Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Over the Hill, and About to Tumble

I talked to Windsor last night, and we traded ideas as to how Rich Hill would do. I insisted that he would rise to the occasion, giving the Orioles a solid though unremarkable 6 innings with 3 earned runs. Windsor predicted he’d give up three, but wouldn’t make it out of the 4th. That is why he’s the expert, I suppose. In fact, I was so certain of a serviceable performance out of Rich Hill that I planned today to be an open letter in defense of the much-maligned curve baller. However, this pitcher is instead reminding me a bit too much of Daniel Cabrera- great potential to get guys out but when he can’t locate his pitches he is done for. Rich Hill can be incredible; that much I am certain of. His fastball is too flat, but as a primarily curve ball pitcher, he gives hitters a completely different look in the rotation. Hill’s comeback with the Orioles was promising at first, but the wheels have completely come off.

Even more alarming are his statements that his shoulder is bothering him, and has been all season. He gave the same reason for his performance last year, though it was his back that was bothering him then. With the recent report about fastballs doing more damage to young arms than curve balls, Hill may wind up being a useful counterpoint. If he is still experiencing injury problems after all of his time in rehab and adjusting his throwing motion, perhaps this guy simply can’t stay healthy enough to use his pitches. Some pitchers can play through their injuries and still get quality starts- but when you are throwing curve balls as frequently as Hill it can do a number on your arm. I make no excuses for Hill; he should be able to locate his pitches after all this time with a patient coaching staff and a healthy environment for project players like him. Baltimore has given him all the opportunities this team can afford, and at this point it is just taxing the bullpen.

At this point I am not sure it can be fixed at the major league level, but I won’t dismiss Rich Hill entirely. He is the only pitcher on this staff aside from Jeremy Guthrie who has had any record of success at the major league level. Should he clear waivers, he could make wonderful use of some time at Norfolk to get his act together, and perhaps come back with a vengeance next season. Let’s not simply assume that Bergesen-Guthrie-Matusz-Tillman-Hernandez are going to automatically be ready to rock the world next season. Nor should we forget that the cost of sending Hill down (or having him leave the organization if he should be grabbed off of waivers, though that is less likely now than ever) is keeping Jason Berken up.

What, may I ask, is Berken learning at the major league level? The guy has been completely shelled, a young prospect thrown up before he is ready and made to learn on the fly- that is how young pitchers are ruined. Windsor has argued to me that Jason Berken’s development isn’t important because he isn’t projected to be a star anyway. I have trouble with that line of thinking, to be honest. Berken could very well be completely shell-shocked by this season’s end, and never be the same pitcher he could have been. I don’t like looking at my players as collateral damage for the common good. However, I won’t pretend that this isn’t a business and that you have to do what’s best in the long term. Berken has also recovered rather well after rough patches early in games, indicating that he may have a better mental makeup than other previous O’s.

This start means a lot for Jason Berken, but not quite as much as it meant yesterday. With Hill’s dismal start on a day when it was obvious to everyone that he was playing for his job, Jason Berken needs only to make it through 4 innings and he will get to stay in the rotation. Let’s hope he does slightly better than that.

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