The turnover in the Orioles rotation this season has been real. But at the same time, not entirely unexpected. Going into a 60-game season with an abbreviated ‘summer camp’ that was preceded by an abrupt end to spring training and a hiatus lasting several months, the chances of injuries and/or inconsistency among pitchers was bound to go up. The Orioles were no exception here.
Not counting John Means, who started this season on the injured list, the Orioles currently have just one starting pitcher who was in the rotation on opening day. That pitcher is Alex Cobb.
Despite the success of a few inexperienced starters recently, the rotation’s inconsistency as a whole is borne out in the numbers. Oriole starters have had an unspectacular 4.93 ERA over the course of 211.2 innings pitched this season, but also a 1.337 WHIP and 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
Asher Wojciechowski started the year in the Orioles rotation but could not stay there. He’s still on the club, but has been demoted to the bullpen after registering a 5.17 ERA as a starter that included 18 earned runs and eight home runs allowed in 31.1 innings pitched. He has allowed 10 runs over 5.2 innings as a reliever.
The Birds signed a couple of veteran left-handers to minor league deals this offseason who ended up having their contracts selected and were slotted into the rotation early on.
One of those veterans, Wade LeBlanc, was lost back on August 23rd due to a left elbow stress reaction. But he was struggling mightily prior to getting hurt, pitching to an 8.06 ERA in six starts before he was lost for the year.
The other veteran, Tommy Milone, was arguably the O’s best starter for the first chunk of the season. Before he was traded to the Atlanta Braves on August 30th, he managed a 3.99 ERA with an impressive four walks versus 31 strikeouts in 29.1 innings as an Oriole. He’s currently on Atlanta’s injured list with left elbow inflammation.
Neither LeBlanc nor Milone figured to maintain a long-term position with Baltimore, due to their age and the plethora of young pitchers waiting in the wings. But still, the elimination of the 2020 minor league season threw into doubt the readiness of even the Orioles’ most advanced minor league arms.
Yet as time has gone by, the O’s have shown a willingness to promote their young starters, despite the initial 2020 experience for such players coming at the alternate training site at Bowie, facing a limited number of organizational teammates in simulated game conditions.
It seemed as though just when chatter among the fanbase this season reached a fevered pitch for minor league reinforcements, the Orioles brass responded by promoting some promising youngsters, including a few pitchers because of considerable rotation turnover.
Through 49 games this year — with only 11 remaining — nine different pitchers have received multiple starts for the Birds.
Take last year into account for comparison, when over the course of the full 162-game season, 14 different Oriole pitchers started multiple games. But even that number is skewed because two of those 14 starters were utilized as openers in 2019, a practice that has not carried over into this season.
In 2019, Nate Karns made two starts that lasted two innings apiece, while Jimmy Yacabonis made four starts ranging from one inning to 2.2 innings.
What’s promising about the turnover this season is the success, albeit limited, of the young members of the rotation. Just last night, Keegan Akin pitched five scoreless innings against the Braves, allowing only three hits and one walk while striking out a career high nine batters en route to lowering his ERA to 3.38.
Dean Kremer, acquired from the Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade two years ago, is another highly touted young pitcher who has made two very successful starts for the O’s recently, pitching a total of 11 innings while only allowing two runs and striking out more than a batter per inning.
Plus, there’s an interesting tidbit that was posted on Twitter yesterday, courtesy of beat writer Joe Trezza, speculating that the O’s could promote another young pitcher for his major league debut as soon as tonight:
Ellicott City product Bruce Zimmermann is a candidate to start one of the Orioles games against the Rays tomorrow, per a source with knowledge of the situation. Zimmermann was scheduled to throw a simulated game in Bowie recently but the O's altered those plans, per source.— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) September 16, 2020
Just imagine a future where drastic rotation turnover is no longer an everyday occurrence. Yes, it’s unlikely in the current era — with the game’s ever present injuries and myriad roster moves — but not impossible, especially for the upper echelon of pitching staffs.
But true stability can only happen when a team has a group of healthy, reliable starting pitchers to depend upon. If we’re lucky, those days aren’t too far from now for the Orioles.