It depends on which line you want to consider before truly assessing Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta's performance in the club's 5-4 win against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.
Arrieta's pitching line wasn't pretty: He lasted only five innings for the third consecutive start in this young season. He walked five, gave up three hits and threw 112 pitches, only 63 of them for strikes.
Then there's the silver lining: Arrieta allowed just one run, thanks, in part, to his seven strikeouts.
After being hit with rapid-fire postgame questions about Arrieta, the 27-year-old's inconsistency and his familiar high pitch count, manager Buck Showalter decided to concentrate on the bottom line. The Orioles and Arrieta won Tuesday.
“You know, he was the winning pitcher tonight in a major league game against an American League East team,” Showalter said. “And I'm proud of him for battling through. He had some chances to give in; he didn't.”
Before the game, Showalter talked about how the supremely talented and supremely befuddling Arrieta has kept the club in games during his starts this year, but the manager wants to see him pitch deeper.
So after another team victory with Arrieta on the mound — the club is 3-0 when he pitches; he is 1-0 — Showalter was somewhat divided in his assessment.
“Stuff was pretty good. Command was a challenge for him. That's why he was only able to give us five innings,” Showalter said. “Of course, [the Rays] had something to do with that, too. They were pretty selective. Very similar to his first two outings. Someone reminded me today, we've won all three games he's started in. But there's better there.”
Before an announced crowd of 14,670 in just the fourth home game of 2013, Arrieta was wild and overpowering; shaky and dominant. He struck out five of six batters at one point. He also threw 10 of 11 pitches for balls with two outs in the third, walking two before getting an inning-ending pop up.
The first pitch he threw Tuesday — a 94-mph fastball — was clobbered into the left field seats by Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings. It was Jennings' fifth leadoff homer of his career. It then took Arrieta 13 pitches to retire the next batter, Kelly Johnson, on a strikeout.
“It started out kind of rough, first pitch of the game, home run there. Obviously, he is sitting fastball, but it's still tough to hit. 94 down and in, and he did a good job of putting wood on it,” Arrieta said. “And then the second guy, Kelly Johnson, strings together a -pitch at-bat. They battled, but I had to do the same thing tonight. I was a tick off with command tonight. I battled myself a little bit but found a way to get some big strikeouts in key situations.”
Arrieta has allowed 13 hits, 11 walks and nine runs (5.40 ERA) in 15 innings this year. He hasn't lasted more than five innings in any of his three starts. He made it into the sixth Tuesday but walked Evan Longoria and was removed before recording an out in the inning. In two of those games, his pitch count was high; one start was stunted because of rain.
“I'm really not worried about [pitch count]. The win is the biggest part of the night. I would have liked to be out there a little bit longer but the pitch count got up,” Arrieta said. “They stuck with me in the sixth, let me go back out, and I just wasn't able to command the ball then. I might have run out of gas a little bit, but I had a lot left in the tank, still. So I appreciate them letting me go back out there and see what I could do.”
The Orioles (7-6) scored once in each of their first three innings against Roberto Hernandez (0-3). They plated multiple runs only one time — on a groundout and a Rays error after loading the bases with no outs in the sixth.
The Orioles quickly tied the game in the bottom of the first. Nate McLouth led off with a walk. He then stole second and scored on Manny Machado's double to right-center. They took a 2-1 lead in the second on a solo home run by catcher Matt Wieters, who hadn't had a homer or an extra base hit since Opening Day on April 2 against the Rays.
Coming off an awful 2-for-21 road trip, Wieters hit a full-count pitch from Hernandez off the grounds crew shed in right for his second home run of the season.
“Any time you get a hit it's a good hit,” Wieters said. “It wasn't the best road trip swinging the bat, so it was nice to get a hit there early.”
Nick Markakis added a single in the third to score McLouth and give Arrieta a 3-1 lead.
With the game seemingly in hand in the eighth, the Rays — who had scored three total runs in three straight losses at Boston — plated three runs in three batters against Orioles reliever Pedro Strop.
Johnson homered, Ben Zobrist walked and Longoria homered to suddenly make it a one-run game.
“I missed two pitches. That was pretty much it,” said Strop, who now has a 10.80 ERA in six appearances this season. “I was feeling pretty good, locating my sinker. Good location with everything. But those two pitches, they just stayed right in the middle.”
Brian Matusz and Darren O'Day combined on three outs in the eighth, and Jim Johnson picked up his sixth save with a perfect ninth, the 97th consecutive regular season game the Orioles have won when leading at the completion of the seventh inning. That's the third-longest such streak for any big league club since 1961.
The win pushed the Orioles over .500 again and gave them a 3-1 record against the division rival Rays.
It also was another hard-to-evaluate start for Arrieta, who is attempting to hold the line as a big league pitcher until his talent fully takes over.
“We know what kind of stuff Jake has and how good he can be. I think that's why you get all these questions,” Wieters said. “He's striving to get better, and everybody here is striving to get him better.”