Tag Archive | "Adam Jones"

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Orioles thoughts on pitching and outfield situation

Posted on 15 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Sunday was a forgettable day for Orioles rookie Mike Wright, but manager Buck Showalter was correct in pointing out the starting pitcher experienced some tough luck, especially early in the game.

The 25-year-old gave up a number of hits that weren’t exactly tattooed by the Yankees, but the biggest problem for Wright has been his inability to put hitters away — New York fouled off 13 pitches with two strikes in his four-plus innings of work — which often leads to a pitcher making a mistake. This not only drives up the pitch count, but it puts more pressure on the pitcher as Wright crumbled in the top of the fifth walking three straight hitters to conclude his afternoon.

His mid-90s fastball certainly plays at the major league level, but Wright’s slider and changeup haven’t been impressive, making you wonder if he’ll have the stuff to make it as a starting pitcher in the long run. I’m not ready to give up on the idea of Wright as a major league starter, but I do think his fastball could be very tough to handle in a late-inning relief role in which he’s only working an inning or so at a time. It wouldn’t be difficult seeing Wright eventually stepping into the role occupied by Tommy Hunter, who is a free agent at the end of the 2015 season.

Either way, Wright has work to do to improve his secondary stuff.

* I have no idea how long outfielder Nolan Reimold can continue this, but he’s provided a nice lift in his first week back with the Orioles.

I never doubted the 31-year-old’s ability early in his career, but you had to wonder whether the talent would still be there after two serious neck injuries in 2012 and 2013. Acknowledging it’s only been a handful of games, we’ve seen the combination of power, speed, and defensive ability that had the Orioles and their fans salivating about his potential years ago.

You can only cross your fingers that a guy who’s had terrible luck with injuries can stay healthy and the Orioles shouldn’t assume that he can stay on the field for the long haul, but Showalter should pencil his name into the starting lineup every day until there’s a reason not to.

* Speaking of outfielders, you probably wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d told you in February that Travis Snider would be hitting .252 in his first 150 plate appearances for the Orioles, but his lack of power has been startling.

After hitting nine home runs and slugging .524 in the second half for Pittsburgh last year, the Orioles hoped they were getting a 27-year-old and former first-round pick who was finally blooming at the plate after years of struggles, but Snider is slugging a career-low .326 with just one homer and seven extra-base hits and rarely makes sharp contact or shows the ability to drive the ball. In contrast, ex-Oriole Nick Markakis has a higher slugging percentage at .367 — still a poor mark — despite not yet hitting a home run for Atlanta this season.

You have to wonder if Snider is running out of chances as the Orioles desperately need an effective lefty-hitting outfielder and Chris Parmelee is producing at Triple-A Norfolk.

* The Orioles hope to see Bud Norris improve enough to finish out the season in the starting rotation, but I wouldn’t be keen on the idea of re-signing him this winter.

A club will likely overpay for the right-hander based on his 2014 season, but Norris hasn’t been able to duplicate his success against left-handed hitters this season. Relying on an effective changeup to hold lefties to a .255 average and .753 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014, Norris has been lit up by lefty bats this season to the tune of a 1.035 OPS as he’s been unable to command the off-speed pitch as effectively.

Norris has always handled right-handed hitters, but his problems against lefties have plagued him for most of his career, which is the biggest reason why he’s been nothing more than an average starting pitcher other than last season. In reality, he’d probably be better suited for the bullpen on a competitive club, but Norris would hardly embrace such a role in a contract year.

* You get the sense that Showalter is beginning to use Delmon Young more and more like he did last season, which isn’t a bad thing for the Orioles.

Young has shown little power (a .358 slugging percentage), but he does sport a .327 average against left-handed pitching, making him an obvious start against southpaws. It was interesting to see David Lough hit for Young against right-hander Sergio Santos on Saturday night — Showalter said he wanted to give the young outfielder an at-bat even though the Orioles only led by three runs at the time — and then Matt Wieters was sent to the plate in Young’s place to face Dellin Betances in the ninth inning on Sunday.

