Opening Day start a first, but familiar for Arrieta
Showalter likes righty's experience starting 2011 home opener
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Officially, it will be Jake Arrieta's first Opening Day start. But manager Buck Showalter, who informed the 26-year-old right-hander Monday that he will get the ball Friday afternoon, feels differently.
"Basically, I looked at him as the guy who really pitched our opener last year," said Showalter, referring to Arrieta's start in the April 4 home opener. "Jake's certainly got the experience to handle this. I'm proud of him, to get to this point, regardless of what happens. I think if he's healthy, he's going to be a real contributor for us this year."
A year ago, Arrieta held the Detroit Tigers to one run over six innings, picking up the first of 10 wins inside Camden Yards and setting up a promising start to the season. But Arrieta struggled with consistency and control, and after pitching to a 6.61 ERA in six July starts, he was shut down for good with right elbow discomfort caused by a bone spur. After undergoing surgery in August, he arrived at Orioles camp a full-go, pitching in alma mater TCU's alumni game this winter prior to reporting.
"To be in this position, 100 percent healthy, still getting stronger, it's very rewarding," Arrieta said of all the hours he put into rehabbing his elbow. "I think the entire staff was able to see the benefit of the work I was able to do and how quickly I was able to recover and get back to full strength. I think they're all grateful for that, as well as I am too."
W: Arrieta (1-0) L: Pavano (0-1)
SV: Johnson (1)
Arrieta has gained better control of his pitches and has raised his velocity a tick this spring as well; both results, he believes, are from the surgery. He has made it a point to get to the plate quicker and cut down on opposing teams' running games, and acknowledged while April 6 is just one game, it's still one with a very special place in baseball history.
"I think the biggest thing ... is managing the adrenaline," said Arrieta, who will take the mound for the 20th anniversary of the opening of Camden Yards.
"When I run out onto the field before the anthem, that's when everything's going to be taken up a notch. I think just having that internal dialogue with myself just to tell myself to remain calm or take deep breaths or whatever the case may be, whatever it takes to calm myself down I will. It's easier said than done. Not only the adrenaline, but there's very few moments where you really get that type of feeling that I've had -- Opening Day at home last year, pitching in the Olympics. There's maybe a handful of times when I've had that type of feeling, and Friday is going to be another one of those. I think more than anything, that's what I'm looking forward to."
Arrieta is a career 16-14 pitcher with a 4.88 ERA in 40 games started for the Orioles. He went 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA in 22 games last season. He will have plenty of family members in attendance Friday, including his best friend from high school, in-laws and son, Cooper, who he welcomed with wife, Brittany, in September.
"I'll have a good cheering section," Arrieta said. "It's definitely going to be special."
"We're hoping he pitches well enough that he does it again next year and the year after that and the year after that," Showalter said. "We're looking at him pitching some time later in the season in that same role. He was one of our better pitchers last year before he had the surgery."
The Orioles had called on veteran Jeremy Guthrie three of the last four years on Opening Day, but Guthrie was dealt to Colorado this winter, leaving the competition wide open. Arrieta has had an impressive spring, pitching much better than the stat line -- 1-0, 6.14 ERA in 14 2/3 innings -- indicates.
"It's hard for me to put it into words about how big a day it really is, because I didn't necessarily grow up an Orioles fan, but all the history that's here, I kind of have seen that over the past few years being in this organization," Arrieta said. "There's a lot of excitement leading up into the season. We all see that and we're excited to get started."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.