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Jones not receiving much help in Orioles outfield

Posted on 18 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Arguably off to the best start of his major league career, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones rarely knows who will be playing to his left or right on any given night.

That unrest at the corner outfield spots has been one of the Orioles’ biggest problems through the first six weeks of the 2015 season as the quintet of Delmon Young, Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider, Steve Pearce, and David Lough haven’t met expectations. After the offseason departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, the Orioles planned to mix and match their options in left and right depending on opposing pitchers and whoever might be swinging a hot bat at any given time.

Instead, it’s been no man’s land, leaving manager Buck Showalter searching for any production he can find. Entering Monday, Orioles left fielders have hit only .208 with a putrid .593 on-base plus slugging percentage. Right field has looked good from a batting average standpoint (.301), but that traditional power spot has provided only one home run and a .397 slugging percentage.

Playing more regularly than last season, Young has hit .292, but he has just four extra-base hits and an anemic .337 slugging percentage, making him less than desirable as a choice for the cleanup spot where he’s often appeared. His defense has been better than expected in right field, but Young rarely makes you feel comfortable watching him roam the outfield.

De Aza is second on the club with 27 strikeouts and has relinquished his role as the regular leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching due to a .209 average and just four walks in 92 plate appearances. His defense has also been inconsistent as he’s misjudged balls and occasionally thrown to the wrong base.

Snider was decent with the bat early and currently sports a .700 OPS, but his defensive lapses in April clearly led to him falling out of favor with Showalter. The former Pittsburgh Pirate has started just seven games in May.

Despite a dramatic walk-off homer against Boston on April 25, Lough has done nothing else to present himself as a player who should receive more playing time since returning from the 15-day disabled list.

And though he’s been reinvented as a second baseman this month due to a rash of injuries at the position, Pearce has failed to approach the same stratosphere of his 2014 success as he’s hitting just .188 on the season. A .208 batting average on balls put in play indicates Pearce has hit into tough luck, but that can’t completely make up for below-replacement level numbers from a veteran hitter who posted a .930 OPS a season ago.

Beyond searching for a time machine to travel back to the offseason, what can the Orioles do?

The organization has long-term visions of making current designated hitter Jimmy Paredes a corner outfielder, but much of that work will need to be done next offseason and moving him now would likely only shift one of the struggling outfielders to the DH role anyway.

Mentioned in the spring as possibilities to make contributions in the Orioles outfield at some point this season, Nolan Reimold is hitting just .238 and Dariel Alvarez is batting .240 at Triple-A Norfolk.

Beyond the possibility of a trade — which appears to be an eventual necessity at this point — the Orioles might be inclined to take a look at Chris Parmelee, a 2006 first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins who signed as a minor-league free agent in the offseason. The 27-year-old is only a career .249 hitter in 901 major league plate appearances, but he has raked for the Tides in 2015, hitting .338 and posting a .904 OPS with three homers, 11 doubles, 22 RBIs, and 21 walks in 139 at-bats.

Parmelee has experience playing the corner outfield spots as well as first base in the majors, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said over the weekend that he’s someone on the Orioles’ radar as a potential call-up. Of course, no one can view Parmelee as a long-term solution, but perhaps it’s time for Baltimore to shake up the current outfield roster with some different competition in hopes of sparking more production.

Regardless of how they proceed, the Orioles cannot continue to receive such little production from two positions traditionally viewed as run-producing spots.

One of the biggest questions entering the season would be how the corner outfield spots would shake out with Markakis and Cruz no longer options to flank Jones.

So far, the plan has been nothing short of a colossal disappointment.

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WWE champion Rollins leaves mark on Baltimore this weekend

Posted on 18 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Rookie Mike Wright was the story of the day for the Orioles, but he wasn’t the only one to leave his mark on Sunday as WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins had a full schedule in Baltimore.

Before successfully defending his world title at the sports entertainment giant’s “Payback” pay-per-view event at Royal Farms Arena, the 28-year-old Rollins hammed it up with Adam Jones and threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Sunday’s series finale against the Los Angeles Angels. It’s just one of the many new perks and obligations for Rollins, who won the WWE title at WrestleMania seven weeks ago after cashing in his “Money in the Bank” contract, a scripted stipulation that allows a performer to challenge for the title at any moment on WWE programming.

That moment came during the main event of the WWE’s “Super Bowl” as Rollins reached the pinnacle of professional wrestling.

“It’s fairly surreal. It’s gone so fast,” said Rollins, whose real name is Colby Lopez. “You said seven weeks, it doesn’t even feel like it’s been that long to be honest with you. Every day is a new adventure. It’s been very exciting, and to be honest, it’s been everything that I hoped that it would be. Getting opportunities to do things like this, the “Today” show, and just main-event pay-per-views for WWE, it’s always been a dream of mine. All this stuff is just the icing on the cake and the cherry on top.”

