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Orioles must slow speedy Royals in quest for AL pennant

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Orioles must slow speedy Royals in quest for AL pennant

Posted on 09 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter almost sounded coy when asked about the speed of the Kansas City Royals as his club made final preparations for the American League Championship Series scheduled to get underway Friday night.

With five Royals players recording double-digit steals in the regular season and another rookie — Terrance Gore — stealing three bases in his first four postseason games, the Orioles face a tall order in slowing Kansas City’s speed demons, a factor many view as a potential tipping point between two clubs that are very similar beyond their contrasting offensive styles.

“They’re not automatically going to all of a sudden run slower tomorrow,” Showalter said. “If anything, they’re going to run faster. You don’t control that. It’s impossible. It’s one of those givens. Try to keep them off base as much as you can.”

Sure, there’s no better remedy for neutralizing speed than preventing runners from reaching first, but the Orioles don’t sound nearly as concerned about the Kansas City running game Thursday as the many outsiders trying to break down this matchup. As some ponder whether the season-ending elbow injury to Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters will finally catch up to Baltimore in this best-of-seven series, the Orioles spent Thursday pointing out that their regular style of play always involves containing an opponent’s running game.

Most of the attention falls on the shoulders of the catching tandem of Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph, but the ability to stop potential thievery runs deeper.

Even with the two-time Gold Glove selection Wieters limited to just 22 games behind the plate this season before an elbow injury eventually led to Tommy John surgery, opponents still attempted the fourth-fewest number of steals in the AL against Baltimore this season. The Orioles ranked sixth in the AL by throwing out 28 percent of runners trying to steal with Joseph — a 28-year-old rookie not known for his defensive work in the minors — and the veteran Hundley handling the catching duties for much of the season.

And that’s when you begin to see where the real responsibility lies in controlling an opponent’s running game.

“The easiest way [to neutralize it] is quick times to the plate, no question,” said former Orioles outfielder and current vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, who swiped 315 bases in his 15-year career. “As a base stealer, you steal bases off the pitcher. It doesn’t matter to me if [13-time Gold Glove winner] Ivan Rodriguez was behind the plate; if the pitcher was slow, I’m going.”

Look no further than Game 1 starter Chris Tillman to see how much emphasis the Orioles have placed on pitchers being fast to the plate and holding runners since Showalter’s arrival during the 2010 season. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was admittedly poor when it came to holding runners during his early years with the Orioles before Showalter and Wieters preached the need for him to shorten his delivery to prevent runners from going wild on the bases.

It was a mindset that several pitchers have needed to learn the hard way during Showalter’s tenure, with some even earning demotions to the minors as a result.

Tillman has not only posted back-to-back 200-inning seasons to emerge as the ace of the Baltimore rotation, but the 26-year-old has allowed only two stolen bases since the start of the 2013 season.

“When Buck got here, it was a big pet peeve of his,” Tillman said. “You’ve got to be quick and give your catchers a chance. Anytime the opposing guys get an extra 90 feet for free, you’re not doing yourself a favor. It’s an organizational thing now. Early on, I don’t think it was. I was young and immature and didn’t know any better, to tell you the truth.”

Of course, the Royals aren’t just any other club in stealing 153 bases to lead the majors in the regular season, and they appear to have only gotten better in that department with the addition of the speedy Gore to go along with Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, and Nori Aoki. They have gone a remarkable 12-for-13 attempting to steal in four postseason games.

But the Orioles feel confident in their scouting and preparation and their biggest weapon in helping to neutralize an opponent’s running game, which is none other than bench coach John Russell.

“A lot of it comes from the bench,” Hundley said. “John Russell does an unbelievable job knowing tendencies, knowing when to throw over, knowing when to pitch out. He doesn’t get enough credit. He controls all the pick-offs and all that stuff. How good he is at it helps us out — me and Caleb — a bunch. And it takes a lot of pressure off the pitchers, because they know he’ll put them in a very successful position.”

It remains to be seen how Showalter will distribute the catching duties over the course of the series, but Hundley is expected to start Game 1. The 31-year-old veteran acquired from the San Diego Padres in late May handled a larger portion of the playing time down the stretch despite throwing out only 19 percent of runners trying to steal this season. In contrast, Joseph gunned down 40 percent during his rookie season even though his defense was often viewed as a hindrance in his minor-league development for years.

