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Five biggest Orioles disappointments of 2016 first half

Posted on 13 July 2016 by Luke Jones

In the midst of the tightest division race in the majors at the All-Star break, the Orioles have still endured their share of disappointing performers during a 51-36 start.

While plenty has gone smoothly for the first-place club, several players have turned in underwhelming performances in comparison to their expectations for the 2016 season. Those shortcomings make it more impressive that Baltimore has been able to excel in the competitive American League East.

After examining the biggest surprises of the first half earlier this week, below are my five biggest individual disappointments:

Dubious mention: Kevin Gausman, T.J. McFarland, Brian Matusz, Tyler Wilson, J.J. Hardy

5. Darren O’Day

The 2015 All-Star reliever’s inclusion on this list is obviously much more about his extended absence than his performance as his hamstring injury has put great strain on a bullpen trying to compensate for one of the worst starting rotations in the majors.

It also came after the Orioles invested a four-year, $31 million contract in O’Day this past offseason, but the club should feel good about the right-hander’s track record in coming back to contribute in meaningful ways in the second half.

Injury aside, O’Day would likely be the first to tell you that he wasn’t pitching at his best despite a respectable 3.15 ERA in 20 innings of work through June 1. His five home runs allowed are still the most surrendered by any Baltimore reliever this season and match his total in 65 1/3 innings last year. His walk rate of 4.1 per nine innings is also the worst of his career and substantially higher than the 2.1 per nine he averaged over his first four seasons with the Orioles.

It remains unclear exactly when O’Day will be ready to be activated, but manager Buck Showalter is itching to have the backbone of his bullpen back in the mix.

4. Caleb Joseph

It almost feels cruel to include the backup catcher on this list after his gruesome testicular injury suffered on Memorial Day that required surgery and sidelined him for a month, but failing to collect a single RBI in 81 plate appearances can’t be ignored.

There was a fair argument this winter that the Orioles would have been better off not extending a qualifying offer to Matt Wieters and going with Joseph as the starting catcher at a fraction of the cost, but the latter has batted .160 with only two extra-base hits and a .409 on-base plus slugging percentage. In his defense, Joseph hasn’t received nearly as much playing time as he did last season when he posted an acceptable .693 OPS with 11 homers and 49 RBIs, but his struggles at the plate have been so extreme that you’d worry about an injury to Wieters at this point.

Joseph’s defense remains a clear strength and Wieters has had no perceived issues moving back to a heavier workload now being two years removed from Tommy John surgery, but the Orioles are likely going to need the understudy to get his bat going at some point in the second half.

3. Mike Wright

Perhaps it’s unfair to include a pitcher who had just 44 2/3 major league innings under his belt entering 2016, but the Orioles thought enough of Wright being in their rotation that they jettisoned veteran Miguel Gonzalez in an effort to save $4 million before the season.

Needless to say, the decision hasn’t worked out as Wright has posted a 5.97 ERA in 69 1/3 innings that included 12 starts. He has twice been optioned to Triple-A Norfolk and did not fare well in his latest return to the major leagues just before the break.

Wright has held right-handed batters to a .237 average, but lefties are hitting .355 with a 1.023 OPS, leaving many to continue to believe the hard-throwing 26-year-old is better suited for a relief role reminiscent of former Oriole Tommy Hunter. He has a plus fastball, but it’s fair to wonder whether his secondary stuff — or his composure — is cut out for a long-term starting role.

The reality is that the Orioles probably could have lived with a 4.50 to 4.75 ERA from Wright at the end of the rotation, but he’s fallen well short of that mark.

2. Yovani Gallardo

This free-agent marriage began on poor footing when the Orioles’ concerns about his right shoulder prompted them to rework the original three-year agreement into a $22 million deal for two seasons.

Struggling to touch the high 80s with his fastball in March and April, Gallardo pitched to a 7.00 ERA in only four starts before landing on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis and missing nearly two months of action. His velocity has improved since then, but the 30-year-old has completed six innings just twice in his nine starts and hasn’t recorded an out in the seventh inning or later since June 27, 2015.

Even at his best this year, Gallardo has been no better than a five-inning pitcher as opponents are hitting .333 with an .801 OPS when he goes through the order a third time. The problem is that Showalter can’t always afford to go to his bullpen that early when considering the struggles of the rest of the rotation.

