Tag Archive | "brian matusz"

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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Handling Matusz interesting case for young, contending Orioles

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Handling Matusz interesting case for young, contending Orioles

Posted on 18 February 2013 by Luke Jones

Last August, the career of Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz appeared to be at a crossroads after the left-hander had been relegated to the minor leagues for the second consecutive season.

His numbers weren’t as bad as a historically-poor 2011 season in which his earned run average ballooned to 10.69, a major league record for a pitcher making at least 10 starts in a season, but the 2008 first-round pick had clearly been left behind by a club fighting to make its first postseason appearance in 15 years. In 16 starts, Matusz went 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA before he was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk shortly before the All-Star break.

That’s where it appeared he would remain for the final stretch of the season — with a token September call-up potentially being thrown in — before lefty relief pitcher Troy Patton suffered a sprained ankle in August. That prompted manager Buck Showalter to view the demoted Matusz in a new light as a left-handed setup man. Described by some as not having a receptive attitude toward coaching, Matusz embraced the new role, in part because he knew it was likely his only ticket back to Baltimore to pitch in a pennant race.

“For me, it was just being able to settle in and learn a lot from the guys and just go out and attack the zone and throw strikes,” Matusz said. “That was the big key for me — get ahead in the count and just have fun.”

Matusz thrived in the new role, pitching to a 1.35 ERA in 18 relief appearances. The southpaw appeared in all six of the Orioles’ playoff games last season, allowing the game-winning home run to Raul Ibanez in Game 3 of the American League Division Series but surrendering only one earned run in 4 2/3 innings.

With left-handed hitters holding a .219 career average against Matusz, Showalter used the former starter against key left-handed bats initially but expanded his role as he continued to thrive as a reliever. Matusz was throwing more strikes as a reliever (73 percent of his pitches compared to just 64 percent as a starter in 2012) and showed electric stuff as batters were swinging and missing on 16 percent of his pitches compared to just seven percent over his 16 starts.

The young pitcher admitted liking the need to prepare to be ready to pitch every day as opposed to the routine of a starter that left him on the bench for four straight days, allowing great spans of time to think about his struggles over the last two years. Last season’s turnaround has left many to wonder whether the Orioles would be wise to move Matusz to the bullpen permanently despite the fact that he enters the spring being stretched out as a starter once again.

“I have the opportunity to be a starter at the start of spring,” Matusz said. “That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, and ultimately, that’s what I’d like to do. I have the opportunity, so I’m going to roll with it and just go out and pitch my game and have fun.”

You can understand the organization’s preference to keep Matusz in a starting role after investing the No. 4 overall pick and a $3.2 million signing bonus in the pitcher in 2008, and it’s not as though the Orioles’ starting rotation is set in stone with established big-league starters manning every spot. Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman are the favorites to grab the first four jobs in the rotation, but the fifth starter spot is wide open as Matusz will compete with Jair Jurrjens, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter, and Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland.

If 2013 is anything like last season, the Orioles are bound to see changes in their starting rotation, due to injury or ineffectiveness, so the confidence boost Matusz received after success in the final two months could go a long way in the lefty establishing himself as a viable starting pitcher. Even if Matusz were to start the year in Norfolk, the Orioles may need to turn to him as they did with Tillman and Gonzalez last season before the two right-handers became key contributors in the second half of the season.

Critics doubting Matusz’s ability to finally figure it out as a starter need only look at the revitalization of Tillman last season as evidence that the light could come on for the University of San Diego product, but perhaps the most interesting question will be how the Orioles handle the left-hander should he not emerge as one of the best five starters during spring training. Matusz has an option remaining, meaning he could be sent to Norfolk to continue working as a starter, but would Showalter and the Orioles leave his arm in the minors when they know how deadly he can be as a reliever against left-handed bats?

The manager has never been one to obsess over playing matchups, preferring pitchers who are effective against hitters from either side of the plate, but it’s difficult to ignore Matusz’s overwhelming success against left-handed hitters in his career. Patton is also the only left-hander projected to be part of the Baltimore bullpen to begin the season, making it an appropriate fit for Matusz to land there once again.