Regardless of who might be behind the plate, the mindset isn’t expected to change for Orioles pitchers as they will do what they always do — even against the speedy Royals.

“All the pitchers feel comfortable with it, because it’s something we’ve always put the onus on,” Wieters said. “It shouldn’t be anything different in their minds as far as what they need to do. They stick with their same times to the plate, and it gives us a chance. As a catcher, that’s all you want. There are certain guys that you won’t throw out, but we feel like every pitcher out there is giving the catcher a chance to make a good throw and hopefully get an out.”

Ultimately, the Orioles know they can’t reinvent the wheel when trying to slow a club that ran wild against the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card Game and continued their aggressiveness against the Los Angeles Angels in a three-game sweep in the AL Division Series. They’ll simply stick with their regular habits of being quick to the plate and holding runners effectively while likely being savvy in attempting to interrupt runners’ timing with pick-off attempts or by simply holding the ball a little longer in some instances.

Showalter isn’t going to change who the Orioles are at this late stage, nor should he try to with a club that won 96 games this season with plenty of its own strengths. And he saw firsthand in September how a pitcher can fall apart on the hill if he’s dwelling on a fast runner and not focusing on the hitter at the plate.

“We’ve talked about it, but we’re not going to rob from Peter to pay Paul,” Showalter said. “I think one time we had Quintin [Berry] pinch‑running for us late in the year, and without naming the [opposing] pitcher, you could tell his whole delivery changed trying to keep him from stealing second. He gave up three hits, back to back to back. We didn’t steal a base, but we didn’t have to.

“But we’ve got some things that they might have to adjust to, too.”

The biggest key will be maintaining their mental toughness by not allowing Kansas City’s preference for a track meet to take away from what they do best.

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Orioles promote Anderson to vice president of baseball operations

Posted on 19 February 2013 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles announced Tuesday the following promotions to their baseball operations staff:

Brady Anderson, previously the team’s Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, is now the club’s Vice President of Baseball Operations.

Ned Rice, previously Assistant Director of Major League Operations, is now Director of Major League Administration.

Mike Snyder, formerly Assistant Director of Scouting and Player Development, is now Assistant Director of Player Personnel.

Bill Wilkes, formerly Coordinator of Baseball Operations, is now Manager of Baseball Operations.

“These promotions reflect the significant contributions and commitments Brady, Ned, Mike and Bill have already made to the Orioles organization,” said Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette. “They are valuable members of the baseball operations department, and I feel confident they will continue to excel in their new and expanded roles.”

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Harbaugh grateful for support of Showalter, Orioles at Thursday’s game

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Harbaugh grateful for support of Showalter, Orioles at Thursday’s game

Posted on 28 September 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Enjoying their final day off before the last six games of the regular season, manager Buck Showalter and some of the Orioles took the opportunity to attend the Ravens’ 23-16 win over the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night.

What the Orioles skipper didn’t expect was the thunderous ovation he and several of his players would receive when they appeared on the M&T Bank Stadium video screen in the second half. Nearly 71,000 fans exploded into a “Let’s go O’s!” chant and provided a standing ovation as the Orioles in attendance watched the game from Cal Ripken’s suite.

“That was fun. I know the players were buzzing about it,” said Showalter, who was sitting elsewhere before deciding to stop by the suite to say hello to Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and a few others before leaving for the night. “I think it even surprises them sometimes, the reaction that our city and our fans have to what they’re doing this year. I think it’s good, and I’m trying to stay in the background.”

While obviously focused on the task at hand of beating the Browns for the ninth straight time since becoming the coach in Baltimore, John Harbaugh shared his appreciation for the support shown by Showalter and Orioles players and offered his thoughts on what’s happening with Baltimore’s other professional sports team this year.

“I think the world of that team,” Harbaugh said. “I love Buck. I think he does a great job. They play fundamentally-sound baseball. This is a special team.”

An avid college football fan, Showalter was trying to leave the suite as his players and stadium personnel urged him to stay, obviously with the plan of showing the manager and his players on the video board. As fans erupted into loud cheers, Showalter wanted the energy to assist the Ravens in protecting their closer-than-expected lead over the winless Browns.

“They were trying to time it,” Showalter said. “I guess they needed a big defensive stand there or something. They thought it’d be a good reaction to the players on the board. I was hoping and praying it was going to be three-and-out afterwards. Otherwise, we’d never be [invited] back, but I think it was. And that’s when I left. I’m leaving in a hurry [after that].’”

