Inside Pitch- 4/4/11

Opening sweep of Rays comes behind strong starting pitching.

INSIDE PITCH

The results met the expectations.

They might have even exceeded them.

For a team that started 2010 like it was stuck in quicksand, the Orioles came roaring out of the gate in Tampa Bay, sweeping the defending American League East champion Rays.

It was a statement by the Orioles, who despite an offseason of high-quality upgrades, still have a lot to prove. Doubt lingers after 13 straight seasons of sub-.500 records.

A three-game series is a drop in the proverbial bucket in a 162-game season, but the Orioles showed some positives in the opening series of the 2011 campaign.

The bullpen looked solid. The offense was improved. The starters were fantastic.

If anything, the opening series might raise more concerns for the Rays than it answers for the Orioles. But starting out 3-0 is a much better place for the Orioles and their fans than the opening weekend in 2010.

NOTES, QUOTES

--LHP Zach Britton looks like he belongs. The Orioles' top prospect threw six strong innings Sunday in an emergency start, allowing one run on three hits. He was hit hard at times and an elevated pitch count kept him from continuing into the seventh, but lived up to the billing he earned with a marvelous spring training. Britton, 23, expected about 30 friends and family on hand at Tropicana Field for his big-league debut. He was called up as the club placed LHP Brian Matusz on the 15-day disabled list with a strained intercostal muscle in his back.

--C Matt Wieters moved up to the No. 5 spot in the order Sunday and responded with a strong game. The switch hitter went 2-for-4 sandwiched between DH Vladimir Guerrero and CF Adam Jones. He struck out once but scored a run and drove in another. Wieters was hitting an even .300 through the season's opening series.

--RHP Jake Arrieta will have a lot to live up to as he takes the mound in Monday's home opener against Detroit. The Orioles starting pitchers combined to allow one earned run in 20 innings through the first three games. Arrieta will face Tigers RHP Rick Porcello Monday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

--RHP Alfredo Simon is in Florida and working toward resuming his major league career. The Orioles' closer for a stretch in 2010, Simon was detained in a Dominican prison this offseason after allegedly firing the fatal gunshot in a New Year's Day murder in his native country. Simon was expected to report to the club's Sarasota minor league facility Sunday. He's on the restricted list and not the 40-man roster.

--RHP Justin Duchscherer will undergo a procedure on his lower back that will likely keep him out of action for up to five days. The ablation procedure involves radio frequency waves to heat nerves to rid them of pain, The Sun reported. Duchscherer, signed as a free agent in the offseason, is on the 15-day disabled list. The club had hoped he could return by late April to join the rotation. He has battled injuries all spring.

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- No-hit innings for RHP Chris Tillman in Saturday's 3-1 win at Tampa Bay. Tillman was pulled from the game while it was still scoreless.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was disappointed that I didn't have the sinker, but the guys were like, 'Hey, think about it. You can pitch here without your best pitch.' And that's something I'll take out of today." -- LHP Zach Britton, after tossing six innings of three-hit ball, without his trademark sinker, in his big-league debut.

ROSTER REPORT

MEDICAL WATCH:

--RHP Brad Bergesen (bruised right forearm) was hurt March 25. X-rays were negative, and he made the Opening Day roster.

--LHP Brian Matusz (strained left intercostal muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 24.

--RHP Justin Duchscherer (sore left hip) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He might be able to join the rotation in mid-April. The hip ailment limited him to five starts for Oakland last year.

ROTATION:

RHP Jeremy Guthrie

RHP Chris Tillman

LHP Zach Britton

RHP Jake Arrieta

RHP Brad Bergesen

BULLPEN:

RHP Kevin Gregg (closer)

RHP Koji Uehara

RHP Jim Johnson

LHP Mike Gonzalez

RHP Jeremy Accardo

RHP Jason Berken

RHP Josh Rupe

CATCHERS:

Matt Wieters

Jake Fox

INFIELDERS:

1B Derrek Lee

2B Brian Roberts

SS J.J. Hardy

3B Mark Reynolds

INF Cesar Izturis

INF Robert Andino

OUTFIELDERS:

LF Luke Scott

CF Adam Jones

RF Nick Markakis

DH Vladimir Guerrero

OF Felix Pie


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