It would be helpful if Dan Duquette could at least find an effective platoon partner for Young for the rest of the season.

* With southpaws Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland both struggling to throw strikes this season, the Orioles are hoping that Wesley Wright can settle into the lefty specialist role upon completing his minor-league rehab assignment.

On the disabled list since the first week of the season with a left trapezius strain, Wright is expected to join an affiliate any day now and could make Matusz expendable if he proves he’s healthy and can throw strikes.

* Adam Jones is a four-time Gold Glove center fielder and certainly doesn’t need validation, but there have been a couple points in his career when he was probably a little overrated as a defender.

But strictly going off the eyeball test — his fielding metrics have been good, for what it’s worth — Jones has never played better defense than what we’ve seen from him this year. The 29-year-old has not only been steady and consistent, but he’s made countless sensational plays — just ask the Boston Red Sox about last week’s series — running down balls in the gap or making exceptional throws to gun down runners trying to take an extra base.

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Jones returns to Orioles lineup, Hardy sits

Posted on 01 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Following a two-game absence because of a mild left ankle sprain suffered last Thursday, Adam Jones returned to the Orioles lineup for Monday’s series opener in Houston.

Manager Buck Showalter elected to use Jones as his designated hitter in the No. 3 spot in the order as the Orioles faced Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer. David Lough was once again serving as the center fielder in Jones’ place as he did over the final two games of the Tampa Bay series.

Mired in a 1-for-22 slump that includes 11 strikeouts over that stretch, Jimmy Paredes was not in the starting lineup for the first time since April 21. His batting average has fallen from .353 to .314 over his last five games after a blistering start to the 2015 season.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy was also on the bench in the series opener due to left side soreness. The 32-year-old is hitting just .190 in his first 87 plate appearances after missing the first 25 games of the season with a left shoulder injury.

Veteran Everth Cabrera was starting in his place at shortstop on Monday night.

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Thoughts on Tillman’s struggles, Pearce, Jones

Posted on 01 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Even as Orioles pitching took a step forward with the second-best team ERA in the American League in the month of May, staff ace Chris Tillman has been unable to shake his early-season woes.

The 27-year-old allowed six runs (five earned) in 4 2/3 innings in Sunday’s 9-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, dropping his record to 2-7 with a 5.94 ERA after he went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA a year ago. Many have wondered if Tillman’s back spasms last month have continued to linger — he’s no stranger to needing to manage his cranky back over the last few years — but the 6-foot-5 hurler insisted again Sunday that he’s fine from a health standpoint.

If Tillman isn’t dealing with a physical issue, then what’s been different for the right-hander in 2015?

It’s important to note that early-season struggles plagued Tillman a year ago before he posted a 2.38 ERA over his final 21 regular-season starts of 2014. In his first 13 starts of the season, he pitched to a 5.20 ERA and had two different starts that lasted just one inning apiece before an impressive stretch of 20 consecutive starts in which he allowed three or fewer earned runs.

There’s plenty of time for a pitcher who’s posted 200-plus innings in consecutive seasons to turn it around, meaning the Orioles must remain patient for the time being.

Another factor that’s clearly been a concern in the first two months is Tillman’s rate of 4.8 walks per nine innings, his worst since averaging 5.2 free passes per nine in 2011. Both innings in which Tampa Bay scored multiple runs against Tillman on Sunday involved a critical two-out walk, one to .077 hitter Nick Franklin in the second inning and another to slugger Evan Longoria after the starter had struck out the first two hitters of the fifth.

Tillman walked only 2.9 batters per nine innings last year and 3.0 in 2013 when he was named to his first All-Star team.

Perhaps the most interesting change from 2014 to now is the absence of veteran catcher Nick Hundley, who departed via free agency in the offseason. Hundley caught 18 of Tillman’s career-high 34 starts last season with the pitcher posting a 2.78 ERA in those outings. In contrast, Tillman had an inflated 5.29 mark in the seven starts in which Caleb Joseph caught.

