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For openers

Ah, yes. Baltimore's favorite day of the year to play hooky has arrived. And what a splendiferous day it is. Nearly a century ago in his treacly timeless poem “Casey at the Bat” Ernest Thayer wrote, “Somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,” and certainly there are no clouds to be found at Camden Yards this afternoon, where the Birds are opening their 2005 regular season against the Oakland Athletics. But a gusty wind is swirling, and Miguel Tejada had to dive to snare what should have been a routine popup by Nick Swisher. As I write this, Luis Matos has just put the O's up 2-0 with a home run off left-hander Barry Zito. Rodrigo López is making the start for the Orioles.

Update: The Orioles were victorious, 4-0, behind the splendid pitching of López and three relievers. Troublingly, Javy López left the game early with a sore back.

The Orioles' Opening Day lineup made no compensation for the left-handedness of the opposing starter. Basically, manager Lee Mazzilli sent out his best nine, platoon matchups be damned:

  1. Brian Roberts, 2b
  2. Melvin Mora, 3b
  3. Miguel Tejada, ss
  4. Sammy Sosa, rf
  5. Rafael Palmeiro, 1b
  6. Javy López, C
  7. Jay Gibbons, dh
  8. Larry Bigbie, lf
  9. Luis Matos, cf

The season-opening 25-man roster had no really big surprises either. The backup infielder's job went to Chris Gómez, the backup catcher's slot to Gerónimo Gil, the fifth spot in the rotation to Bruce Chen, and the last two seats in the bullpen to Rick Bauer and Todd Williams.

The Orioles opted to carry a seventh reliever instead of a fifth reserve hitter. I question the need for twelve pitchers on the roster—I believe that the extra hitting option is more likely to be useful than the last pitcher in the bullpen—but the balance will likely change as the season progresses, so it's not a grave concern at this point.

The no-Riley factor

Shortly before the beginning of the season, left-hander Matt Riley was traded to the Texas Rangers for fringe prospect Ramón Nivar. Nivar will join Keith Reed and Tim Raines Jr. in the outfield at Triple-A Ottawa. Riley was once the organization's top prospect, but failed to develop according to the Orioles' tastes. He had been rumored to be on the trading block for a while, so this move hardly came as a shock. Because he was out of minor-league options, Baltimore had to keep him on the 25-man roster or risk losing him to waivers, and they elected to get what they could for him. The O's considered keeping Riley as a reliever, but ultimately decided against it because of his inexperience in that role and his overall inconsistency and immaturity.

While I understand their attitude, I don't think it was time to dump Riley, and certainly not for a 25-year-old toolsy hacker who likely won't amount to much in the majors. In my mind, Riley would have been a better bullpen alternative for the Orioles than sinker-tossing right-handers Bauer and Williams. Riley might be the kind of pitcher that is more suited to relieving than starting. Take the example of Arthur Rhodes, another fireballing southpaw prospect whom the Orioles turned into a reliever in the mid-1990s. When first promoted to the majors as a starter, Rhodes was occasionally brilliant but frustratingly erratic; once in a while he'd throw a shutout, but more often he'd be shelled. Freed of the mental demands of starting in 1995, Rhodes was able to concentrate on throwing his fastball and slider for strikes, and his stuff was good enough to get hitters out with regularity as he became one of the best firemen in the game. Like Rhodes, Riley isn't exactly Jamie Moyer out there on the mound—he's still more of a thrower than a pitcher at this point—but his stuff is undeniably nasty, as his high strikeout rates indicate. For an inning or two at a time, he could be quite effective. And if something should befall one of the Orioles' young starters, it would be handy to have him around.

Note: I apologize to everyone for my latest hiatus from this blog during which I wrote no articles for the better part of the past month. My mind has been occupied by other things lately, and quite frankly the writing bug just wasn't there. But now that the season has started, I'll try to focus more on producing the kind of analysis I did last year.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 4, 2005 5:37 PM.

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