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Promising signs beginning to surface for Orioles

Posted on 12 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Nearly 60 games into the 2015 season, we know the Orioles have their flaws.

They don’t have a great offense, a truth that became painfully obvious in May when they finished last in the American League in average and on-base percentage. The newfound presence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters and the anticipated return of Jonathan Schoop before the All-Star break will help, but it’s a lineup that can’t be counted on to consistently win high-scoring games despite showing signs of life over the last week.

The early-season struggles of starting pitchers Chris Tillman and Bud Norris are now compounded by Miguel Gonzalez being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a groin injury, leaving plenty of uncertainty in what’s been a solid but unspectacular rotation.

Despite those shortcomings, it’s been the emergence of two phases of the game in which the Orioles thrived over the previous three seasons that has been the catalyst for a season-high four-game winning streak and six victories in seven tries. Manager Buck Showalter relied on superb defense and an exceptional bullpen to guide the Orioles to a three-game sweep over the scuffling Boston Red Sox and back to just one game below .500.

To be fair, the bullpen has performed at a high level since a rocky April in which it posted a 4.35 ERA. Since the start of May, Orioles relievers have pitched to a 2.38 ERA in 113 1/3 innings. And though being a man down for the first two games of the Boston series due to the Brian Matusz suspension, the bullpen allowed just one earned run in 12 innings against the Red Sox in the series.

“You can withstand it if the guys who come in to pitch out of the bullpen finish the job that they have to do,” said Showalter about using a six-man bullpen before rookie Mike Wright was recalled on Thursday. “If you have to bring another guy in to finish that, that’s where the problem comes. These guys have done a good job of finishing.”

To see strong contributions from closer Zach Britton and setup men Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is one thing, but the Orioles have received a major lift from the likes of Brad Brach and Chaz Roe in recent weeks. Despite allowing a solo home run to David Ortiz on Thursday, Roe pitching the eighth inning of a tight game against Boston is a bet few would have taken back in spring training. The right-hander currently sports a 1.38 ERA since being promoted from Triple-A Norfolk last month.

The balanced performance was particularly impressive in pushing the Red Sox further into the basement of the AL East. Showalter loves to see his relievers “pass the baton” when necessary, and that’s exactly what the group did as the Orioles earned their first three-game sweep of the season.

“I was kind of having that feeling this series and I hope we can continue,” said Brach, who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings on Thursday. “It just kind of seems that the excitement is starting to get there and everybody is starting to find their little niche. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.”

Considering the bullpen has pitched so well for over a month, what has been the biggest difference over the last week when the Orioles have played their best baseball of the year?

If you watched the last few games, it wasn’t difficult to tell.

“Our defense,” said third baseman Manny Machado, who made several exceptional plays in the series and has seemingly put his early-season defensive woes behind him. “We’re playing the defense we’re supposed to be playing on the Orioles and this organization.”

Even the likes of Travis Snider and the returning Nolan Reimold got into the defensive act against the Red Sox as the Orioles played the type of defense we’ve come to expect over the last few years. On Wednesday alone, Adam Jones put together a convincing body of work for another Gold Glove as he made three sensational defensive plays.

We shouldn’t overlook the fact that the Orioles homered three times in Thursday’s finale — the long ball has been another key to their success since 2012 — but the vibe accompanying their overall play makes you wonder if things are slowly beginning to fall into place. Improved pitching and exceptional defense were the bread and butter that allowed the Orioles to take off in the second half of 2014 on the way to 96 wins and their first division title since 1997.

That doesn’t mean it will happen in the same way, but few anticipate it taking that kind of a winning clip to prevail in an ordinary division.

The offense will continue to be a concern and there’s uneasiness with the current rotation, but the Orioles hope their current winning streak is a harbinger of what’s to come over the coming days, weeks, and months. They’ll receive an ample test this weekend with the New York Yankees visiting Camden Yards on the heels of winning seven of their last eight.

Baltimore enters the weekend only four games behind New York and with an opportunity to climb back to the .500 mark for the first time since May 5.

“We have momentum until we leave the locker room and get back here tomorrow,” Showalter said after Thursday’s win. “The best team in our division so far this year is coming in. It’s tough because there are a lot of people having trouble beating them. Now, we have to try to see if we can.”

And you have to feel better about their chances than you did a week ago.

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Davis flashes why Orioles can’t give up on him yet

Posted on 28 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — You can’t take too much away from Chris Davis’ two-homer performance in a 5-4 win over Houston on Wednesday night.

The Orioles hope it’s the start of a turnaround from a start that’s too closely resembled the first baseman’s nightmarish 2014 campaign. But it was just over a year ago — May 20, 2014 to be exact — that Davis hit three home runs in a win over Pittsburgh before then going 7-for-43 with one long ball and 19 strikeouts in his next 11 games.