Previously performing as Tyler Black in the Ring of Honor promotion, Rollins has quickly climbed the WWE ladder after signing a developmental contract in 2010 and becoming the inaugural NXT Champion in 2012. Soon thereafter, Rollins would make his WWE debut as a member of The Shield, a group that also included Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose.

Despite the trio’s popular run, the script called for Rollins to turn on his partners last year and he has since become one of the top heels in the promotion. This was evident as he walked out to the mound to throw out the first pitch at Camden Yards to a mixture of boos and cheers from fans.

“Oh, they hate me. It’s great. They hate everything I do. It’s phenomenal,” said Rollins, who has drawn comparisons to a young version of WWE legend Shawn Michaels. “They want someone to take this title off me so bad, but the problem is it’s not going to happen because I’m that good. I’m just going to keep it, and I’m going to beat everybody. Bring on all the challengers, whoever it might be — anybody on the WWE roster or Adam Jones if he wants to step into the ring. Anybody, it doesn’t matter. They hate my guts; it’s wonderful.”

Beyond laying down the challenge to the Orioles center fielder — who attended Sunday night’s WWE event along with Steve Pearce and J.J. Hardy — and throwing out the first pitch, Rollins relished the opportunity to return to Baltimore after last month’s unrest that drew national attention and painted the city in a negative light.

Having regularly performed in the Charm City with both Ring of Honor and WWE over the last several years, Rollins is well aware of Baltimore’s strong wrestling fan base and history and doesn’t want the events of last month to define the city.

“The whole weekend has been great for the city between the horse racing, the Orioles having some games back-to-back finally with some people in the stands, and ‘Payback’ bringing a lot of excitement to Royal Farms [Arena],” Rollins said. “I think it’s a great community. It’s really just a crappy thing that that had to reflect on the city of Baltimore. I’ve been here a billion times, and that’s not the character of the city at all. It’s cool to have a weekend like this where everybody is just out having a good time showing what Baltimore’s really all about.”

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Orioles receive lift from unexpected source

Posted on 18 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles needed a lift in more ways than one on Sunday.

The short-term need of a starting rotation without an ill Bud Norris or an ailing Chris Tillman was apparent as Baltimore begins a brutal stretch of 21 games in 20 days on Tuesday.

On top of that, the Orioles were facing the prospects of being swept at home after falling four games below .500 for the first time in four years on Saturday night. A pick-me-up was in order after a struggling offense had wasted stellar outings from Wei-Yin Chen and Ubaldo Jimenez in the previous two games against the Los Angeles Angels.

A change in karma was required for a club struggling to find its footing through the first six weeks of the 2015 season. Even though their early-season concerns remain, the Orioles needed a new wrinkle to end the series on a positive note and head into their final off-day for three weeks with a good feeling.

And that’s exactly what rookie Mike Wright provided in turning in 7 1/3 shutout innings in a 3-0 win before 41,733 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Displaying impressive poise, Wright became the first pitcher in franchise history to toss a scoreless start without walking a batter in his major league debut as he also added six strikeouts while surrendering just four hits.

Wright’s fastball was on display from the very beginning, recording his first major league strikeout when he blew a 98 mph fastball past 2014 American League MVP Mike Trout in the top of the first. His fastball was still touching 97 mph in the eighth inning as he mixed in his slider, changeup, and curveball throughout the afternoon to keep Angels hitters off balance.

Though rated as only the Orioles’ No. 8 prospect by Baseball American last offseason, the 2011 third-round pick out of East Carolina earned Sunday’s opportunity after steadily working his way up the organizational ladder over the last few seasons. If only for one afternoon, Wright put the hype surrounding the likes of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and Hunter Harvey on the back burner while he enjoyed the limelight, leaving to a standing ovation in the eighth.

Yes, the day belonged to the 6-foot-6 right-hander and the Orioles reaped the benefits as their lineup once again struggled through a nondescript afternoon — albeit against the talented Garrett Richards — before Adam Jones provided some much-needed insurance with a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth.

There’s no telling what’s next for Wright as manager Buck Showalter will weigh his immediate options in the starting rotation, but the 25-year-old certainly earned another opportunity after shutting down an Angels club that had won five straight games. He became the first Orioles pitcher to post a scoreless start in his major league debut since Chris Waters did it against the Angels in 2008 and the first to do it at home since Anthony Telford shut down Oakland at Memorial Stadium in 1990.

The Orioles hope Wright makes many more meaningful contributions, but the aforementioned names serve as a reminder that you can’t take too much away from what we witnessed on Sunday.