Despite his 3.66 career ERA entering 2016, the warning signs with Gallardo were there this winter with a declining strikeout rate and diminishing velocity. A quarter of the way through the contract, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette’s decision to forfeit a first-round pick and fork over $22 million for Gallardo isn’t looking very wise.

1. Ubaldo Jimenez

Inconsistency has been the calling card throughout Jimenez’s career, but even that doesn’t fit anymore as he’s just been plain bad in 2016.

His 7.38 ERA is the highest in the majors among pitchers with at least 80 innings, leaving most to wonder how the Orioles can continue justifying keeping him on the 25-man roster, let alone in the starting rotation for a contending club. Jimenez is still owed roughly $20 million through the end of next season, but evidence continues to pile up that this is a sunk cost to move on from.

Lost in the countless discussions about his poor command and erratic mechanics is the fact that the 32-year-old’s average fastball velocity has dropped below 90 miles per hour, a far cry from the pitcher whose fastball sat in the mid-90s earlier in his career. His 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings look fine, but his 5.5 walks per nine match his career high and he’s putting on two baserunners per inning.

Jimenez desperately wants to turn around his fortunes to contribute, but his 2.81 ERA from the first half of 2015 — his only extended period of success in his three years with the Orioles — feels like an eternity ago. The command and the stuff may simply no longer be there for Jimenez to turn this ship around in his 11th major league season.

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Orioles promote lefty Ashur Tolliver to replace Matusz

Posted on 24 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Not long after the Orioles announced they had traded Brian Matusz to Atlanta, congratulatory Twitter messages from teammates began surfacing for the minor-league pitcher who will take the open spot on the 25-man roster.

Despite never having pitched above Double-A Bowie, left-hander Ashur Tolliver will join the Orioles in Houston and could finally make his major league debut seven years after being drafted in the fifth round out of Oklahoma City University. The 28-year-old began garnering more attention in the Baltimore system last season after dealing with injuries earlier in his career.

Baltimore made the move official on Tuesday afternoon.

Using an unorthodox three-quarters delivery and a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, Tolliver pitched to a 2.91 ERA for the Baysox in 2015 and has followed that successful campaign with a 2.42 mark and 25 strikeouts in 26 innings so far this season. It remains unclear how long he will be with the Orioles — lefty T.J. McFarland has been hampered by a minor knee injury but isn’t expected to miss much time — but Tolliver’s promotion is a feel-good story for someone who’s spent seven years in the minors.

And he’ll have the first opportunity to stake a claim to the vacant lefty specialist job in the Orioles bullpen.

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Orioles trade Matusz to Atlanta for two minor-league pitchers

Posted on 23 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Unable to overcome his early-season struggles and having never fulfilled his potential as a former first-round pick, Orioles left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz was traded to Atlanta on Monday.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette sent the 29-year-old and the 76th overall pick in this year’s draft to the Braves in exchange for minor-league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. According to multiple outlets, the Braves will designate Matusz for assignment, reflecting their willingness to take on the remainder of the lefty’s $3.9 million salary to acquire the draft pick.

The move saves the Orioles money while opening a spot in the bullpen for another reliever. Baltimore also announced it signed left-handed relief pitcher Brian Duensing to a minor-league contract on Monday. Most recently with the Kansas City Royals organization, the 33-year-old Duensing has pitched to a 4.13 ERA over 649 1/3 major league innings in his seven-year career.

The fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft, Matusz had struggled mightily since being activated from the 15-day disabled list last month. In seven appearances covering six innings, the lefty had pitched to a 12.00 ERA with seven walks and one strikeout while surrendering three home runs and 11 hits.

His velocity was down after returning from a left intercostal strain suffered in spring training. Matusz was set to become a free agent at the end of the 2016 season and was not expected to be in the club’s plans for the future.

After serving as a reliable lefty specialist for the better part of four seasons, Matusz had retired just five of the 16 lefty bats he’d faced in 2016 and had appeared in just four games this month. Lefties have hit just .211 with a .627 on-base plus slugging percentage over his eight-year major league career, which allowed him to find a role as a lefty specialist after failing to establish himself as a major league starter.

The 23-year-old Barker went 3-2 with a 2.00 ERA and struck out 40 batters in 45 innings that included eight starts for Double-A Mississippi this season. The Braves’ 16th-round pick of the 2014 draft is expected to be assigned to Double-A Bowie.

The lefty Belicek has gone 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 28 1/3 innings while walking one and striking out 32 in 12 games between Class-A Rome and Double-A Mississippi this season. The 23-year-old was Atlanta’s 16th-round pick last year and will go to Single-A Frederick.

