Bergesen builds confidence in Triple-A start
Right-hander sees sinker returning to big league form
BALTIMORE -- There were a few times on Sunday afternoon when Orioles pitcher Brad Bergesen saw flashes of his former self.
"I saw a handful of sinkers today that I hadn't seen since July," Bergesen said in a phone interview after his first start since being optioned to Triple-A. "And there were still ones that were flat that I got away with here."
After a dismal start to the season, the Orioles sent Bergesen to Norfolk to get back on track, namely to regain the confidence behind his pitches. With a pair of off-days to bookend the recently wrapped-up Boston series, the Orioles won't need a fifth starter until Saturday's game against the Red Sox, a start Bergesen could make if he can get himself on track.
"We need him," Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. "He's a big part of us, part of this club. He was a big part of it last year. For me, he's never far from my thoughts, and he's never far away from coming back."
After Sunday's game, Bergesen said he hadn't heard anything from the big league club and didn't want to get his hopes up.
"If I get that call, I'll have the confidence ready to go," Bergesen said. "[I'll] try to be the pitcher that I know how to be and I know I can be, and battle from that point."
On Sunday in Norfolk, Bergesen allowed two runs on seven hits over seven innings in the Tides' 7-2 win, tossing 56 of his 81 pitches for strikes. Most importantly, in assessing a finesse pitcher like Bergesen, is the fact that 14 of his outs were grounders, against only two fly balls.
Bergesen has been working closely with Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin, throwing bullpen sessions and even just talking about some of the problems the right-hander had in his first three starts with the Orioles.
He went 0-2 with a 12.19 ERA in 10 1/3 innings over that stretch. The 24-year-old, who started the Orioles' home opener, allowed at least four earned runs in each of his three starts, never pitching deeper than the fifth inning.
"It's probably 90 percent mental," Bergesen said of his early struggles. "I was playing catchup the entire spring [from a strained right shoulder capsule in the offseason], just trying to get as many reps as I could. And I'm such a feel pitcher that I kept pressing and pressing, trying to force the issue and not trying to remember how I did it before. I needed to slow the game down."
The Orioles have been hesitant to put a timetable on Bergesen's stay in Triple-A, and Kranitz said there is no magic number of innings or appearances.
"We just need to get him straightened out. He needs to get some game numbers where he gets rolling," Kranitz said, where "he's just concentrating on one thing, and that's getting that sinker over the plate."
Although getting Bergesen back to form for Saturday is the ideal option, it's not the only one for the Orioles.
The team could choose to insert either of their long relievers -- Jason Berken or Mark Hendrickson -- or call up 2007 fifth-round pick Jake Arrieta, who has an International League-leading 0.36 ERA in his first four Triple-A starts.
Hendrickson and Berken appeared in relief in Sunday's 7-6 win in extra innings, with Hendrickson allowing a run on two hits over two-thirds of an inning and Berken following with two hits over a scoreless frame. A converted starter who made his first Opening Day roster in the bullpen, Berken has proved to be a solid middle-inning man, pitching his way to a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings over five appearances.
"My choice has always been if you have someone who is doing well in an area, leave him alone, leave him there, don't put him in another spot where you are unsure what he'll do," manager Dave Trembley said. "But if the need arises and [Berken] would have to [start], I am sure he would give you what he has. He's that kind of guy."
Berken has said he will do whatever the team needs, and Arrieta has taken a similar stance in the last few weeks.
"I'd be happy to do whatever they want me to do," Arrieta said after April 14's start. "But I'm just thinking about what I need to do to make the jump. I don't know when it's gonna happen, so I've got to focus on the things I can control."
In 25 Triple-A innings, Arrieta has allowed just one earned run and is holding opponents to a .157 batting average. In his last start Saturday, he recorded a career-high seven strikeouts over seven dominant innings as the Tides held on for a 4-2 victory over the Charlotte Knights.
Although the organization has stressed patience in developing pitching prospects, the Orioles have brought up several of their prized young arms, including 2004 fourth-round pick Bergesen, '06 second-round pick (from Seattle) Chris Tillman and '08 first-rounder Brian Matusz, who is the only one of the trio in the Orioles' rotation.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.