For now, manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles will cross their fingers that it’s the start of a run similar to those we witnessed in 2012 and 2013 when Davis was capable of carrying the offense for days — sometimes weeks — at a time. A breakout now would certainly help an offense struggling to score runs as the Orioles try to move back to the .500 mark.


“The reason why we talk about that — or you talk about it — is because of what he’s done in the past and what his track record shows,” Showalter said. “You look at some of the ERAs of their bullpen and to do it off [Houston lefty Tony] Sipp, that’s pretty hard to do.”

As critical as Davis’ home run to the right-center bleachers was to give the Orioles a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth, it merely offers a reminder of what the left-handed slugger is capable of, with no guarantees of what lies next. But it’s the reason why recent calls for Davis to be benched are based more on frustration and less in reality.

To be clear, a .216 batting average and 64 strikeouts in 174 plate appearances aren’t good enough. A 36.8 percent strikeout rate and 9.2 percent walk rate are numbers trending in the wrong direction from previous seasons, especially considering Davis is on pace to strike out a major league record 236 times.

But who do you really want to see in his place? Backup first baseman Steve Pearce is hitting .190. Prospect Christian Walker has only two home runs and sports a .656 on-base plus slugging percentage at Triple-A Norfolk this season. Former Minnesota Twins prospect Chris Parmelee has posted a strong .833 OPS for the Tides, but do you really think he’s the cure to the Orioles’ offensive woes or brings enough upside to justify starting him over a guy who hit 53 home runs two years ago?

With Davis struggling as much as he has in the month of May — along with most of the lineup — it’s perfectly reasonable to give the scuffling first baseman a day or two off, especially against a tough left-handed pitcher. It’s what Showalter did on Monday with Houston’s Dallas Keuchel on the mind. Coincidence or not, Davis has driven in four runs in his two games since then.

“As a player, I don’t think you ever want a day off,” Davis said. “You want to be in there every day, but sometimes you need it. Sometimes it’s better for them just to tell you to take a day as opposed to asking you. I think it was good. I definitely could have used the rest. It was good for me to sit back and watch the game and take a day off mentally.”

An occasional day off or a lowering in the batting order is one thing, but the Orioles need Davis’ upside in the lineup on a regular basis. It has nothing to do with his future as it appears more and more likely that Baltimore will rightly allow the frustrating slugger to depart via free agency after this season.

But the Orioles need his power potential in the lineup, because it will pay off — at least from time to time — like it did on Wednesday. Say what you want about the batting average and the strikeouts, but the 29-year-old leads the club in home runs and RBIs and is on pace to hit 37 bombs on the season.

In the same way that the Orioles did with Mark Reynolds a few years ago, you take the good with the bad. A .757 OPS is less than ideal for a first baseman and a middle-of-the-order hitter, but Davis represents the most upside that the club currently has from a power standpoint, especially after the offseason departure of Nelson Cruz.

For as long as he’s an Oriole, Davis needs to remain in the lineup. Wednesday brought a much-needed — and overdue — reminder of that.

“Any time you see that swing and he makes contact and the ball hit to right field, you know it’s going to the bleachers,” said winning pitcher Brad Brach of Davis’ two home runs that helped the Orioles hand the Astros their first road series loss of the season. “You just want to see how far it goes. That’s awesome for him. He works hard every day, and I’m glad to see it’s paying off.”

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After slow start, bullpen becoming steadying force for Orioles

Posted on 26 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Monday brought an even bigger surprise than the Orioles’ ability to hand Houston starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel his first loss of the 2015 season.

After Steve Pearce had clubbed a two-run home run to right-center to give the Orioles a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, you figured manager Buck Showalter would turn to Darren O’Day or Tommy Hunter to pitch the eighth. O’Day hadn’t pitched since Saturday and Hunter hadn’t worked since Friday, but Showalter instead called upon rookie Oliver Drake, who had pitched three scoreless innings in the 1-0 loss to Miami in 13 innings on Saturday night.

The move raised a few eyebrows, but Drake came through once again, pitching a perfect inning with two strikeouts in his second major league appearance. Showalter cited Drake’s ability to retire hitters from both sides of the plate as his rationale for going to the Naval Academy product — two left-handed hitters were due up in the inning and Brian Matusz wasn’t available — but it’s no secret that the 27-year-old right-hander has already impressed with his nasty split-fingered fastball.

“It all works off his fastball command. He has a way to make you look between velocities,” Showalter said. “Even if you’re right on one of the velocities, you might not get there. You saw it on the fastball to [Colby] Rasmus. He doesn’t have to throw 95 [mph] to get a reaction. When you have to defend the other-speed pitch, that 90 looks 100.”

