O's can't rely on home-grown pitching for 2012

After watching Rick VandenHurk give up four earned runs in three innings Tuesday night at Fenway Park, 24 hours after watching Brian Matusz give up six earned runs in 1 1/3 innings, I've had an epiphany.

The Orioles must go after a marquee free agent pitcher this offseason. I'm not talking a middle-of-the-road veteran in his late 30s with a career ERA near 5.00. I'm talking a legitimate ace who can be the stopper every fifth day. .

Yes, I know that will cost money. But if there's a time to spend, it's now.

There will be some very enticing names on the market this winter, like C.J. Wilson, who will be the most sought-after free agent, barring a CC Sabathia opt-out of his final four years in the Bronx. Also, names like Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson should also raise some eyebrows in the warehouse.

If there are a few things we've learned this year, it's that the young pitching isn't developing at the expected rate. The cavalry has arrived and they've quickly been dismounted by American League hitters.

Will they come around? Yes. Brian Matusz and Zach Britton have both proven they can get big league hitters out in the past. If they refocus and take their opportunities seriously, I believe we'll look back on what will turn out to be productive, if not successful, big league careers and say, "Remember how rough 2011 was?"

Even two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Hallady had his year of adversity. Next to Matusz's disastrous 2011 season, Halladay is the only other starter in major league history with at least 10 starts in a season to have an ERA over 10.60. It happened back in 2000, and the Blue Jays sent Halladay all the way back to Single-A ball to get straightened out. You wonder if Matusz will have to go that far back to the drawing board. Probably not, but he surely is not guaranteed a spot on the Orioles' 2012 roster. He'll have to prove himself at spring training.

The unfortunate reality is that right now, none of the Orioles' young starters on the active roster are ready to be a No. 2 or No. 3 in a big league starting rotation.

And then there's Jeremy Guthrie.

For the past four seasons, Guthrie has had to act the part of staff ace. By being the best of otherwise underdeveloped pitching talent, Guthrie seems to get the job year after year by default.

Here's the elephant in the room: On most other major league staffs, Guthrie is not an ace. He's a durable veteran pitcher who will give you 200 innings a year. He knows how to pitch, and in my opinion would be a huge asset as a third or fourth starter on a winning club. Guthrie has 17 loses this season. Part of that responsibility is Guthrie's. At times, he's pitched very poorly.

In Guthrie's defense, he's been put in a situation where as ace of the O's, he's matched up with opposing staff aces. In the AL East, that means the Orioles' hitters are facing CC Sabathia, Josh Beckett and James Shields when Guthrie takes the ball for the Birds. And we wonder why Guthrie lacks run support?

I'd be very curious to see what Guthrie could do further down in the rotation.

Under Andy MacPhail, the philosophy is "grow the arms and buy the bats." While I agree with that philosophy - considering how risky it is to give a veteran pitcher a multi-year, multi-million-dollar deal - I think the Orioles have no choice but to get starting pitching any way they can. With the collective step back the home-grown arms have taken this year, that philosophy needs to be abandoned.

It's time for MacPhail, or whoever is at the helm in the offseason, to take the risk. Buck Showalter simply can't win when his pitchers can't get out of the third inning.