Young O's starters hitting wall
Four hurlers have met or exceeded career highs in innings
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles' young starters are starting to hit the proverbial wall. One night after rookie right-hander Jason Berken labored through a Friday start, right-hander Chris Tillman acknowledged after Saturday's outing that he felt "drained."
It's more than a humid Baltimore August that's taking a toll on the young arms, and Orioles manager Dave Trembley is sensitive to what they're experiencing. Pitchers like Tillman, Berken, right-hander David Hernandez and left-hander Brian Matusz are near or have exceeded their career highs for innings pitched and a little wear is showing.
"The physical status is one thing, but that doesn't concern me as much as the mental fatigue, the wear and tear it takes on these guys emotionally and mentally," Trembley said. "I think that's what you look at in terms of how hard they have to work to get those three outs, how many times are you going to put them out there, how many times are they going to have to work out of jams."
In other words, Trembley is paying attention to more than how a breaking ball bends or whether velocity is down. He's just as interested in body language, demeanor and the non-verbal cues a pitcher is sending.
When Berken arrived in the dugout after his fifth and final inning Friday, he exhaled demonstratively as if he were were lucky to have lasted that long. Trembley was quick to caution the youngster to exit the mound with his head held high, not like he hadn't succeeded. Perception, he told Berken, is reality; if you look beaten, Trembley warned, you're sending a bad message to your teammates and opponents.
Trembley noticed Tillman scuffling with his rhythm Saturday night.
"I thought his tempo was slower than it's normally been. You watch the body language, his demeanor between pitches, you watch the tempo they have. ... I saw it," Trembley said.
Tillman didn't deny that he was up against it.
"It wasn't great. It was probably the worst I felt all season, actually," he said after throwing 90 pitches in five innings.
Spotting the problem is one thing. But as the innings mount, how does a manager preserve a pitcher's strength and stamina?
Trembley has pledged to limit the number of innings the Orioles' most inexperienced starters throw as the season winds down. He would like to employ a six-man rotation during September and get the rookie hurlers out without too much unnecessary wear and tear on their arms.
"You probably won't see a lot of our young guys go deep into games. We'll watch them closely and guard the amount of times they go out there," he said.
Trembley hopes the young pitchers learn from the experience, too, and redouble their offseason conditioning efforts to accommodate an increase in innings pitched in 2010.
"You talk to them a lot and you kind of set them up for what they need to do in the offseason, physically to better prepare themselves for the rigors of competition that exists up here. I think they understand ... this is for real up here. It's a lot faster for them. Information is processed a lot quicker. You have to be sure of yourself. I don't think there's any other substitute than them experiencing it."
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.