Monday’s win featured three scoreless innings from Brad Brach and Drake before closer Zach Britton slammed the door on the Astros in the ninth, continuing an impressive run for Orioles relievers after a rocky April. Dating back to April 29, the Baltimore bullpen has posted a 2.23 ERA in its last 65 2/3 innings.

The group has been even better of late by allowing just six earned runs in its last 30 1/3 innings. The success has improved the club’s bullpen ERA to 3.32, which ranks sixth in the American League. It’s helped that the Orioles rank only 12th in the AL in relief innings, a reflection of starters working deeper into games than they did in April.

It’s a pleasant change after the bullpen posted a 4.35 ERA in the opening month of the season.

With the bullpen being the backbone of their success over the previous three seasons, the Orioles figured to lean heavily on Britton, O’Day, and Hunter this year, but the emergence of Brach since the second half of last season has been an encouraging development. The 29-year-old right-hander leads the club with 22 2/3 relief innings this season and has lowered his ERA to 3.57 after a difficult start. Since being scored upon in his first four outings of 2015, Brach has pitched to a 2.00 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18 innings of work.

Despite an uneven beginning to the season for the 20-22 Orioles, seeing the likes of Brach and Drake pick up the slack in some meaningful situations bodes well now and for the long haul.

“That helps with us later on in the season,” Brach said. “You don’t have to throw the same guys out there every single time. You see some of the teams that kind of have the same guys they go to every time. It kind of keeps us on our toes. On the same token, any situation could be any guy and everybody’s got to be ready to go, so it keeps us ready to go and sharp during the game.”

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2015 Orioles preview: Brad Brach

Posted on 21 March 2015 by Luke Jones

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

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter
March 20 – Manny Machado

RHP Brad Brach

Opening Day age: 28

Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: 7-1, 3.18 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.8 K/IP, 6 HR, 62 1/3 innings

Why to be impressed: One of the more unheralded acquisitions last winter, Brach emerged as a reliable member of the bullpen in 2014, even pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. The right-hander averaged 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014 and showed the best fastball velocity of his major league career while mixing in his slider effectively.

Why to be concerned: Brach experienced some control issues in 2014, averaging 3.6 walks per nine innings pitched. Left-handed hitters posted a .776 on-base plus slugging percentage and hit four homers off Brach in 110 plate appearances last season. Opponents’ .253 batting average on balls in play indicates the former San Diego Padre experienced some good luck in his first season with Baltimore.

2015 outlook: Closer Zach Britton and others have said Brach has some of the best stuff of anyone in the bullpen, and he’ll have a few more opportunities in late-inning situations with the free-agent departure of Andrew Miller. His walk rate and fortunate BAbip are signs that Brach is unlikely to post an ERA in the low 3.00s again, but an ERA between 3.50 and 3.75 appears to be a fair projection.

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Keeping eye on Orioles bullpen in September

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

There’s little to be concerned about with the Orioles enjoying a 9 1/2 game lead in the American League East entering the weekend, but the late innings of Thursday’s 9-7 win over the Cincinnati Reds suggest there might be something worth monitoring in the short-term future.

The Orioles bullpen has been stellar all season, ranking fourth in the AL with a 3.21 ERA, but there have been a few leaks over the last week that likely grabbed the attention of manager Buck Showalter. Baltimore relievers only rank sixth in the AL in innings pitched, which doesn’t indicate overuse being a major concern, but witnessing Brian Matusz and the newly-recalled Evan Meek warm up in the eighth inning of a two-run game Thursday — the night after Miguel Gonzalez had pitched a complete-game shutout to give the entire bullpen a night off — made it clear that Showalter didn’t have his full array of arms.

Left-handed reliever Andrew Miller is currently dealing with a tweaked hamstring and hasn’t pitched since Monday when he allowed two hits and an earned run while retiring only two batters. The former Boston reliever has downplayed the significance of his injury, but it’s clear the Orioles manager was trying to avoid using him this week.

Outstanding right-hander Darren O’Day not warming up after Tommy Hunter allowed a leadoff double in the eighth inning Thursday makes you wonder if he might be dealing with a physical challenge as well. O’Day did throw 26 pitches in a rare poor appearance Tuesday when he allowed a grand slam to Jay Bruce, but the submarine-style pitcher only seeing one appearance since Saturday is a little unusual.

Right-hander Brad Brach has been one of the better stories of the 2014 season, but the 28-year-old has allowed five earned runs, nine hits, and three walks in his last three innings of work spanning five appearances. His four runs allowed Thursday allowed the Reds to come back from what was originally a 6-0 deficit in the first inning to force a 7-7 tie in the seventh.

And even though closer Zach Britton continues to do remarkable work in the ninth, he ranks eighth in the majors in innings pitched by relievers and recently completed a stretch in which he appeared in five games in seven days. The former starting pitcher is used to a heavy volume of work, but pitching so frequently is a difficult adjustment for someone in his first season pitching in relief.

