Berken gets back on winning side
O's rookie righty remained positive during tough slide
TORONTO -- As a personal winless drought of more than two months dragged on, there were times when right-hander Jason Berken pitched well, but the Orioles' bats were silent. On other occasions, the rookie had been knocked around, forcing his manager to pull him early to stop the bleeding.
The Orioles finally were able to combine a strong outing from Berken with a big night for the offense on Friday, defeating the Blue Jays, 7-5, at Rogers Centre. Berken won for the first time in nine decisions. His last win came in his Major League debut on May 26, also against Toronto. Oddly enough, Friday's starter for the Jays, left-handed rookie Ricky Romero, pitched that day as well.
"It's been a long two months, that's for sure," Berken said. "It feels good to have a happy interview for a change. Obviously any win you can take, you don't take for granted, but it was great tonight getting the second win."
Berken's start on Friday came after what arguably was the low point of his season. He was coming off his shortest outing of the year -- a disastrous outing on Sunday against Boston in which he was tagged for six runs in 1 1/3 innings. Berken temporarily was placed in the bullpen last week, although he was never used, as the Orioles (46-63) rethought his spot in the rotation.
"It was an important start for me. I'm not naive," Berken said. "I know that it's time for me to start pitching better. Things have changed.
"I've been given a ton of opportunities, and I feel fortunate for that. I just knew that your opportunity is only going to be there for so long, and I need to start pitching better. Tonight was a step in the right direction, and I feel fortunate for the opportunities I have been given."
Early in the game, it seemed as though a win still was not in the cards for Berken (2-9). Meanwhile, Romero mowed through the Baltimore lineup with little difficulty.
Berken gave up back-to-back home runs in the second inning to Vernon Wells and Alex Rios that gave the Jays (51-57) a 2-0 lead. Berken allowed another run in the fifth before the Orioles erupted for four runs in the sixth.
"He probably could've caved in [after the pair of homers]," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "[He] probably could've given in, felt sorry for himself. The whole team could've cashed in their chips, and no one did. I thought he got better because of it. I thought he pitched with a lot more conviction after he gave up the back-to-back home runs."
Berken was able to make the necessary adjustments.
Trembley said before the game that "one bad inning has been [Berken's] Achilles' heel." The second inning could have spelled trouble for Berken, had he not settled down. The fifth also presented a problem, when he gave up two doubles and a walk. Berken pitched his way out of the frame, allowing only one run and stranding runners on second and third.
"He made two very bad pitches," Trembley said of the home runs, "but he equalized that by making a multitude of good pitches in the fifth with runners on second and third with one out. He made some quality pitches. The game would've really turned and gotten out of hand if he didn't get those outs."
After Berken got out of the fifth-inning jam, the offense went to work. Matt Wieters drew a walk to lead off the sixth with Baltimore in a 3-0 hole. Singles by Cesar Izturis and Adam Jones loaded the bases with one out.
Nick Markakis fired the first pitch he saw from Romero (10-5) just off the glove of first baseman Lyle Overbay and into right field for a two-run double. An RBI single by Aubrey Huff and an RBI groundout by Nolan Reimold gave the O's a 4-3 lead before Romero got out of the frame.
"[Romero] was throwing a changeup that looked like a split early in the game," Trembley said. "He had real good movement on it, but then the second time around, you had to be a lot more patient. Otherwise, he would've got out of the game probably with 80 pitches.
"You really had to lay off his breaking stuff after the second time around, and I think that's what we did."
The Orioles added a pair of runs in the eighth -- more than enough to preserve Berken's win. The righty ended the night giving up three runs on five hits and three walks over six innings.
"By no means is this like I've got it figured out now or something. There's still a lot of work to be done," Berken said. "But mostly I give [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] a ton of credit, because he's stuck with me and helped me out a lot over the last couple of weeks and made some small changes based on the video we saw. I felt a lot better tonight.
"The biggest thing for me was just trying to stay positive the whole time, as hard as it was."
Trembley has appreciated Berken's attitude through the past few months, and the manager is glad the rookie's winless drought finally has come to an end.
"He's had a rough go of it, but he hasn't panicked. He's got very good makeup," Trembley said. "I'm happy for him. I'm happy for the team.
"It's good for everybody to get this one under your belt."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.