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No time for panic, but Orioles have opponents’ attention

Posted on 27 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Jim Palmer said at one point Thursday night what we all were thinking watching the Orioles swing and miss their way to a three-game sweep in Houston in which they struck out a major-league record 52 times.

“It’s almost like they’ve never seen a breaking ball.”

The Orioles struck out more in a three-game series than the late Tony Gwynn ever did in an entire season during his Hall of Fame career.

Chris Davis struck out eight times. Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo both went down on strikes seven times. Pedro Alvarez collected six strikeouts and didn’t even start in the series finale. Jonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters struck out five times each.

What a nightmare.

To be clear, the Astros didn’t do anything that wasn’t already known about the Baltimore lineup. Throwing fewer fastballs and more breaking balls has always been the blueprint against these power hitters, but Houston pitchers executed well and the Orioles appeared more eager than usual to cooperate.

But let’s take a deep breath about a club entering the weekend still seven games above .500 and just two games behind Boston in the AL East despite a four-game losing streak and losing seven of 10. Don’t forget that the Orioles entered the Houston series below the league average in strikeouts and still ranked just sixth in the AL in that category entering Friday.

Whether you like it or not, strikeouts are a bigger part of baseball than ever.

It isn’t just the Orioles.

A few horrendous games — and, boy, were they horrendous — cannot trump a quarter of a season in which the Orioles struck out at an acceptable level relative to other teams. As I wrote earlier in the week, you have to take the bad with the good for a team that depends so heavily on the home run. That certainly isn’t an excuse to whiff at a historic rate in a three-game series, but every team is going to go through some rough patches over 162 games.

The key now will be to make the adjustments as Cleveland and other upcoming opponents will take notice of what the Astros were able to do with a steadier-than-normal diet of curves and sliders. It’s up to the Orioles to get back to where they were over the first six weeks of the season when strikeouts were rarely part of the conversation in their wins or losses.

They’ll remain under the strikeout microscope until then and rightly so after setting such a dubious record.

Buck Showalter likes to say you’re never as bad as it looks at your worst or as good as it appears at your best. That’s an appropriate message for both his players and Orioles fans prematurely pressing the panic button. Even after completing the three-game sweep, the 20-28 Astros would still trade places in a heartbeat.

After a miserable series in which he went 1-for-14, Adam Jones probably said it best after Thursday’s finale.

“Let’s get the hell out of Houston.”

But hopefully the Orioles leave the absurd strikeout totals behind.

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Old concern surfaces for Orioles in extra-inning loss

Posted on 25 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Tuesday’s loss in Houston offered a glimpse at the major concern many had for the Orioles lineup in 2016.

Yes, the Orioles would hit home runs — their only scoring in the 3-2 defeat came on solo shots by Pedro Alvarez and Manny Machado — but the fear was that they’d strike out far too often, especially with the offseason additions of Mark Trumbo and Alvarez to an offense that finished third in the AL in strikeouts in 2015. On Tuesday, Baltimore did exactly that in striking out a season-high 19 times in the 13-inning defeat with 16 coming against the Astros bullpen over the final eight frames.

You wouldn’t know it watching the series opener at Minute Maid Park, but strikeouts really haven’t been the problem many anticipated so far this season. Even after the poor showing on Tuesday, the Orioles ranked a respectable eighth in the AL in strikeouts, a far cry from the predictions of them leading the league in both long balls and whiffs this season.

However, the last three games have brought concern with an unsettling total of 40 strikeouts. In fact, two of their three worst games of the season in the strikeout department took place on Tuesday (19) and Saturday (13).

Many of the strikeouts came at crucial times as Ryan Flaherty, Matt Wieters, and Joey Rickard each struck out with runners in scoring position to end innings. In the 12th, Adam Jones and Chris Davis whiffed against former teammate Scott Feldman with runners at first and second.

Unfortunately with the powerful Orioles lineup, you have to take the bad with the good. It’s easy to say no good can come from a strikeout, but plenty of bad can still take place from making contact such as hitting into a double play or having a lead runner thrown out on the bases, realities that make me less concerned than others over strikeouts — to a point.

It was unequivocally maddening for Orioles bats not be able to at least put the ball in play in a winnable game in which Chris Tillman pitched very well over seven innings and three of their top four relievers — Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens — combined to throw five shutout innings and 68 pitches.

