Bergesen's rise has O's thinking hard
Injuries could open a spot for young righty in Baltimore's rotation
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Every day, the chances of the Orioles going against the grain appear to increase. Baltimore came to Spring Training with the thought that it would protect its pitching prospects from premature promotion, but mounting injuries may crown Brad Bergesen a little earlier than expected.
Bergesen, the most mature of Baltimore's upcoming wave of talented arms, got a chance to slot in for a Spring Training start against the Red Sox on Monday, and he threw three scoreless innings in the Orioles' 5-3 victory. And if he can do that in his next few outings, he might just seal a rotation berth ahead of schedule.
That fact has become increasingly clear to everyone in camp, and Baltimore manager Dave Trembley found himself besieged with the question and scrambling hard to share an appropriate answer on Monday.
"I'm not saying I'm looking at him for a rotation slot. I think I get caught if I say that," said Trembley, who has held out for a more experienced starting staff. "I'm saying he's probably the closest guy to consider for a guy that could stick with the team because of his experience and the way he pitches. I'd take [Chris] Tillman in a heartbeat, but he's going to go to the Minor Leagues, I would think. That's what [president of baseball operations] Andy [MacPhail] told me, and I agree."
MacPhail has gathered the team's raft of prospects and wants to make sure they're used properly. But he also acquired three veteran starters -- John Parrish, Brad Hennessey and Rich Hill -- who are currently slowed by injury, changing the lay of the land for everyone else.
And if the Orioles could summon an ideal scouting report for a pitcher to push aggressively, they'd likely choose Bergesen. The right-hander was named the team's Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 15-6 with a 3.22 ERA for Double-A Bowie in 2008, and he's known as a strike-thrower who keeps the ball in the ballpark.
Thus far, three weeks into his first Spring Training, Bergesen appears to be pretty comfortable.
"The first week, it felt like I was going about 100 miles per second," said Bergesen, who had never been invited to big league Spring Training before. "Finally, I feel like I'm getting acclimated with my new surroundings."
"It's really neat that a lot of these young guys have come into camp and not only played so well, but conducted themselves as if they've been here before," added Trembley of his young crop of pitchers. "I think you see that with [Jake] Arrieta. You see that with [Brian] Matusz. I think [catcher Matt] Wieters has alluded to that in his second time around, how much more comfortable it is. We're getting closer."
Bergesen, who had made his first appearance against Team Italy, got to really test himself on Monday. The 23-year-old faced several left-handed hitters against Boston and managed to keep the offense in check. Bergesen allowed two hits in the second and two more in the third, but he managed to escape unscathed.
"That was my biggest struggle last year," Bergesen said. "I think lefties hit a little over .300 off me. It's something that I need to really work on this offseason and come up with a better plan on how to attack these guys."
And for a pitcher without overwhelming stuff, Bergesen does a good job of attacking early in the count. The former 2004 fourth-round Draft pick threw 46 pitches, and 29 went for strikes in his brief outing.
"He really works fast and keeps the guys in the game. That's what I like about him," said Trembley. "What he does is he knows how to pitch. It looks to me like he has a plan against hitters. He doesn't throw each hitter the same, and he changes it up the next time around. I think it's location. It's not stuff so much."
Bergesen will undoubtedly get another chance to start, especially with Hennessey out until the end of the week and both Parrish and Hill uncertain for an immediate return. And if he keeps on throwing strikes and working to the best of his abilities, there's no reason he can't continue to surprise and position himself better.
"That's my game," Bergesen said of working quickly. "I try to attack the strike zone and let my defense work. I'll get the strikeouts here and there, but predominantly just attack and try to get them to put the ball in play."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.