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No easy answer for Orioles to solve closer dilemma

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No easy answer for Orioles to solve closer dilemma

Posted on 14 May 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles didn’t need a closer Wednesday afternoon as they were swept by the Detroit Tigers in a 7-5 final, but manager Buck Showalter offered few clues as to who might be taking the ball the next time his club has a save situation.

Struggling incumbent Tommy Hunter wasn’t ruled out by the Baltimore manager prior to the series finale against Detroit, but Showalter implied he would not receive the same leash as former Orioles closer Jim Johnson. Before being traded to Oakland over the winter, Johnson blew a career-high nine saves in 2013 but was only a year removed from an All-Star campaign in which he collected a franchise-record 51 saves for the playoff-bound Orioles.

“The difference between Tommy and Jimmy is, Jimmy had a track record,” said Showalter, alluding to the former entering the 2014 season with only four career saves. “Tommy does, too, in certain other things. So, there’s some unknown with where it is we’ll go with Tommy.”

Sporting a 6.60 earned run average and 1.87 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) so far this year, Hunter is on thin ice to put it mildly, but the Orioles knew this was a possibility when they elected not to sign an established closer after a two-year, $14 million agreement with Grant Balfour was scrapped due to a failed physical over the winter. The problem is figuring out where to turn next if three blown saves in 14 tries are enough in Showalter’s mind to demote Hunter from the role — at least temporarily.

Many have called for a closer-by-committee approach in which Showalter can play the matchups on any given night, but such a strategy only thrives with starting pitching that consistently works deep into games to leave some combination of the club’s top relievers available for the ninth inning and the opposing hitters it might bring. If the starting pitching is substandard,  a manager must then lean more on long and middle relief for the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, decreasing the likelihood of even getting to the ninth inning with a narrow lead intact.

Of course, the possibility of an outside addition exists as the Orioles still sit in first place in the American League East, but here’s an assessment of the most likely alternatives currently on the 25-man roster who would be in line to receive the ball in the ninth inning instead of Hunter:

RHP Darren O’Day (0.60 ERA, two saves)
Case for: The veteran sidearm pitcher has the longest track record with Showalter and has averaged 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, proving he misses plenty of bats despite his unorthodox style and underwhelming velocity.
Case against: Left-handed hitters batted .309 against him last season and have posted a .300 average so far this year, making him an easy target for opposing managers to use left-handed pinch hitters in the ninth inning.
Is he a good option to try next? Maybe, but O’Day would need to recapture the success he had against lefties in 2012 when they hit only .205 against him.

LHP Zach Britton (0.84 ERA)
Case for: The 26-year-old’s sinker has been devastating against nearly everyone he’s faced as right-handed hitters are batting .167 and lefties only .156 against him in 21 1/3 innings this season.
Case against: The left-hander has only been a reliever for seven weeks, and moving him to a defined closer role would mean he would no longer be stretched out enough to be able to save the bullpen as he has on a number of occasions already this season.
Is he a good option to try next? Yes, he’s the perfect example of riding the hot hand even if you’re concerned about rattling his confidence for the remainder of the season if he fails in the role.

RHP Ryan Webb (3.94 ERA)
Case for: His career splits against left-handers (.284) and right-handers (.238) are balanced enough to suggest he might be able to handle regular appearances in the ninth, and his sinker also plays well at Camden Yards.
Case against: His lifetime 1.36 WHIP is on the high side and his career 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings isn’t ideal for the closer role where you typically want a pitcher to miss more bats.
Good option to try next? Yes, Webb’s splits aren’t dramatically skewed to one side of the plate or the other unlike other candidates currently in the bullpen, and he has more relief experience than most in the Baltimore bullpen.

LHP Brian Matusz (3.46 ERA)
Case for: Lefties hit only .168 against the southpaw in 2013 and his background being stretched out as a starter as recently as spring training suggests he may have the durability for a regular closer role.
Case against: His 1.77 WHIP so far this season is far too high, right-handed batters hit .302 against him last season, and he’s more valuable as a lefty specialist to use in a big spot against an imposing left-handed bat such as Boston’s David Ortiz.
Good option to try next? No, Matusz simply hasn’t been effective enough this season and right-handers feast on his stuff too often to take him out of his current specialist role.

Who should be next in line for the closer job? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

 

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Davis, four other Orioles agree to contracts to avoid arbitration

Posted on 17 January 2014 by WNST Staff

Of the six Orioles players eligible for arbitration this winter, five have reportedly agreed to deals ahead of Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline for each side to submit binding arbitration figures.