Though Matusz found modest success as a reliever in his final few seasons with Baltimore, he will be remembered as a disappointment for not panning out as the top-half-of-the-rotation starter many expected him to become. The University of San Diego product was taken just one pick ahead of future National League MVP Buster Posey.

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Jimenez could be impacted by Gallardo’s return

Posted on 23 May 2016 by Luke Jones

(Editor’s note: The Orioles traded left-handed reliever Brian Matusz to Atlanta for two minor-league pitchers on Monday night.)

The Orioles were pleased with the first bullpen session for Yovani Gallardo on Sunday, marking another significant step in his recovery from right shoulder tendinitis.

On the 15-day disabled list since April 23, the 30-year-old is expected to complete another bullpen in Houston before pitching a simulated game and potentially beginning a minor-league rehab assignment as early as next week. That timetable would put Gallardo in line for a return in early June, which could potentially impact a pair of struggling pitchers on the current roster.

Manager Buck Showalter said Sunday that right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is not in danger of losing his spot in the starting rotation, but his ERA has climbed to 6.04 after he allowed six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in a 10-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-familiar position for Jimenez and the Orioles, who replaced him in the starting rotation with Kevin Gausman two years ago in the midst of his abysmal first season with Baltimore.

As Showalter pointed out when asked about Jimenez’s status in Anaheim, however, the Orioles don’t have a clear-cut replacement this time around despite the 32-year-old pitching to a 5.79 ERA in his last 135 1/3 innings going back to last year’s All-Star break. Whether fans like it or not, the organization isn’t about to designate a pitcher for assignment who is making a total of $26.5 million over this year and 2017, but Gallardo’s return could prompt the Orioles to have a difficult conversation with Jimenez if he doesn’t fare better over his next few starts.

If young pitchers Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright continue to outperform Jimenez, the Orioles might have no choice but to put the struggling veteran in the bullpen, which could then impact another struggling hurler on the 25-man roster.

There’s little roster flexibility in the current bullpen with Mychal Givens being the only member with minor-league options, and it’d be a tough sell to say you’re doing what’s best for the club if you send your fourth-best reliever to the minors. The next names to enter the conversation would be Vance Worley — who has done an acceptable job as a long reliever — and Brian Matusz, who is currently serving as the forgotten lefty specialist who hasn’t been able to get lefties out since returning from the DL last month.

Of course, any role for Jimenez in the bullpen would more closely resemble what Worley currently does, but how much longer can the Orioles continue to carry Matusz — despite his $3.9 million salary for 2016 — if he’s not going to begin showing signs of turning his season around? He’s made just four appearances this month and lefty bats have gone 5-for-11 with a home run, a double, and five walks against him this season.

The Orioles would clearly like to have an effective lefty specialist in their bullpen, but right-handers Brad Brach and Darren O’Day have performed well enough against lefty bats to help minimize that deficiency on the roster. Carrying Jimenez in the bullpen in place of Matusz would be far from ideal and likely only a temporary measure, but the first-place Orioles haven’t suffered too much without a viable lefty specialist through the first quarter of the season and could likely endure without one for a little longer.

What’s best for Baltimore would be for Jimenez to straighten himself out to pitch more like the guy who posted an impressive 2.81 ERA in the first half of 2015 and for Matusz to regain his form against tough lefty bats in the later innings, but time could be running out for both. Something will have to give sooner than later once Gallardo is ready to return to the rotation.

The pressure is on both Jimenez and Matusz to turn their fortunes around.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 10-0 loss to Mariners

Posted on 17 May 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 10-0 defeat to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 37th game of the 2016 season.

1st — It didn’t take much for Tuesday’s game to get out of hand, but a pair of 0-2 counts handled poorly by Orioles pitching in the fifth inning turned a close game into a blowout. Ubaldo Jimenez had given up a one-out single to Nori Aoki and was ahead 0-2 on Seth Smith before eventually walking him to put two men on for the heart of the Seattle order. This spelled trouble as Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz registered back-to-back RBI singles to extend the lead from 2-0 to 4-0. Brian Matusz then entered and quickly got ahead 0-2 on Kyle Seager before throwing a 90 mph fastball right down the middle that was clubbed for a three-run home run to make it 7-0 in the fifth. It was elementary after that.

