Broken promise

Banking on certain pitchers, O's account empty

On the Orioles' starting pitching

July 21, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

One after another, like line drives up the middle, reminders keep coming of what the Orioles' starting rotation could have been and what it has turned out to be.

Saturday afternoon: Adam Loewen's pitching career comes to an abrupt, painful and heartbreaking end. Saturday evening: Daniel Cabrera falls behind the Detroit Tigers 6-0 in the first inning. Yesterday afternoon: Brian Burres struggles through 5 1/3 innings against the Tigers, throwing 108 pitches and giving up three runs - relatively speaking for this staff lately, a gem.

Of course, the Orioles managed to win despite Cabrera's reversion to form - and lost yesterday when the offense managed all of three hits. They also lost on a Sunday, again. But the far bigger issue than where the Orioles would be if they had won roughly half the 15 straight Sunday games they've lost is where would they be if they had the starting pitching they thought they'd have.

Not just what they had projected this season, what they've been projecting the past few seasons, even before new management took over. Remember, when Andy MacPhail, in Saturday's announcement about the injury that's transforming Loewen from potential ace to position player, spoke of losing "40 percent of our rotation that we started with," he was including Steve Trachsel. In an ideal world, the Orioles wouldn't have been relying on Trachsel that way.

Once upon a time, the master plan was hooked to a rotation of Loewen, Cabrera, Erik Bedard and Hayden Penn. Remember that, from the Beattie-Flanagan era? It truly seemed promising; you could slap that regime around for a lot of things, but not necessarily for banking on that foundation.

Now, you could make the case that Bedard produced the most - in what they got back from trading him. (As for Penn, as often as he's injured, you wonder when they hold the same news conference for him and his future.)

When a franchise guesses right and it all falls into place, it has the rest of its competition chasing it. When it goes wrong, it ends up with MacPhail telling reporters, "You never have enough pitching. ... This is just part of the landscape. This is just the way it is. There's nothing more important. You cannot win in this league without pitching well."

The Orioles aren't winning right now. Yesterday's defeat at Camden Yards was their 10th in 14 games - since Cabrera went the distance against the Kansas City

Royals. It just isn't that hard to find the problem. Burres shouldn't be a No. 3 starter, not right now. Radhames Liz, who starts tonight against the Toronto Blue Jays, isn't ready. Garrett Olson, who got enough run support in Thursday's return from the All-Star break so that his struggles weren't quite as damaging, is pitching like a guy who isn't a legitimate starter.

The obvious exception is Jeremy Guthrie, and even his emergence elicits a twinge of regret when you think of how good he might be pitching in a rotation that lives up to expectations.

Besides him, though, the starters pitch as if they're allergic to the fifth inning, and it's wrecking the most pleasant surprise of the season: the bullpen. That was the case again yesterday. On a quick turnaround after a late, extra-inning, relief-intensive night, the Orioles needed a lot more than 5 1/3 innings out of Burres.

The Orioles are just patching things together right now, with pitchers they didn't have in their starting plans this year and who are proving why.

"We've got to find things out," pitching coach Rick Kranitz said after the game. Nodding at Guthrie walking by, he continued: "We have this guy who has pitched great. You can't ask for more out of him than he's given." But, he added, Cabrera has been inconsistent, and Liz and Olson have been, well, young.

"You don't want to push them, but you do want them to get better," Kranitz added.

Eventually, the cavalry will ride into town, from Norfolk and Bowie, the parade of arms acquired, for example, in the Bedard deal. Eventually, some group of guys with great stuff will be this regime's version of Bedard-Cabrera-Loewen-Penn. Barring a miracle, it won't happen this season, though.

The sooner it happens, however, the sooner everyone can stop thinking about what might - or should - have been.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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