You can only hope it’s more of an aberration than a sign of things to come.

Missing Hardy

Machado has filled in admirably at shortstop in place of the injured J.J. Hardy, but the Orioles have received nothing offensively at third base as Flaherty’s average fell to .189 after an 0-for-4 night.

Remembering Flaherty had hit a respectable .248 with a .713 on-base plus slugging percentage filling in for the injured Jonathan Schoop through July 4 of last year, I thought the utility infielder would provide some offense to help fill the void of Hardy, who isn’t exactly the same hitter he was a few years ago anyway. However, even with regular playing time, Flaherty has looked completely lost at the plate with a .491 OPS and a team-worst 31.7 percent strikeout rate entering Wednesday.

Since last year’s All-Star break, Flaherty has hit .156 with a .530 OPS in 178 plate appearances.

He has played good defense at third base, but it says a lot when fans are clamoring for the light-hitting Paul Janish to play over him.

Revisiting left field

Rickard continues to serve as the everyday left fielder and leadoff hitter despite a .683 OPS on the season and a .208 average since April 22.

Make no mistake, he’s been a nice find as a Rule 5 pick and shouldn’t be buried at the end of the bench, but why Nolan Reimold continues to receive so little playing time when he provides some on-base ability and power that could even be used in Rickard’s place at the top of the lineup is perplexing. I understand and agree that you’d rather not have Machado in the leadoff spot to better utilize his power, but a .309 on-base percentage from Rickard isn’t doing much to help the two-time All-Star selection hitting in the second spot, either.

It also speaks volumes that Hyun Soo Kim couldn’t draw a start against soft-tossing opposing starters Jered Weaver and Doug Fister over the last two games. He’s gone 2-for-14 in May with just four starts.

Even if you don’t buy the unfavorable defensive metrics for Rickard in the outfield, he isn’t so much better than Reimold in the outfield to justify him continuing to be in the lineup every day with his struggles at the plate. At the very least, manager Buck Showalter should strongly consider dropping Rickard in the order.

Bundy struggling

Plenty of fans continue to clamor for Dylan Bundy to start — especially with Ubaldo Jimenez’s intense struggles in May — but the young pitcher has allowed seven earned runs over his last 4 1/3 innings to raise his season ERA to 5.09.

The good news is that Bundy has stayed healthy, but the idea of him becoming a fixture in the rotation this season just isn’t feasible since he isn’t stretched out and isn’t really performing how a starter would need to. At the very least, you’d like to see him be able to consistently perform in some higher-leverage situations at some point this season.

The most disappointing aspect of his performance has been the inability to strike out batters as he’s fanned only nine in 17 2/3 innings. His average fastball has been 93.2 miles per hour, which isn’t bad but is hardly the kind of velocity that makes you salivate about his potential as a starter, either.

Tuesday night was a near-impossible spot for the young right-hander after he allowed a leadoff triple in the bottom of the 13th, but his performance hasn’t suggested he’s close to being ready to be a starter.

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Orioles sitting pretty six weeks into 2016 season

Posted on 16 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Six weeks down, 20 more to go.

Just a simple reminder that it’s still early in 2016 as the Orioles begin a new week holding the best record in the American League by percentage points. But how can you not be optimistic about a club that’s already put together two seven-game winning streaks after no previous run of victories lasting that long since 2005?

Even after Sunday’s disappointing 6-5 loss to Detroit to snap their latest winning streak, the 23-13 Orioles are off to their best start through 36 games in 11 years. It’s quite an improvement from the many preseason forecasts — including this writer’s — expecting Baltimore to be no better than fourth or fifth in the AL East.

We knew the Orioles would hit plenty of home runs — they entered Monday leading the majors in that category — and their bullpen sports the best ERA in all of baseball, but the starting pitching was the major question mark. Through Sunday, Baltimore ranked a respectable seventh in the AL in starter ERA (4.22).

Can the Orioles sustain the success? That’s the question we’ve uttered so many times over the last five seasons whenever Buck Showalter’s club is in the midst of exceeding outside expectations.

No one can predict the future as it relates to injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, but some of the factors their critics have used against the Orioles in past seasons aren’t looking so bad in 2016.

