Jake on the spot; Arrieta delivers gem against Bucs

Jake on the spot; Arrieta delivers gem against Bucs

Jake on the spot; Arrieta delivers gem against Bucs
BALTIMORE -- Exiled to the bullpen after a series of rough starts, right-hander Jake Arrieta was preparing to work out the kinks while pitching in his new role.

But he might have found some relief without ever having to come in from the 'pen.

Starting in place of Brian Matusz, who was scratched after bruising his nose while practicing bunting on Tuesday, Arrieta flashed the form that made him Baltimore's Opening Day starter, tying a career high with nine strikeouts in the Orioles' 7-1 win over the Pirates on Wednesday.

After manager Buck Showalter informed Arrieta that he would be taking Matusz's place at around 2:30 p.m. ET, the righty didn't get wrapped up in the minutia of starting. Instead he played table tennis.

"I kind of went back to doing the things I did earlier in the year -- just messing around with the guys in the clubhouse, playing a game of Ping-Pong, playing hacky sack with Dana [Eveland] in front of the dugout," Arrieta said. "Just being relaxed and having a good time -- that's what it's all about."

Arrieta gave the Orioles no choice but to shift him out of the rotation after he allowed 19 earned runs and 19 hits over his last 13 innings of work, including a nightmarish outing against Philadelphia last Friday, when he was touched for nine runs on 11 hits in four innings.

The time in the 'pen proved fruitful, however, as he gained a renewed sense of purpose.

"It changed my perspective a lot," he said. "Being around [the relievers], kind of watching how they went about their business, going through the routine with them for a few days kind of got my head in a different place, and it was good for me."

Given a golden opportunity to leave a better impression, Arrieta threw like a pitcher with nothing to lose, establishing the strike zone early and powering through Pirates hitters with an economical and effective approach.

"When you have command of the fastball, you can compete at this level," Showalter said. "Jake realizes that. It's not like this is the first good game he's pitched here."

The victory ends a career-worst six-game losing streak for Arrieta (3-8), putting him in the win column for the first time since May 2, when he allowed just five hits and struck out nine in a 5-0 triumph over the Yankees.

"It was big -- I will say that," Arrieta said of the victory. "Not only mentally but to stay in the hunt. Our division is continuing to win games, so we need to pile as many wins up as we possibly can."

Arrieta mixed his pitches well, and the complete command he had on his fastball made his slider and change all the more effective, as the baffled Pirates could not figure him out.

"It was sinking, running, it was hard to square up," Pittsburgh designated hitter Garrett Jones said. "His curveball was working very well tonight. He was throwing it right out of the zone, down. He's just got so much movement on it that it's hard to lay off."

Arrieta had been plagued by poor run support -- the Orioles scored just 21 runs in his last 11 starts combined -- but Baltimore made sure that his effort would stand by providing plenty of offense against Pirates starter Kevin Correia (2-6).

Wilson Betemit had three RBIs for the first time since April 29, going 3-for-3 with a sacrifice fly to break a 1-for-10 skid on the homestand.

"He's been a little down on himself, he's been frustrated, and I'm glad to see him get to go home knowing he made a big contribution tonight," Showalter said.

Chris Davis continued his hot hitting with a broken-bat homer, his 12th of the season, to give the Orioles a six-run advantage. The slugger is now hitting .350 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in his last 21 games.

"I was shocked. You take a swing and look over and half the team is on the floor in the dugout -- you don't expect that ball to get out of the ballpark," Davis said.

Now the question remains: Will Arrieta return to the 'pen or find his way back to the rotation?

"He had a good outing tonight, and I'm proud of him," Showalter said. "He served a need we had with Brian, [since we're] being cautious with him. His next turn in the rotation, if he took it, would be on Sunday. I don't see why anything tonight would dictate that he wouldn't do that."

Elliott Smith is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.