Young arms elicit positive spin on O's rotation

Orioles Home Opener


April 10, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

It is never good to draw sweeping conclusions from limited evidence, but it's hard not to get excited about the combined performance of the young guns in the Orioles' rotation.

Daniel Cabrera's strong 7 2/3 innings in yesterday's home opener against the Detroit Tigers and determined performances by Adam Loewen and Erik Bedard over the weekend in New York have rescued the Orioles from a dismal start and served notice that the three might be coming of age at a pivotal juncture in the star-crossed recent history of the franchise.

"We believe every time they go out there, they are going to pitch well," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "They all have good stuff. They all have ability. They are going to have bad outings just like the hitters are going to have bad days, but they are all putting their work in and they are continuing to get better and that's great for us."

If you're keeping score at home, that's three straight victories and four solid outings in five starts for the emerging nucleus of the starting rotation. And if you're really keeping score at home, you know that each had to meet some kind of challenge before emerging with his first win of 2007.

That, in a strange sort of way, is the best news of all.

Loewen didn't have a particularly smooth ride after he took the mound at Yankee Stadium on Friday for his regular-season debut, but he worked out of trouble several times before turning a lead over to the revamped bullpen. Bedard was coming off a rocky performance on Opening Night in Minnesota and gave up three runs in the first inning to the Yankees on Sunday, but settled down to go deep into the game and give the Orioles a chance to win the rubber game of the series.

Cabrera made a defensive miscue that contributed to costing him a win over the Twins before taking the ball before a sellout crowd on Opening Day at Camden Yards yesterday. He fell behind early but displayed terrific command as he worked into the eighth inning and gave up just two runs on seven hits to nearly the same lineup that reached the World Series last October.

Every one of these guys is physically capable of throwing a shutout on any given night, and it would have been fun to watch each of them do that over the past four days. What it would not have been was real or dependable, because no one pitches great every time out. The only way the Orioles compete in the American League East this year is if Bedard, Loewen and Cabrera can work into the late innings consistently and weather the inevitable storms that lie ahead, which is why their gutsy extended weekend was so satisfying.

"It was very encouraging," pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. "Once they figure out they might be pretty good, they start feeding off each other. They didn't resort to over-throwing. They didn't get frustrated. Daniel got down a run. No big deal. He just kept pumping it into the zone."

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer watched from afar Sunday as Bedard scrambled to survive an early Yankees onslaught that included a two-run home run by Alex Rodriguez, who had hit that gut-wrenching walk-off grand slam the day before.

"You can talk all about experience, ability levels and great stuff, but you have to go out there enough not to overreact," Palmer said. "You give up a ball down the line to a guy [Derek Jeter] who has, what, the fifth-best career average in Yankees history, and a home run to a guy who's going to hit 700 of them in his career. If you're in your first or second year, you're saying, `Oh, God, I don't have anything,' but it's really about Jeter being a great hitter and A-Rod being a future Hall of Famer and `I have to make adjustments.' That's what he did, and he retired 20 of the next 22."

It has been the conventional wisdom of the spring that the Orioles will go as far this year as those three great young arms will take them, and though it's tough to find anyone to argue that point, manager Sam Perlozzo said it's not that simple.

"I think it's more than just the three kids," he said. "We obviously know that if they fail, it's not going to happen, but for us to do what we want to do, we have to get contributions from the other two starters."

Veteran Steve Trachsel did his part Saturday, putting the Orioles in position for what was shaping up to be an easy win until the bullpen gave up seven runs in the final two innings. Jaret Wright, who struggled badly in his first start, has a chance to lift the Orioles to .500 when he takes the mound tonight against Detroit's Nate Robertson.

Still, the spotlight is going to be on the young guys all year, because they represent more than just the potential to lift the Orioles back to respectability this season. They represent the bright future that Orioles fans have been awaiting for nearly a decade.

It would have been great if they had been perfect the past few days, but it might be even better that they found strength in their imperfection.

"Character you can't teach," Mazzone said. "Either you have it or you don't. This staff has it. Let's see where we can go with it."

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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