Friday, 4 April (1:08pm) - Miguel Gonzalez @ Anibal Sanchez
Game notes: Miguel Gonzalez will make his first start of 2014 as the Orioles 4th starter. He has ended up with vastly similar results over his two seasons in Baltimore. While he added an additional 70 innings this past season, he concluded each season with a .260 BABIP and comparable walk and strikeout rates. His ERA/FIP ticked up just a notch, but he did provide an additional 0.6 WAR over his extra 70 innings. Gonzalez produced additional ground balls in 2013, yet his HR/FB% also increased.
A reason to watch: The Tigers offense. Gone is Prince Fielder. In are lead-off man Ian Kinsler and rookie Nick Castellanos. It seems as though Castellanos has been on prospects lists forever, yet he's only 22. Keith Law of ESPN considers him to be a potential 25-30 homer guy, even if that power potential doesn't quite shine this season. He takes over at 3B, which allows Miguel Cabrera to slide back over to 1B - a move that should ease at least some of the injury concern regarding his hip/back. Additionally, Victor Martinez is another year removed from multiple knee surgeries. V-Mart ended the 2013 season on a BABIP-fueled tear, but he's still a solid hitter regardless, albeit lacking some in the power department.
Scouting Report: Anibal Sanchez is good. He led the league in ERA in 2013 and his FIP was even lower. It was the best year of his career so probably something of an outlier, but even in his other years he's a very good pitcher. He throws his fastball in the low-mid 90s but he can dial it up above 95 when he needs to. He struggled with control early in his career but that hasn't been a problem in four seasons, as since 2011 he walks just 2.6 batters per nine innings. And when you pair that with a K/9 of 9, it makes for pretty good results. Sanchez has faced the Orioles just once in his career in 2010, and no Oriole has more than 6 plate appearances against him.
Maybe hot: Ian Kinsler (1 HR, 3 RBI, 1.157 OPS, 10 PA)
Maybe not: N/A
Saturday, 5 April (1:08pm) - Bud Norris @ Rick Porcello
Game notes: Bud Norris will make his first start of the year, slotted in as the O's fifth starter, against Tigers starter Rick Porcello. Norris will be looking to improve upon his not ideal numbers from 2013. After making the jump from Houston to Baltimore, Norris' OPS against rose from .754 to .837 (he allowed 11 homers in 126 innings for the Astros and 6 in just 50 innings for the Orioles). In fact, he saw most of his numbers rise after coming over to Baltimore. Not great. Furthermore, Norris has been hit pretty well by lefties in his career, but that split was even more pronounced last season. Also not great.
A reason to watch: Norris. He enters the year as the 5th starter, but one cannot imagine that he's on a very long leash considering one of baseball's best prospects, Kevin Gausman, is just waiting to take his place. Zach Britton also lurks in the bullpen and has to be just as eager to prove himself as a starter once again. How will Norris handle the pressure of being the likely odd-man out when Gausman returns to Baltimore? Will he pitch every game as though his job is on the line? We'll get our first taste on Saturday and it's sure to be a test, considering the potency of the Detroit offense.
Scouting report: Fun fact - his full name is Frederick Alfred Porcello. He tends to force a lot of grounders (55.3% GB in 2013), but has some issues keeping the ball in the park when it does get in the air (14.1% HR/FB). He struggled with the long ball more in 2013, but also increased his strikeout rate. Per usual for Porcello, his ERA exceeded his FIP, which suggests that the Tigers defense hasn't helped him out (corners of Fielder and Cabrera can do that to you...). He sports a low 90s fastball and throws quite a few two-seamers, even if he does have a 4-pitch arsenal. Porcello's out-pitch of choice for 2013 appeared to be his curveball. He utilized that pitch far more in 2013 than ever before, especially against lefties, and it proved to be the toughest to hit among his four pitches. The O's would be well-served to use a lefty-heavy lineup in this game, as Porcello is adept at producing grounders (usually to the left side of the infield) from right-handed hitters.
Maybe hot: Nick Markakis (1.086 OPS, 1 HR, 22 PA),
Maybe not: Nelson Cruz (4-20, .400 OPS, 20 PA)
Sunday, 6 April (1:08pm) - Chris Tillman @ Justin Verlander
Game notes: Tillman will make his second start of the year and first on the road. If 2013 is any indication, Tillman tends to pitch better on the road than he does at Camden Yards. Last season, Tillman recorded 97 innings on the road, not significantly less than his 109.1 recorded at home, yet he allowed just 9 home runs. While that's still a hefty number for a guy the Orioles are counting on to be their top guy, it is considerably less than the 24 he allowed at home.
A reason to watch: More a something to watch for - the efficiency of Chris Tillman. Part of Tillman's growth as a starter has come in the form of efficiency. He went from averaging about 5.5 innings per start in 2012 to over 6 in 2013. Hitters appear to work the count effectively against Tillman at times, pushing his pitch count up to the triple digits before the game is 5 innings old. For him to continue improving as a pitcher, he'll need to start trusting his stuff more often and drastically cut down on the number of lengthy ABs. He did struggle some with this in his first start, requiring 105 pitches to complete 5 innings.
Scouting report: Last season was a down year by most accounts for Justin Verlander. Although his velocity peaked in 2009 (fastball average of 95.9) and has been declining just slightly each year since, the most dramatic decrease occurred in 2013 (down 1 MPH from 2012). It's possible that the decrease in velocity had something to do with the increase in BABIP, which rose to .316 - nearly 30 points above his career average. Should that number drop closer to his career average, there's no reason to think the O's won't see the same pitcher who has thrown very well against them in the past (.572 career OPS against current Orioles). His control decreased a bit and he forced fewer grounders in 2013 as well, but not much else changed. Verlander throws both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, slider, curveball, and a change. Not sure whether a decrease in velocity has bamboozled PITCHf/x, but Verlander threw approximately 200 more changeups in 2013 vs. 2012 and approximately 200 fewer two-seam fastballs.
Maybe hot: J.J. Hardy (3 HR, 7 RBI, .853 OPS, 35 PA), Miguel Cabrera (1.434 OPS, 11 PA)
Maybe not: Adam Jones (.365 OPS, 28 PA)