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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 remain in holding pattern with Wieters

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles catcher Matt Wieters continues to increase his activity level in Sarasota, but it remains unclear when he’ll be ready to go on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Nearly 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery and almost a month after being shut down with right elbow tendinitis in the middle of the Grapefruit League schedule, Wieters still hasn’t caught, but he had five at-bats serving as the designated hitter in an extended spring training game on Tuesday. The 28-year-old also threw from 150 feet and hasn’t experienced any further setbacks since he began throwing again.

“You can tell he’s feeling pretty good,” manager Buck Showalter said prior to Tuesday’s game against the New York Yankees. “He had some of that normal soreness (from throwing) that wasn’t there today.”

Showalter said he wouldn’t be surprised if Wieters were to begin a rehab assignment by the end of the month, but it’s clear the organization and the three-time All-Star selection are thinking over the long-term scope of a 162-game season after the original hope of him being ready for Opening Day did not come to fruition.

The Orioles hope Wieters could still be back in early May, but it’s too soon to tell until he gets behind the plate to start catching again in live-game situations. The disappointment of the mid-March setback aside, the 28-year-old is still on a faster track than many pitchers who come back from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery.

“I know what Matt thought when I left spring training. He gave me an idea date-wise,” Showalter said. “I’m not going to give that up, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was potentially earlier than that. But he and J.J. [Hardy] both, we want to get it right the first time.”

Hardy is still experiencing a “little catch” in his left shoulder when he extends the follow-through of his swing, something the Orioles want to remedy before he goes on a rehab assignment. The shortstop could be ready to go later this week along with utility player Jimmy Paredes (lower back strain), who played seven innings in an extended spring game on Tuesday.

The Orioles are hoping both could report to Double-A Bowie as early as Thursday or Friday if all goes well between now and then.

Lefty reliever Wesley Wright is expected to report to Sarasota on Wednesday and will be shut down completely for a week after a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed left shoulder inflammation. The Orioles are projecting him to miss four to six weeks after he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left trapezius strain on Saturday.

Below are Tuesday night’s lineups:

NEW YORK
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
3B Chase Headley
RF Carlos Beltran
1B Mark Teixeira
C Brian McCann
DH Garrett Jones
LF Chris Young
2B Stephen Drew
SS Didi Gregorius

SP CC Sabathia (0-1, 6.35 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

BALTIMORE
SS Everth Cabrera
3B Manny Machado
CF Adam Jones
1B Steve Pearce
RF Delmon Young
DH Chris Davis
2B Jonathan Schoop
C Caleb Joseph
LF Alejandro De Aza

SP Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 1.59 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

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Thoughts on could-be, former, and never-were Ravens

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The retirement of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu last week revitalized an old debate of deciding between him or former Ravens safety Ed Reed as the best safety of this generation.

The split between the fan bases in Baltimore and Pittsburgh is obvious, but it’s difficult to compare players who brought such different skills to the table. Polamalu was superior against the run, but many forget how effectively Reed played closer to the line of scrimmage early in his career before a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder hampered him physically. On the flip side, Reed was the superior ball hawk throughout their careers, but Polamalu wasn’t always the same liability in coverage that he became over the last few seasons of his 12-year career.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King stirred up Ravens fans by deeming Polamalu the best playmaking and instinctive safety of this era. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but Reed’s ability to make plays as a safety, a punt blocker, and as an occasional punt returner was as good as any playmaker I’ve seen short of Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders. In his prime, Reed may have been the greatest free safety in the history of the NFL as his calculated gambles often turned games around for the offensively-challenged Ravens of the time.

I’d take Reed over Polamalu because of his home-run potential, but I would have been happy with either one.

Like King does in evaluating these two great safeties, I’ve been guilty of using the term instinctive, a word that sounds like a compliment but sells short the amount of preparation each player put into his craft. Yes, these are blessed athletes who often appear to have a sixth sense for the ball, but the game-changing plays each safety made were the result of hours of film study and their years of experience on the football field.

It’s worth noting that the Pro Football Hall of Fame hasn’t been kind to safeties historically, but I just don’t see that applying to Reed or Polamalu when they are eligible for induction. As two of the centerpieces in arguably the best rivalry in the NFL over the last 15 years, both received plenty of mainstream attention and each won an AP Defensive Player of the Year award (an honor awarded to a safety just five times in 44 years). Even if they aren’t first-ballot guys — they should be, by the way — neither will wait long to receive the invitation to Canton.

