Thoughts on former Orioles in this NLCS - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Thoughts on former Orioles in this NLCS

This year’s National League Championship Series is shaping up to be a classic. Even if you don’t have a dog in the fight, it’s compelling theater.

For Orioles fans there are several familiar faces – or names anyway – that are playing a role in this series.

I thought I’d share some personal thoughts about the ex-Orioles in this series. This isn’t exactly trailblazing stuff, but I thought it might be interesting to our readers to get a little personal perspective about these players and their time in Baltimore from someone who covered them.

RHP Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs

OK, so we all know how this one has turned out. Arrieta may forever be considered the one that got away. The intense right-hander was drafted by the Orioles in the fifth round in 2007 and spent four years attempting to become a mainstay in the rotation. He had a 5.46 ERA in 69 games with the Orioles and was shipped to the Cubs as part of the Scott Feldman trade in July 2013.

Feldman pitched three months for the Orioles and left as a free agent, meanwhile Arrieta has become one of the best pitchers in baseball, winning the 2015 National League Cy Young Award.

Here’s my take on Arrieta, the guy and the pitcher.

As a person, Arrieta was one of my favorite players to cover. We bonded over fatherhood and music – he introduced me to “Young the Giant” before anyone had ever heard Cough Syrup. He was as thoughtful as any player I have been around, taking time to ponder every question posed to him. He never shied from the media even when things went really badly. Because of that, it was easy to be happy for Arrieta when he began having so much success in Chicago.

As a pitcher, it’s more complicated. There are so many theories as to why Arrieta didn’t succeed in Baltimore, from the organization’s difficulty in developing pitchers to an erosion of confidence to the club’s decision to take away his cut-fastball. Pitching coach Rick Adair wasn’t particularly supportive of Arrieta and their styles definitely didn’t mesh.

But my take on all of this is that Arrieta was a “pleaser,” — to use a Buck Showalter term – and he lost himself while trying to be everything to everybody. By 2013, he was a mess mentally and he desperately needed a change of scenery. He got it, regained his confidence and his talent took over. I’ve asked several of his former teammates if they thought Arrieta eventually could have thrived in Baltimore, and the opinion is mixed. It’s moot, of course, because he is thriving in Chicago.

RHP Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs

Strop is one of those players that was viewed by fans a lot differently than by his teammates and the media. Strop, who played for the Orioles from 2011 until he was traded to the Cubs with Arrieta in 2013, had one of the most infectious personalities I’ve ever been around. He was always smiling, always friendly and he was beloved by his teammates. Fans, however, hated the way he wore his hat – crooked, with the bill facing to his left – and many couldn’t get over that. And when he struggled in 2013, after an impressive run in 2012, he heard plenty of boo birds.

He never stopped smiling, though. Another note about Strop: Oftentimes, Latino players congregate with a small group of fellow Spanish speakers within a clubhouse. It’s understandable, especially if the English language is a barrier. But Strop mingled with everyone, and was particularly close with the bullpen guys such as Tommy Hunter.

LHP Rich Hill, Los Angeles Dodgers

Hill was one of those ex-Cubs that populated the Orioles’ roster in the early part of Andy MacPhail’s tenure as club president. He had a good arm and a devastating curveball, but he was flat-out awful for the Orioles in 2009, going 3-3 with a 7.80 ERA in 14 games (13 starts). He was hurt for much of the season, and when he was healthy, he had trouble locating his fastball, which meant teams could stay off the curve.

I don’t think the Baltimore media ever got a good feel for Hill’s personality. Things went south quickly for him and he got tired of answering the same questions about his ineffectiveness. So he mainly kept to himself. But I do remember one interesting thing about his time with the Orioles. I covered his best performance, a two-hit shutout in Seattle in June, 2009. The next day I was walking from my car to Safeco Field and I saw Hill jogging around the parking lot, weaving in and out of Mariners fans, who had no idea that the guy who was running past them was the same person who shut down their team the previous evening.

I asked him about it afterwards, and he said it was a routine he picked up when he was with the Cubs in Chicago. The day after starts he just liked to go on a long jog, and it often would be in the parking lots around the stadium. It was good people watching, he figured, and a convenient, flat place to run.

INF Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers

I’m sure I interviewed Turner several times in the two seasons he was with the Orioles, 2009-10. After all, he made his big league debut with the Orioles, and that’s always worth a note in the newspaper. But nothing really stands out about him – his red hair was neatly trimmed at the time and he was clean-shaven. But the thing I remember the most about Turner occurred in May 2010, when he was designated for assignment and claimed by the New York Mets.

The Orioles were in Boston and Ty Wigginton pulled me aside and asked me why the Orioles took Turner off the roster. Wigginton told me it was a bad decision because he felt Turner was “a ballplayer. And we don’t have enough ballplayers on this team.”

Wigginton, of course, was the ultimate ballplayer; he may have gotten more out of limited tools than any player I’ve covered. He loved playing baseball. And that’s what he saw from Turner, who has lasted eight years in this game and is making a name for himself this postseason.

One other thing about Turner: He was brought into three different organizations by one man.

Turner was drafted in the seventh round in 2006 by the Cincinnati Reds, whose general manager was Wayne Krivsky. In 2008, Krivsky was a special assistant with the Orioles when they traded catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Reds for Ryan Freel and minor leaguers Brandon Waring and Turner. Krivsky was instrumental in picking Waring and Turner from the Reds’ system. Then, in 2010, the New York Mets claimed Turner off waivers from the Orioles. Krivsky was a special assistant with the Mets at the time. The Dodgers were Krivsky-less when they signed Turner.

RHP Jason Hammel, Chicago Cubs

Hammel, who was dealing with elbow tightness at the end of the season, was left off the Cubs’ postseason roster. But he’s worth mentioning here because he spent two seasons with the Orioles and was a 15-game winner for the Cubs this year. Hammel, whom the Orioles acquired in a deal with Colorado for Jeremy Guthrie in 2012, was plagued by injuries as an Oriole. But he was pretty effective at times, especially in the first half of 2012.

The thing I remember most about Hammel was just how competitive he was. He was a mild-mannered guy, and really approachable on days he didn’t pitch. But get him on the mound and he was a bulldog. He hated to come out and hated to lose. He just had trouble staying healthy.

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