside.” And he came inside again.  Papi was irked again, so Gregg refused to back down and came even further inside, which caused Papi to show his true colors and start yelling at Gregg causing the benches to clear.  With the count 3-0, Ortiz swung and flew out to right field (swinging at a 3-0 pitch when your team is up by 7 runs in the last inning huh? Seems pretty bush to me Ortiz), but rather than running out of the box, he stood there and watched it.  This infuriated Gregg who decided he would be disrespected for the last time by this overgrown baby and started yelling at Ortiz to run out the fly ball and get out of the box (what any other pitcher would have done) and Ortiz charged the mound.  Benches cleared, brawl ensued, and the two teams played bean ball for the next couple of games.  Gregg’s post game comments were clear and concise, essentially saying, who cares what their record is? We will not back down from these guys. This is Buckball at its finest.  Clearly I paraphrased a bit but here are some great quotes from Gregg post game that tell you all you need to know about the guy.  He’s hard nosed, he respects the game, and plays baseball the right way. Period. 

And last but not least, Mike Gonzalez.  This guy makes my feelings towards Mark Reynolds look like a friggin’ picnic!  My hatred for Mike Gonzalez stems all the way back to opening day of the 2010 season when he blew a save against Tampa Bay.  In fact in that same series he blew a save in game 3 as well, all fresh off of signing a 2 year $12 million contract.  I knew right from jumpstreet I would never like this guy for the Orioles.  Gonzalez has done next to nothing to get in my good graces in his 1 ½ years with the Birds. In fact I don’t think this guy has had a scoreless outing since before Lehman Brothers completely effed us all.  Last season Gonzalez claimed he was healthy all spring training despite the obvious drop in velocity on his fastball (early signs of Matuszizing).  Then he blows two saves right off the bat and says oh yea my bad my arm is hurting.  It is clear he injured himself post contract signing and before spring training because everyone knows Peter Angelos enforces the most invasive physicals before signing free agents.  Even Casey Anthony thinks Mike Gonzalez should have come clean about his arm injury last year.  Instead Gonzalez blows two games, goes on the DL most of the year, and comes back as a $12 million lefty specialist and yet lefties were tagging him more times than not.  Now in 2011, Gonzo is up to his old tricks as he has given up 38 hits, 18 runs, 7 HR’s in 31 innings of work.   Buck has been using him exclusively in mop up duty when the Orioles are down big or have a big lead.  He was awful in April (9.82 ERA), horrible in May (4 homers in 10 innings of work), had an out of body experience in June (1.64 ERA!), and then reverted back to form right before the All Star Break with an ERA of a cool 6.00 in July.  I just don’t understand how a guy can have a career ERA of around 2.41 in 6 seasons of work with Pittsburgh and Atlanta and then sign with Baltimore and have everything go right to hell.  Mike Gonzalez has a new nickname, “The Kraken” because he needs to be released. I mean even Liam Neeson agrees.  Much like the Kraken, you never know when Mike Gonzalez is going to show up but rest assured that when he does he destroys everything in sight. 

One final thought on the first half of the season:

Seven months ago Alfredo Simon was arrested for shooting and killing a man, and now he is in the Orioles starting rotation...Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first half of the 2011 season with the Baltimore Orioles.

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1 comment:

  1. I like Uehara's burners---I am trying to grow mine the same way. But I will have to put in a little color like Brian Wilson!