2nd — It may not have mattered that much with the pitching struggles, but the Orioles bats failing to register a pulse put little pressure on Wade Miley, who entered the night with a 4.91 ERA and had given up eight homers in his first seven starts. In the first, the Orioles walked twice and made the Seattle lefty throw 30 pitches, but they didn’t seriously challenge him again until it was 10-0 in the bottom of the sixth. Baltimore was shut out for the third time all season and registered a season-low two hits in the lopsided defeat.

3rd — He was able to limit the damage to two runs in the first, but a 34-pitch opening frame from Jimenez set a bad tone coming off Sunday’s late-inning stumble. Their seven-game winning streak was bound to end, but the Orioles had to wait around 48 hours to get back on the diamond and their starter put them in a hole before they even stepped to the plate for the first time. Jimenez settled in for the second, third, and fourth, but the damage was done at the beginning and end of his outing as his ERA has ballooned to 5.60 after giving up six runs in 4 1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season.

Home — Entering the game to face a lineup featuring seven of nine hitters swinging from the left side, Matusz retired only two of the seven left-handed bats he faced as Seager’s three-run shot and Cano’s RBI double to left-center an inning later were particularly crippling. In 2016, left-handed hitters have gone 5-for-11 with a home run and five walks against the Orioles’ lefty specialist, who is sporting a 12.00 ERA in seven appearances since being activated from the disabled list on April 23. … Cruz went 3-for-3 with a home run, a walk, and five RBIs against his former club and has now hit safely in his last 13 games at Camden Yards, a streak dating back to Sept. 12, 2014. … Vance Worley pitched three scoreless innings and has now registered seven straight scoreless relief outings covering 13 innings this season. … Chris Davis recorded the only extra-base hit of the night for the Orioles with a double in the sixth inning. … Former Oriole and St. Paul’s grad Steve Johnson pitched a scoreless ninth for Seattle. … Chris Tillman goes to the hill trying to snap the Orioles’ two-game skid on Wednesday night while the Mariners will start right-hander Taijuan Walker.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay

Posted on 25 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 2-0 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 18th game of the 2016 season.

1st — It was only a matter of time before Rays ace Chris Archer bounced back from a horrendous start to his season, but the Orioles were shut out for the first time all season and extended their scoreless streak to 17 innings. And it’s a shame because they received a more-than-acceptable performance with only two runs allowed by Orioles pitching. Entering the night with a 7.32 ERA, Archer did a superb job commanding his changeup and slider to complement his mid-90s fastball, but the Orioles managed just five hits and didn’t have a single batter reach against the Rays bullpen. The lone offensive highlights of the night were provided by Pedro Alvarez, who collected two doubles as he tries to bounce back from a horrendous start. No other Baltimore hitter reached second base, however.

2nd — Kevin Gausman deserved a better fate, but his struggles after failing to get the call on a 3-2 slider to Steven Souza proved to be the difference in the fifth. The Orioles had to be pleased with what they saw from the 25-year-old in his season debut following a stint on the disabled list, but the terrific breaking ball he displayed over the first four innings vanished after the walk to Souza and he worked into too many deep counts and struggled to put hitters away the rest of the inning. The pitch he’d ultimately like to have back was the 3-2 fastball catching too much of the plate that Rays catcher Curt Casali lined down the left-field line to plate Souza for the first run of the game. The 32-pitch fifth brought a premature end to his outing and he probably ran out of a gas trying to keep up with a terrific pitcher on the opposing side, but Gausman removed much doubt about the health of his right shoulder by using a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s and a sharp breaking ball to strike out seven in five innings. He just didn’t get any help from his offense.

3rd — In his second appearance since coming off the DL, Brian Matusz walked the two left-handed hitters he faced and loaded the bases in the sixth. If the lefty specialist isn’t going to get lefty bats out, his place in the bullpen becomes tenuous at best as he doesn’t offer as much length as other pitchers. Yes, it was Vance Worley who clipped Casali’s jersey with a pitch to force in the second Tampa Bay run, but Matusz was the one who created the mess that led to a 2-0 deficit.

Home — The Orioles didn’t have many opportunities, but Jonathan Schoop, Joey Rickard, and Manny Machado combined to go 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. … Chris Davis was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. … Despite hitting Casali to force in a run, Worley pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings for Baltimore to save the rest of the bullpen. … Adam Jones grimaced after swinging at the second strike in his final at-bat and was captured by MASN cameras talking to trainer Richie Bancells in the dugout after he grounded out in the ninth inning. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill on Tuesday night and will be opposed by Tampa Bay right-hander Jake Odorizzi.