First baseman Chris Davis, right-handed pitchers Tommy Hunter and Bud Norris, and left-handed pitchers Brian Matusz and Troy Patton all agreed to one-year contracts to avoid arbitration. However, catcher Matt Wieters and the Orioles will exchange figures with a hearing to be scheduled next month.

Of the five players to reach contract agreements, Davis will receive the biggest raise as his $3.3 million salary from 2013 will reportedly increase to $10.35 million with additional performance bonuses, according to CBS Sports. The 27-year-old hit a club-record 53 home runs last season and finished third in American League MVP voting.

Davis is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.

Hunter will see his salary increase from $1.82 million last season to $3 million while Norris will make $5.3 million compared to $3 million in 2013.

Matusz agreed to a $2.4 million contract, an $800,000 raise from a year ago, while Patton will make $1.27 million after collecting $815,000 a year ago.

Wieters made $5.5 million last season and would become the first Orioles player since pitcher Brad Bergesen in 2012 to take the club to arbitration if he fails to reach an agreement. The sides having the choice to continue working on an agreement prior to then.

The 27-year-old catcher is scheduled to become a free agent after 2015.

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O’s tender contracts to six, agree to terms with Pearce, Reimold

Posted on 03 December 2013 by WNST Staff

The Orioles today announced that they have tendered contracts to six of their arbitration eligible players: CA MATT WIETERS1B CHRIS DAVISRHP’s TOMMY HUNTER and BUD NORRIS and LHP’s BRIAN MATUSZ and TROY PATTON. Additionally, OF’s STEVE PEARCE and NOLAN REIMOLD have agreed to terms on contracts for 2014, and RHP EDDIE GAMBOA and OF JASON PRIDIE were not tendered contracts by the club.

Wieters, 27, batted .235/.287/.417 with 22 home runs and 79 RBI in 148 games in 2013.

Davis, 27, finished third in the American League MVP voting, leading the major leagues with 53 home runs and 138 RBI while batting .286/.370/.634 in 160 games.

Hunter, 27, was 6-5 with a 2.81 ERA (86.1IP, 27ER) in 68 relief appearances.

Norris, 28, went 4-3 with a 4.80 ERA (50.2IP, 27ER) in 11 games (nine starts) for the Orioles after being acquired from Houston on July 31. He went 10-12 with a 4.18 ERA (176.2IP, 82ER) in 32 games (30 starts) in 2013.

Matusz, 26, was 2-1 with a 3.53 ERA (51.0IP, 20ER) in 65 appearances.

Patton, 28, went 2-0 with a 3.70 ERA (56.0IP, 23ER) in 56 outings.

Pearce, 30, hit .261/.362/.420 with four home runs and 13 RBI in 44 games.

Reimold, 30, played in 40 games, batting .195/.250/.335 with five home runs and 12 RBI.

Gamboa, 28, had his contract selected on November 20. He went a combined 6-11 with a 4.43 ERA (142.1IP, 70ER) and 114 strikeouts for Double-A Bowie (16 GS) and Triple-A Norfolk (nine GS) in 2013.

Pridie, 30, had his contract selected on September 25 after batting .269/.333/.434 in 118 games for Triple-A Norfolk. He went 2-for-10 in four games with the Orioles.

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

Posted on 12 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — It’s only getting worse for Orioles relief pitcher Pedro Strop.

Fresh off a stint on the 15-day disabled list with what was labeled a lower back strain — many have drawn their owns conclusions on the injury — Strop displayed the same form seen over the first two months of the season Wednesday as he allowed four earned runs and saw his ERA balloon to 7.58 while retiring just one batter in the seventh inning. The implosion turned what was a 4-2 Orioles lead into an eventual 9-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

Despite a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a slider with good movement that enabled him to serve as an elite member of the Baltimore bullpen through the first 4 1/2 months of the 2012 season, Strop is looking more and more like a pitcher whose time with the Orioles is running out.

“Not good,” Strop said in an interview with MASN before leaving the clubhouse as the rest of the media talked to manager Buck Showalter. “Only thing I can say. I couldn’t do the job.”

The Orioles aren’t hiding from Strop’s problems, evident by their decision to place him on the DL and circumvent the reality of the right-hander being out of options. Manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair used the 15-day period as a way for Strop to work on his mechanics in hopes of improving his command after he walked 14 batters in 17 2/3 innings through his first 22 appearances.

