Thursday, July 23, 2009

O's Rotation Set For Another Shuffle

Well, at least once a month for the past several seasons O's fans have faced this question: what do we do with our struggling starter(s)? The current situation has reached a breaking point with the struggles of young Jason Berken, and the epic decline of Rich Hill. Both Berken and Hill put up poor efforts against the Yankees, with Berken giving up 5 runs in 6 innings, and Rich Hill giving up 5 runs in 3 innings. These are not isolated occurences either, as both have struggled mightily for the past few weeks (save for a couple bright spots here and there), and the O's were hoping one would step up in their recent starts to avoid this tough decision. Does one of them go? Do both of them go? If so, who replaces them?

Well, in my opinion Rich Hill has to be the one to go. While he has more wins than Berken (inexplicably), he won't give you near the innings that Jason Berken will. Rich Hill has such an unorthodox delivery that when he's not spot-on to start the game he has supreme difficulty making adjustments. By contrast, Berken can make some adjustments to move further in a game, as evidenced by him finishing his last start with four shutout innings. Rich Hill doesn't have any options, but I can't think of any team in the majors who would be willing to put him on their major league roster. Rich Hill only has one good pitch, his curveball, and because it's effectively his only pitch he becomes way too predictable. And anyone who's watched him pitch knows that he can't rely on his fastball like many want him to, because it is exceptionally flat with little to no movement. I know I'm being harsh on the guy, but it is what it is.

That being said, I'm convinced that the club will try to put him through waivers (and he will pass through) and keep Berken for the time being. I think that Berken's finish from the last start is enough to think that he at least has the right mental toughness to have a shot at rebounding. To back this up further, the Baltimore Sun has already reported that Trembley and MacPhail will meet on Friday to discuss what to do with Rich Hill.

So who replaces Hill? There are actually a couple of ways to go-- Chris Tillman or David Pauley. Yes, David Pauley is a legitimate option even though O's fans don't pay much attention to the possibility. David Pauley was brought in to provide just this kind of depth at Triple-A, and he has performed admirably at Norfolk to the point that he would be a very sound call-up. Calling up David Pauley would allow Tillman more time at Norfolk and keeps Tillman's service clock from ticking. However, I do believe that Chris Tillman should (and will) be called up to replace Rich Hill in the rotation.

While I said at the start of the year that Chris Tillman should spend all of this season at Norfolk, his play has altered that plan. It's not because Tillman has dominated Triple-A competition in his recent starts, it's because he has dominated Triple-A throughout this entire season. Too often the Orioles bring up players simply because they've shown a hot streak; this is not one of those instances. Tillman has sustained his dominance and has rarely had two bad games in a row. His ability to make adjustments quickly, throw strikes, and the rave reviews from coaches at all levels tells me that he's as major league ready as he'll ever be. And almost as important as that readiness is the fact that he's ideally lined up for a major league debut. Now that he has been pushed back a day at Norfolk (curious, no?), his start lines up exactly with Hill's next Tuesday at home against the Royals. There is no better place to insert a young pitcher than at home versus a mediocre ball club (knock on wood). Assuming that his start tonight goes well, it's hard to think that the club will let this ideal situation slip by.

Certainly I understand patience, but I really think that this is the time and place to bring up Tillman to replace Rich Hill. Plus, I was hoping to go to Tuesday's game anyway, which doesn't hurt.

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