BALTIMORE (AP) — For the second straight season, Jake Arrieta will face the Minnesota Twins in the Baltimore Orioles’ home opener.
The circumstances on Friday, however, will be vastly different.
A year ago, the Orioles launched the season at home and Arrieta was coming off a 10-win campaign that earned him his first Opening Day start. This time, Baltimore makes its 2013 debut at Camden Yards after playing three road games against Tampa Bay, and Arrieta finds himself in the back end of the rotation following a dismal 3-9 season that included a two-month stint in the minor leagues.
“I’m much more focused and much better prepared this time around,” Arrieta said. “Not that I wasn’t prepared or (didn’t have) focus going into this last season. But I think my preparation and focus is a little bit more fine-tuned. And now I am in this position and am ready to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and keep my job all year. I think that’s what everybody wants and what everybody expects from me. That’s what I plan to do.”
Arrieta beat the Twins last April 6, but that was the highlight of a season in which he finished with a 6.20 ERA. While the right-hander will be looking to bounce back from a horrid 2012 season, the Orioles will be seeking to build upon what they accomplished in spite of Arrieta’s struggle.
Friday’s game is the first at Camden Yards since last October, when Baltimore packed the house for its playoff series against the New York Yankees. This is the first real opportunity for the Orioles to bask in the adulation of a fan-base still riding the high from a 93-69 season that ended a run of 14 straight years of losing.
For Arrieta, it’s a chance to prove he’s more like the pitcher who shined in 2011 rather than the one who flopped last year. It’s the third straight season he’s started Baltimore’s home opener — the 27-year-old beat Detroit two years ago — but he’s still got something to prove.
“To be able to have multiple opportunities and have the trust and the faith from the organization, the staff, it’s a very humbling feeling,” Arrieta said. “The most important thing is my preparation and my awareness of the situation is better than it ever has been, and I think that’s what makes it more special.”
Will Arrieta be a key facet of the starting rotation, or will he again struggle?
“We’re going to find out. Our curiosity is going to be satisfied over the course of the season,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Minnesota will let us know. They have a very good offensive team. His next start, somebody else will let us know. I’m looking forward to finding out if guys like Jake are going to graduate.”
The Twins, meanwhile, are trying to get to where the Orioles are. A year ago, Minnesota began the season by being swept in Baltimore and stumbled to a 66-96 finish.
Looking back on the tell-tale opening series of a year ago, Twins reliever Brian Duensing said, “I feel like we actually played pretty decent, but I remember their starting pitching just came out in midseason form right away.”
The Orioles parlayed that sweep into their first playoff appearance since 1997.
“We take credit for them getting off to a good start and sending them on their way,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who believes Baltimore has the talent to make a return trip to the postseason.
“It’s a very good baseball team again,” he said. “They’re confident. We saw that in spring training, too. They know they can do some things. So it’s going to be entertaining going in there and playing them.”
It’s been a tough early schedule for the Twins, who opened at home against the defending AL champion Detroit Tigers and now face another playoff team eager for an encore.
“They’re a good team. They’re a team not to overlook,” Duensing said. “I think Buck Showalter’s got them in the right mindset, and they’re all playing together. That makes a team dangerous when you’re all sticking together and doing everything the right way.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)