Remember how detractors harped on the 2012 Orioles’ run differential throughout their improbable run to the franchise’s first postseason appearance in 15 years?

Their plus-37 mark so far this season suggests being 10 games above .500 is hardly a fluke. Of course, all it takes is a couple lopsided defeats to throw that mark out of whack when we’re still so early in the schedule, but we are almost a quarter of the way through the marathon.

What about 2014 when Baltimore finished third in the AL with a 3.44 ERA but stat-heads pointed to a 3.96 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark ranking 11th? So far this season, the Orioles sport the AL’s best FIP (3.63) while ranking fourth in ERA (3.53)

Their rotation FIP (3.88) is even better than the rotation ERA, primarily a reflection of Orioles starters allowing fewer home runs than any other AL club. Some regression is likely, but the rotation allowed the second-most homers in the league a year ago, reflecting how much improvement there’s been in that department so far.

Sporting a career-low ERA (2.58) and registering a career-high 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, Chris Tillman has led the starter improvement and is so far providing the bounce-back season the club needed. We know the starting pitching will continue to be the hot topic as it relates to staying in games and preventing an exceptional bullpen from wearing out in the second half.

“The pitching’s been solid,” Showalter said. “That’s the thing that’s going to allow us to maintain the level we’re going to have to have to compete in our division. You’re going to have to take care of your own business every night and not expect any help from anybody. But the pitching has been as good as I could hope for it to be so far.”

Being solid is good enough for the starting pitching, but how great can the offense be?

Beyond hitting home runs, the Orioles entered Monday ranked third in the AL in runs, second in batting average, second in on-base percentage, and second in slugging percentage. Their 8.4 percent walk rate is markedly better than their 7.0 percent mark a year ago, reflecting more patience at the plate.

Manny Machado has looked every bit the part of the 2016 AL MVP after finishing fourth in the voting last year. It was fun wondering this winter if the 23-year-old could be even better than he was in 2015, but he’s been exactly that so far as one of the very best players in baseball.

Newcomer Mark Trumbo was initially viewed as an insurance policy for the potential free-agent departure of Chris Davis in the offseason, but he’s been the club’s second-best hitter while the likes of Davis and Adam Jones struggled through parts of the first six weeks. Expecting him to hit .300 would be unrealistic, but there’s no denying him having a Nelson Cruz-like impact on his new club so far.

Machado and Trumbo have led the way, but the Orioles have three other hitters — Davis, Jones, and Jonathan Schoop — sporting an OPS of at least .770 after recent surges. And that’s not even considering Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez, who are hitting well below their career numbers but are capable of being above-average offensive contributors at their respective positions.

Of course, none of this means the Orioles are a lock to win their second division title in three years and secure their third postseason berth in five seasons as we know there’s a very long way to go. Boston has sported the best offense in the league and lost no ground to the Orioles during the latter’s seven-game winning streak that ended on Sunday. Toronto has lagged behind the other two in third place, but the Blue Jays surprisingly sport the best starter ERA in the AL while they wait for their imposing lineup to heat up.

The Orioles aren’t going to run away with this division, but there’s plenty to like about them through the first six weeks, some expected and some of it not. And it’s been more than just smoke and mirrors.

Yes, Baltimore is sitting pretty.

Prettier than expected, which is really be nothing new for these Orioles by now.

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Orioles “very pleased” with Gallardo’s first throwing session

Posted on 14 May 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo was encouraged by his first throwing session since being placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder discomfort on April 23.

The right-hander made 25 throws from 60 feet on flat ground Saturday afternoon and told reporters that he felt good. Manager Buck Showalter isn’t ready to disclose the full schedule for Gallardo’s potential return to the mound, but he will throw from 90 feet on Monday and from 120 feet after that.

“He and [head athletic trainer Richie Bancells and bullpen coach Dom Chiti] were very pleased with it,” Showalter said. “So far, so good. That was a good step for him. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. He wasn’t just flipping it — you throw. It’s got some intensity to it.”

Showalter said the throwing progression will be similar to the one completed by Kevin Gausman in late March and April but would probably take a “little longer.” Gausman was sidelined for just over a month after receiving a cortisone shot for right shoulder tendinitis on March 20 and making his first regular-season start on April 25.

