It has been a rough adjustment to the majors for Baltimore Orioles rookie pitcher Jason Berken, but as he struggles to gain his footing, the talented right-hander might be able to take comfort in knowing that many all-time greats experienced similar difficulties before reaching stardom.
It may still be premature, but there have been comparisons between the young pitching staff being developed by the Orioles and the way the Atlanta Braves used a core of young pitchers to propel them from perennial cellar dwellers to perennial champions during the 1990s.
We all know that Tom Glavine and John Smoltz went on to long and productive major league careers, but much like Berken, they took their lumps during their early days with a struggling Atlanta team.
Glavine, who has a career record of 305-203, made his major league debut late in the 1987 season and went 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA in nine starts.
In his first full season, Glavine went 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA as the Braves went 54-106. He then went 24-20 over the next two seasons before posting the first of five 20+ win seasons as the Braves reached the World Series in 1991.
Similarly, Smoltz, who has 211 career wins and 154 career saves, struggled in his first major league season as he went 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA for the 1988 Braves. He then made his first All-Star team in 1989 and went on to have a losing record only once in the next 11 years.
Though he was not with the Braves during the late 1980s, future Atlanta star Greg Maddux also took his lumps early in his career as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
After going 2-4 in six starts for the Cubs in 1986, Maddux went 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA in 1987 as the Cubs went 76-85 and finished last in the NL East.
The following season, Maddux went 18-8 to start a streak of 17 straight seasons in which he won at least 15 games. He retired following the 2008 season with a 355-227 career record.
Berken illustrated his potential in his first career start as he allowed only two runs in five innings to earn a victory against Toronto on May 26.
He followed that performance with his best start in the majors, allowing only one run in seven innings against Detroit. Unfortunately, he was the hard-luck loser in that game and has not won since in posting a 1-7 record with a 6.44 ERA.
While fellow rookie Brad Bergesen has been consistent in his performance since being called up in late April, Berken has experienced the ups and downs that are generally typical of a rookie hurler.
He has pitched at least five innings while allowing two runs or less in four of his 10 starts. However, he also has four starts in which he didn’t make it through the fifth inning.
If Berken continues to struggle it is possible that the Orioles will send him back to the minors to regain his confidence. However, the preference would certainly be for him to continue his development at the major league level.
He may be taking his lumps now, but history has shown that this kind of baptism by fire could help propel Berken to a solid major league career. That is certainly the result the Orioles will be looking for both for Berken and the entire team as they hope to follow a similar path to glory as the one once blazed by Glavine, Smoltz and the Braves.