The guy that had started four of the previous five opening day games for the Orioles, Jeremy Guthrie, was traded away in early February (in a move that Sports Illustrated called the worst trade of the offseason). Guthrie, however, has landed on his feet just fine in Colorado, being named opening day starter for his new team.
His old team, meanwhile, has nothing resembling a true #1 American League East pitcher on the roster, but hey, somebody has to trot out there this Friday against the Minnesota Twins.
That somebody, it turns out, will be Jake Arrieta.
Arrieta, once considered the “cavalry” member with the lowest ceiling, has so far been the only one out of himself, Chris Tillman, and Brian Matusz to show any inkling of Major League consistency for any appreciable amount of time. While Matusz has shined at times, his disastrous 2011 campaign – during which he set an MLB record for highest ERA in history – has his future very much up-in-the-air. Tillman is still trying to find that elusive AAAA club where he truly belongs – his stuff seems to befuddle AAA hitters but be batting practice fodder for those at the MLB level.
Arrieta, who was always projected to be a middle-of-the-rotation guy at the very best, went 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA last season – hardly inspiring numbers. Still, he looked to be well on his way to a 15-win year before being shut down with bone spurs in his elbow.
Now fully healthy, Arrieta has said that he feels better than he has in years, and he has been lighting up the radar gun in Spring Training to the tune of 97 miles per hour. Hopefully Jake can take a step forward in 2012 and surprise all the naysayers who had scouted him with less enthusiasm than his teammates Tillman and Matusz. Arrieta’s problem in 2011 was never getting ahead of batters, it was putting them away. Watching him pitch, it seemed that time and again he would start an at-bat off with a strong 0-2 or 1-2 count, only to see the at-bat reach seven or eight pitches, while his pitch count ballooned to unacceptable levels early in games.
Jake gets his first chance to take the next step in his career on Friday, when the 26 year old takes the hill on Opening Day for the first time.