However, the organization decided not to send Strop on a minor-league rehab assignment that could have lasted up to 30 days and would have allowed him to continue working on adjustments to his mechanics while rebuilding his confidence against minor-league hitters. There was some thought of that possibility before last week’s oblique injury to Steve Johnson, which prompted the club to activate Strop instead of looking to Triple-A Norfolk for another option.

Even before Wednesday’s implosion, it was perplexing to see the Orioles forgo that strategy with nearly everyone concluding his DL stint was more about ineffectiveness than any legitimate health concern.

It’s understandable to not want to give up on a talented 28-year-old who only became a pitcher in 2006 after beginning his professional career as a shortstop. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette knows at least a few clubs would take a chance on Strop should he be placed on waivers in hopes of getting him to the minor leagues, but the Orioles are also a contending club in the American League East that needs production from every player on the 25-man roster.

“He’s just not getting results,” Showalter said. “He understands it. Nobody cares more about pitching well for this team than Pete.”

It’s easy to criticize Showalter for turning to the volatile Strop after starter Jason Hammel allowed a single to Alberto Callaspo and walked Brad Hawpe on four pitches to begin the seventh inning, but a quick inventory of the bullpen made it easy to see Showalter’s options were limited at best as he acknowledged “two or three” relievers were unavailable without revealing names. Closer Jim Johnson had pitched in three straight games and Tommy Hunter had thrown a total of 51 pitches on Sunday and Monday.

Showalter wouldn’t reveal his late-inning plans when asked, but that presumably left Darren O’Day available for the ninth inning and lefty Brian Matusz to pitch the eighth. As a result, Showalter faced the prospects of sending a tiring Hammel out for the seventh with 94 pitches under his belt and having Strop and lefty Troy Patton — who’s also struggled this season — as his options if the starter ran into trouble. Showalter was rolling the dice for a quick inning by Hammel, but the right-hander was obviously gassed before being replaced by Strop.

Perhaps the Orioles manager could have resisted the urge to use Hammel — who wasn’t exactly dominating hitters despite a statistically-effective outing through six innings — with the thought of a fresh inning with the bases empty being more conducive to Strop having success, but that’s looking with 20-20 hindsight. The reality is Showalter didn’t have great choices at his disposal in the seventh.

“I was hoping [Hammel] could get us through seven, but it wasn’t there,” Showalter said. “That’s kind of where we were. We keep a pretty good log on innings pitched and [pitchers warming up in the bullpen], and I’m not going to put anybody in harm’s way.”

The real issue with the Orioles bullpen is more concerning than the individual struggles of Strop. Beyond the reliable quartet of Johnson, O’Day, Matusz, and Hunter, the Orioles have three other pitchers in the bullpen — Strop, Patton, and Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland — that they can’t really trust in important situations. All have long-term potential to varying degrees, but none can be moved off the 25-man roster without significant risk of losing them.

In fairness, McFarland has pitched respectably as a long reliever in blowout situations, but that’s a role typically held by a pitcher who can easily be moved on and off the roster to address a club’s needs at a given point in the season. It’s a major reason why we saw the one-and-done approach applied with several ineffective starting pitchers earlier in the season and it has further hamstrung the roster flexibility that Showalter and Duquette enjoy having.

The Orioles’ problems in middle relief have led to a heavier dependence on their best relievers, which jeopardizes the club’s long-term viability for the second half of the season. It’s not uncommon for even the best teams in baseball to have shaky options beyond the top three or four pitchers in the bullpen, but the keystone of the Orioles’ 2012 success included the effectiveness of middle relievers like Luis Ayala and Patton in the sixth and seventh innings that spared other late-inning options on occasion.

Baltimore needs improvement from its middle relievers or starting pitching — preferably both — to improve its chances in a tight division in which fourth-place Tampa Bay trailed first-place Boston by only four games entering play on Wednesday.

“We can’t pitch the same guys every night,” he said. “It just doesn’t work, and [Strop] was one of those guys for us last year and has been at times this year, and we hope that he will again. He pitched well and got physically fine and had a couple really good outings, as you saw. It just wasn’t there for him today.”

Bullpens are typically quite fluid over the course of a season, but the Orioles currently have just two pitchers (Matusz and O’Day) with remaining minor-league options and they obviously aren’t going anywhere. That means time is running out for Strop — you can say the same for Patton — to right himself after roughly four months of struggles going back to last year’s regular season.