It’s neither an excuse for Tillman nor an indictment of Joseph — who’s more than proven his defensive capabilities behind the plate in the last two seasons — but could there simply be some chemistry issues between the two? That’s not to suggest a personal rift by any means, but many of us have experienced times in life when we haven’t necessarily worked best with certain individuals for whatever reason.

In fairness to Joseph, Tillman sports a 4.19 ERA with him behind the plate this season while the starter gave up 15 earned runs in three starts when now ex-Oriole Ryan Lavarnway was catching.

Asked late last season about the frequent pairing of Tillman and Hundley, manager Buck Showalter made it clear he was uneasy about pitchers having personal catchers because it can act as a crutch. Even if Tillman isn’t as comfortable with Joseph behind the plate as he was with Hundley, he’s not one to make excuses and needs to be able to adjust to someone who’s had plenty of success with the rest of the pitching staff.

The idea of certain pitchers having personal catchers is nothing new as Dennis Martinez famously preferred Dave Skaggs over Rick Dempsey years ago. In 1997, backup Lenny Webster caught 30 of Scott Erickson’s 34 starts when the sinkerballer enjoyed his best season in Baltimore.

Of course, Hundley isn’t walking through that Orioles clubhouse after signing a two-year, $6.5 million contract with Colorado in early January. But perhaps the return of Matt Wieters will help Tillman regroup as he pitched to a 3.41 ERA in 28 starts with the veteran catcher behind the plate for him in 2013.

As it stands now, Wieters is slated to catch his first game with the Orioles in Cleveland on Friday night.

That also happens to be the next date for Tillman’s regular turn in the rotation.

First-pitch Pearce

Arguably the most frustrating moment of Sunday’s loss came in the bottom of the fifth when Steve Pearce grounded out to shortstop with the bases loaded and the Orioles trailing 6-2 to the Rays.

What made it worse was that Pearce swung at the first pitch — a split-fingered fastball from Jake Odorizzi — after the previous two hitters had walked on a total of nine pitches. It continues a surprising trend for Pearce, who is hitting just .189 but has been known for being a patient hitter throughout his career.

The 32-year-old is swinging at the first pitch in 33.1 percent of his 2015 plate appearances despite a career 22.5 percent mark and only swinging at the first pitch 24.5 percent of the time in his career 2014 campaign. This has contributed to his walk rate falling from 10.4 percent last year to just 7.3 percent this season, which is below the major league average.

He does have two key home runs when swinging at the first pitch in recent weeks, but his .222 average when connecting on the first pitch — that’s not including the number of times in which he’s falling behind in the count when not putting the ball in play — makes you wonder if he needs to return to a more patient approach. This and a .195 batting average on balls put in play (his career mark in that department is .286) explain why Pearce hasn’t come close to matching his career-best .930 on-base plus slugging percentage from a year ago.

Showalter and the Orioles love Pearce’s work ethic and versatility and are trying to remain patient that his fortunes will turn around, but they need him to start producing soon as he was a key cog on which they were counting after a largely-inactive offseason.

As Jones goes, so do Orioles

It’s unfair to attribute the successes or struggles of any club to one player, but it’s difficult to completely ignore how the Baltimore offense has aligned with center fielder Adam Jones so far in 2015.

In April, Jones posted a remarkable .400 average and 1.147 OPS with five homers and 19 RBIs while the Orioles ranked first in the American League in team OPS and were tied for first in home runs.

However, the four-time All-Star selection hit just one home run while posting a .239 average and .556 OPS in the month of May. Jones wasn’t alone in his struggles, of course, as the Orioles ranked last in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in May while scoring fewer runs than every club in the league except Boston.

Jones was bound to cool off from his absurd April production, but the Orioles obviously need his bat to turn around once he returns from a mild ankle sprain. It’s never as simple as one player being responsible for prosperity or shortcomings, but the club needs its best player and leader to get going for the summer months.

Road “w-O’s” must end

There was obvious disappointment that the Orioles didn’t take advantage of a stretch of 17 of 20 games played at home — going just 10-10 over that time — and now they will play 15 of their next 23 on the road.

