Orioles pitcher Jake Arrieta plays Skee-Ball with Antoine… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
Orioles pitcher Jake Arrieta is already tossing a baseball without discomfort four months after undergoing elbow surgery.
Promising left-hander Zach Britton just got married and is eager to show that he is also continuing his character development on the mound.
Jeremy Guthrie survived a couple of months of trade speculation and appears likely to be back at the head of the starting rotation when the Orioles open spring training just two months hence.
The three of them came together along with second baseman Brian Roberts and manager Buck Showalter to entertain 90 kids from City Springs Elementary at the OriolesREACH Holiday Party on Tuesday at Arundel Mills Mall.
Which was nice.
Now, if only Guthrie and an expanding group of candidates for the 2012 rotation could come together to help return the Orioles to some semblance of respectability in the American League East.
Which would be even nicer.
The Orioles have agreed to terms with Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada and last week traded for journeyman left-hander Dana Eveland. If they do nothing else this offseason, they will open spring training in mid-February with at least seven potential starting pitchers without having to take Jim Johnson out of the bullpen.
No one is suggesting that Dan Duquette stop there, of course. The Orioles were banking on a big developmental leap from their stable of young pitchers a year ago, and you know how that turned out. If they go into spring training without adding a credible veteran starter to this mix, it will be fair for their understandably cynical fans to ask whether they are just doing the same thing again and expecting a different result.
Showalter probably wouldn't turn his nose up at Roy Oswalt, but he does believe that there is a lot of potential in the diverse cast of characters who are expected to compete for the five slots in his rotation.
"The baseball world will tell you that if you've got five or six you're touting, you're lucky if two or three or them really bite and are part of it," Showalter said. "I'll take those numbers. Jake, Zach, Brian Matusz, a lot of our guys, [Tommy] Hunter, they're all in a position where if you look at their careers and what they've been exposed to and the way it's supposed to work, are in a position to make a step. We'll see."
Of course, what else would you expect him to say at this point? There has been little indication out of the front office that the Orioles will make any attempt at a significant free-agent pitching acquisition, so what you see might be what you get if the club comes up short on Taiwanese left-hander Chen Wei-Yin.
No matter what, the Orioles will be depending very heavily on Arrieta, Britton and Matusz to grow into consistent six-plus-inning pitchers this winter.
"I think it's just a normal process," Showalter said. "We've talked a lot about not cheating the process. If you look at the dynamics with a lot of young pitchers, there's a process you go through. Hopefully, we've got some of those times behind us. There will be some other bumps along the way, but I think they're all in a position to take the next step."
Guthrie, who also has some work to do to get comfortable in the role of veteran No. 1 starter, agrees that there is reason to believe the whole team can finally turn a competitive corner during the coming season.
"I think 2012 is a unique opportunity because we have guys like Zach and a few others who are acclimated to Baltimore — some of the new guys like Mark Reynolds — so I think the second year is a good opportunity for everybody to come together and kind of have the unknowns out of the way and know what to expect and what to prepare for," Guthrie said. "Hopefully, with that, everybody can come in ready and kind of work and pull in the same direction this year."
Britton knows what is expected of him and the other young starters, and he doesn't think it's all that complicated.
"I think they just want to see improvement," Britton said, "that we've made the adjustments in the offseason and we're ready now to kind of take that next step from being a guy that is developing to a guy that can go out there every five days and really give the team a chance to win and go deep into games. Not a guy on every fifth day you don't know what you're going to get."
Duquette put a little pressure on himself during last week's winter meetings when he said the goal is for the Orioles to finish at or above .500 in 2012, but Arrieta said Tuesday that the team's new executive vice president of baseball operations — if anything — was setting the bar too low.
"It's very encouraging that we're taking steps to continue the rebuilding process of the organization, and I just look forward to continuing to be a part of that and getting this team where everyone is trying to go, and that is in the winning direction," Arrieta said. "I've heard some things that people want us to be a .500 team at least this year, but I don't think going in that's the right goal to set.
"Obviously, at the start of the season, everyone's trying to win a championship, and I don't think there's any reason why, going into the season, that's not a possibility for us in 2012."
Well, there are probably about 100 million reasons — if you look at the difference in payroll between the Orioles and some of their competitors — but this is the time of year when anything seems possible.
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal.com.
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