Gallardo, 30, had never gone to the DL with an arm-related injury in his first nine major league seasons.

He hasn’t pitched since leaving an April 22 start in Kansas City after two innings due to right shoulder discomfort. In his four starts covering 18 innings, Gallardo posted a 7.00 ERA with nine strikeouts and seven walks.

Much had been made about Gallardo’s declining strikeout rate and velocity over the last few seasons before the Orioles deliberated over his physical and eventually signed him to a two-year, $22 million contract in late February, but the organization hopes that the efforts to rest and strengthen his shoulder will result in a more competitive pitcher. Gallardo’s fastball was averaging a career-low 88.3 miles per hour in April, down 2.2 mph from last year’s average.

“You could see some of his arm action was even better,” said Showalter about his first throwing session. “This is a guy who had great command. One of the first things you know when a guy’s not feeling well is when they lose command.

“I’m hoping when he gets back that the stuff and the command are going to be better.”

Alvarez at third

Since J.J. Hardy’s foot injury resulted in some defensive shuffling two weeks ago, Showalter had said several times that Pedro Alvarez had more major league experience at third base than any other player on the roster.

The manager acted on that thought Saturday by giving Alvarez his first start at the hot corner since Aug. 17, 2014 when he was with Pittsburgh. Not known for his defensive work at either corner infield spot, Alvarez has been worth minus-29 defensive runs saved at third base in his career, which prompted the Pirates to move him to first base.

“It’s one thing I’ve been trying to get done,” Showalter said. “It’s something he’s very experienced at; it’s just I [had] to get him out there. As we play our next 120-some-odd games, we need to be able to know what we have — people at different places. There’s only one way to do it.”

Odds & ends

On Saturday, Scott McGregor began a four-game stint filling in as the Orioles pitching coach while Dave Wallace is away to deal with a family matter. … Hyun Soo Kim was making his first start since May 7 and seventh of the season. … Orioles relievers entered Saturday leading the majors with a 2.20 ERA in 110 1/3 innings pitched. Baltimore’s overall team ERA (3.47) ranked fourth in the American League and eighth in the majors. … Adam Jones hit his 200th career home run in Friday’s 1-0 win over Detroit. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other player to hit a century-mark homer in a 1-0 game (200th or higher) was Ted Williams, who hit his 400th career long ball in a win over the Kansas City Athletics at Fenway Park in 1956.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 1-0 win over Detroit

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 33rd game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman continues to look the part of an ace early on as he went toe to toe with 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and tossed seven shutout innings for his fifth victory of the season. Despite getting off to his customary slow start by allowing a total of four baserunners and throwing 38 pitches over his first two frames, Tillman settled in nicely to retire 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced. He recorded an impressive 13 swinging strikes and struck out seven batters, the final two coming immediately after he surrendered a leadoff double to Nick Castellanos in the top of the seventh. The right-hander has now posted five consecutive quality starts and has struck out an impressive 36 batters over those 33 innings of work. His season ERA now sits at a strong 2.58.

2ndAdam Jones picked the opportune time to hit his 200th career home run as he knocked a 92 mph fastball from Verlander into the Orioles bullpen with one out in the bottom of the sixth for the only run of the game. It was the third straight time that Jones had swung at a first-pitch fastball, and the center fielder didn’t miss one of the few mistake pitches made by the Detroit right-hander. The RBI moved Jones into sole possession of eighth place on the Orioles’ all-time list with 663, surpassing Melvin Mora. After a difficult start to the season, Jones has now homered in three of his last four games and has raised his average from .200 to .248 over that time.

3rdZach Britton induced three grounders for a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record his 10th save in as many tries to begin 2016. It was his 83rd career save, tying the left-hander with Jorge Julio for fifth place on the Orioles’ all-time saves list.

HomeDarren O’Day worked around a leadoff single to retire the side in the eighth inning, which included getting Miguel Cabrera out for the second straight night in a close game. … The Orioles beat the Tigers by a 1-0 score for the first time since Sept. 23, 1981 at Memorial Stadium. It was the second shutout victory of the season for Baltimore. … Mark Trumbo saw his 25-game on-base streak snapped in an 0-for-3 night. … The Orioles can clinch a series win on Saturday night with Mike Wright going to the hill against Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 9-2 win over Twins

Posted on 11 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 9-2 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 32nd game of the 2016 season.