The talent is there, but the Orioles need last year’s effectiveness to resurface.

They don’t have the flexibility to wait much longer.

 

 

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Orioles Relievers In Need of Relief

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Orioles Relievers In Need of Relief

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

There are lots of theories about what’s been wrong with Jim Johnson over the last week or so. The analysis (or over-analysis) of baseball can lead us down a lot of different roads, seeking an explanation for why the bottom has dropped out so dramatically on the Orioles’ closer. Sometimes that analysis might lead us to overlook the easiest of answers, but sometimes the easiest answers are the right ones.

The inability of the Orioles starting rotation to simply eat innings has been an issue all season. Now it seems that issue could be taking its toll on the bullpen.

 

It’s not as if last year the O’s did a much better job of covering innings with their starters, but what they were able to do was better hide their issues with a steady stream of arms passing through the revolving door between the big club and its minor league affiliates.

 

This year with fewer players having options remaining, the Orioles have to be more creative with their roster shuffling or risk losing players with promise to the waiver wire when sending them back and forth between the minors and the big club.

 

Last year the Orioles found themselves on the bad side of the run differential equation too. As a result many cast the team as lucky, and deemed their success unsustainable. While they indeed may have been lucky, it was that luck that in large part made them sustainable.

 

This year’s Orioles have a fantastic offense, and are sitting on the right side of the run differential, but they haven’t been able to come up with blowout wins. The blowout losses that fed last season’s run differential debate are gone as well, which hasn’t provided the team with the “luxury” of rolling out the B-bullpen and living to fight another day. As a result, the 3 arms in the bullpen that the O’s seem to trust are being used at an alarming, and likely unsustainable, rate.

 

Jim Johnson

 

Last year Johnson pitched in 71 games in the regular season. That’s 43.8% of the team’s 162.He pitched in 63 wins (67.7%) and only 8 losses (11.5%).

So far this season, Johnson has pitched in half of the team’s 44 games. He’s been in 73.9% of Orioles wins, and also in 23.8% of their losses.

He’s on pace to pitch an incredible 81 games.

 

Darren O’Day

 

In 2012 O’Day pitched in 69 games. That’s 42.5% of the Orioles total. He threw in 48 wins (51.6%) and 21 losses (30.4%).

So far in 2013, he’s thrown in 21 games or 47.7% of the teams total. . He’s been used in 15 wins (65.2%) and 6 losses (28.5%).

O’Day is on pace to pitch in 77 games.

 

Brian Matusz (relief only)

 

Matusz became a member of the Orioles bullpen on 8/24/12, and appeared in 18 games. That’s 47.3% of the 38 games he was available for. He threw in 14 wins (56.5%) and 4 losses (30.4%).

So far in 2013 Matusz has thrown in 21 games or 47.7%. He’s been in for 13 wins (56.5%) and 8 losses (38%).

Matusz is also on a 77 game pace.

 

The absence of Luis Ayala, the ineffectiveness of Pedro Strop, the inconsistency of Troy Patton and Tommy Hunter, and the inexperience of TJ McFarland has left Matusz, O’Day and Johnson to pick up most of the bullpen load when the Orioles are winning. The inability of the starters to pitch deep into games has left more innings to be picked up. And the lack of blowouts, for or against the Orioles, have led those 3 to be used in many more losses than they were last season too.

 

*Of last year’s 1483 innings pitched by the Orioles, 545.1 were covered by the bullpen. That’s 36.6%.

Of this year’s 385 innings pitched by the Orioles, the pen has covered 142.1. That’s 36.9%, or not much of a difference.

If there is a difference it’s that 60 of the Orioles bullpen innings last season were in extra frames. That’s 11%. This year 6 of the pen’s innings have been in extras. That’s just 4%.

In innings 1-9, the bullpen covered 34% in 2012 and is covering 37% of those innings in 2013.

 

All of this makes Buck Showalter’s decision to pull Freddy Garcia after just 66 pitches on Monday that much more curious as it led to 5 relievers and 76 pitches to cover innings 7-10.

 

For all of the talk of which Orioles the Orioles could least afford to lose, Matusz, Johnson and O’Day should probably be on the list ahead of Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis or anyone else. More concerning it seems only a matter of time before one or more of these guys’ workloads cost them their health,

 

Last but not least, while no one is Mariano Rivera, it’s kind of interesting that baseball’s greatest closer has only pitched in 70 or more games 3 times in his career. In 2001 Rivera pitched 71 times and famously blew the World Series against the Diamondbacks. In 2004 her pitched in 74 games and then blew 3 post-season saves. And in 2005 he pitched 71 times and had 2 appearances in an unremarkable post season.

