Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hill, Wieters Succeeding in Unexpected Ways

Well I am back from my two-week hiatus, and I wish I could say it felt like forever. However, I just couldn’t let Falco and Windsor flail around on their own on this thing, could I? With the O’s getting hot and the young guns mowing down batters as of late, this is just the perfect time for me to jump in and talk some baseball. As for last night’s game against the Mariners…

1-0? Not exactly what any of us expected out of these 2009 Orioles, but I suppose they haven’t done much but surprise us in the small ways that do just enough to keep a fan base interested but not quite enough to take the leap we all expect them to make in 2010. With David Hernandez, Jason Berken, and Brad Bergesen in the starting rotation it is easy to forget about what could become the best acquisition the Orioles made in this offseason- Rich Hill. I won’t rehash Hill’s incredible 2007 success and his “rising star” status in the majors before he came crashing down to Earth in 2008, but it seems as though there couldn’t have been a better spot for the former Cubs’ starter. He has put his complete trust and confidence in Baltimore’s pitching coaches Rick Kranitz and Alan Dunn and it has paid off. After two solid (albeit short) outings to start the season, and one early yank at the hands of the Blue Jays, Hill found his groove against the Mariners last night, pitching 7 innings (one of the longest any starter has gone this season for Baltimore) and allowing only 2 hits. Most importantly, he walked just three batters- this time last year he was throwing wilder than Daniel Cabrera. Hill knows that he needs this group of coaches and this organization to succeed. The Orioles know that a composed and effective Rich Hill does wonders for the starting rotation. It may be one game, but it could be a sign that this pitcher is regaining his front-end-starter form.

It was reported that Wieters would be DHing last night, so it was a pleasant surprise when the rookie catcher got behind the plate. While his bat may not be catching up to major league pitching just yet (2-15), I have been impressed with his ability to handle pitchers thus far. Granted, he has gotten to catch for Jeremy Guthrie, but the numbers don’t lie. In his starts behind the plate (and the Orioles last 4 games including Zaun's catching on Sunday), Orioles starters have had a 1.93 ERA compared to 5.13 overall (28th in the majors and 2nd to last in the American League). Moreover, Wieters is doing an excellent job of blocking the plate, which was on display when I was able to see him on Saturday. Will this continue at this pace? Of course not, and I am sure that he has a long way to go in handling pitchers- that is the part of his game that always needs work as a young catcher. He may not be starting the way O’s fans would like with his bat, but for now he appears well ahead of schedule with his glove.

It seems as though Erik Bedard has rediscovered the talent that made him such an attractive trade piece in 2008, bringing the Orioles Sherrill, Jones, and Chris Tillman in return for the leftie. His 2.48 ERA is good for 4th in the American League, and he is no longer harping at his manager or refusing to throw more than 100 pitches in a game. It will be intriguing to watch what happens tonight when the Seattle starter goes up against his old team for the first time (he was injured and his rotation spot was not up the last two series’ these teams played). Bedard has not allowed more than 3 runs in any start this season- and he is going up against David Hernandez, who was excellent in his solitary start this season. Veteran ace vs. a rookie who probably should still be in AAA? Let’s hope the Orioles bats are louder tonight than they were yesterday.

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