You hope there’s more to come, but Wright provided a shot in the arm that the Orioles needed to feel better about the weekend and themselves.

Even if it was only for one afternoon.

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A memorable day we hope never happens again

Posted on 29 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Accompanied by the punchlines and photos on social media was a sadness as a recording of the national anthem played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday afternoon.

As if the sight of an empty ballpark moments before the start of an Orioles game wasn’t strange enough, it had just hit me that we wouldn’t hear the customary “O!” that we’ve come to expect at any major sporting event in Baltimore over the years. Out-of-towners don’t get it and even some within the community don’t care for the practice, but there are few things more “Baltimore” than our own Star-Spangled Banner trademark you’ll even hear when fans follow the Orioles or Ravens on the road.

It was just the latest reminder of how far from ideal the concept of playing a baseball game without fans truly was, but that’s when I heard the faint but audible “O!” from a few dozen fans standing beyond the left-center gate. The sound warmed the heart in a week filled with much tension and sadness in the city of Baltimore, and it suddenly made more sense for the Orioles to be playing a game at home before embarking on what will now be a nine-game road trip.

“Oh, they were heard,” said a smiling Buck Showalter when asked about those fans cheering from afar during an 8-2 win over the Chicago White Sox.

Of course, the Orioles returning to the field is of little consequence compared to the real problems our city is facing and will continue to deal with in the coming hours, days, and weeks. The decision not to allocate the law-enforcement officials required for a regular game was a wise one, but the quiet atmosphere was a reminder of just how important fans are to the product.

As one of the select few able to watch the game in person, I enjoyed the previously-unheard sounds of Jimmy Paredes sliding into third base or first base coach Wayne Kirby calling for Delmon Young to run out a popup, but the atmosphere reminded of a junior varsity baseball game without the pings of aluminum bats. It may have been a day that made major league history, but we can only hope it never happens again as we look ahead to the return of both the Orioles and fans to Camden Yards on May 11.

“It’s something that we hopefully don’t take for granted,” said catcher Caleb Joseph, who jokingly pretended to high-five fans and sign autographs before the game. “Days like today definitely remind you if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have jobs. Hopefully, everything can be resolved as quickly as possible.”

A game being played without any fans wasn’t what anyone truly wanted, but if it represented baby steps toward some normalcy, we’ll take it. After watching so many parts of the city burn on Monday night, just seeing baseball being played at Camden Yards again was movement in the right direction.

For those watching on television or listening on the radio on a weekday afternoon, the surreal game at least provided a temporary distraction.

“They’re always watching. You all know that,” said center fielder Adam Jones, acknowledging more fans viewing on television than those attending any game under regular circumstances. “Cameras are always on. It was good to come out and get six [runs] in the first [and] get a stronghold off a good pitcher.”

The day was helped by the Orioles rolling over starter Jeff Samardzija and the White Sox to win their third consecutive game. While players were quick to note the insignificance of winning a baseball game in the city’s current climate, you still sensed their purpose of wanting to do something positive for fans despite their inability to attend the game.

Of course, the run of baseball-related distractions and sacrifice isn’t over for the Orioles as they’ll now play a “home” series — with home uniforms and all — against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg this weekend. But leaving town on a winning note helps.

“You tried to stay focused on the competition and us trying to get where we want to be at the end of the season,” Showalter said. “But I also talked to [players] about the people who are going to be sitting around our city watching this game. How many things have really gone on normal here in the last few days in our society?”

Yes, the perception of playing in an empty stadium was less than appealing, but it beat the alternative of canceling a third consecutive game at an abandoned Camden Yards. If it served as even a few minutes of leisure from the tension that currently exists in our city, the unorthodox measure was worth it.

There are much bigger issues at work in Baltimore — ones that won’t be solved overnight — but to hear cheers from those fans standing beyond the gates was a reminder of just how important something so unimportant can be. It isn’t a coincidence that we’ve occasionally heard the “Seven Nation Army” chants from protesters over the last couple days, either.

Sports have brought and will continue to bring us together, which is why I look forward to once again seeing a packed Camden Yards — hopefully as early as May 11.

“The last 72 hours I think in this city have been tumultuous, to say the least,” Jones said. “We’ve seen good, we’ve seen bad, we’ve seen ugly. We’ve seen our games canceled, postponed, relocated, a lot of families relocated.

“It’s a city that’s hurting, and a city that needs its heads to stand up, step up, and help the ones that are hurting. It’s not an easy time right now for anybody. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It’s a tough time for the city of Baltimore.”

One day at a time.

As unusual and less than perfect Wednesday’s game was, it was comforting to have a diversion.