1st Mark Trumbo continues to be one of the best offensive performers in the American League and clubbed two more home runs and drove in three of Baltimore’s first five runs. His second-inning homer traveled 427 feet, and he has hit five long balls traveling at least 425 feet this season, according to ESPN. The right-handed slugger became the first in the majors with three multi-homer games in 2016. You keep waiting for Trumbo to cool off, but he instead keeps hitting baseballs a long way.

2ndChris Davis followed his three-hit night in the opener with a four-hit, four-RBI performance that included a two-run homer and two doubles to elevate his average to .242 and his on-base plus slugging percentage to .858. With Manny Machado and Trumbo continuing to pace the offense, Davis heating up could spell trouble for the Orioles’ opponents — Detroit and Seattle — on the upcoming homestand.

3rd — Adam Jones followed his clutch Tuesday night with four hits, which included a two-run shot on a hanging slider from Twins reliever Brandon Kintzler in the top of the ninth. The center fielder raised his average to .238 after it had dipped below .200 just a couple days ago. It’s looking more and more like the All-Star center fielder has finally found his swing after a rough start to 2016.

Home —  Tyler Wilson worked seven solid innings and pitched effectively after being staked to a comfortable lead. Plenty of balls were hit in the air against the right-hander in a big ballpark, but none of the six grounders he induced were bigger than the 6-4-3 double play from Eduardo Nunez, who had represented the potential tying run with one out in the fifth. … The Orioles improved to a season-best eight games above .500, which also eclipses their high-water mark from 2015. … With Davis and Trumbo each hitting bombs in the fourth, Baltimore has now hit back-to-back homers in three consecutive games for the first time in franchise history. … The traditional heart of the order (Jones, Davis, and Trumbo) combined to go 10-for-15 with four home runs and nine RBIs. … The Orioles will send Ubaldo Jimenez to the hill against Detroit’s Mike Pelfrey to begin a seven-game homestand on Thursday night.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 5-3 win over Minnesota

Posted on 11 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-3 win over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 31st game of the 2016 season.

1stAdam Jones has had a difficult start to 2016, but he turned in his best game of the season and did it in a way that will quell concerns about whether he’s over the rib injury suffered in the opening week. First, he ended a 3-for-27 slump by clobbering a 443-foot home run on a hanging curve from Twins starter Jose Berrios in the fifth to extended the Orioles’ advantage to 3-1. Then, he was able to get on top of a high 95 mph fastball from Kevin Jepsen in the top of the ninth to line the game-winning two-run single to left. It’s only one game and Jones will need to build on it with his average still sitting at just .210, but those two feats leave reason to believe he is getting healthy. And if he’s right physically, Jones is bound to heat up sooner rather than later.

2ndManny Machado went 3-for-3 and hit his club-leading 10th homer of the season to give the Orioles the lead in the top of the fifth. The ultimate sign of respect came in the ninth when Jepsen pitched around the red-hot Machado to face Jones, who was able to make the Twins reliever pay. Machado reached base all five times he went to the plate and now sports a .365 average to go along with a .424 on-base percentage. He continues to be the biggest reason why the Orioles are off to a 19-12 start.

3rdKevin Gausman threw a hanging breaking ball that Trevor Plouffe knocked out of the park for the game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth, but the 25-year-old was otherwise good on Tuesday. He struck out a season-high nine batters over his six innings and showed the ability to reach back for fastballs touching 97 and 98 mph when he needed to. His 111 pitches were two shy of his career high, but he he was still carrying excellent velocity late in the outing, a good sign with his right shoulder.

HomeJoey Rickard made the Orioles’ two-out rally in the ninth possible as he was behind 1-2 to Jepsen and worked the count full before lining a double off the base of the left-field wall. He eventually scored the go-ahead run on Jones’ single. … Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton combined for three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out three. O’Day earned the win while Britton picked up his eighth save of the season. … Chris Davis collected three hits to raise his season average to .217 while Matt Wieters had an RBI single and another hit to elevate his average to .227. … Jonathan Schoop’s 11-game hitting streak came to an end. … Tyler Wilson goes to the hill on Wednesday afternoon while veteran Phil Hughes will start for Minnesota.

