It may not be same old story with this crop of young O's pitchers

March 04, 2011|Peter Schmuck

LAKELAND, Fla. — — They grow up fast in the American League East. Either that or they go home early.

Nowhere has that been more apparent than in the Orioles organization, where the previous pitching youth movement ran so hard aground that it's easy to forget that a lot of their top prospects were ever here.

Sidney Ponson stands out, of course, and not in a good way. Matt Riley was supposedly bound for glory. Daniel Cabrera had can't-miss raw talent but missed anyway. Erik Bedard was the real deal, but contributed more to the Orioles' future by leaving then by anything he did in Baltimore.

The whole lost decade from 1998 to 2008 is littered with the unfulfilled promise of young arms gone astray, which is why it's so refreshing to see this new crop of young starters seem so confident in themselves and each other.

Case in point: Right-hander Jake Arrieta, who completed the Orioles' first turn through the spring starting rotation on Friday. He didn't exactly set Joker Marchant Stadium on fire in the Orioles' 6-2 victory, but he came out afterward and displayed maturity beyond his major league service time as he critiqued his own performance and sized up the staff.

"It's hard to not be optimistic about the situation we have there,'' Arrieta said." Towards the end of the year last year, we all started to feed off each other's success. We're really pitching the way we're all capable of. It's not like we all just suddenly figured something out. It was all there. It's just a matter of finding a way to bring that out in each and every one of us."

Thursday, it was Brian Matusz getting his work in against the Twins before getting on a plane to Philadelphia to undergo a laser procedure to remove a small growth from his pitching hand. Wednesday, it was Chris Tillman making his first start of the spring against a big-swinging Philadelphia Phillies lineup. Brad Bergesen opened the Grapefruit League season with two hitless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates and will try to do that again on Saturday against the Red Sox.

Don't misunderstand. This is not meant to be an evaluation of their on-field performance after one outing each. Nobody with an ounce of baseball savvy draws any conclusions from the first time through the rotation in March … or the second. The thing that has stood out from the start of training camp is the way these guys go about their business.

Maybe it's because last season felt like a lifetime. Maybe it's because every one of them experienced — during the course of 2010 — both reversal and redemption.

"From what I've seen they've gone about it very professionally,'' said manager Buck Showalter. "They had [Kevin] Millwood around them last year and Arlo [Jeremy Guthrie] did a good job with them. They have the makings of a professional bunch."

That's only a start, but it's a pretty good one. The latest group of baby birds needs to stay healthy, stay focused and stay in the moment, which is no small thing.

"The final piece of that is how they handle success if they have it," Showalter said. "The carrot's out there. Establishing yourself in the big leagues is one thing, but how you handle it ... I hope that happens, where we get a chance to see it. But they've had a taste of it, and we'll see if they continue to bite.

"They've gone through their share of failure, too, but they also know there's an area they can get into if they follow certain guidelines and they continue to try to hold themselves to high standards. They feed off each other a little bit competitively, too, in a good way."

This is not just an academic conversation. Everybody knows how much rides on the ability of this group of young pitchers to take advantage of the competitive opportunity afforded by the run-production potential of the upgraded offensive lineup.

They are both the present and the future of the Orioles organization and they are well aware of it. That is quite a bit of weight to put on those young shoulders, but it can't be helped.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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