It was good to hear that familiar “O!” in the distance.

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Jones not missing his pitch in hot start for Orioles

Posted on 20 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Even after an 0-for-2 showing in Monday’s 7-1 loss that snapped a nine-game hitting streak, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is off to one of the best starts of his career through the first two weeks of the 2015 campaign.

The numbers resemble something from a video game as Jones is hitting .438 with five home runs, 16 RBIs, and a 1.294 on-base plus slugging percentage, but the most encouraging stat that could make room for Jones to sustain improvement in 2015 is his impressively-low number of strikeouts. Entering Monday with a career 19.3 percent strikeout rate, Jones has gone down on strikes just five times in 54 plate appearances this season.

Jones has only walked three times, but he’s making more contact on pitches in or out of the strike zone. Of course, we’re dealing with a small sample size, but even a reasonable improvement from his career 73.5 percent contract rate — Jones entered Monday making contact on 78 percent of his swings — could make an already-dangerous hitter even better.

Manager Buck Showalter has also noted that several of Jones’ big hits early in the season have come on pitches well outside the zone, which should serve as a reminder for those who like to harp on his lack of plate discipline and inability to draw walks. You take the good with the bad with Jones, and there’s been much more of the former in his eight years with the Orioles.

** The final numbers showed that all five runs that Wei-Yin Chen surrendered on Monday were unearned, but anyone who watched his performance knows nearly all of the damage was self-inflicted for the Taiwanese lefty.

Committing an error and walking four batters in the third — he walked no more than three in any of his 31 starts last season — Chen struggled to shake off the fielding miscue and allowed it to affect his performance on the mound. Of course, the error committed by Manny Machado with the bases loaded led to two more runs and a 5-1 deficit.

The defensive gaffe and the control problems are uncharacteristic for Chen, who is regarded as an exceptional fielder and walked only 1.7 hitters per nine innings last year. For now, you chalk it up as one of those days even though he’s now walked eight batters in 14 2/3 innings in 2015.

** With another strikeout on Monday, Chris Davis has now gone down on strikes 21 times in 50 plate appearances to begin the year.

It isn’t news that Davis strikes out a lot as he fanned 199 times in his 53-homer season in 2013, but the left-handed slugger striking out in 42 percent of his plate appearances is alarming even for his standards. Despite this, Davis has still managed to produce with two home runs, seven RBIs, and a .457 slugging percentage.

What might be more concerning than the strikeout rate is the fact that Davis has only drawn two walks this season. Despite his nightmarish 2014 season that included a .196 average, Davis still drew 60 walks in 525 plate appearances to at least salvage a .300 on-base percentage.

With the increased use of the shift against him, Davis will do himself no favors if he doesn’t have patient at-bats. Of course, pitchers may not feel the need to pitch him as carefully this season, which could also impact his ability to earn free passes.

** Once J.J. Hardy returns, many assume Everth Cabrera will become the primary second baseman in place of the injured Jonathan Schoop, but I’m not convinced.

Cabrera has just 12 games of major league experience at the position while Ryan Flaherty has proven he can play above-average defense at second. The former has also shown little at the plate with a .244 slugging percentage this season after posting a .572 OPS in his final season in San Diego last year.

Flaherty is a polarizing figure among Orioles fans, but he’s off to a strong start in 2015 with a .333 average and two homers in 24 at-bats. If you view him in his proper context as a utility player who can play six different positions well, it’s easier to see why manager Buck Showalter likes him so much.

Because of Flaherty’s power potential and his ability to play good defense at second, I’d be inclined to give him an extended look at the position before automatically handing the job over to Cabrera when Hardy is back at shortstop.

** The silver lining in Monday’s rain-shortened game was the Orioles bullpen receiving a breather aside from Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia, who pitched for the first time since April 10.

Orioles relievers pitched 12 1/3 innings in the first three games at Fenway and will now travel to Toronto to take on a potent Blue Jays lineup that entered Monday ranking first in the majors in runs scored. On top of that, Baltimore will not have another day off until April 30.

** The Orioles Hall of Fame has come under criticism in recent years with a number of players being inducted who were viewed as unworthy, but Melvin Mora shouldn’t be mentioned in that group after it was announced that he and former platoon partners John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke will be enshrined this August.

Mora, a two-time All-Star selection, is 13th in all-time wins above replacement in club history and ranks in the top 10 in a number of categories including doubles, RBIs, home runs, runs, and total bases. That sounds like a player deserving of inclusion, regardless of whether you think the overall standard has dropped.

His 2004 campaign in particular goes down as one of the most underrated seasons in franchise history and Mora was one of the lone bright spots in a very dark time period for the Orioles.