Of course, Reed hasn’t officially retired, which is something with which he needs to come to terms. I’m always supportive of an athlete in his desire to play as long as he wants and to go out on his own terms, but the writing has been on the wall for nearly two years and no one wanted the nine-time Pro Bowl selection in 2014. It’s time for him to call it a career, which will allow the Ravens to induct him into their Ring of Honor this fall.

* After reports surfaced that the Ravens were among the teams showing the most interest in Michael Crabtree, the free-agent wide receiver came to terms on a one-year deal to join the Oakland Raiders Monday night.

The news wasn’t surprising as there were never any indications that Baltimore strongly coveted Crabtree, who was coming off a down season in San Francisco. Questions remain over his explosiveness and ability to separate from defenders following an Achilles injury two years ago, and he was never the type of burner that the Ravens currently need.

I’ll continue to remain skeptical of the organization’s ability to find a suitable replacement for Torrey Smith until it happens. The Ravens can talk up the likes of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro as much as they want, but they need a receiver to stretch the field and take pressure off the soon-to-be 36-year-old Steve Smith. The current group alone won’t cut it.

* King again fired up fans in predicting that Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon wouldn’t make it past the Ravens with the 26th overall pick, but it wouldn’t be a shocking development given their everlasting commitment to the ground game.

Anyone who watched Gordon play in the Big Ten knows he has the potential to be a special back and Ravens running backs coach Thomas Hammock is very familiar with him after they worked together in Madison. A running back hasn’t been selected in the first round since 2012, but it appears there’s a good chance of that changing in the upcoming draft.

Would Gordon satisfy one of their biggest needs? No, but Justin Forsett will be 30 and isn’t a long-term solution at the position.

I personally would look to a number of running backs who would be attractive in the middle rounds, but coming away with Gordon wouldn’t be surprising or necessarily a bad thing for the Ravens.

* The latest news about former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips being suspected of killing his prison cellmate is another reminder of how lucky the Ravens were to come away with Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick of the 1996 draft.

Had he given into late owner Art Modell’s preference to have Phillips, Ozzie Newsome might not still be the general manager in Baltimore today. At the very least, it’d be difficult to argue that the Ravens would have still won Super Bowl XXXV in only their fifth season in Baltimore.

More than anything, the Ravens might want to thank the Arizona Cardinals for surprisingly taking Simeon Rice with the third pick that year, allowing Ogden to fall into Newsome’s lap.

As the Ravens now begin their 20th season in Baltimore, it’s still incredible to think that Newsome selected two future Hall of Famers — Ray Lewis went 26th overall later in the first round — with the first two draft picks in team history.

* Per Pro Football Talk, the NFL is set to release the 2015 regular-season schedule on April 23.

Considering we already know the Ravens’ opponents, the announcement always comes with too much hype, but it’s intriguing to find out which matchups land in prime time.

I’m only guessing, but I’ll predict that the Ravens play a Thursday night road game in Pittsburgh, a Monday night home game against Cincinnati, and a Sunday night home game against Seattle.

Which games would you like to see in prime time this year?

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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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Lough activated from DL, Gamboa optioned back to Norfolk

Posted on 13 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After dealing with a crowded bullpen, an injury, and pitching struggles over the first week of the season, Orioles manager Buck Showalter finally has his four-man bench.

Prior to the series opener against the New York Yankees, outfielder David Lough (left hamstring) was activated from the 15-day disabled list while right-handed pitcher Eddie Gamboa was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk in time to make his start for the Tides Monday night. The Orioles had began the season with 13 pitchers, but the left trapezius injury suffered by lefty reliever Wesley Wright officially sent him to the DL on Saturday.

The club summoned Gamboa to the majors after Bud Norris lasted just three innings in the 12-5 loss in the home opener to Toronto on Friday, but he did not appear in a game. Lough will bring speed and strong defense to the outfield picture, adding more versatility that Showalter appreciates in the late innings.

On Sunday, the Orioles had Delmon Young, Caleb Joseph, and a less-than-100-percent Jonathan Schoop on the bench, which provided few options in the latter stages of a close game.

“You don’t want to have to make two moves to make one move with a three-man bench, which is what we would have to do,” Showalter said. “Now, we have some flexibility there if our pitching can cooperate a little bit and stay a little more conventional. It helps us a lot, especially in that 7-8-9 area [of the lineup]. It’s a guy that can run, pinch-hit, and defend without having to make two moves for one and burn two players.”

Lough went 5-for-27 with two stolen bases in Grapefruit League play after posting a .694 on-base plus slugging percentage in his first season in Baltimore. Despite a rough start in his first two months with the Orioles, Lough hit .337 with four home runs, 13 RBIs, and a .959 OPS over 99 plate appearances from June 1 until the end of the regular season.