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Orioles place Gallardo on DL with shoulder tendinitis

Posted on 23 April 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles wasted little time placing starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo on the 15-day disabled list after he left Friday’s start with right shoulder discomfort.

Allowing four runs in two innings of work in Kansas City, the 30-year-old right-hander exited with what the Orioles are now describing as right shoulder bicep tendinitis. Manager Buck Showalter said Friday night that Gallardo would return to Baltimore where he’d be examined by team doctors.

As expected, relief pitcher Brian Matusz was activated from the DL to take Gallardo’s place on the 25-man roster. The lefty specialist suffered a left intercostal strain early in spring training that made him unavailable for the start of the season.

According to FanGraphs, Gallardo’s average fastball velocity entering Friday’s game was just 87.4 miles per hour over his first three starts of 2016, down from an average of 90.4 in 2015. It was no secret that his velocity and strikeout rate had declined over the last few seasons, but a dramatic drop in pitch speed this spring had prompted many to wonder about the health of his arm.

Of course, the Orioles restructured their original three-year, $35 million agreement with the 30-year-old in February after concerns arose about his shoulder during his physical and the sides eventually settled on a two-year, $22 million deal. Baltimore gave up the 14th pick of this year’s draft to sign Gallardo, making the injury even more concerning beyond the short-term ramifications of needing to fill his rotation spot.

This is Gallardo’s first trip to the DL for an arm-related injury in his major league career.

In four starts this season, he is 1-1 with a 7.00 ERA over 18 innings and has struck out just nine while walking seven.

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Gausman in line to make next start for Orioles

Posted on 21 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter hasn’t publicly committed to Kevin Gausman being activated from the disabled list to make his 2016 debut next week, but all signs point in that direction.

And with it comes hope that the 25-year-old right-hander will take the step forward many view him as capable of making as the Orioles entered Thursday’s game ranked 14th out of 15 AL clubs in starter ERA (4.97) and last in innings pitched by starters. The 2012 first-round pick allowed three earned runs and struck out nine in 5 2/3 innings for Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday.

“We’ll see how he feels today,” said Showalter, who was pleased with what he heard about Gausman’s outing. “He’s got a chance to pitch for us in his next outing. We’ll see how it all fluctuates.”

Baltimore hasn’t hesitated to show extra caution with Gausman, who was shut down with right shoulder tendinitis in the spring and received a cortisone shot on March 20. Showalter said earlier this week that Gausman told him his shoulder feels better than it has in quite some time — he also had a DL stint for shoulder tendinitis last May — but the Orioles wanted him to get the competitive juices flowing in Wednesday’s outing in Charlotte.

Gausman would be on track to make his next start on Monday as the Orioles begin a three-game road series against Tampa Bay.

“Obviously, there’s parts where you’re going through rehab and you’re working on things,” Showalter said. “The next one is getting back into the competitive part of it. Talking to [Norfolk manager Ron Johnson] and [director of player development] Brian Graham, that was definitely the case last night.”

The Orioles hope Gausman can emerge as a front-line starter after pitching to a 4.25 ERA in 112 1/3 major league innings split between the bullpen and the rotation last season. In his most extensive work as a starting pitcher two years ago, Gausman went 7-7 with a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts spanning 113 1/3 innings.

In other injury-related news, Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) remains on track to be activated from the DL on Saturday, but Showalter indicated that the lefty reliever could be reinstated a day earlier if needed.

Jimmy Paredes (wrist) took nine at-bats in extended spring training on Thursday and will join the Orioles in St. Petersburg next week before starting his rehab assignment.

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Orioles continue to take time with Matusz’s return

Posted on 16 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Left-handed relief pitcher Brian Matusz was originally slated to be activated from the disabled list by the Orioles last weekend, but he instead will continue a minor-league rehab assignment with one more appearance this week, manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Texas.

After allowing seven earned runs in his first three appearances with Double-A Bowie, Matuz gave up only one run in three innings for Single-A Frederick on Friday night, but his shaky performance makes up only part of the early-season predicament. The Orioles entered Saturday with an 8-2 record, but they’ve leaned heavily on their bullpen as they rank 13th in the AL in starter ERA and have averaged a league-worst 5.0 innings per start through their first 10 games.

Manager Buck Showalter would clearly like to see his starters get deeper into games, but Matusz’s absence has allowed the Orioles to carry an additional long reliever in the bullpen, which has proven to be useful early in the season. The southpaw’s return would likely mean T.J. McFarland or Tyler Wilson being optioned to the minor leagues, giving Baltimore less length when starters are knocked out early.