 

If the great Mariano was made mortal in seasons with 70 or more appearances, how much of Jim Johnson’s post-season struggles could we attribute to overuse? What might happen on his way to 81 appearances this season?

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What’s next for Jim Johnson and the ninth inning?

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What’s next for Jim Johnson and the ninth inning?

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

If you weren’t already concerned after consecutive blown saves last week, it’s difficult not be pushing the panic button after Orioles closer Jim Johnson failed to protect another ninth-inning lead in a deflating 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Monday night.

In a week’s time, Johnson went from holding a franchise-record 35 consecutive save conversions to facing questions over whether manager Buck Showalter needs to look elsewhere in the ninth inning after three consecutive blown saves. Of course, the current six-game losing streak isn’t making things any easier as the Orioles have now dropped to 23-21 in the American League East.

Johnson has blown as many saves over the last seven days as he did in the entire 2012 season, so what do you do if you have a lead in the ninth inning the next time out? The Baltimore skipper was asked whether he’d hesitate to go to the 2012 All-Star reliever in the next save situation and his answer wasn’t surprising.

“Come back tomorrow and watch it again,” Showalter said.

Showalter clearly needed to offer unwavering support and by no means should the Orioles bury the right-handed reliever who played a critical role in their first postseason appearance in 15 years last season, but you wonder if a temporary adjustment needs to be made in how the club views the ninth inning. The location of Johnson’s pitches has been a major concern as his normally-dominating sinker that typically induces plenty of ground balls has too often been left up in the strike zone.

Johnson acknowledged he’s been working to make a few adjustments in his delivery, which has looked rushed and has given off the appearance that he’s overthrowing at different times over his last three outings.

“First, [I'm adjusting] a little bit of mechanics,” said Johnson, whose earned run average has ballooned from 0.95 to 4.22 over the three-game period. “Obviously, I’m not getting the ball where I need it to be. I’ve watched a lot of tape, and we’re working on certain things. Staying tall over the rubber a little longer. I’ll figure it out. There is no other option.”

To suggest Johnson should lose the job entirely would be an absurd tactic after he converted 51 of 54 opportunities to set a franchise record last season. Beyond that, Johnson has been a mainstay in the Orioles bullpen since 2008 except for a 2010 campaign partially derailed by an elbow injury.

It’s very possible we’ll look back at this current three-game stretch as an aberration, which is supported by the fact that Johnson reeled off 14 straight saves to begin the season and put the bad taste of a difficult 2012 postseason behind him.

However, closing out ballgames in the major leagues is a difficult task and history shows countless relievers having brilliant stretches as closers that couldn’t be sustained over multiple seasons. It’s also fair to point out that Johnson’s style of pitching to contact is unconventional compared to most strikeout-minded closers and would suggest his unbelievable 2012 campaign might be difficult to repeat when so many balls are put in play.

Truthfully, Johnson hasn’t held the closer role for such a long period that would deem him untouchable no matter how prolonged the struggles might be.

Some will point to Johnson’s heavy workload — he’s appeared in 22 of the Orioles’ 44 games this season — and suggest a mental and physical respite could be the perfect elixir while providing him with time to work on his mechanics in side sessions. However, any attempt to do so would put even more strain on Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz, the club’s other primary late-inning options.

“We are not worried about Jim,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “We need to play better as a team. Once Jim gets rolling again, he will be [fine]. The whole team is not playing well right now, and there were things we could have done earlier in the game to give him a two or three-run cushion.”

The Orioles have no choice but to keep their faith in Johnson for the long haul, but in the meantime, it may not hurt to temporarily return to the mantra that Showalter used upon arriving in Baltimore in 2010. Famously proclaiming he was more interested in the win rule than the save rule, the manager could look more closely at opposing hitters due up in the ninth inning and match up a bit more using O’Day and Matusz in addition to Johnson.

For example, the first four hitters due up in the ninth inning of Monday’s game were left-handed, which suggests that could have been a time to allow the lefty specialist Matusz to start the inning with Johnson warming in the bullpen and ready to enter against any right-handed pinch-hitters.

