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News » Baltimore Orioles Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Baltimore Orioles Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Baltimore Orioles Inside Pitch 2009-03-29
The Orioles likely are destined for a 12th straight losing season. But to management, it doesn't really matter. In 2009, a successful year in Baltimore will be defined by progress and competitiveness.

Behind the leadership of president Andy MacPhail, the Orioles finally have a direction for the first time in more than a decade. That direction doesn't bode well for 2009, but the next three seasons have more promise than any since 1997, the team's last playoff year.

A minor league system deep in pitching backs up a big-league roster built around defense.

The Orioles' pitching staff will determine how successful the club can be in the always tough American League East.

The rotation has only one proven commodity, right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. The bullpen will be strong, with former closer Chris Ray returning from elbow surgery to join All-Star closer George Sherrill and young setup man Jim Johnson to form a strong core for the last three innings.

By signing shortstop Cesar Izturis to a free agent contract, the Orioles solidified a position it took six players to fill last season. Izturis, coupled with second baseman Brian Roberts and center fielder Adam Jones, gives MacPhail and manager Dave Trembley a strong central defense.

The offense will be strong and balanced, led by Roberts, who leads off, and No. 3 hitter Nick Markakis -- both of whom were signed to long-term contract extensions this winter.

The Orioles improved the offense and versatility by acquiring slugging utility man Ty Wiggington and former prospect Felix Pie, both of whom should get a significant number of at-bats.

Catcher Gregg Zaun will provide veteran leadership and a switch-hitting bat while the club awaits its much anticipated wave of developing talent, both on the mound and behind the plate.

The most exciting faction of the organization won't join the club until later in 2009 at the earliest.

Catcher Matt Wieters, the 22-year-old widely considered the top hitting prospect in baseball, could join the club in May, while the impact of starting pitching prospects Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and left-hander Brian Matusz could reach Baltimore by September.

Trembley, who enters his second full season at the helm of the Orioles, has more options offensively and defensively, but his hand in managing the pitching staff will determine whether the club can reach 81 victories for the first time since 1997.

THE ORIOLES WILL CONTEND IF ...: The rest of the American League East is stricken by the injury bug and Matt Wieters is the second coming of Babe Ruth. With upstart Tampa Bay joining perennial powers Boston and New York, the Orioles will have a long road toward preventing a 12th consecutive losing season, let alone reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: CF Adam Jones put on 20-plus pounds of sheer muscle during the offseason and entered spring training in terrific shape. He'll get most of his early season at-bats in the No. 2 slot in the order, tucked securely between Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis. The five-tool talent should improve on a .270 average and nine home runs from 2008.

ON THE DECLINE: LHP Jamie Walker is typically relied upon for only one or two batters a game. So when he struggled against left-handed hitters last season, his ERA ballooned to 6.87. The 37-year-old was shut down in September because of elbow discomfort, a rough sign for a bullpen dominated by right-handers.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: March 29, 2009

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