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Seven surprising Orioles stats to ponder 30 games into 2016

Posted on 09 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Below are seven surprising Orioles statistics to ponder through the first 30 games of the 2016 season:

1. Orioles starting pitching has allowed the fewest home runs in the American League.

The starter ERA (4.35) ranks seventh in the AL, but the rotation has been good enough through the first 30 games of action in large part due to allowing only 14 homers in 165 2/3 innings. Chris Tillman has been particularly exceptional in this department with one long ball allowed in 38 1/3 innings.

2. Small ball has reached a new low with just four stolen bases and zero sacrifice bunts.

The Orioles ranking last in the AL in steals isn’t remotely surprising after finishing there in each of the previous two seasons, but they’re on pace to steal only 21 bases, eight shy of the AL record low set by the Washington Senators in 1957. Twenty-seven players in the majors have more steals than Baltimore.

3. The Orioles remain second in the AL in on-base percentage.

More than a month into the season, the Baltimore lineup continues to walk at a higher clip (8.5 percent of plate appearances) than last year (7.0 percent) and held a .330 OBP entering Monday. The Orioles are also seeing 3.94 pitches per plate appearance compared to 3.81 a year ago.

4. Adam Jones is sporting a career-high walk rate.

Lost in the center fielder’s difficult start to 2016 has been a 7.7 percent walk rate, which would easily be the highest mark of his career. Whether it’s a concerted effort to walk more or an effect of the rib injury he dealt with early in the season, you have to wonder if more patience is really what’s best for Jones.

5. Joey Rickard has been worth minus-six defensive runs saved and minus-0.7 defensive wins above replacement.

The rookie entered Monday with a solid .328 OBP, but his defense hasn’t been as good as advertised as he hasn’t taken efficient routes and double-clutches on too many throws. He’ll improve with experience, but the metrics, at least, suggest Rickard has been as big of a defensive liability as Mark Trumbo.

6. Chris Tillman is averaging more than a strikeout per inning.

The right-hander struck out five in two innings in his rain-shortened Opening Day start, but he continues to exceed his career 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings by a wide margin in 2016. An improved slider is a major reason why he’s struck out 25 batters over his last three starts covering 20 innings.

7. Matt Wieters’ .292 batting average on balls in play is higher than his .289 career BABIP.

Wieters isn’t the only Orioles regular struggling, but his higher BABIP suggests he hasn’t experienced nearly as much bad fortune as Jones (.240) or Chris Davis (.226) so far. The catcher is also striking out a whopping 28.2 percent of the time after posting a career-worst strikeout rate (23.8 percent) last year.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 5-2 win over Oakland

Posted on 08 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-2 win over the Oakland Athletics to salvage a doubleheader split on Saturday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 29th game of the 2016 season.

1st Ubaldo Jimenez turned in the Orioles’ second eight-inning start in three games after they hadn’t received one in their first 26 contests of the 2016 season. The right-hander not only held the Athletics to two runs, but he was able to save the bullpen, which is always a concern in the days following a twin bill. Jimenez credited the effectiveness of his two-seam fastball and splitter, but the biggest key may have issuing only one free pass after he had walked at least three in his last four starts. Jimenez only had one perfect inning, but he finished his outing on a high note by striking out the side in the eighth.

2ndChris Davis snapped an 0-for-16 slump by slugging a long two-run shot into the right-center bleachers to open up a 4-0 lead for the Orioles that they wouldn’t relinquish. The blast ended a seven-game homerless streak, his longest drought of the season. Davis is hitting only .206, but sometimes all it takes is one bomb to get the streaky first baseman going at the plate. He is now one home run shy of becoming the third player to hit 100 career homers at Camden Yards, joining Rafael Palmeiro and Adam Jones.

3rdAdam Jones is only hitting .200, but his RBI single in the third gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead and he scored on Davis’ homer. There’s no sugarcoating how much the All-Star center fielder has struggled over the first month of the season as he raised his season average with a 1-for-4 performance.