If the Orioles elect to move Matusz back to the bullpen early on, it would likely mean he’d remain there for the rest of the season as it’s a dangerous line to walk with a pitcher’s health when moving back and forth between starting and relief roles — particularly when attempting to stretch out a reliever without the benefit of an offseason to prepare. At this stage of Matusz’s major league career, the Orioles would have to wonder whether it’s time to simply keep him in the bullpen if it means a third straight year of lukewarm results as a starter.

Regardless of the arguments some have made about Matusz having too much value in the Baltimore bullpen, there’s no disputing that it’s easier to find a left-handed setup man than it is to find an effective southpaw starter. A good starting pitcher is a far more valuable asset to a club than a bullpen arm, but Matusz needs to prove he can do the job over six or seven innings consistently and time is running out for that debate.

The Orioles are making the right move in at least stretching out Matusz in preparing him to start, but it will be interesting to see how quickly Showalter pulls the plug if he’s ineffective and moves the lefty to the bullpen with the memory of last year’s success in the manager’s mind. It’s the kind of problem the Orioles wouldn’t have had in the past when a pennant race was never on the radar and young pitchers could develop with little else on the line.

If it comes down to pitching in a pennant race again or riding buses in the International League, it’s likely Matusz won’t balk at a relief role again, even with his state — and understandable — preference to start.

“Obviously, at the end of last year, we were on a good roll with making the playoff push,” Matusz said. “Things were clicking at the right time and it was a lot of fun.”

A lot of fun, indeed, but you wonder if it was only a temporary detour in his career as a starter or a sign of what’s to come for a pitcher with plenty of unfulfilled promise entering his fifth season in the majors.

The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction discussed Brian Matusz in Monday’s Spring Training Spotlight. You can listen to the segment HERE.

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Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

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Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

Posted on 13 February 2013 by Luke Jones

The Orioles held their first workouts for pitchers and catchers to officially kick off spring training in Sarasota on Wednesday.

Trying to build on a 93-win campaign that included their first trip to the playoffs in 15 years, the Orioles have several questions marks after a quiet offseason void of significant moves.

Here are five questions to ponder as Baltimore begins preparations for the 2013 season:

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

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette failed in his quest to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat, but a healthy Reimold would go a long way in providing the extra offense the Orioles are looking for after they finished ninth in runs scored and 11th in on-base percentage in the American League last season. Of course, expecting Reimold to stay injury-free has only resulted in frustration over the years as the left fielder missed most of last season after undergoing spinal fusion surgery.

The good news is Reimold is already taking live batting practice and appears to be 100 percent for spring training as he will compete with Nate McLouth for the starting job in left field. McLouth is the superior fielder and has more speed, but few would argue Reimold’s ability at the plate as he hit .313 with five home runs in 67 at-bats last season.

The club could elect to use Reimold as the designated hitter more frequently to keep him healthy, and he would be an ideal fit in the No. 2 spot because of his plate discipline (a career .338 on-base percentage in 916 plate appearances in the majors) or in the fifth or sixth spot because of his power. At 29, Reimold appears to be running out of time as a viable option on which the Orioles can depend moving forward, but the club signed him for $1 million in the offseason and maintains control of him through the 2015 season.

Duquette didn’t acquire an established veteran bat and also parted ways with slugger Mark Reynolds, so this spring will be critical for Reimold to prove he can provide extra punch to the lineup. If he’s again unhealthy, the Orioles will be forced to lean more heavily on McLouth, who carries his own baggage despite a 2012 renaissance in Baltimore.

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

The starting rotation would appear to have a more definitive outline than it did as this time last year as Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman all put forth career seasons in 2012, but none of those four come without questions this spring. Concerns over Hammel’s knee were eased with his ability to pitch effectively in the postseason, but the Orioles hope he can replicate his first half last season when he looked like an ace and was included in the fan vote for the final spot on the AL All-Star team.