Such a strategy wouldn’t need to be permanent but would take some of the ninth-inning burden off the 29-year-old until he’s once again confident in his mechanics and pitch location. Or, perhaps it’s as simple as the Orioles benefiting from a couple blowout games — preferably on the winning end, of course — in which the reliever could enter in a low-pressure situation to do some fine-tuning on the mound.

But a luxury such as that is difficult to plan for in the midst of the Orioles’ longest losing streak in almost a year.

“Three of [the losses] are my fault,” Johnson said. “The other guys do their job. If I do mine, we’re not standing here. I think everyone is doing a great job. I’m not pulling my weight, but I’ll figure it out.”

Regardless of how the ninth inning is handled in the immediate future, the Orioles need Johnson to figure it out.

And quickly.

 

 

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Dan’s Plan & the Rule-5 Dilemma

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Dan’s Plan & the Rule-5 Dilemma

Posted on 01 May 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

 

He took the job that no one else wanted.

For those that are still shedding tears or pointing fingers over the way the Orioles handled this most recent off-season, just try and recall what the one that preceded it was like.

 

There are only 32 Major League GM jobs in the world, and arguably hundreds of pseudo qualified and hungry executives envisioning the opportunity to get one. Still, as the Orioles were searching for someone to take that opportunity with their club prior to the 2012 season they were rebuked, rebuffed, leveraged and otherwise used but never, it seems, seriously considered by a serious candidate. Enter Dan Duquette.

Duquette’s credentials were actually better than his 9-year hiatus/exile from Major League Baseball would have suggested but he had somehow slipped through the cracks for nearly a decade. To the Orioles’ credit, they found him. And to Duquette’s credit he not only accepted the job, but he arguably approached it like none of the other candidates would have, he approached it like none of his immediate predecessors had; Duquette approached the Orioles job like a winner, like a guy who expected to make the Orioles winners; and Duquette has made the Orioles just that.

If nothing else, Duquette should have earned our trust; he deserves our confidence. His reputation still isn’t quite in the stratosphere of Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and no one is ready to utter “In Dan We Trust” just yet, but he’s getting close.

It hasn’t all been Dan’s doing. The situation that Duquette inherited was probably better than most were ready to understand, but that shouldn’t diminish the job that he’s done. Through a series of moves and machinations, decisions and deliberations, Duquette teamed with Buck Showalter to create magic in the 2012 Orioles. Not all of his decisions have been good ones, but no one’s are. Duquette has at the very least been more hit than miss; more right than wrong, and more successful than anyone could have reasonably thought possible.

Now that we’re fully immersed in the Duquette era Orioles however, a couple of sad realizations have come to light. Foremost among them is that the Orioles are, and seemingly will be for as long as Peter Angelos is running the show, committed to winning on a budget; and it would seem that the budget part holds unquestionable precedence over the winning part. This doesn’t preclude them from winning, but does make it substantially more difficult.

The decisions where monetary considerations have trumped on-field considerations have already become evident. And last year Duquette not only proved that he could win despite them, but perhaps also began to develop and refine the blueprint by which he intended to get it done.

Throughout last season, the flexibility of the roster and the options available on players (particularly pitchers) allowed Duquette to creatively overcome a problem that had been at the heart of the Orioles biggest issues over the 14 futile years that preceded 2012. The inability of Orioles pitchers to work deep into games and the absence of a true innings eater at the back of the rotation has been a running theme for the Orioles for over a decade. More often than not it was just one in a long list ailments that the team had to overcome, but even in the seasons where the Orioles offense was high level and even in the seasons where they began the year competitively, the inability of starters to get deep into games and the resultant taxing of the bullpen has been an ongoing issue. Last year the Orioles used an active revolving door to overcome that.

This year, with fewer options available, and less opportunity to shuffle the deck day-by-day, that issue seems to be back. And while the Orioles are off to another encouraging start, it seems only a matter of time before the bullpen collapses, run differential begins trending the other way and the Orioles begin sliding down the AL East standings. This makes the presence of TJ McFarland difficult to fathom.

 

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Orioles’ 25-man roster set as Pearce grabs final spot

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Orioles’ 25-man roster set as Pearce grabs final spot

Posted on 30 March 2013 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have set their 25-man roster for the start of the regular season as outfielder Steve Pearce won the final bench spot on Saturday.

The 29-year-old Pearce beat out fellow outfielder Conor Jackson after both complete strong Grapefruit League performances. The right-handed batter will likely serve as the club’s designated hitter against left-handed pitching to begin the season.

