In a stable full of promising young Baltimore pitchers, Jake Arrieta looked like the one who would turn into a dependable starter. Brian Matusz, Zack Britton, Chris Tillman, Jason Berken and Arrieta all surfaced around the same time. “One of them’s gotta be worth a damn,” went the thinking, back before the O’s were any good. It had been so long since Orioles fans had seen talent, it was hard to remember what it looked like. If you watch Sidney Ponson long enough, you start to forget what an actual pitcher looks like.
But Arrieta, in his first couple years with the O’s, reminded us. In 2010 and ’11, we watched a guy who looked like the hero of an old western. Stoic, tough, competitive. Somehow, Arrieta won 10 games with the awful Birds of 2011. He even notched a 5.05 ERA that year. He’d pitch through trouble, limiting damage and keeping his team in games.
But then something no one expected happened: the Orioles started winning. They made the playoffs. Other teams had to start taking them seriously. And there was no room for a 5.05 ERA anymore. So half a season after he dominated the Twins on opening day of last season, Arrieta found himself in Norfolk, toiling to find himself. He sort of did, I guess, and came back to the big leagues when the rosters expanded. But his rotation spot was gone and he’d throw one or two or three innings in relief for the last month of the season. Left off the postseason roster, Arrieta would have to wait for spring training to prove himself again.
And he did, again. He fought his way back into the rotation, landing the fifth spot. And now, after only four starts, he’s in danger of losing it again. Today against the Dodgers, Baltimore was poised for a series sweep. Arrieta retired the Dodgers in order in the first and second. Then in the third, with a three-run lead, he sprung a leak, with three walks. Somehow, only one run scored. Back to his dominant self in the fourth, Arrieta mowed down Ethier, Hairston and Ellis, 1-2-3.
But the fifth inning was the end of Arrieta’s day. After two walks and a HBP, Buck Showalter yanked Jake with the bases loaded and no outs. And of course, all the runs scored, and all were charged to Arrieta. The O’s couldn’t recover; final score, 7-4 Dodgers.
Buck’s not a patient man. Nor is Dan Duquette. Arrieta’s had more than a few chances to stick, not just in the rotation but on the team. The Orioles are actually trying to win and can’t afford a shaky starter with control problems.
Arrieta’s 27 and has minor league options left, which makes it hard to imagine he’ll remain on the team long. He hasn’t yet gotten his big-league payday, earning about a half-million bucks this year. He’s running out of time quickly.