Harbaugh offered high praise of the Orioles’ historic success in one-run games and extra-inning contests this season as they’ve already secured their first winning season in 15 years and are on the verge of earning their first postseason berth since 1997 as well.

The Orioles entered Friday with a 27-9 record in one-run games this season, which is on pace to tie the highest winning percentage in major league history in games decided by one run. They’ve won a franchise-record 16 straight games that have gone to extra innings, the longest streak in the majors since the 1949 Indians won 17 in a row.

Growing up in Ohio, Harbaugh recalled listening to Indians games on the radio with his father Jack, who is the bigger baseball fan. The Baltimore coach sees similarities between the Orioles and his own team in 2012.

“How many close games have they won this year? I think they set a record,” Harbaugh said. “One-run games, extra-inning games, finding a way to win. It’s something that we can look at as a team, too, and say, ‘That’s what we did a little bit last night.’ You find a way to win games.”

Unlike any other time in the 17-year period in which the franchises have co-existed in Baltimore, this is the first season in which Baltimore fans have had a reason to be excited about both teams in September and, if they’re lucky, well into the month of October.

Harbaugh made it clear the Ravens are behind the Orioles, inviting Showalter out to watch practice whenever he wants but also acknowledging the Orioles manager and his players are a little preoccupied these days. He even admitted to taking a peak when the result of the Yankees game was shown on the video board during Thursday’s game.

“The Ravens are big fans of the Orioles,” Harbaugh said. “We’re cheering them on in this pennant race. The Yankee score came up last night; I did happen to see that, I have to admit.”

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On September 6, 2012, The Orioles Took Us back In Time

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On September 6, 2012, The Orioles Took Us back In Time

Posted on 07 September 2012 by Peter Dilutis

We’ve all watched movies or read books that depicted some sort of a time machine. A character would enter the time machine and get to experience a bunch of memories from the yesteryears, hoping and praying that they’d be able to fend off the incoming reality and stay in the past for the remainder of time.

My memories of the Orioles early in my life have always stayed with me, but they’ve dimmed as I’ve gotten older. I remember my first day of Pre-K, my First Communion, my first day of middle school, my first baseball game as a little leaguer, etc. Fitting right in with those memories are memories of sitting in the left field stands with my mom in the mid 90s when we had to order our tickets at the beginning of the year to make sure we got good seats for the games we wanted to go to.

I faintly remember sitting in left field watching B.J. Surhoff and Brady Anderson patrol the outfield as the fans were hanging on every single pitch. I remember when fans really associated with the players on the field, and welcomed them as part of their Baltimore family.

But again, as time has passed and losing seasons have amassed, the details of those memories have faded.

Until last night, when I entered into my own personal time machine as I walked into Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The ceremony was really special and something that I’ll probably always remember. It was evident from early on that this was going to be a special night. It wasn’t going to be a bunch of fans attending the game simply because they got free tickets or because they wanted to take home a bronze statue to put on E-bay. I knew last night would be different, but to what extent? I wasn’t sure…

I started to get an idea of just how different this warm September night would be when Jason Hammel threw his first strike. The crowd erupted. Like, literally erupted. J.J. Hardy made two really nice plays to start the inning as Jason Hammel set down the first two Yankees he faced in his return from the disabled list.

Then something really, well, crazy happened. Jason Hammel threw strike two to Robinson Cano. Fans started to stand. More fans got up. And more. And more…

Every single person in the stadium was on their feet, urging Jason Hammel to strike out Robinson Cano. There wasn’t anything on the scoreboard urging the fans to stand up. There wasn’t any lame applause sound effect being played over the loud speaker. Rather, it was just a pure moment of baseball joy that engulfed the 46 thousand fans that packed the most beautiful sports stadium in the world. It was pretty special.

Even more special was the bottom of the inning. J.J. Hardy singled with one out, as did Nate McLouth. Adam Jones brought Hardy home to give the O’s the 1-0 lead, and then Matt Wieters stepped to the plate.

On the first pitch, Wieters, who in 2009 made the most anticipated rookie debut in recent Orioles history, once again penned his name into the Orioles history books as he tomahawked a three run home-run into the left field stands. With one swing, Matt Wieters and the rest of his Orioles teammates announced to the city, and to the world, something that I would have laughed at five months ago.

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