As expected, manager Buck Showalter named right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta his fourth starter and left-hander Brian Matusz will pitch out of the bullpen to begin the season. Next Friday will mark the third consecutive time Arrieta has taken the hill in the home opener.

Utility players Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla and catcher Taylor Teagarden will occupy three of the club’s four bench spots to begin the season. Flaherty became all but a certainty to make the team following the knee injury suffered by corner infielder and designated hitter Wilson Betemit earlier this week.

The bench took a substantial hit after Betemit tore the PCL in his right knee as Showalter would have had either Betemit, Nolan Reimold, or Nate McLouth off the bench on a typical night, depending on the pitching matchup. However, Casilla provides a base-stealing threat while Flaherty will serve as the primary pinch hitter against right-handed pitching.

Showalter must decide whether he will keep Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland in the bullpen beyond the first few days of the season after the left-hander was told he made the team to begin the season.

The 23-year-old impressed this spring but must remain on the 25-man roster in order to stay with the organization. The decision to send fifth starter Chris Tillman to the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to March 22) was made in order to buy time for the Orioles to either trade another relief pitcher or to work out a deal with the Cleveland Indians — McFarland’s original club — that would allow them to option McFarland to the minor leagues.

Right-handed pitcher Steve Johnson is expected to be placed on the DL as he deals with a back injury.

Teams have until 3 p.m. on Sunday to finalize their 25-man rosters for the start of the regular season.

Here’s a look at where the roster stands right now, including a projected lineup:

LINEUP
RF Nick Markakis
LF Nate McLouth
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
1B Chris Davis
SS J.J. Hardy
DH Nolan Reimold
3B Manny Machado
2B Brian Roberts

BENCH
INF Alexi Casilla
UTI Ryan Flaherty
C Taylor Teagarden
OF Steve Pearce

STARTING ROTATION
RHP Jason Hammel
LHP Wei-Yin Chen
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Jake Arrieta

BULLPEN
RHP Jim Johnson
RHP Pedro Strop
RHP Darren O’Day
LHP Brian Matusz
LHP Troy Patton
RHP Luis Ayala
RHP Tommy Hunter
LHP T.J. McFarland

DISABLED LIST
RHP Chris Tillman (will become fifth starter on April 6)
INF Wilson Betemit
RHP Steve Johnson
LHP Tsuyoshi Wada

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Orioles buy time with roster decisions by placing Tillman on DL

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Orioles buy time with roster decisions by placing Tillman on DL

Posted on 28 March 2013 by Luke Jones

Still weighing final decisions for their 25-man roster to begin the 2013 season on Tuesday, the Orioles placed starting pitcher Chris Tillman on the 15-day disabled list on the same day he was named the club’s fifth starter.

The right-hander has dealt with abdominal soreness since being scratched from a Grapefruit League start on March 10 and has only pitched in unofficial spring games recently, making his DL stint retroactive to March 22 and allowing him to return to pitch in the fifth game of the season on April 6 against the Minnesota Twins in Baltimore. Manager Buck Showalter hasn’t named a fourth starter for his Opening Day rotation, but all signs continue to point to right-hander Jake Arrieta with southpaw Brian Matusz beginning the season in the bullpen.

If Arrieta gets the ball on April 5, it would mark the third straight year that the 27-year-old will have started the home opener.

The decision to place Tillman on the DL not only frees up a roster spot for the first four games of the season but more importantly buys time as the Orioles try to figure out what to do with Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland, a talented 23-year-old left-handed pitcher the club desperately would like to keep. For now, Showalter will stash McFarland in the bullpen as the organization tries to either move another reliever such as Luis Ayala or Tommy Hunter in a trade or work out a deal with the Cleveland Indians, McFarland’s former club, that would allow the Orioles to keep McFarland without him taking a spot on the 25-man roster.

The Orioles also announced Thursday that outfielder Trayvon Robinson has been reassigned to minor league camp, leaving the club with 35 active players in its major league camp, which includes five non-roster invitees.

Right-handed pitcher Jair Jurrjens also appears to be OK after leaving Wednesday’s start after being struck in the ribs with a line drive. X-rays taken Thursday morning came back negative and manager Buck Showalter told reporters that Jurrjens could be ready to throw over the weekend.

The former Atlanta starter is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk but rebounded well after a difficult start to the spring.

