By: Brett Dickinson and Barry Kamen
BK: Another week of Orioles baseball means another set of highs and lows for a team that finds itself fighting for second place in the American League East. The starting pitching has been the team’s bright spot, with Bud Norris, Wei-Yin Chen, and Chris Tillman combining for just 1 run allowed in 21 innings during the rain-filled series with the Boston Red Sox. Kevin Gausman also had his best week as professional, going 2-0 and out-pitching Sonny Gray and Mark Buehrle against the Oakland Athletics and the Toronto Blue Jays respectively.
Despite the great starting pitching, the week was marred by another poor outing from Ubaldo Jimenez and the antics of 3B Manny Machado during the series with the Athletics. If the Orioles are going to compete for a playoff spot in a very winnable division, the team will need both Jimenez and Machado to regain their 2013 form rather than continuing at the pace that they are on.
The news of Manny Machado’s 5 game suspension (which he has appealed) shocks no one who follows the Orioles. Machado’s helmet-slamming and bat-throwing actions were both immature and inexcusable, providing an already potent Athletics team with more motivating to win a series during a difficult road trip. So Brett, I ask you this: if you were the Orioles, how would you go about handling the Manny Machado incident? Was appealing the suspension the right call?
BD: Barry, knowing this organization, I already knew this would be a PR nightmare; and they didn’t disappoint. First off, having a MASN exclusive interview with him after the incident is simply a joke. We all know who is signing those checks for the TV network and we have seen this many times in the past. Then nobody in the organization has the balls to sit the young man down. The players had to take action, since it was clear nobody else was. Embarrassing.
There was no reason at all he should have played that game on June 7th, after his actions the night before with Oakland A’s 3B Josh Donaldson. Buck should have realized that he was out of control then and benched him on the spot. As a 21 year old, sometimes you need to be knocked down a peg or two, before things really get out of hand…like they did two days later. And by having Chen hit Donaldson that same night, it was just a terrible sign of how this team thinks. “We like OUR guys” does not mean you have to back them even if they were egregiously wrong.
Now after the episode on June 9th, everyone now sees Machado as a spoiled brat and dirty player. The organization should have been proactive in this situation and made a point throughout their dugout. Allowing him to play the night after not only is an embarrassment to the Orioles, but is a sign that Buck Showalter may not be the man for the job. He proved that he does not have the where with all to stand up to a star player and put him in his place.
Now the appeal is just common practice in the MLB, as their is no repercussions for trying, so why not appeal and hope for a lesser sentence. As a legal move it makes a lot of sense. As a personal move, if Machado really wanted to prove his sincerity, he just lets this one slide, accepts his punishment as a man and comes back ready to play in five days.
Now on to some good news for the O’s, as they have seen top prospect at least fulfill his expectations for his past two starts, after being called back up to the big leagues. Thirteen innings, two earned runs and nine strikeouts may be the best two game stretch for any Baltimore pitcher this season (oh by the way the team won both games). If you were the Orioles, what do you do with Kevin Gausman and the starting rotation when Miguel Gonzalez returns from injury? Is a 6-man rotation still a possibility?
BK: I had the privilege of getting a Manny Machado bobblehead (insert joke here) and watching Kevin Gausman in person last Saturday. Prior to the game, I had my doubts about how the evening would play out. Gausman’s first start of the year was against a division leader, with the opponent’s ace taking the mound. Under eerily similar circumstances Gausman rose to the occasion. What made the former LSU product so impressive was the velocity on his fastball (consistently hitting 96-97 mph) and the ability to ramp it up when needed. In the 6th inning, with runners on second and third and one out, Gausman struck out Athletics’ third baseman Josh Donaldson with a phenomenal off-speed pitch, followed by a 99 mph heater to ring up cleanup hitter Brandon Moss that reminded me of Justin Verlander. By getting out of a jam by striking out the heart of the Athletics’ order, Kevin Gausman had arrived.
After another impressive start from Gausman on Thursday against yet another first place team, it is time for him to become a full-time member of the rotation. Of all of the Orioles starting pitchers, Gausman has already drawn three of the most difficult matchups on the season. By challenging him early, the team is preparing Gausman well for tough division games in August and September. With two straight quality starts, sending the 23-year old back to Norfolk or placing him in the bullpen would be misguided.
The idea of a six-man rotation was first brought up when Johan Santana was added to the roster. The idea was short lived, as Santana tore his Achilles during a start at extended spring training, ending his season. Although Buck Showalter has said that he does not want to go to a six-man rotation to sacrifice an arm in the bullpen, the team has the arms to do so. The extra day of rest for starting pitchers would benefit Chen and Gausman the most, while also giving the team more time to work with Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez on their early inning struggles. The Orioles also have four bullpen members who have starting experience (Tommy Hunter, T.J. McFarland, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz) that are capable of throwing two-plus innings if needed. This would require the team to make Darren O’ Day the closer, or a by committee approach.
The most likely scenario is for Gausman to stay in the rotation, while Miguel Gonzalez moves to the bullpen. Prior to the oblique injury, Gonzalez had put together a string of nice starts in May. The Orioles have a need for a right-handed reliever to work the 6th and 7th innings when starters like Jimenez and Chen produce high pitch counts, and Gonzalez has experience coming out the bullpen. There is room for both pitchers in a six-man rotation, but the Orioles don’t value the risk-reward as much as others.