Rookie Jason Berken trailed for almost all of his big league debut Tuesday night, only to emerge with the win after he'd done his heaviest lifting. Berken escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning and watched as Adam Jones hit a game-changing home run that lifted the Orioles to a 7-2 win over the Blue Jays.
"It was pretty special," said Berken. "As soon as he hit that ball, I knew it was out. And it kind of changes your whole outlook on the outing. I was happy with the way things went. The only thing that was frustrating is my pitch count was a little high. I'd like to pitch deeper in the game, but for my first outing, I can't complain."
And neither can the Orioles, who have already switched out three members of their Opening Day rotation. Berken is the fourth rookie starter Baltimore has sent to the hill this season, along with Brad Bergesen, Alfredo Simon and Koji Uehara. Bergesen and Berken, though, represent something quite different than the other two.
Both youngsters were drafted and developed by the Orioles, and they've stopped at each high-level rung of the organization along the way. Berken and Bergesen are the first breakers in a wave of young arms set to envelop the big league pitching staff, and manager Dave Trembley is happy with the early returns.
"To me, the most important thing was his poise," said Trembley. "We've had guys before come up, and they've had just as good of stuff. We expect everybody to be able to play at this level, but there's more to it than just having stuff and having tools. It's the ability to focus, the ability to not get out of control [and] stay in your lane. Body language and poise, looking like you fit, not getting rattled. Berken was very good."
Despite a rocky start, Berken fit that checklist. The former sixth-round draftee allowed a run in each of the first two innings, but later settled into the rhythm of the game. He gave up a key double and a walk in the fifth but escaped the threat on a fly ball. Then, with his day presumably done, Berken sat back and watched.
"I felt really good," said Berken, who had been 2-0 with a 1.05 ERA for Triple-A Norfolk. "I've been waiting for this for a long time, so I was more anxious than anything. But when you have a defense like that behind you, it's hard not to feel confident. I just knew if I pitched to contact and kept the ball in play, things would turn out fine."
Toronto starter Ricky Romero -- who had allowed nothing but an Aubrey Huff homer to that point -- got two quick outs in the fifth before walking Brian Roberts. That brought Jones to the plate, and the youngster added to his career-high homer total with a line drive that easily carried over the left-field fence, his 11th long ball.
That shot gave the Orioles (20-26) a 3-2 lead, erasing Toronto's early advantage. Nolan Reimold drilled a two-run homer in the sixth to provide some insurance for Berken, who will likely remain in the rotation. Trembley said that Berken, who replaced veteran Adam Eaton, isn't around on a start-to-start basis.
"When he came in today, he said, 'Hey, I'm here to pitch.' He's a real neat kid," said Trembley. "He said, 'I want to help the team.' And I said, 'Yeah, I know you want to help the team. Just go out and pitch tonight. You're going to pitch again.' I didn't want him to think today was make or break, life or death for him."
The Blue Jays (27-22) have lost eight straight games, and the Orioles will have a chance to sweep them in Wednesday's series finale. The entirety of Tuesday's game was played in a steady misting rain, conditions that are expected to persist for the rest of the week, perhaps lending some advantage to the pitchers.
"It was more annoying. Either rain or go away," said Jones. "It just stayed with that drizzle. I was telling somebody earlier, 'That's exactly how it was for two years being in the Northwest with Seattle.'"
Berken pitched in front of approximately 30 friends and family members on Tuesday, including his parents, grandparents, wife and uncle. And to hear him tell it, the experience went exactly the way he'd hoped.
"You want to make a good impression, but that's one of those things you have no control over," he said. "I just knew if I went out there and pitched well and kept us in the game, the opportunity would be there."
Strangely enough, Trembley had only seen Berken pitch twice before his big league debut. The Orioles had assigned him to their Minor League camp in Sarasota, Fla., which is nearly 200 miles from where the big leaguers train. Still, after Berken shot out of the gates with a fast start, he quickly moved to the forefront.
"It should give a whole lot of other people a shot in the arm and some incentive that it's not where you start, it's how you end up," said Trembley, speaking of the message his promotion sends. "It's about opportunity. You can feel sorry for yourself and all that stuff. Get the job done. Show us. Show people. Obviously, Berken did."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less