• May

    Reality Check - Rodrigo Style

    What a great weekend it was to be an Orioles fan. A sweep of one of the few organizations in worse shape than the Orioles that included an exciting four-run comeback in the ninth inning on Sunday was enough to at least put this Orioles fan in a good mood.

    Don't get me wrong, it didn't make me suddenly think the Orioles were contenders, but wins are wins and wins are always better than losses.

    Unfortunately a reality check was waiting for us on Monday with a game against the Red Sox. In case you didn't know, the Orioles had lost 11 straight against the Red Sox coming into this series and with a Rodrigo Lopez vs Josh Becket matchup staring us in the face, reality appeared closer than ever.

    And reality it was. Lopez, who has yet to put up a quality start in 2006, did nothing to prove his critics (who believe he belongs in the pen) wrong by allowing two runs, in the second, four in the third, then did not retire a batter in the fifth before mercifully being pulled. After allowing eight more runs in four innings of work, Lopez falls to 1-6 with a 7.68 ERA. That's nine straight starts in which he did not qualify for a quality start. 

    In case you were wondering, this is not overly surprising since Lopez has posted ERAs of 4.90 (2005) and 5.82 (2003) in the only other seasons in which he pitched purely as a starter. The problem with Lopez is not that he doesn't have some decent stuff, it's that he struggles to command it consistently.

    In 2004, Lopez put up a 1.99 ERA in 14 relief appearances striking out 28 in 31.2 innings. In 2002, Lopez put up a 1.50 ERA in five relief appearances, striking out 13 in 15 innings before moving to the rotation. In his career he has a 1.93 ERA in 46.2 innings vice a 4.95 ERA in 754.1 innings as a starter. Since 2003, Lopez has pitched to a 5.34 ERA as a starter.

    It's time to move Lopez back to the pen. But if you do, who starts? Hayden Penn would be the logical replacement, but he may replace the injured Daniel Cabrera. Besides Penn, the only pitchers on the 40-man roster that are currently starting in either Triple-A or Double-A are Cory Morris (0-4, 5.48) with Ottawa, Adam Loewen (3.09, 50K-22BB in 43.2IP) and James Johnson (3.63, 36K-14BB in 39.2 IP). Morris has struggled all season so really it would appear either Loewen or Johnson would be next if the Orioles choose to go to the farm.

    On the current roster, the only pitcher worth giving a rotation shot to would be rookie Kurt Birkins who has pitched very well in relief since being promoted. However, Birkins has been the only decent left-handed reliever (let's not talk of John Halama, ok?) so the O's might want to give either Johnson of Loewen a shot, depending upon who they feel is more ready. Although with the way Bruce Chen has pitched, it might not hurt to give both a shot this year.

    Another good thing is this would open a rotation spot for Radhames Liz at Bowie since he's been just abusing Carolina League hitters all season (1.18, 56K-15BB in 38 IP).

    Personally, after looking how the Detroit Tigers pitching has come around after gaining experience at the big league level, maybe having Penn, Loewen and Johnson in the rotation this year might not be that bad an idea. Worse case scenario they struggled and have to be sent back down, but at least they'll gain that experience.

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Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.