Today I went to what is possibly the last spring training game to be held at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Next year the Orioles are likely headed to Vero Beach or Sarasota, much farther away from my Palm Beach County home.
I went not only because it was probably that last game, but also to see for myself if the Baltimore pitching staff is as bad as they appear on paper. The answer, in a word, is, "Yes." The answer, in two words, is, "Hell, yes!"
The starter today was the "ace" of their staff, Jeremy Guthrie. To begin with, when Jeremy Guthrie is the #1 starter in your rotation, you know you are in bad shape. Sure, today's start is a micro-sized sample, but the Orioles had better hope that he is still rusty from lack of use by Team USA or they have absolutely no one who can be thought of as a stopper.Long losing streaks could become the norm at Camden Yards in 2009.
Manager Dave Trembley left Guthrie in for 4 IP, a total of 85 pitches. It seemed like Trembley was going to have Guthrie throw 4 innings, no matter what. He needed 33 pitches to get through the 4th inning and no one was warming up in the Baltimore bullpen at all while Guthrie was on the mound.
He racked up 5 strikeouts and had a strike/ball ratio of 56/29, not bad numbers on the face of them. The more telling part of Guthrie's performance, though, was the 8 runs (all earned) on 10 hits and a walk. Having your walks+hits almost equal your outs does not make a good outing.
It appeared that the Florida hitters were waiting to get their pitches before unloading. They only swung and missed 8 times at Guthrie offerings. Of course, all 10 of those hits also counted as strikes in the overall total. Guthrie faced 23 batters. Only 3 of them offered at the first pitch, none until the 3rd inning. Two of those got RBI hits and the other was thrown out at first on an excellent defensive play on a drag bunt attempt. The remaining 20 batters, who watched the first pitch, saw half of those pitches sail outside the strike zone. Too often, Guthrie was starting in a hole and when he wasn't, the Marlins seemed to smack him around at will. It was an absolutely horrendous appearance. He had little command of the plate, despite the strike/ball ratio, couldn't get the ball by anyone and when he was hit got hit hard. Even the outs have notations next to them on my scoresheets like, "deep" and "hard hit." You can't base complete assessments on one game, but this would be enough for me to avoid Guthrie like the plague.
Did things get any better once Guthrie left? No, not really. Danys Baez pitched the fifth inning, allowing 3 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out none. He threw 29 pitches, tiring badly towards the end, with 6 of his last 8 pitches being balls. Overall, only 17 of his pitches in the outing were strikes. Although Baez threw noticeably harder than Guthrie, he was even wilder and only one strike came with a Florida batter swinging and missing.
The 6th inning was a relative bright spot for the Baltimore bullpen. Jim Johnson dispatched the Florida batters on 10 pitches, 8 of them strikes. Only one Marlin reached base, a homer by Wes Helms. Two of the batters were first pitch outs. Maybe they were just too tired by this point to stand up there for multiple pitches.
One of the early candidates for the Baltimore rotation, David Pauley, pitched the last two innings before I left at the end of 8 innings. (Usually I will leave spring games earlier, since most of the starters are gone by that time, but I had a morbid fascination with seeing how much more punishment could be dished out.) Pauley had a thoroughly mediocre appearance, which probably puts him above average in the Orioles' pecking order. In the 7th, he only allowed one hit, a hard double off the center field wall, but only 7 of his 12 pitches were strikes. In the 8th, Pauley gave up a leadoff double to Jorge Cantu deep in the left field corner. Cantu then stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Pauley settled down and retired the next 3 batters, two on looking Ks, although Cantu did score on a sac fly. In this inning, Pauley threw 14 of 17 pitches for strikes. He is still not suited for more than bullpen duty.
I really concentrated on Baltimore pitchers in this gamer because the Marlins rested their major league arms. Most of the pitchers for Florida had uniform numbers in the 70s through 90s, so there wasn't a whole lot of context with which to analyze them or the Baltimore hitters. Also, I was hoping that maybe there would be a diamond in the rough out there in orange and black, someone that maybe looked better than their Grapefruit League numbers would indicate. It certainly doesn't look that way, although I do remember a few years ago when I saw Miguel Tejada look absolutely horrible in a late spring game at the plate and in the field and he ended up getting off to a torrid start. While sometimes these are "just" spring training games, my guess is that the performances today were much more indicative of true value than Tejada's mirage.