In the same way that we don’t attach the stench of 1988 to Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, Mora shouldn’t be classified as an unworthy inductee for the Orioles Hall of Fame because of the terrible teams on which he played.

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Early thoughts on Orioles lineup

Posted on 16 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Providing the ever-popular caveat that “it’s still early” in making any observations, below are some thoughts on each regular member of the Orioles lineup — with an additional nod to Delmon Young coming off the bench — through the first nine games of the 2015 season.

While many are understandably pining for former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz with him homering in five straight games, Baltimore leads the majors in home runs and has had few problems scoring runs so far.

Each player’s slash line, which includes batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, is noted in parentheses.

1. Alejandro De Aza (.314/.333/.571)

The left fielder’s .905 on-base plus slugging percentage is impressive, but he’s walked only once and has struck out 13 times, second on the club to only Chris Davis. He is the most experienced option that Buck Showalter has for the leadoff spot and he’s seen 4.28 pitches per plate appearance so far this season (the major league average is 3.81), making you think he’ll begin to draw more free passes as the year goes on. The high volume of strikeouts (36.1 percent of plate appearances) sticks out, but De Aza’s 21.2 percent career strikeout rate makes you believe this is more an early-season aberration.

2. Steve Pearce (.161/.278/.355)

Drawing starts at four different spots already (first base, left field, right field, and designated hitter), Pearce looked like he was picking up where he left off in 2014 by hitting a home run in each of the first two games. Since then, however, it’s been a struggle as he’s been mired in a 2-for-26 slump with eight strikeouts over that time. Showalter gave Pearce the night off Wednesday, so hopefully that coupled with Thursday’s off-day will allow the 32-year-old to clear his head. The Orioles don’t expect him to repeat his .930 OPS from a year ago, but they are counting on him to provide above-average offense.

3. Chris Davis (.226/.273/.387)

The cries have already started for Davis to be lowered in the order as he’s struck out in 45.5 percent of his 2015 plate appearances, which is alarming even for the first baseman’s standards. That said, he’s still found a way to contribute offensively, including three RBIs in Wednesday night’s win. It’s difficult to know what to expect from Davis at this point, but Showalter will — and should — keep writing his name in the lineup. You can happily live with him striking out 30 percent of the time like he did in 2012 and 2013 if he hits 35 home runs, but his contact rate continues to trend in the wrong direction.

4. Adam Jones (.406/.459/.844)

The Orioles may need to drag Jones onto the plane to Boston as he just finished one of the best homestands of his career by going 12-for-21 with four home runs and nine RBIs while hitting safely in all six games. As Showalter noted, several of those big hits came on pitches outside the zone as Jones was completely locked in. We know the drill as Jones will go through stretches where he’s not producing and many will complain about him failing to draw walks and expanding the zone. You take the good with the bad, and Jones has certainly provided much more of the former with a 1.303 OPS.

5. Travis Snider (.333/.467/.500)

We haven’t seen Snider in the outfield since a critical three-run error against Toronto on Sunday, but he leads the club with six walks and a stout .467 on-base percentage so far. He won’t continue to draw walks in 20 percent of his plate appearances, but Snider does give the Orioles more patience in the lineup, which is something they’ve obviously lacked over the last few years. Even with the rough defensive day against the Blue Jays, the left-handed hitter has given the Orioles everything they could have asked for so far and should continue to see regular at-bats.

6. Manny Machado (.161/.250/.290)

A .161 average would suggest we should be asking what’s wrong with the young third baseman, but he’s hit a number of balls hard for which he didn’t receive a return. Machado connected on his first homer of the season in Wednesday’s win, but the part of his offensive approach that’s been most impressive has been the willingness to take pitches. Machado walked in just 4.1 percent of his 2013 plate appearances, increased that rate to 5.7 percent last year, and has drawn free passes in 11.1 percent of his trips to the plate in 2015. It’s only a matter of time before good at-bats produce good results.

7. Jonathan Schoop (.292/.346/.708)

Jones has been the Orioles’ best offensive player, but Schoop has taken the largest step forward so far as he’s second on the club in home runs (three) and RBIs (seven). He’s only drawn one walk, but his power has been impressive as four of his seven hits have gone for extra bases. Showalter complimented Schoop’s approach in his final at-bat Wednesday that followed his home run to jump-start the five-run sixth inning. He didn’t get a hit, but Schoop drove a ball hard to right-center that was flagged down by Jacoby Ellsbury. The second baseman has a long way to go, but he has scary potential at age 23.