In other injury-related news, Schoop is back in the lineup after taking off Sunday with some quadriceps soreness, a move that was more precautionary than any real concern.

Catcher Matt Wieters (right elbow tendinitis) took live batting practice Monday in Sarasota and is expected to serve as the designated hitter in an extended spring training game on Tuesday.

Wright underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday, but Showalter hadn’t received the results when he spoke to media three hours before the game.

Utility player Jimmy Paredes (lower back) went 1-for-4 and played nine innings split between left and right field in an extended spring game on Monday. He will play again on Tuesday and Wednesday before potentially going on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey threw once again on Monday as he continues his recovery from a fractured right fibula.

Pitching coach Dave Wallace was away from the club to attend a funeral on Monday. Bullpen coach Dom Chiti will be in the dugout while Ramon Martinez fills in as the bullpen coach in the series opener against the Yankees. Wallace is expected back by Tuesday.

Below are Monday night’s lineups:

NEW YORK
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
DH Carlos Beltran
1B Mark Teixeira
3B Alex Rodgriguez
RF Chris Young
C John Ryan Murphy
SS Did Gregorius
2B Gregorio Petit

SP Michael Pineda (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP)

BALTIMORE
LF Alejandro De Aza
RF Steve Pearce
1B Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
DH Travis Snider
3B Manny Machado
2B Jonathan Schoop
SS Everth Cabrera
C Caleb Joseph

SP Wei-Yin Chen (0-0, 6.23 ERA, 1.39 WHIP)
 

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Orioles musings on the opening week of the season

Posted on 13 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Based on how they performed over the first week of the season, the Orioles are right where they belong sitting at the .500 mark while allowing one more run (32) than they’ve scored (31) through the season’s first six games.

The fact that a number of fans are concerned about a 3-3 record shows just how far the Orioles have come over the last three years under manager Buck Showalter in that they’re now expected to win. For anyone concerned about the first week of the season, keep in mind that the Orioles began last season with a 1-4 mark and were still sitting at .500 at the beginning of June before playing .639 baseball the rest of the way.

For context, the Orioles are roughly at the same point in their season now as the Ravens were when Joe Flacco tossed an interception in the third quarter of the 2014 season opener against Cincinnati last September.

Beyond Bud Norris being a “person of interest” with a poor start in the home opener that followed his concerning spring and Ubaldo Jimenez reinforcing his strong finish in the Grapefruit League with a brilliant performance Saturday night, I haven’t seen much of anything that changes my overall attitude or outlook on the 2015 campaign. The Orioles obviously need to pitch better than they did in the first week, and I think they will based on the track record of many of these hurlers over the last few seasons.

* The Orioles have given up 10 or more runs in a game twice already after doing it just five times all last season, which brings two thoughts to mind.

One, it shows how consistent the staff was in 2014 despite not having the kind of starting rotation that inflicts fear like Detroit’s last year or the current Washington group. In 2013, the Orioles allowed 10 or more runs nine times and surrendered at least that many in a game 10 times in 2012.

It also speaks to how impressive the Toronto lineup was in scoring 23 runs in a three-game series in which the Blue Jays were nearly shut out in the second contest. The Blue Jays weren’t exactly struggling to score runs anyway before the offseason arrivals of an MVP-caliber player like third baseman Josh Donaldson and veteran catcher Russell Martin, who posted a .402 on-base percentage with Pittsburgh last year.

I still have my doubts about how quickly their young pitching will come together in both the rotation and the bullpen, but the Blue Jays will hit the ball as well as anyone in the majors.

* Third baseman Manny Machado’s 0-for-15 streak to begin the 2015 season ended Sunday, but his .053 average isn’t anything to be concerned about just yet as he’s hit several balls hard and has shown improved patience at the plate in drawing three walks in 23 plate appearances. He’s only struck out three times over that span, which suggests making contact isn’t a concern.

What has been an encouraging sign that his surgically-repaired knees are not an issue is the number of “Machadian” plays — yes, I’ve coined a new adjective to describe his impeccable defense — he’s already made in the field.

Considering he won’t be 23 until July, it’s amazing to think how many highlight plays he’s already offered up in his major league career. You just hope the problems with his knees are finally behind him, so we can enjoy watching this kid play a full season.

* Right-hander Kevin Gausman is off to a rocky start in the bullpen, allowing three earned runs and four walks in 3 2/3 innings.

