While watching Jake Arrieta struggle on the mound against the Phillies on Friday night, Orioles manager Buck Showalter firmly believed that sending Arrieta to Triple-A was the best solution.
Arrieta himself thought it was a real possibility. He talked to his father on the phone Friday night about the likelihood.
But the Orioles brass contemplated Arrieta's fate to the 11th hour and decided to move their Opening Day starter to the bullpen to work out his problems instead of optioning him to Norfolk. In order to make room for Saturday's starter, right-hander Tommy Hunter, the Orioles optioned rookie right-handed reliever Miguel Gonzalez instead.
"Starting in the minor leagues was an option, something we strongly considered," Showalter said. "I don't have much doubt that Jake would go down there and do well statistically at Triple-A. Regardless of how well you do there, you can be confident of being a good pitcher in Norfolk but still have that doubt of whether or not you're going to be a good pitcher in Camden Yards. It's still the biggest jump in levels of play in professional sports. We've had a lot of guys that come up, go down and do well statistically, but it doesn't play up here."
So instead, Arrieta, who leads the American League in loses (8) and earned runs allowed (52), hopes to get a mental break by joining the bullpen, a move he embraced.
"It's about several things," said Arrieta, who last worked as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League in 2007, when he threw 18 scoreless innings. "It's about not harping on mechanical adjustments in game. If my thought process is more focused on making mechanical adjustments than executing pitches and getting guys out, then it's going to be hard to have success, because I'm going to constantly be worrying about past pitches and past at-bats when in reality, the past is the past. There's no way to change that.
"All my focus needs to be geared toward the next pitch and the next better and those are the type of things I've attributed to my success, and I need to get back to that."
Less than 24 hours earlier, Arrieta had possibly the worst start of his career, allowing a career-high 11 hits and career-worst nine runs in just four innings of work in a 9-6 loss. It was his eighth loss in his last nine decisions.
In Arrieta's first three starts this season — which included seven shutout innings in an Opening Day win over the Twins — he had a 2.66 ERA. But in the 10 starts since, Arrieta owns a 7.71 ERA and has gone past the six-inning mark just three times.
"Right now, I just feel at ease," Arrieta said. "I feel at peace with everything that's gone on. What happened to me in the past month, month in a half, was mentally draining. Those type of things snowball into my next start and going out there and trying to pitch with that type of mindset, it almost feels like you're already defeated before any runs are even scored. So it feels good to kid of be at ease and clear-minded and just approach this situation with that mindset. And I think everyone will benefit from it.
"Being in the bullpen, you come into the game where you're going one, maybe two innings and you can go out there and just let it fly."
Gonzalez to start at Norfolk
Gonzalez, who pitched well out of the pen in long-relief duty, will enter the starting rotation at Triple-A Norfolk with the idea that he could return as part of the Orioles rotation. (The Orioles will next need a fifth starter on Saturday, but Gonzalez can't be recalled within 10 days unless there's an injury.)
"He's thrown three innings here," Showalter said. "He should be able to go five next time out, probably."
In two outings since his contract was purchased May 29, Gonzalez had allowed just two runs in 7 1/3 innings, pitching to a 2.45 ERA. Pitching mainly in relief at Norfolk, he was 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA, allowing just 10 hits in 30 innings and striking out 36.
Before joining the Orioles, Gonzalez — who was signed as a minor-league free agent in February — was beginning to assimilate to a starter's role. He made three starts, including his last two at Norfolk, throwing five perfect innings for the Tides on May 24.
"He stays in the fold, presented himself well," Showalter said. "He'll go down there and start. We've gotten him up to five innings, I think it's 70 pitches, which is not quite where you want to be to be a starting option, but we would like to go out there and let him do that and get stretched back out."
Around the horn
Orioles first-round draft pick Kevin Gausman earned a win and a loss Saturday for LSU in the NCAA Super Regional against Stony Brook. Gausman, whom the Orioles selected with the fourth overall pick on Monday, pitched a perfect 12th inning in Saturday's continuation of Game 1, a 5-4 Tigers win that had been suspended because of weather. He then started the Game 2 that followed, allowing three runs on six hits over seven innings with six strikeouts in a 3-1 loss to the Seawolves. The teams play again Sunday with the winner advancing to the College World Series. … Saturday's game was the Orioles' second home sellout of the year, with an announced attendance 46,611. The first came on Opening Day. ... Heading into Saturday, reliever Pedro Strop had held right-handed hitters to the second-lowest batting average in the majors (.096 average; 5-for-52) among pitchers with a minimum of 50 batters faced. He trailed only Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman (.091, 6-for-66). … Adam Jones' single in the ninth inning ended a season-worst 0-for-18 skid. … Reliever Kevin Gregg has posted a 1.32 ERA in his last 12 outings (2 ER in 13 2/3 IP).
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