HomeZach Britton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to collect his seventh save of the season. He struck out Josh Phegley to end the game. … Jonathan Schoop extended his hitting streak to 10 games, the third in his career of 10 or more contests. … Manny Machado has hit safely in eight of his last nine games and now has 22 extra-base hits in 29 games. … Hyun Soo Kim singled and drove in a run with a grounder and has now hit safely in seven of his nine games played this season. … Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick went an impressive 7-for-9 over both games of the doubleheader. … Chris Tillman goes to the hill in search of a series win on Sunday afternoon while the Athletics counter with right-hander Kendall Graveman.

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Like weather, Orioles waiting for rest of lineup to heat up

Posted on 05 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Perhaps the Orioles offense is waiting for the weather to feel more like Baltimore in early May and less like Seattle as it has during the current homestand and for much of the season.

The overall numbers look mostly great as they rank sixth in the AL in runs, fifth in hits, third in home runs, third in batting average, second in on-base percentage, and first in slugging percentage, but that reflects how much an MVP-like performance from Manny Machado and a white-hot start from Mark Trumbo have carried the Orioles through the first month of the season. Chris Davis and Jonathan Schoop have had their moments — as did J.J. Hardy before his unfortunate injury — but virtually all hitters not named Machado or Trumbo are failing to pull their weight.

Manager Buck Showalter can’t rely on those two to do it all year while the rest of the order struggles to get going.

“That’s kind of been the way things have been going for us lately,” said Davis, whose on-base plus slugging percentage dipped to .795 on Wednesday. “We’ve had a few games where we’ve been able to score some runs early and capitalize on those opportunities, but for the most part, we’re not getting the job done when we have runners in scoring position.

“The biggest thing to remember is to stay the course. We’re playing really good ball defensively. I think we’re throwing the ball well and keeping ourselves in the game. We all know the bats are going to heat up when the weather [stops] raining and [being] cold and it warms up a little bit.”

Joey Rickard was the feel-good story of the spring, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify his .304 on-base percentage remaining in the lineup every day, let alone in the leadoff spot. Despite much praise for his defense this spring, the 24-year-old has also struggled in the outfield at minus-seven defensive runs saved, creating more reason to see less of him and more of Nolan Reimold or even Hyun Soo Kim.

Burying Rickard on the bench would be premature, but lowering him in the lineup might be appropriate, even if Machado is the only viable alternative to lead off and you’d rather keep him in the No. 2 spot.

The catching tandem of Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph have combined to hit .217 with one home run and a .577 OPS. A $15.8 million salary for Wieters wasn’t going to suddenly transform him into the type of hitter many hoped he would be at the start of his career, but his .588 OPS is sub-replacement level and dramatically below his career .740 mark and Joseph (.485) has been even worse.

Pedro Alvarez has warmed up recently, but the former Pittsburgh Pirate still hasn’t shown enough to justify the Orioles spending $5.75 million on him this spring.

However, the biggest early-season concern is veteran center fielder Adam Jones, who is batting .205 with just one homer. He’s grounded into more double plays (seven) than he has extra-base hits (five) through his first 87 plate appearances.

Of course, Jones is a famously streaky hitter and has gone through extended dry spells before, but these struggles coming off the rib injury that cost him a week early in the season make you wonder if he’s truly healthy — or at least healthy enough to be himself. The 30-year-old would never use an injury as an excuse, but the Orioles need Jones to be his usual strong presence in the middle of the order.

His 75.4 percent contact rate is perfectly in line with his career average, but he’s hitting more ground balls (57.4 percent of balls put in play compared to 47.9 percent in his career) and fewer line drives (9.8 percent to 18.4 percent for his career), suggesting that he could be struggling to elevate the ball with authority. However, FanGraphs has tracked 33.9 percent of his balls in play being hard contact, which is in line with his 31.8 percent career average. His average exit velocity of 92.4 miles per hour is also better than last year’s 88.9 mph, creating more hope that Jones is just in an early-season funk.

“He’s not the only one, but we know there are some good things ahead,” said Showalter after Wednesday’s 7-0 loss in which Jones went 0-for-3 and the Orioles went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. “Like good hitters with good track records and things that he’s done for us, some [opponent] will pay. He’s a little frustrated by it, but I know Adam. We’ve seen it a lot where he’s gone through some periods like a lot of good hitters do and he’ll get it going.

“He’ll get it going.”

Showalter hopes that several members of his lineup heat up sooner than later — along with the weather.

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