8. Everth Cabrera (.269/.310/.269)

Cabrera has filled in nicely for Gold Glove shortstop J.J. Hardy by playing strong defense and offering a few singles here and there at the plate. The interesting question will be what the Orioles decide to do with Cabrera and utility player Ryan Flaherty once Hardy is ready to return to his starting role. Cabrera has been solid at shortstop and provides speed, but he hasn’t played any other positions and we know Flaherty can play good defense at more than one spot. Of course, both players have options, making this a good problem to have once Hardy is ready to be activated from the disabled list.

9. Caleb Joseph (.375/.444/.542)

It remains unknown when Matt Wieters will be ready to return, but Joseph has held his own in the three-time All-Star catcher’s absence and even picked up the Orioles’ first triple of the season. He is 0-for-4 throwing out runners trying to steal, but his 40 percent success rate from last season proved he can do the job defensively. The offense has been a nice development after Joseph posted a .618 OPS as a rookie. Showalter reminded reporters this week that the 28-year-old had a career .753 OPS in the minors, suggesting the Orioles might be able to expect a little more from him with the bat this year.

PH – Delmon Young (.333/.375/.333)

Young hasn’t played as much as some might have expected so far, but he recaptured his 2014 magic coming off the bench with a pinch-hit RBI single in the Orioles’ comeback win over the Yankees on Wednesday night. The 29-year-old will receive plenty of opportunities as the DH against left-handed pitching and the occasional start in the outfield, but Showalter loves having his bat as a weapon off the bench. The likes of De Aza, Snider, and Pearce producing in regular roles for this club will allow that to continue to happen.

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Jones, Orioles don No. 42 jerseys for Jackie Robinson Day

Posted on 15 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Taking part in his eighth Jackie Robinson Day at the major league level, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones still cherishes the opportunity to wear the iconic No. 42 jersey.

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball celebrated the 68th anniversary of the former Brooklyn Dodgers infielder breaking the color barrier. Just like the Orioles and the opposing New York Yankees, all uniformed personnel around the majors wore Robinson’s jersey number.

“It’s awesome. It’s bringing unity to the game,” Jones said. “This game has extreme reach due to some bravery by Jackie back in those heydays of the [1940s]. As you see in our society, racism is still there, obviously, in bigger scales than the sport of baseball. Baseball is something that unites anyone. It doesn’t matter what you are: black, white, or indifferent. It unites us as you can see how our game is very international and our clubhouse is international. This is one thing that brings us together, and that’s sports.”

Jones spent the morning as part of the panel evaluating a “self-expression” contest with the Westport Homes Boys & Girls Club. Members were challenged to express their thoughts creatively through a speech, poem, art, or skit about Robinson’s values for success, which included “citizenship, commitment, courage, determination, excellence, integrity, justice, persistence, and teamwork.”

The anniversary of Robinson’s first game in the majors always sparks discussion about the waning popularity of baseball among African-American youth, but Jones doesn’t view himself as an ambassador to simply grow the sport’s popularity. He credited the ongoing efforts of groups such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, but he’s more concerned with young people just finding positive ways to spend their time.

Jones has spent time and resources over the last several years to assist the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore with him and the Orioles donating more than $100,000 toward the improvement of the Brooklyn O’Malley Boys & Girls Club Technology and Learning Center and the remodeling of the teen center at the Boys & Girls Club, Westport/Winans Homes Center.

“I’ve even told my nephews, ‘You don’t necessarily have to play baseball,'” said Jones, citing how so many different sports are available for youth to play today. “I’m not trying to get all African Americans to play baseball. I’m trying to get them to do something productive with themselves. Playing a sport is something that bonds you and creates so many lifetime bonds with people that you never would have had if you don’t play sports.”

The day brings special meaning for manager Buck Showalter as he remembers stories from his former minor league pitching coach Russ Meyer, who played with Robinson from 1953-1955. The late Meyer recalled to Showalter the great courage and dignity Robinson possessed both on and off the field.

The celebration is also a reminder of baseball’s ugly history in which African Americans waited for decades to prove they belonged in the majors.

“It makes me proud that we are having this special day,” Showalter said. “It doesn’t make me particularly proud when you think about how long it took.”

Hardy takes batting practice for first time

Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy reached the final hurdle before going on a minor-league rehab assignment after taking batting practice for the first time since injuring his left shoulder on April 27.

Hardy took 18 swings in live batting practice on Wednesday and is expected to hit again at Camden Yards on Thursday before potentially going on a rehab assignment to Double-A Bowie. But that all depends on how the left shoulder responds as he has still experienced a “little catch” at the very end of his follow-through.

The 32-year-old infielder says it’s been tricky differentiating soreness related to the shoulder strain from normal soreness that comes from not swinging a bat for an extended period of time.

Hoping to be playing with Bowie as early as Friday, Hardy doesn’t anticipating needing many at-bats in order to get ready to rejoin the Orioles since he was healthy for most of spring training.

