Baltimore Orioles hope Jair Jurrjens returns to elite form

Jair Jurrjens on the mound for the Atlanta Braves in 2012.
Jair Jurrjens’ star faded in Atlanta following injuries. Can he resurrect his career in Baltimore?

A few days before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, Dan Duquette is still adding pitching depth. Since December, Double D has added 19 pitchers in one capacity or another. Some for minor league deals, some spring training invitees and all to stockpile an organization that’s not going to be caught short.

One particular signing is of significance, at least in this writer’s opinion. Jair Jurrjens is, at the least, intriguing. The Orioles signed him to an incentive-laden, one-year deal, which will have him battling for a spot in the starting rotation this spring. I have to say, Double D never ceases to amaze me. Jurrjens made $5.5 million last year, and we have him coming to camp for $1.5 million. I really think this could be the most important signing this offseason. Of course, you could say that’s not a very risky statement considering he’s the only signing of real significance. My point is, I think Jair Jurrjens could not only take over the fifth spot in the rotation, he could move his way up to third or second as the season progresses. If he’s healthy and has his 2010 velocity, he could prove to be the best bargain in baseball. I don’t want to totally overlook that he will now be starting in the AL East, and in hitter-friendly Camden Yards. It could certainly be as bad as it could be good, but I’m trying to be the glass-half-full guy right now. But for $1.5 million, how good would he really have to be to be considered a bargain?

From most talking heads’ perspective, there’s only one starting spot to fill. With Jason Hammel, Wei-Yen Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman returning this season, barring a spring training melt down, these guys will be picking up where they left off in 2012. Battling for the final spot with Jurrjens will be Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Steve Johnson and Dylan Bundy, who all were with the team at some point last season. Newcomers will be T.J. McFarland, Zach Clark, Mark Hendrickson and, coming off Tommy John surgery, Tsuyoshi Wada. The Orioles had 12 different pitchers start last season, so creating organizational depth along with competition, not only seems to be a good idea, but may actually be necessary.

The biggest question is if Matusz and Hunter don’t make the rotation, will they return to their end-of-season roles? They both played important roles down the stretch, each with improved velocity coming out of the pen, killing hitters and closing out innings. As a lefty specialist, Matusz was nails, shutting guys down with a confidence we hadn’t seen from him since his rookie season. Hunter was hitting high nineties on the radar gun and looked good enough to close out games for some teams. I’m not sure I want to see either one make the rotation, and with only one spot open, we should see at least one back in the pen.

Next Tuesday, pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota and spring training begins. The team will try and build on last year’s success and sort through a mountain of pitching depth designed to create competition and stockpile the minors. Without doing much to make a splash this offseason, hopefully Duquette will be able to use pitching depth to leverage a significant trade before the deadline.

One final note: The Ravens are the Super Bowl Champions. Baltimore fans are beside themselves. The Orioles returned to relevance with a play off appearance last season, and now the Ravens are NFL Champs. Please take notice Oriole players and front office, over 100,000 fans showed up to celebrate the Ravens Super Bowl win this past Tuesday. Let’s try and shut Baltimore city down one more time following an Oriole World Series run.

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