Upon arriving in Sarasota on Thursday my goal was to spend the next few days gathering as much information as I could about the new Orioles. My first reaction to the O's newest offseason additions are; Andy MacPhail got the right guys.
My opinion is based on a long conversation I had with Brian Matusz. He gave me great insight into the mentality the new veteran pitchers like Mike Gonzalez and Kevin Millwood are trying to impress upon the young pitchers.
There seems to be a pattern. MacPhail brought in competitive work horses who don't take kindly to losing. Those are the exact types of influences the young pitchers need right now.
Gonzalez made the third most appearances of any reliever in the majors last year. Millwood pitched 198 innings in 2009. According to Matusz, both are starting to get in the ears of the younger arms, and the young bucks are listening.
Matusz said Millwood took a bunch of them out to dinner. The former Ranger asked Brian what he thought the staff needed to do to win this year. Brian gave his input. Then, Millwood told him the most important thing was to push each other. According to Matusz, Millwood said if one pitcher goes seven plus innings three starts in a row, then the next guy needs to try and top that. Matusz said Millwood is stirring up that friendly competition that exists in all great rotations. Matusz seemed to be eating it up.
The young lefty also told me that Gonzalez came up to him out the blue the other day and said "16 or 17". Matusz asked what he meant. Gonzalez told him that's the number of wins he needs to strive for this season. He told him to start thinking about it now.
I have to admit. My chat with Matusz was one of the most refreshing conversations I've had with an Oriole in a while. It showed that there is a movement in the clubhouse to get the young players starting to think big...like winners. The new veterans are taking leadership roles right away. It's something the team has been lacking over the past few years.
Millwood obviously learned how a great rotation works as a young pitcher. He was thrust into the rotation with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz as a member of the Braves in the late 1990's. Inter-rotation competition made that staff as good as it was.
The veterans are bringing the right influence and the right message at the right time for the Orioles young staff. Now let's hope they're all listening.