Baltimore tied for the second-best away mark (46-35) in the AL last year, but an 8-14 road record this season is a major reason why the Orioles have hovered below .500 for much of the first two months. Of those eight road victories, four have come at Tropicana Field, which included two in a series moved from Camden Yards to St. Petersburg in which the Orioles acted as the home team and batted last.

Even if Showalter’s club simply wants to remain within striking distance of first place and the .500 mark, the road failures need to be reversed starting this week against Houston and Cleveland.

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Orioles failed to get well despite May home cooking

Posted on 31 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Having limped home after a 1-5 trip in New York in early May, the Orioles envisioned getting well entering their most inviting portion of the 2015 regular-season schedule.

Despite owning a 13-16 record through the first five weeks of 2015, the Orioles were playing 17 of their next 20 games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, an opportunity to not only climb back above the .500 mark but to seize first place in the underwhelming American League East. Instead of taking advantage of the home cooking, however, manager Buck Showalter’s club continued to take one step forward and the next one back with a 10-10 record.

It was far from a disaster as the Orioles incredibly moved 3 1/2 games closer to first place over those 20 games, but that’s more an indictment of a mediocre division than progress as we now turn the calendar to June. And it doesn’t reflect anyone feeling much better about the Orioles’ fortunes than we did three weeks ago as inconsistency has been the theme of the 2015 season through 49 games, just over 30 percent of the way through the 162-game marathon.

After averaging a robust 5.6 runs per game in April, the Baltimore lineup managed just 3.3 per contest in the second month of the season, not the only but certainly the biggest reason why the Orioles finished 13-16 in May. Showalter and players have cited opponents continuing to pitch backwards against Baltimore hitters by offering a steady diet of off-speed pitches, but the adjustments haven’t been made as the Orioles ranked last in the AL in batting average (.231), on-base percentage (.287), and slugging percentage (.358) in May. They can only hope two home runs each from Manny Machado and Delmon Young in Sunday’s 9-5 loss to Tampa Bay are a sign of better things to come in June.

It couldn’t get much worse at the plate than it was in May.

“We are just out there playing baseball,” said Machado when asked to pinpoint the offensive struggles. “We don’t care about how many runs we score. We [just] want to get the win at the end of the day. We’ll just going to go out there and score as many as we can and win a ballgame.

“We’ve got to keep swinging the bats. There are days you swing the bat well and pitchers are going to be dealing. You have to tip your cap off to them, [because] they have a job to keep as well. We’ve just got to keep swinging the bats and at the end of the day, it’s all about the [win].”

A number of hitters have underperformed, particularly at the corner outfield spots where the Orioles have already designated veteran Alejandro De Aza for assignment. You’d figure more changes could be coming if the organization was willing to part ways with De Aza despite currently being on the hook for what remains of his $5 million salary in 2015.

The Orioles hope the imminent return of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters will provide a lift, but it’s impossible to know what they’ll get from the veteran who hasn’t played in a major league game in nearly 13 months. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop continues to rehab a right knee injury, but the club is being deliberate with his recovery in fear of a setback that could require season-ending surgery.

In fairness, there’s still too much talent in the Baltimore lineup to be as poor as it was in May, but that doesn’t mean they’ll score enough runs moving forward, either.

Overlooked because of the struggling offense, spottier-than-normal defense, and a losing record, the Orioles have pitched exceptionally well in recent weeks, finishing second in the AL in staff ERA (3.38) in May. It’s easily the most encouraging development of the month and the biggest reason why the club shouldn’t panic. The Orioles did this despite Opening Day starter Chris Tillman sporting a 5.94 ERA, the talented right-hander Kevin Gausman on the disabled list, and 2014 15-game winner Bud Norris an absolute mess.

This pitching prosperity followed a 4.78 ERA in April that ranked 13th in the AL.

Processing the first two months of the season, it’s no wonder Orioles fans are ready to pull out their hair.