While I’ve made no secret about my disagreement with his handling, it’s worth noting that he’s begun throwing a curveball — seemingly abandoning his slider that was still a work in progress — for the first time since college. In talking to Gausman late last week, you got the sense that he’s trying to emulate Chris Tillman a little more by adopting the curve to change hitters’ eye levels and throwing more high fastballs, which will certainly get him in trouble if he doesn’t locate and pick his spots carefully.

You wonder if these fundamental adjustments along with some natural disappointment over not being in the rotation have led to his early-season struggles, but there’s too much talent there for him not to right himself sooner rather than later.

* I’m guessing not many would have predicted knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa as the first minor-league pitcher to be recalled by the Orioles this season, but it further illustrates how timing and flexibility have more to do with promotions than anything.

More heralded arms such as Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson had already pitched in the previous two days and the Orioles preferred to give T.J. McFarland his scheduled start with Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, paving the way for the 30-year-old Gamboa to receive his first promotion to the majors. Of course, he was only going to pitch in an extreme situation such as an injury or two taking place or the score being totally out of hand, but it once again shows how manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will utilize resources at Norfolk and even Double-A Bowie however they see fit.

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Jimenez offers reminder why Orioles wanted him

Posted on 12 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — In the same way that it would be premature for the Orioles to bury Bud Norris after his poor start in the home opener, Ubaldo Jimenez can’t erase the memory of an awful 2014 season with one terrific outing.

But catcher Caleb Joseph said it best in describing the right-hander’s seven shutout innings in which he allowed only one hit while striking out eight and walking one in a 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.

“He was like a video game out there,” Joseph said. “I haven’t caught very many major league games, but that may have been one of the [most fun]. What he’s been through over the last year or so and then working really hard and getting better each and every spring training start, and then when the lights really come on — playing for real — he did such a great job.”

Despite the frustration of a fan base that expected big things from the 31-year-old when he signed a four-year, $50 million contract 14 months ago, it’s easy to see how well liked Jimenez is by teammates and coaches. Working hard to simplify and repeat his delivery this offseason, Jimenez has been praised for his commitment to improve from the time he arrived in Sarasota for spring training two months ago.

Asked what impressed him most about Jimenez this spring prior to Saturday’s game, manager Buck Showalter was direct in saying it was the results and how the veteran had improved a little bit each time he went to the hill. Jimenez pitched on the road — meaning he would face more of the opposition’s regular hitters — in all but one of his seven spring starts, posting a 2.88 ERA in his final 25 Grapefruit League innings and walking just six batters over that span.

That success carried over and then some on Saturday as Jimenez stifled a Blue Jays lineup that had piled up 12 runs and 16 hits just a day earlier. It began with fastball command and impeccable control as Jimenez delivered first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 23 hitters he faced. He also effectively mixed in his split-fingered fastball and curveball while his two-seam fastball induced 11 grounders that were turned into outs by the excellent defense behind him.

Jimenez is gradually learning to trust that defense, adopting pitching coach Dave Wallace’s philosophy of pitching to weak contact and not always needing to rely on the strikeout. Unlike other starters in the current rotation, Jimenez has the ability to consistently miss bats — he still averaged 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings last season — but it can’t come at the expense of control.

Yes, it’s only one start, but it was a glimpse into what the Orioles envisioned when they made a four-year commitment to the 2010 All-Star Game starter for the National League. While a career-worst 5.5 walks per nine innings average and a 4.81 ERA from last year are fresh in observers’ minds, Jimenez has pitched at a high level at various times in his career, which is the upside that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was attracted to.

For now, Jimenez can only take it one start at a time, one strike at a time while observers will understandably remain skeptical until he proves himself consistently.

“The only thing I’m worried about is being there for the team,” Jimenez said. “If I pitch good, they will forget [last year], but my main goal is be there for the team. I can’t be worried about what everyone is thinking.”

Saturday reinforced that the Orioles were right to give Jimenez a chance to reestablish himself in the rotation. He’ll need to prove he can remain there, but owing a pitcher $39 million over the next three years has a way of making an organization provide as many opportunities as humanly possible to fetch a return.

The Jimenez who’s surfaced over the last month dating back to spring training is one the Orioles would like to see pitching meaningful games in September and beyond. It’s the reason why they brought him to Baltimore in the first place despite his opening act being a dud.

“Nobody’s worked harder than him. You can tell he did it in the offseason, too,” Showalter said. “He came in here with a real purpose. Tonight was a good reminder why he’s been a good quality major league starter for a long time.”

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Orioles place left-handed reliever Wright on DL

Posted on 11 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Faced with a crowded bullpen to begin the 2015 season, the Orioles will now have that problem alleviated in a way they didn’t anticipate.