Pearce, Davis scuffling

After a red-hot start to the season that included two home runs in his first two games, Steve Pearce was out of Wednesday’s lineup while mired in a 2-for-26 slump that includes eight strikeouts over that time.

Pearce has already played both corner outfield spots and first base as well as serve as the designated hitter in the Orioles lineup this season, but he started a game on the bench for the first time since last year.

The right-handed hitter isn’t the only one struggling at the plate as first baseman Chris Davis has only one hit in his last 14 at-bats and has struck out nine times over that stretch. He was dropped to sixth in the order against Yankees lefty CC Sabathia on Tuesday, but he batted fifth on Wednesday night.

Injury updates

Catcher Matt Wieters (right elbow) threw from 120 feet, caught three bullpen sessions as well as the starting pitcher, and had five at-bats in a simulated game in Sarasota on Wednesday.

Utility player Jimmy Paredes (lower back) played right field in an extended spring game in Sarasota and will now travel back to Baltimore. He is expected to meet with Showalter and take batting practice at Camden Yards on Thursday and could report to Bowie later that evening or by Friday to begin a rehab assignment.

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Orioles let one get away against Yankees

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It’d be tough to sugarcoat the Orioles’ 6-5 loss to the New York Yankees on Monday night.

That one stung.

No, it isn’t crushing in the sense that the Orioles currently own a 3-4 record, and it’s premature to be concerned about an up-and-down week to begin the season. But Monday brought the kind of defeat that you can’t help but feel should have been a win if not for a series of missteps. Those are the losses on which you’ll reflect, depending on where you ultimately stand in the pennant race a few months from now.

Of course, right-hander Tommy Hunter received much of the blame for failing to locate a 3-1 fastball that resulted in a go-ahead grand slam off the bat of pinch hitter Stephen Drew in the top of the seventh inning. Despite only giving up a bloop single to Chris Young and an infield hit to Jacoby Ellsbury — a play that could have resulted in the third out of the inning had Chris Davis corralled Jonathan Schoop’s bullet throw from close range — Hunter had walked John Ryan Murphy earlier in the inning and had already labored through 24 pitches when Drew stepped to the plate.

Manager Buck Showalter had Brian Matusz ready in the bullpen before electing to let Hunter face Drew, explaining after the game that he was trying not to use the lefty specialist who had thrown 26 pitches in Sunday’s loss. Drew was 0-for-5 in his career against both pitchers, but the decision to stick with Hunter appeared counterintuitive since Matusz was ready to go and is paid to get lefty hitters out. Drew owns a career .227 average against southpaws and had batted .129 against them in 2014.

With Wesley Wright expected to miss the next four to six weeks with left shoulder inflammation, the Orioles currently have just one lefty in the bullpen aside from closer Zach Britton.

“I was trying to stay away from Brian,” Showalter said. “We’ve had a couple short starts and we only had three pitchers we were going to use in the bullpen, so it’s tough. [Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s] also got another weapon over there in [Chase] Headley, so he can [then hit for Drew] if he wants to.”

Matusz eventually pitched to two batters in the ninth inning anyway, but the damage had already been done.

That sequence aside, the Orioles didn’t help themselves by making three outs on the bases with Alejandro De Aza and Adam Jones both being thrown out trying to steal and catcher Caleb Joseph failing in trying to stretch a single into a double with two outs in the fifth. Jonathan Schoop would have made another out on the bases trying to stretch an RBI single into a double in the second inning, but a nifty slide resulted in the original out call being overturned after a Showalter replay challenge.

Many clamored this offseason for the Orioles to be more aggressive on the bases, but there’s a fine line between pushing the envelope and wasting precious outs, something they’ve been guilty of doing on several occasions in the opening week. There’s no way of knowing if any of these instances could have resulted in more scoring had they been handled differently, but you’d like to think the Orioles having three extra outs might have made a difference in a one-run game.

The rotten cherry on top of a frustrating night was watching former Oriole and new Yankees closer Andrew Miller convert a five-out save to hand Baltimore its fourth loss in the last five games. It’s no secret that Miller is a dominating presence, but the early-season struggles of the Orioles bullpen have only magnified his departure.

After the game, there was no panicking about a bullpen that’s now allowed at least one run in each of the club’s first seven contests.

“I have the utmost faith and respect for those guys,” said Jones, who hit a clutch two-run homer to break a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the sixth. “Hey, get it out of the way now. No one wants to see that in August or September. It is just how it works. I am pretty sure they are all frustrated, but me being the center fielder, I have all the faith in those guys.”

