The Baltimore Orioles are expected to be better in 2011 after showing improvement late last season under manager Buck Showalter.
They certainly looked the part in the season opener.
Baltimore will try to build off a very impressive victory Saturday night when it continues a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Despite a 13th straight losing season in 2010, the Orioles offered their suffering fans hope with a 34-23 record - second-best in the AL behind Minnesota’s 35-22 - after Showalter took over Aug. 2. Expectations were further raised with the offseason additions of Vladimir Guerrero(notes), Derrek Lee(notes), J.J. Hardy(notes) and Mark Reynolds(notes).
However, it was Jeremy Guthrie(notes) - one of the longest-tenured Orioles - who was the story Friday, limiting Tampa Bay to three hits in eight scoreless innings while outpitching Rays ace David Price(notes) in a 4-1 win.
“I think the proof will be in the W’s and L’s. Change doesn’t necessarily mean things are going to be better,” Showalter said. “We’re starting off at the American League East champions’ ballpark. We’ll find out real quick.”
The Orioles spoiled what began as a festive night for a sellout crowd of 34,078 as the Rays raised their 2010 AL East championship flag to the left-field catwalk alongside banners recognizing the team’s 2008 division and league championship.
“It’s hard to gauge out hitters because their pitching was that good,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s not like we weren’t swinging the bats well. Guthrie was good, man.”
James Shields(notes), 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA in 2010, starts for the Rays hoping to rebound from the worst of his five major league seasons. His ERA was more than a full run higher than the previous season, and he lost his final three starts en route to a career-high loss total.
The Orioles played a role in Shields’ struggles, tagging the right-hander for 17 runs and 35 hits in 21 2-3 innings. He was 1-2 with a 7.06 ERA in four starts versus Baltimore.
“It’s real tough, especially opening the season (Friday),” Matusz said. “All the excitement and energy, how well we played. It was a lot of fun to watch. It’s not easy. I’m going to have to work to get it better each and everyday.”
Tillman shuttled between the minors and the Orioles last season, finishing 2-5 with a 5.87 ERA. The right-hander, who completed six innings in only five of his 11 starts, pitched better late in the season, going 1-1 with a 4.08 ERA in his final five outings.
Tillman had a respectable 3.93 ERA in spring training, but allowed 31 base runners in 18 1-3 innings.
He was 0-1 with a 12.38 ERA in two starts against Tampa Bay in 2010.