Left-handed pitcher Wesley Wright has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left trapezius strain. The reliever disclosed the injury after pitching 1 1/3 innings in Friday’s 12-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

“After we see the [doctor], we’ll know what the next step will be,” said Wright, who revealed Friday that he’s been dealing with the issue for a few days. “I’m hoping that it’s something that can get taken care of kind of quickly and hopefully I can be back on the field soon. It wasn’t worse, so I’ll take that aspect of it. I knew the way I felt yesterday, it was going to take something dramatic for me to feel a lot better this morning. When I woke up, I felt basically the same.”

In two appearances, Wright has allowed one earned run and two hits in 1 2/3 innings with his new club.

It remains unclear how long Wright will be sidelined, but the Orioles recalled pitcher Eddie Gamboa from Triple-A Norfolk to take his place in the bullpen just in time for Saturday’s game. Outfielder David Lough (hamstring) is expected to be activated from the DL in the coming days, but the Orioles intend to send him on a brief minor-league rehab assignment with Single-A Frederick beginning Sunday.

Unlike other options on the 40-man roster who had pitched in the last day or two, Gamboa is fresh and can provide the Orioles with length in the bullpen for however long he remains in Baltimore. The 30-year-old knuckleballer is scheduled to start for the Tides on Monday, but that will depend on whether manager Buck Showalter will need to use him over the next couple days.

In 2014, Gamboa went a combined 5-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 108 2/3 innings split between Norfolk and Double-A Bowie. He has never appeared in the majors in his seven-year professional career.

Left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland could have been recalled as he was the scheduled starter for Norfolk on Saturday, but the Orioles prefer giving him some regular work in Triple A to begin the season. Right-hander Mike Wright remains on the club’s radar, but he started for Norfolk on Friday and touched 99 miles per hour at one point, according to Showalter.

In other injury-related news, catcher Matt Wieters (elbow tendinitis) took batting practice from both sides of the plate in Sarasota on Saturday. He is expected to throw from 120 feet and catch batting practice on Sunday.

“That was all encouraging to hear,” Showalter said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow, but that’s kind of moving [forward] a little bit.”

Shortstop J.J. Hardy continues to progress but is feeling slight discomfort in his left shoulder at the very end of his follow through when swinging. Showalter doesn’t want him to be thinking about that when he’s hitting, which means the Orioles won’t rush him to go on a rehab assignment until he’s fully ready.

“I want to get it right the first time. I don’t want him to feel like he has to rush,” Showalter said. “It’s like Matt — I want to get it right the first time and not have to look back and worry about it. But I like where he is with it right now.”

Infielder Jimmy Paredes (lower back) is expected to play in an extended spring training game on Monday. If that goes well, he could go on a minor-league rehab assignment in Frederick next week.

Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey (broken fibula) completed two sets of 25 throws from 60 feet on Saturday. He hasn’t pitched since he was struck in the ankle with a comebacker in minor-league spring training late last month.

Below are Saturday night’s lineups:

TORONTO
SS Jose Reyes
CF Dalton Pompey
RF Jose Bautista
DH Edwin Encarnacion
3B Josh Donaldson
C Russell Martin
1B Justin Smoak
LF Kevin Pillar
2B Devon Travis

SP Aaron Sanchez (2014 stats: 2-2, 1.09 ERA)

BALTIMORE
LF Alejandro De Aza
RF Steve Pearce
1B Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
DH Travis Snider
3B Manny Machado
2B Jonathan Schoop
SS Everth Cabrera
C Caleb Joseph

SP Ubaldo Jimenez (2014 stats: 6-9, 4.81 ERA)

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Former Baltimore Colts tight end Mutscheller dies at 85

Posted on 11 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Photo courtesy of BaltimoreRavens.com

The man who caught the pass to set up Alan Ameche’s iconic game-winning touchdown in the 1958 NFL championship game has died.

Former Baltimore Colts tight end Jim Mutscheller passed away Friday morning due to kidney failure, according to The Sun. The Lutherville resident was 85.

Mutscheller played eight seasons and served as a reliable target and strong blocker for Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas. The pair connected for a 6-yard pass play to the New York Giants’ 1-yard line in overtime of the famous 1958 title game before Mutscheller helped open a huge hole for Ameche to clinch the Colts’ first NFL championship.

After playing his college football at Notre Dame, Mutscheller served two years in the military before joining the Colts in 1954. He retired from the NFL in 1961 after catching 220 passes for 3,684 yards and 40 touchdowns while helping Baltimore to two league championships.

His contributions on the field as well as his presence in the community made Mutscheller a beloved name in Baltimore football history.

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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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