Losing is a part of the game as even the best teams will likely experience it upwards of 60 times this season, but letting potential wins slip away will wear on you. Because you never know where you might be in September and how much losses like this one can potentially cost you in the long run.

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A home opener to forget for the Orioles

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Maybe rain would have been better for the Orioles, after all.

Despite a threatening weather forecast that never came to fruition Friday, a dark cloud in the form of the Toronto Blue Jays ruined Baltimore’s home opener in a 12-5 final before 45,936 fans at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Battering starting pitcher Bud Norris and the bullpen for much of the afternoon, the Blue Jays handed the Orioles their worst defeat in a home opener since 1995. Baltimore hadn’t allowed 12 runs in its first home contest of a season since Milwaukee defeated the hapless 1988 Orioles in a 12-0 final to begin the infamous 21-game losing streak. The run total also matched the season high surrendered in any game by Orioles pitching last year.

At least nobody tripped running down the orange carpet during introductions?

Beyond the magnified nature and overreaction that can accompany the early days of a season, it was a single defeat, but one the Orioles would like to immediately forget.

One poor start for Norris wouldn’t be much cause for concern if it hadn’t followed a spring in which the right-hander posted a 9.26 ERA, allowed five home runs, and walked nine batters in just 11 2/3 innings in Grapefruit League play. Pushing the panic button would be premature, but it would be fair to at least consider Norris a person of interest along with the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez in monitoring the starting rotation in the early stages of the season.

Frequently missing the target provided by catcher Caleb Joseph, Norris allowed four extra-base hits, eight total hits, walked one, and hit a batter before being lifted with no outs in the fourth inning. Blue Jays hitters hit several balls hard and found a hole in the defense on a couple others, a trend that continued against the bullpen as Toronto finished with 16 hits, eight of them doubles.

“You can’t just look at the results,” said Norris, who labeled his day “frustrating” in allowing eight earned runs in front of the home crowd. “You have to look at other things — how you feel and all the rest. I got through the spring healthy, and that was a big one for me. The results were not great on paper, but that is just one side of the story. I’ve been a confident player and I have another opportunity in five days.”

As if a shaky effort from relievers Brad Brach, Jason Garcia, and Wesley Wright behind Norris weren’t enough, it was revealed after the game that Wright is dealing with a sore shoulder and neck and will be reevaluated on Saturday.

The pitching wasn’t alone in the misery as the Orioles lineup squandered two early opportunities to chip away at 4-1 and 5-1 deficits against Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle, who won his 200th career game on Friday. Everth Cabrera lined out to right to after Baltimore had loaded the bases with two outs in the second, and Delmon Young grounded into a double play with runners on the corners to end the third.

Even the Orioles’ offensive star of the game, Adam Jones, was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth with a 10-2 deficit. His first home run of the season and 4-for-4 performance were rare highlights in a disappointing day, but his mistake hurt with the Orioles needing baserunners to mount a huge comeback.

It was just one of those forgettable days for the Orioles, who dropped only their seventh home opener in 24 seasons at Camden Yards and their first since 2010.

Though Norris must stew over his performance in his 2015 debut, the Orioles can turn the page quickly knowing there are 158 games remaining with the next one coming Saturday night.

“I was happy for the fans that [the rain] held off and it wasn’t too uncomfortable for them,” said manager Buck Showalter in describing the atmosphere of the home opener. “Toronto probably made it uncomfortable for them, too.”

No, the predicted storms never came, but the Blue Jays certainly rained on the parade at Camden Yards.

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2015 Orioles preview: Adam Jones

Posted on 09 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day only four weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

CF Adam Jones

Age: 29

Contract status: Signed through the 2018 season

Minor-league options remaining: Need player permission to option due to five years of major league experience

2014 stats: .281/.311/.469, 29 HR, 96 RBI, 88 R, 7 SB, 682 PA

Why to be impressed: The four-time All-Star selection posted a career-best 4.9 WAR (wins above replacement) in 2014 and remains one of the best outfielders in the American League as he brings consistent power and good defense to the table.

Why to be concerned: Even though Jones saw 3.62 pitches per plate appearance in 2014 — his highest number since 2010 — he walked a career-low 19 times and continues to go through spells in which he swings at too many bad pitches. With Nelson Cruz no longer hitting behind him, you hope Jones doesn’t feel the need to try to do too much at the plate.

2015 outlook: Jones’ aggressive approach probably won’t do him many favors when his bat speed begins decreasing when he reaches his 30s, but there were no signs of him slowing down a year ago as his 72.5 percent contact rate was the same as it was in 2013. You have to admire his durability as Jones has played in 159 or more games in each of the last three years. With Nick Markakis no longer in the clubhouse, Jones is now the elder statesman and he should be poised for another season approaching 30 homers.

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