If Eaton continues to pitch like he did Thursday night, he can count on a lot of positive commentary.
Gone were the deep counts, the incessant nibbling and the repeated foul balls that helped him earn early exits in his two previous outings. This time, Eaton sought contact and quick outcomes. The right-hander threw more than 20 pitches in the first inning, but he struck out the side and later threw three 1-2-3 innings.
In fact, from the first inning through the fourth, Eaton (1-2) went on a streak in which he retired 12 of 13 batters. The veteran needed just eight pitches in the third and eight more in the sixth to escape the innings. Eaton struck out nine batters -- including slugger Jim Thome three times -- to set a new season high for Baltimore.
Perhaps more importantly, it was Eaton's first time striking out that many since June 9, 2005. And when he left the mound with two runners on in the eighth, the Camden Yards crowd serenaded him with a healthy ovation. Eaton reacted to the response by twice touching his cap during his long walk to the dugout.
"It's been a long time since I have had that, and it felt very good," he said. "Normally I'd be in the clubhouse at the end of that game, but it has been a while since I have been part of that, and it felt good to be on the field shaking hands after something like that. Obviously you want to get out there and thank the bullpen, too."
And while he's at it, he can thank his catcher. Chad Moeller helped guide Eaton through the start, and the veteran backstop said the Orioles were able to pitch exactly according to their pregame plans.
"We said before the game we were going to throw the fastball and throw it a lot -- try and utilize his cutter and primarily try to pitch with those two pitches," said Moeller. "I think it almost shocked them, based on some of the swings -- especially early. ... If they had watched the films of his previous games, with the nibbling and all the offspeed pitches, I think it could've been a shock. If you get ahead of the hitters, you leave the indecision in there."
Baltimore (8-8) helped release the pressure on Eaton by scoring two runs in the first inning. Luke Scott came back in the third to drive a two-run double and to score on a two-out hit by Cesar Izturis. And that was all Eaton needed to tame the White Sox (8-7), who finally broke up the shutout with two runs in the eighth.
True to form, Trembley passed all the credit down to Eaton, and when asked about his motivational ploy from the night before, he brushed it off as simply doing his job.
"If you don't show confidence in your team, how the heck do you expect them to go out there and play?" asked Trembley after the game. "My whole approach was to show confidence in not only him, but to take the emphasis off what he does and let everybody know it doesn't mean a hill of beans how the pitcher pitches if you don't play well behind him. You're going to have to catch the ball and you're going to have to score some runs."
And that's exactly the game Trembley had hoped for Wednesday night, when he sought to obtain an injunction against preliminary calls for Eaton's rotation slot. Trembley hadn't endorsed Eaton for a long-term job after either of the veteran's first two starts, so his comments on Wednesday stood out in bold print.
"I don't think every time that Adam Eaton pitches, it's a critical situation or a crucial situation," the manager had said. "Adam Eaton has pitched for a long time. I don't think the notion ought to be that every time he pitches out there, 'If he pitches good, he's on the team. If he doesn't pitch good, he's going to get replaced.'
"I don't think that's real fair. If he pitches great [Thursday], everybody's going to jump on the bandwagon and say, 'Hey, what a great pitcher he is.' And if he doesn't pitch well, people are going to say, 'Well, is that the last time you're going to start him?' Let's see how he does and evaluate from there."
Eaton, who hadn't won since July of last season and hadn't thrown a quality start since last June, said he's remained confident through his struggles. The former first-round Draft pick had a bumpy exit from Philadelphia and took a while to find his stride with Baltimore, but he's hopeful for better results going forward.
"I'm not going to panic," Eaton said. "We are professional athletes, [and] there is some stress. It's inherent like that, but to stress out and lose my hair about it, that's not going to happen. I'm very confident in my abilities and what I'm capable of doing, and every time I go out there I feel like I'm going to be able to perform like I did tonight."