O’s rotation still in question

The Orioles came into the 2021 season with the knowledge of a rebuild still in progress. Our pitching was supposed to find a little bit of stability with John Means, Dean Kremer, and Keegan Akin covering three spots in the rotation, but what about the other spots?

The season started with Akin not making the Opening Day roster, journey man veteran Matt Harvey locking down his spot, and Jorge López securing his, along with left-handed roommate Bruce Zimmermann. Oriole fans held a collective breath, as we really weren’t sure what this five-man rotation was going to bring. 

Through the first 31 games, it looked like we might surprise the league. John Means hadn’t lost a game, Zimmermann was serviceable, and Harvey looked like he discovered the fountain of youth, going 3-1 to start the year. 

The Orioles were one game under .500 in a three-way tie for second place in the division. Means made history by pitching the first solo no-hitter since Jim Palmer in 1969.  

But the bottom fell out, and it’s been a spiraling door since then.

The Orioles as a team pitching staff have a 5.56 ERA, which is .20 points behind the Diamondbacks for dead last. The Orioles consistently fail to have a starter go five or more innings. Matt Harvey became the first starter in 18 straight games that completed at least six innings with his shout-out victory July 19. The fans are growing restless, and the biggest question is: Where do we go from here?

The good news is that John Means is scheduled to return from the Injured List Tuesday night. Yes, he will bring a stabilizing presence to the staff that is much needed, but are we getting the John Means from earlier this year, or the John Means that struggled until his final threes starts last year? Currently slated as our bona-fide ace, fans are looking for a spark that might change the tide.

Matt Harvey looked like a true veteran leader winning his first game in nine starts with his performance against the Royals, but the question begs to be asked: Is it a fluke? 

Harvey has an ERA currently above 7.00. The hope was to get a somewhat decent half of a season out him and trade him to a contender to get a young prospect. At this present moment, we might be lucky to fill a bullpen spot, unless his recent start is an aberration of what we can see going forward. As of right now, his spot is safe, but he won’t be back after this season.

Jorge López has proven to be somewhat durable. Unfortunately at 2-12 with an ERA at 6.03, the results have been less than spectacular. A former long reliever, he is good for three innings plus, before he tends to get a little wild and shakey to say the least. He does have potential, but once again, filling a rotation spot out of need might be holding back his development.

Until recently, the Orioles rotation was a merry-go-round of which arm is next up. As we all waited for Means to come back, we wanted anybody to step up and give us hope each start out of the gate. This is where a dream actually became a reality for one lucky almost high school coach. 

Spenser Watkins became a breath of fresh air and the type of player the Orioles were looking for. In three starts (four appearances), the 28-year-old rookie has tossed 16.1 innings, allowing just three runs to help carry an ERA of 1.65 in four games.

Watkins pitched efficiently enough to win his first start and kept the team in a position to win his second start, though he didn’t factor into the decision. At 28, he is entering his prime years and, right now, has earned a continued stay in the rotation. He’s a presence that keeps us in games and gives us a chance to win each time out.  

From here, it’s hard to figure out what to do next or which arm will arrive to take the next step. Zac Lowther has been up and down all year. Between bullpen duties and one start, he’s thrown in five games with only 8.1 innings pitched. His up and down frequency is taking away developmental time, which may be risking his future with the team, whether he’s a bullpen arm or starting pitcher. 

Of course, the fans are calling for D.L. Hall and Grayson Rodriguez to be called up, but out of respect for their development, would it really benefit either of them to come into a fire storm and risk losing quality learning time in the minors? The answer is no, of course. Fans may not agree, but they are failing to see the necessity of growth, versus the want just to fill a seat.

As things stand, the rotation with Means returning Tuesday would look like this:

1. John Means LHP
2. Keegan Akin LHP
3. Jorge López RHP
4. Matt Harvey RHP
5. Spenser Watkins RHP

Come August, Bruce Zimmermann is expected back, which will more than likely push Akin to long reliever barring an injury. If need be, it will more than likely be Akin who would return to the rotation, or Alex Wells could be brought in to help in either a rotation or bullpen capacity. 

The fun part will be debating in the off-season to see where Kremer, Hall, Rodriguez, Watkins, Michael Bauman, and Kyle Bradish fall into the picture. In a season where pitching is the talk of our team, 2022 might be the piece of the puzzle we all have been waiting to see.

How do you see the Orioles rotation playing out in the next few years? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Facebook and Twitter, and follow our podcast, The Walk-Off, on YouTube and Spotify! And, make sure to use the hashtag #baltimorebattery when sharing our content to show your Birdland swag!

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