Baltimore, which has based its rebuilding project on high-wattage prospects like Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman, has seen several arms graduate to the Major Leagues this season. The Orioles currently have four rookies in their starting rotation and another on the disabled list, a situation that calls for as much caution as possible.
"I think we've got that much pretty much written out," said manager Dave Trembley. "I think there's three days off early in September, and the off-day on Thursday pushes Tillman back an extra day. Obviously, we've talked about going to a six-man rotation in September, and we'll monitor that closely. We'll look at innings pitched and projected innings pitched for this year based upon what they did last year. We'll be very careful about it."
Both Tillman and Matusz have graduated to the Majors quicker than expected, but for widely divergent reasons. Tillman is just 21 years old, and he's the fourth-youngest pitcher to debut for the Orioles in the last four decades. Matusz, meanwhile, rose all the way to the Majors in his first professional season.
Now, they're both nearing their career highs in innings and competing against the league's best hitters. Matusz, the fourth overall selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, said that his arm was prepared for a heavy workload by his sophomore season at the University of San Diego, when he pitched close to 150 innings.
"This is my longest season in terms of time -- but not in terms of innings," said Matusz, who also pitched for Team USA as a sophomore. "In college, I had to go 120 pitches every outing. I know that was only once a week, but those pitches, after 100, wear you out more than pitches 1-50. My limit has always been 100 pitches since I've been in the Orioles' organization. And I feel good, because I'm used to throwing a lot more than that."
Tillman, who threw 135 innings last season, told a similar story. The right-hander said that Baltimore's training staff has kept close watch over him at every level and that he currently feels great. Tillman experienced a tight groin in his last start, but he said that he hasn't experienced any dead-arm sensation this season.
|"There are all these guys that you wished your whole life to play against, and now you're here and doing it. It's kind of crazy. I don't know how to explain it."|
|-- Chris Tillman|
"I feel good, other than a little soreness that came up in my last start," he said on Wednesday. "So far, so good. Last year, I started getting tired toward the end of the season -- and probably earlier than this point of the year -- but right now, I feel strong. I feel good in my starts and I feel good in my bullpen sessions."
Trembley, for his part, said that the six-man rotation was plotted out all the way back in April, and that was before he knew that his staff would be so heavily loaded with young arms. Now, he said that he expects the Orioles to add more players in September and that a healthy Brad Bergesen will need to be worked back into the mix.
And perhaps more importantly, Trembley said that the pitcher protection goes way beyond the numbers. There's just something you can't quantify, he said, about facing big league batters for the first time.
"The thing that I've noticed is how much more difficult it is for the young guys, and how much harder they seem to have to work at this level," said Trembley. "The other teams will grind you. Toronto, the other day, they just waited Matusz out. I think you have to look at the pitch count and add 20-25 pitches to it. Physically, it's pretty taxing for them. Outs don't come easy and they really have to work to get them. In that sense, I think you have to be very wise about how long you leave them out there, how many innings they throw and how hard they work."
Matusz, who started out at Class A Frederick, has thrown 120 2/3 innings between three stops. The southpaw said he welcomes the extra rest in September, but only if it means he's still getting to pitch frequently. Furthermore, he said that he feels great physically and that he plans on sprinting through the tape at the end of the year.
"I haven't changed anything," Matusz said. "I know some people think that because the hitters are better, you have to do something extra and put a little bit more behind it. I don't feel that way at all. It's all about location and movement and keeping guys off-balance. It doesn't mean I have to put extra into it and throw it by guys. I don't feel like that's changed at all, but obviously, it's a little different being on a five-day rotation. I feel stronger. I feel better now than ever. I feel really healthy and I've been able to get on a consistent workout routine. I eat right and I hydrate properly every day. I feel like I've done everything I need to do to stay healthy with the help of the training staff."
Matusz went on to say that his goal is to be at his best in September and October, an effort that he hopes will someday fuel a playoff run for the Orioles. And for now, the two youngsters are just enjoying their experience and trying to do their best to fit in, an effort made more difficult by their talent and their age.
"It's been unbelievable," said Tillman. "Matusz and I were talking about it, saying, 'What are we even doing here?' We're facing off against guys that I watched as a kid. Take Adam Kennedy. I'm playing against him now, but I watched him play so much because I lived in Anaheim. It's a weird feeling. There are all these guys that you wished your whole life to play against, and now you're here and doing it. It's kind of crazy. I don't know how to explain it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.