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Revisiting five questions for Orioles spring training

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Revisiting five questions for Orioles spring training

Posted on 25 March 2013 by Luke Jones

With only a week to go until the start of the 2013 season for the Orioles, it’s time to revisit the five questions that were posed at the start of spring training.

Some questions have been answered while others still hold cloudy solutions as manager Buck Showalter and his club finish up the Grapefruit League before traveling to St. Petersburg to open the season against the Tampa Bay Rays next Tuesday.

Here’s what I was pondering nearly six weeks ago as Baltimore was coming off its first playoff appearance in 15 years:

1. Can Nolan Reimold stay healthy and be the impact bat the Orioles failed to acquire in the offseason?

A sore throwing shoulder limited Reimold to the designated hitter spot for a large portion of the spring, but he returned to the outfield last week and does not appear to be feeling any lingering effects.

In 41 spring at-bats, the 29-year-old is hitting .244 with four home runs and eight runs batted in. Reimold appears to have regained all strength lost in the aftermath of the spinal fusion surgery he underwent last summer and should be in line to begin the season on the 25-man roster and in the starting lineup.

Considering the Orioles didn’t add an impact bat in the offseason and right fielder Nick Markakis is still recovering from a small herniation in his neck, Reimold must stay healthy to give the lineup a boost from a year ago.

This question ultimately won’t be answered until the Orioles head north and begin the season, but the good news is that Reimold has been healthy enough to play in 14 Grapefruit League games, which is only two fewer than the number he played in the entire 2012 season. And he’s shown to be the same power hitter he was prior to the neck injury.

2. What will the starting rotation look like when the Orioles come north to Baltimore?

Nothing has changed dramatically in the makeup of the starting rotation from what was projected at the start of spring training, but there are plenty of question marks based on what we’ve seen in Sarasota.

The good news is Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez are still projected to hold the top three spots in the rotation, but all come with questions. Hammel hasn’t shown any lingering effects from last year’s knee surgery and is in line to be the club’s Opening Day starter, but he’s also appeared in just three Grapefruit League games, allowing five earned runs in nine innings of work and not displaying the same command with the two-seam fastball that he did last year.

Chen was roughed up by the Phillies over the weekend and has allowed seven earned runs in 7 2/3 innings in three big-league outings. Meanwhile, Gonzalez has seen the least amount of action as he’s made just two spring appearances covering four innings (one earned run).

All have received regular work by pitching in minor-league camp and simulated games, but you do wonder if the top of the Baltimore rotation is adequately prepared to face big-league hitters beginning in a week. Then again, Showalter could simply be hiding his top starters to prevent American League foes from getting a good look at them in Florida.

The rotation becomes foggier after that as Chris Tillman would appear to be ready to take the No. 4 spot in the rotation, but abdominal soreness has limited him to 4 1/3 innings of Grapefruit League action. A four-inning stint at the Orioles’ Twin Lakes facility on Sunday indicates Tillman is ready to begin the season in the starting rotation and not on the disabled list.

Jake Arrieta appears to have the clear edge for the final spot in the rotation as he holds a sparkling 1.56 earned run average in 17 1/3 spring innings covering five appearances. Originally scheduled to start against the Twins on Tuesday, Arrieta was pulled to instead pitch at the Orioles’ minor-league facility, another indicator that he will be the fifth starter when you remember Minnesota visits Camden Yards for the first home series of the season late next week.

Brian Matusz appeared to fall behind Arrieta after struggling in his start on Sunday, but the Orioles must think carefully on what to do with the 26-year-old left-hander. There is clear incentive to shift him to the bullpen role in which he thrived late last season, but this also comes with the understanding that pushing him to a short-relief role means it may be difficult to move him back into the starting rotation from a conditioning and health standpoint later in the season. Moving a starter to the bullpen is one thing, but asking a relief pitcher to suddenly stretch himself out in the middle of the season is begging for an injury to occur.

Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland and Steve Johnson remain in the hunt, but it appears both pitchers would be more likely to earn a bullpen job as a long reliever if they’re to make the club. Because the Orioles don’t want to risk losing the 23-year-old McFarland, they will likely try to stash the lefty sinkerballer in the bullpen for as long as they can, meaning it’s a good possibility that Johnson begins the year at Triple-A Norfolk.

After a rough start to the spring, Jair Jurrjens has rebounded nicely — pitching five shutout innings in his latest outing — and appears he’ll be among the first pitchers on call at Norfolk early in the season. He and Zach Britton will be nice insurance policies at the Triple-A level for now.

3. Who will step up to play second base?

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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