Matusz began the season on the 15-day DL with a left intercostal strain that hindered him for much of the spring.

So far this season, the Orioles have lacked a lefty specialist — a role in which Matusz has been effective over the last four years — but adding another reliever who can’t be sent to the minor leagues brings less flexibility to a bullpen with four other pitchers out of options. Matusz was respectable against right-handed hitters in 2015 by holding them to a .244 average, but they have batted .299 with an .853 on-base plus slugging percentage against him in his career, which limits the situations in which Showalter would ideally use him.

With late-inning options in right-handers Darren O’Day and Brad Brach who fare very well against batters from both sides of the plate, one could argue that a lefty specialist only facing a batter or two is more of a luxury than a real need in a bullpen that will likely be forced to handle plenty of innings in 2016. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen the Orioles try to stretch Matusz out in his last two rehab outings.

Making $3.9 million in his final season before becoming a free agent, Matusz could be activated next weekend in Kansas City, but it’s fair to ask whether his skill set is the best fit for a bullpen already sporting plenty of talent in the late innings but needing to do more work early in games. He’ll be capable of getting out a tough lefty bat or two from time to time, but Matusz will likely need to give the Orioles some contributions in the middle innings to be a valuable member of the bullpen.

And that helps explain why the Orioles haven’t been in a hurry to activate the 29-year-old, who hasn’t exactly impressed during his rehab assignment anyway.

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Kim makes major league debut as Jones remains sidelined

Posted on 10 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim was set to make his major league debut on Sunday as the Orioles concluded a three-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Kim was slotted in the No. 9 spot and playing in left field after not appearing in the first four games of the 2016 season. With Adam Jones sidelined with rib soreness for a third straight game, regular left fielder Joey Rickard was once again in center as Kim received his first start.

The 28-year-old hasn’t started in a game since March 25 and received just two more spring at-bats after that as the Orioles tried to persuade him to accept a minor-league assignment.

“We talked about it, but you don’t want to say too much,” said manager Buck Showalter about Kim making his regular-season debut. “There’s a fine line there — go play. He’s probably got enough things going on without me jumping in there too deep.”

As he predicted on Saturday, shortstop J.J. Hardy was back in the lineup after missing Friday’s game due to tightness in his left calf. However, Showalter continues to be cautious with Jones, who is improving but is still feeling some discomfort in the rib area at the end of his swing. The manager reiterated that the training staff does not believe that Jones is dealing with an oblique problem.

For now, the Orioles are willing to wait before considering putting the five-time All-Star selection on the 15-day disabled list. Jones hasn’t played since Wednesday night when he felt discomfort swinging in his final at-bat.

“It’s a concern because he’s one of our best players and he’s not playing,” Showalter said. “But it’s close we think; [we’ll wait] as long as it takes. You know that 10 days is as far as you can backdate something [for the DL], so 10 days? Then, if on the 11th day, he comes in and says he feels good, I’m fine with that, too.

“He’s worth waiting on.”

Kevin Gausman (right shoulder strain) was set to make a rehab start for Double-A Bowie on Sunday that was expected to last three or four innings. The right-hander would then make his next rehab start at Single-A Frederick on Friday and could be activated from the DL as soon as April 20 if all goes to plan.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) will pitch two to three innings for Bowie on Monday and is expected to be activated from the DL on Thursday when the Orioles begin a four-game series in Texas.

Showalter said pitching prospect Hunter Harvey experienced a mild setback with a groin issue he’s been dealing with since late March.

Right-hander Mike Wright will now make his 2016 debut in a Tuesday start against Boston after Saturday’s start was postponed. Chris Tillman will now make his next start against the Rangers on Thursday.

Below are Sunday’s lineups:

TAMPA BAY
2B Logan Forsythe
DH Logan Morrison
3B Evan Longoria
LF Corey Dickerson
1B Steve Pearce
SS Brad Miller
RF Steven Souza Jr.
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Curt Casali

SP Jake Odorizzi (0-0, 1.59)

BALTIMORE
CF Joey Rickard
3B Manny Machado
1B Chris Davis
RF Mark Trumbo
C Matt Wieters
DH Pedro Alvarez
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Jonathan Schoop
LF Hyun Soo Kim

SP Vance Worley (2015 stats: 4-6, 4.02 ERA)

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