It would be cavalier to assume the offense won’t continue to be a concern given the chasms — offensively and defensively — flanking center fielder Adam Jones that have yet to be filled, but there’s evidence to support the pitching can continue to succeed given the talent that hasn’t been much of a factor so far. There’s no sugarcoating how much Tillman has scuffled, but many were similarly concerned about the tall right-hander at this time last year before he finished as one of the best pitchers in the league over the final four months of 2014.

“I’ve had my ups and downs, but I feel like we’re heading in the right direction,” said Tillman, who allowed all six runs in Sunday’s outing with two outs. “I saw a lot of positives today. The negatives kind of overwhelm, but I think we are getting somewhere. I just have to make that last big step, and I think we’ll be all right.”

After playing .500 over the home-heavy last 20 games, the Orioles will now play 15 of their next 23 on the road after beginning the season 8-14 in away games. Showalter’s club will need to reverse that trend if they even want to continue hovering close to the .500 mark.

In the end, the Orioles may still be all right in what could be the worst division in baseball, but there are no guarantees. The AL East is begging for someone — anyone — to get hot at this point with New York and Tampa Bay occupying first place with just 26-25 records.

But you can’t help but feel the Orioles squandered a great chance to get well over these last few weeks that they might look back on with regret once September rolls around.

 

 

 

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Jones remains sidelined with mild ankle sprain

Posted on 30 May 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Sunday 11:45 a.m.)

BALTIMORE — Adam Jones was out of the lineup for a second straight day as the Orioles prepared to play the series finale against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

The center fielder turned his left ankle sliding into home plate in Game 2 of Thursday’s doubleheader with the Chicago White Sox. Jones did not leave that game and went 0-for-4 in Friday’s win over Tampa Bay, but Buck Showalter gave the 29-year-old his first day off of the 2015 season on Saturday afternoon.

The manager revealed that an X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed only a mild sprain of Jones’ ankle, adding that he’s considered “day to day.” Jones was missing from the lineup for a second straight day on Sunday — the first time he hadn’t started consecutive games since September 2011 — but Showalter said the ankle was improving and the Orioles are not considering the 15-day disabled list as a possibility at this time.

“He woke up this morning sore [with] a little swelling. I kind of take it out of his hands,” Showalter said on Saturday. “I’m not saying he couldn’t ‘Kirk Gibson’ sometime today, but I’ve been looking for a spot to give him a day anyway. He’s one of those guys that you just don’t ask. You just have to do it, so today’s the day.”

Jones is hitting .304 with six home runs, 26 RBIs, and an .800 on-base plus slugging percentage, but the right-hander has struggled in the month of May, batting .239 with one homer and a .556 OPS. The four-time All-Star selection is just 7-for-41 with no extra-base hits over his last 10 games.

David Lough has started in center field in Jones’ place.

For good reason, the Orioles are optimistic that Jones will not be out of the lineup for long since he only missed a total of five games over the previous three seasons. Appearing in 159 games last year, Jones did not sit out any contests until September when the club was already assured of its first American League East championship since 1997. The last game that Jones missed for the Orioles fell on Sept. 26 in Toronto.

Just because Showalter appreciates Jones’ durability doesn’t mean the Baltimore skipper wasn’t assuming that he’d be ready to play after only one day off.

“I’m not going to be that assured of it [or] cavalier about it,” Showalter said. “We’ll see what [Sunday] brings. Short turnaround today. Anytime Adam even admits to a little soreness, you can probably multiply it times two. Adam plays a very physical game, which lends more credence to how remarkable his availability is. You get to know players and if he even brings something up, you know it’s something you should pay attention to.”

