The Baltimore Orioles still have their fifth spot in the starting rotation open as competition is becoming fierce. The battle is between a few pitchers in particular and it appears it will come down to the wire for who will get the job.
Jake Arrieta might have the upper hand as of right now after his stellar outing Monday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 27-year-old pitched four scoreless innings in which he only allowed two hits, no walks and struck out five batters. This was a breath of fresh air considering he came into the game with a whopping 10.12 earned run average after two appearances (one start) this spring.
Arrieta has spent all three years in the big leagues with the Orioles. He has started 58 games over that span while appearing out of the bullpen six times last year. Overall, he has posted a career 19-23 record with a 5.33 ERA and 254 strikeouts in 334 1/3 innings. However, last year he fell off the wagon in which he went 3-9 with a dismal 6.20 ERA in 114 2/3 innings. This is the reason why Baltimore is forced to have an open competition for the fifth rotation spot because they cannot have any weak links among the starters in their quest for a division title.
Jair Jurrjens was signed earlier this year by the Orioles to a Minor League contract and was projected by many to be the fifth member of the rotation in 2013. His numbers dropped way off in 2012 from the previous year in which he went 3-4 with a 6.89 ERA, 19 strikeouts and 48 1/3 innings in 11 games (10 starts). This is far from the norm for the 27-year-old as he has a career 53-37 record with a 3.62 ERA in 125 starts.
The fact that he has proven talent and shown plenty of potential over his six-year career is why Baltimore feels the need to give him a chance. Unfortunately, Jurrjens appears to be squandering his opportunity, as he is 0-1 with a 9.53 ERA and two strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings over three games (two starts) in Spring Training.
A player that some fans forget about is Steve Johnson, who is definitely capable of handling a starting role. The rookie went an impressive 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 12 appearances last season (four starts). The Orioles would like to keep him in the bullpen if all possible, but they may have to force their hand if they believe no one else can be successful at the back end of the rotation. In one start this spring, Johnson allowed two earned runs on two hits in two innings against the Toronto Blue Jays.
In all honesty, this is a very difficult decision for Baltimore to make as each of these players has proven to be the man for the job, but have also shown reasons why they may not be ready. The good news for the Orioles is that there is still a couple weeks left to decide who the right man is. The hot hand is clearly Arrieta as of right now, but my money is on Jurrjens using his Major League experience to finish camp on a high note.