By no means should these factors instill any sense of panic, but they do provide evidence for Showalter to make use of his September bullpen that currently features 11 pitchers. The manager has already said he won’t change his managerial style before the Orioles potentially clinch their first division title since 1997, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to lighten the load for the key members of his bullpen such as Britton, O’Day, and Miller while passing a few more opportunities toward the likes of Hunter, Matusz, Ryan Webb, T.J.McFarland, and even veteran Joe Saunders.

It’s a careful balancing act as relievers need regular work to remain sharp, but there’s no question that Showalter will want to do everything he can to ensure that his late-inning weapons are as close to full strength as they can be in October.

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Orioles option Gausman to Triple-A Norfolk to add bullpen help

Posted on 21 June 2014 by Luke Jones

As if the sting of Carlos Beltran’s walk-off home run weren’t enough on Friday night, the Orioles raised eyebrows with the decision to option right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman to Triple-A Norfolk following the heartbreaking 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees.

Manager Buck Showalter needed another bullpen arm after long man T.J. McFarland pitched two innings in the series-opening contest at Yankee Stadium, and the Orioles recalled right-handed pitcher Brad Brach from Triple-A Norfolk to take Gausman’s spot on the 25-man roster prior to Saturday’s game. Brach has posted a 5.40 ERA in 18 1/3 innings with the Orioles this season.

The Orioles have been going with a six-man bullpen since they began using a six-man rotation, which necessitated the need to temporarily take a starting pitcher off the roster.

The good news is that the impressive 23-year-old shouldn’t be be gone for long as the Orioles can bring back Gausman as their 26th man for the split doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays next Friday. This essentially means the only consequence for sending him down is moving his next scheduled start from Wednesday to Friday with an off-day between those games.

Since being recalled on June 7, Gausman is 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts spanning 19 innings. The decision isn’t ideal with the current six-man rotation already providing extra rest to starters, but there’s no logical reason to believe the Orioles wouldn’t bring him back for next Friday’s start.

Of course, the Orioles can only hope they haven’t messed with the 2012 first-round pick’s good vibes as Gausman would be making his next start on eight days’ rest if he is in fact recalled next Friday.

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Orioles recall Brach, send Meek back down to Norfolk

Posted on 16 May 2014 by WNST Staff


The Orioles announced Friday that they have recalled right-handed pitcher Brad Brach from Triple-A Norfolk and designated right-handed pitcher Evan Meek for assignment off of the 25-man roster.

Brach, 28, has gone 3-1 with a 3.26 ERA (19.1IP, 7ER), five walks and 38 strikeouts in 15 appearances for the Tides. He appeared in two games for the Orioles earlier this season.

Meek, 31, was recalled yesterday. He has gone 0-1 with a 6.94 ERA (11.2IP, 9ER) in 12 appearances for the Orioles earlier this season.

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Orioles recall Brach as fresh bullpen arm for Minnesota series

Posted on 02 May 2014 by WNST Staff


The Orioles announced Friday that they have recalled right-handed pitcher Brad Brach from Triple-A Norfolk.

Brach, 28, was 2-1 with a 4.85 ERA (13.0IP, 7ER) in 12 games for the Tides. He will wear number 35.

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Orioles option reliever Brach to Norfolk

Posted on 25 March 2014 by WNST Staff


            The Orioles today announced that they have optioned RHP BRAD BRACH to Triple-A Norfolk.

With this move, the Orioles now have 40 players at major league spring training, including six non-roster invitees.

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Orioles acquire right-handed reliever Brach from Padres

Posted on 25 November 2013 by WNST Staff


The Orioles announced Monday that they have acquired right-handed pitcher Brad Brach from the San Diego Padres in exchange for minor league right-handed pitcher Devin Jones.

Brach, 27, posted a 3.19 ERA (31.0IP, 11ER, 31K) in 33 games for San Diego in 2013. In three major league seasons with the Padres, he has gone 3-6 with a 3.70 ERA (104.2IP, 43ER) in 109 relief appearances, averaging 10.1 strikeouts per 9.0 innings. In six minor league seasons, Brach pitched to a 2.34 ERA (277.1IP, 72ER) and recorded 118 saves in 250 relief appearances, posting 10.8 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9. He was originally selected by San Diego in the 42nd round of the 2008 First Year Player Draft out of Monmouth University (NJ).

Jones, 23, went 5-7 with a 5.64 ERA (129.1IP, 81ER) in 25 total starts for Class-A Frederick (one GS) and Double-A Bowie (24 GS) in 2013. Originally selected by the Orioles in the 9th round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft out of Mississippi State University, Jones went 15-18 with a 4.47 ERA (262.0IP, 130ER) in 67 games (34 GS) in three seasons in the Baltimore system.

With this move, the Orioles now have 37 players on the 40-man roster.

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