Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Look at the "Other" Orioles

On our collective front pages in the Orioles rebuilding effort there’s Nolan Reimold and Brad Bergesen, Matt Wieters and maybe even David Hernandez, but there are some other players on the roster who aren’t “enjoying” the scrutiny that comes with a high profile. Well maybe it is time some obscure blog gave them a bit of attention too.

Don’t get mad about last night’s game; sometimes there is simply just a better team on the field. Jon Lester wasn’t going to be stopped yesterday and the O’s aren’t ready to take down the pitcher who is now 8-0 against Baltimore. But let’s not let the Orioles entirely off the hook. Jason Berken has looked little better than any of the journeymen this team has brought in to complete the rotation in recent years, and after 7 starts I am beginning to wonder whether hitters didn’t need a whole lot of time to figure him out. Through his first 2 starts, Berken was looking like he could fill a hole in the rotation as more than just a stopgap, allowing just 3 earned runs in 12 innings. Since that start however, Berken has had a whopping 8.51 ERA and only narrowly avoided creeping above that disastrous 9 mark with some fortuitous breaks.

So what will the Orioles do with Berken? For lack of a better option, keep him in there and hope things work out. Baltimore has so depleted its AAA stockpile of pitchers that the only options remaining are the all-but-untouchable Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and Brian Matusz. The O’s pitching staff could have an ERA over 10 and Matusz would stay down, but Andy MacPhail hasn’t ruled out bringing up Tillman late in the season. However, I would think that this hinges largely on whether a healthy Koji Uehara can be put back in the starting rotation. If he is and David Hernandez starts to improve, Berken could be the one sent down. If Hernandez continues to scuffle however, Baltimore will likely try to protect their investment in Hernandez and send him down, and let the welcome surprise (but not long-term prospect) Berken take his lumps.

The Orioles lack a true third baseman in their minor league system, or at least not one who is having anything more than a solid year during an otherwise unremarkable career. When Oscar Salazar started to get his at-bats and began making solid contact (8-22 so far this season), I grew extremely hopeful that he could spell Melvin Mora more frequently to keep him fresh (and extend his career), or even replace him for a year or so until the Orioles came up with a solid young player. And then I saw him in person against the Nationals on Sunday, and had the experience of sitting right behind third base to get a close look at Salazar. Playing next to Robert Andino, one could see that Oscar does not have the range or instincts as a fielder to play every day at third base. His bat is still powerful and can be great in a pinch-hitting role, but this is one time I won’t question Trembley’s decision to keep him on the bench.

At 31 years old, Salazar’s glove isn’t going to get any better. He can be a good bat when Baltimore needs it for as long as they need it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was sent down to make room for Cesar Izturis in July- in the National League it is critical to have extra hitters on the bench, but an American League team needs to put more emphasis on having solid defensive players first. It won’t be an easy decision for management, but it would be the right one.

1 comment:

Windsor said...

You're right that Salazar is nothing but a stopgap, and his best benefit is as a pinch hitter. And as a pinch hitter, I feel he's become INVALUABLE to this ballclub. Remember when the O's could never get a pinch hit? He's changed that.

As for Berken, he's an awesome guy, and I think he'll turn it around. But he doesn't have a long term future here.