NOTES: Still on the 15-day disabled list after a bout of bronchitis, right-hander Bud Norris will make a final rehab start at Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday. Showalter said again on Saturday that the plan is for Norris to rejoin the starting rotation when he’s activated, but “things change from day-to-day according to the needs of our club.” Baltimore will not use a six-man rotation to accommodate both Norris and rookie Mike Wright as starters. … Showalter said Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia is progressing well from right shoulder tendinitis as he continues to work out in Sarasota. The right-handed relief pitcher was placed on the DL retroactive to May 11. … With Friday’s win over the Rays, Showalter passed Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog for sole possession of 35th place on the all-time managerial wins list with 1,282. The 2-1 walk-off victory was also Showalter’s 400th as manager of the Orioles. … After refusing an outright to Triple-A Norfolk and electing free agency, catcher Ryan Lavarnway has signed a minor-league deal with the Atlanta Braves.

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Orioles lineup continues firing blanks in month of May

Posted on 27 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Buck Showalter rarely dwells on the negatives after a loss.

It’s just not his style — at least publicly anyway — as he prefers focusing on the positive after any given contest over a 162-game schedule. But his reaction to Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros was a little different.

While recognizing the strong performance of starter Chris Tillman that was spoiled by a few suspect pitches in the seventh inning and the failures of reliever Brian Matusz an inning later, Showalter continued coming back to the same theme that has plagued the Orioles throughout the month of May.

“We obviously haven’t been giving our pitchers much margin for error,” Showalter said, “but [Tillman] gave us a real good chance to win tonight. Probably even a little bit better than that.

“Once again, we can sit here and talk about [other factors] and rightfully so, but until we start getting some things going offensively, it really makes for a tough atmosphere to pitch in.”

The Orioles have scored just seven runs over their last 40 innings.

They’ve produced three or fewer runs in 13 of their 23 games this month and two or fewer in 11 of those.

Tuesday night’s cleanup man (Chris Davis) sports a .208 average and the No. 5 hitter (Steve Pearce) is batting .188. Delmon Young — who’s spent plenty of time in the heart of the order — is slugging a paltry .333 despite a respectable .287 average.

Beyond the white-hot Jimmy Paredes, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Caleb Joseph, the Orioles haven’t gotten nearly enough production from the rest of the lineup. And with Jones struggling recently — he was 0-for-3 Tuesday and has just three hits in his last 25 at-bats — the run shortage has been even more magnified.

“I just think we’ve got to slow the game down,” said Davis, who struck out two more times and hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth for the only Baltimore run on Tuesday. “When you’re not scoring a lot of runs, you’re not swinging the bats like you know you can, the tendency is to press and try to overdo it. I think you’ve seen that in the last few games, just guys getting out of their approach, out of their rhythm and trying to do too much with pitches that aren’t good pitches to hit.”

The Orioles were counting on Davis to look more like the force he was in 2013 — or at least in 2012. Instead, he’s looked just like the frustrated hitter we saw a season ago and has struck out 64 times in 170 plate appearances, registering the highest strikeout rate of his career by a substantial margin.

You keep waiting for veterans like of J.J. Hardy and Alejandro De Aza to start swinging the bat like they have in the past and for Young to start showing a little bit of power. Aside from a couple key home runs in the last week, Pearce hasn’t come close to approaching his 2014 production. Travis Snider hasn’t been the young replacement for the declining Nick Markakis that the Orioles envisioned.

The many clamoring for some change are justified, but Triple-A Norfolk doesn’t have many appealing options to even try at the moment. Former Minnesota Twins first-round pick Chris Parmelee has an .818 on-base plus slugging percentage and Nolan Reimold has begun heating up recently, but that’s about it.

Perhaps a returning Matt Wieters provides a spark as early as next week, but can you realistically expect him to offer much more offense than Joseph after not playing in the majors in more than a year?

The Orioles hope Jonathan Schoop can return sometime next month, but there’s no guarantee how soon that will be.

For now, Showalter has little choice but to ride out the storm — or the drought — by continuing to mix and match in hopes of finding some semblance of consistent production beyond the top three spots in the order. And executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette needs to be exploring what might be out there on the trade market over the next two months.

At 20-23, the Orioles still find themselves in the thick of the American League East and are just one game out in the loss column behind first-place New York. There are 119 games remaining in the 2015 regular season for Baltimore.

But much more is needed from the offense than it’s provided all month if the Orioles want to remain within striking distance.

 

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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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