Chen and Gonzalez will need to prove their rookie campaigns weren’t flukes as the rest of the league will be more familiar with each and the latter’s 170-pound frame will always cause some to question his durability over a full season. Adjustments made to Tillman’s mechanics by director of pitching development Rick Peterson paid major dividends last year, but the 24-year-old will need to replicate that success over an entire season in the big leagues.

Even if those four pick up right where they left off, manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair must sift through a number of other candidates to replace the fifth spot in the rotation left behind by veteran left Joe Saunders, who signed with Seattle last week. Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson, Zach Britton, and Tommy Hunter will all be in the mix, but each comes with their limitations and concerns.

The Orioles continue to point to strength in numbers as it pertains to the starting rotation as 12 pitchers made starts for Baltimore last season. And to offer some perspective on how quickly things can change due to injury or ineffectiveness, three-fifths of the rotation that began the 2012 season landed in the minor leagues by the All-Star break.

The top four will have the inside track for rotation spots entering the spring, but Showalter won’t hesitate to make changes quickly if anyone isn’t up to the task.

3. Who will step up to play second base?

Yes, Brian Roberts is still with the Orioles as he enters the final season of a four-year contract that’s seen him play 115 games combined in the last three years. The 35-year-old infielder appears to be recovered from hip surgery and an offseason surgery to correct a sports hernia, but viewing Roberts as a viable option feels more like you’re being polite than at all realistic.

The Orioles acquired the slick-fielding Alexi Casilla off waivers from the Minnesota Twins after the switch-hitting second baseman played in a career-high 106 games last season. The 28-year-old is a career .250 hitter and provides good speed (21 stolen bases in 2012), but it remains to be seen whether he can handle full-time duties at the plate or he’ll be exposed over a bigger sample of at-bats.

The most intriguing option from an offensive perspective would be Ryan Flaherty, who split duties at second base with the departed Robert Andino at the end of last season. Thought limited defensively, Flaherty hit six home runs in 153 at-bats as a Rule 5 player who stuck on the 25-man roster all season.

Because of Showalter’s preference for strong defense up the middle, Casilla would appear to be the favorite to handle the bulk of the duties at second base due to Roberts’ frailty and Flaherty’s limitations in the field. However, this will remain a very fluid position to watch as the spring progresses.

4. How will Showalter handle the designated hitter spot in the order?

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Orioles avoid arbitration with Wieters, Davis, Matusz, Patton

Posted on 18 January 2013 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles Friday announced that they have agreed to terms with catcher Matt Wieters, infielder Chris Davis, and left-handed pitchers Troy Patton and Briant Matusz on one-year contracts, thus avoiding arbitration.

Wieters, 26, batted .249 (131-526) and set career-highs with 23 home runs, 83 RBI and 144 games played. Wieters was named to his second All-Star Team.

Davis, 26, batted .270 (139-515) with a team-leading 33 home runs and 85 RBI in 2012. Davis saw action in left field, right field, at first base, served as the designated hitter and recorded a win in his only appearance as a pitcher, May 6 at Boston.

Patton, 27, was 1-0 with a 2.43 ERA (55.2IP, 15ER) in a career-high 54 games for the Orioles in 2012.

Matusz, 25, was 6-10 with a 4.87 ERA (98.0IP, 53ER) in 34 games (16 starts) for the Orioles. In his 18 relief appearances in 2012, Matusz was 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA (13.1IP, 2ER).

The Orioles have also exchanged salary arbitration figures with right-handed pitchers Jim Johnson, Jason Hammel, and Darren O’Day.

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If the Orioles lose tonight, I won’t be crushed…

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If the Orioles lose tonight, I won’t be crushed…

Posted on 11 October 2012 by Drew Forrester

I still think this series in New York is a long way from over.  It’s a best-of-5 for a reason.

And the Orioles have swatted away every nuisance that’s come their way in 2012, so why wouldn’t they stay alive tonight with a dramatic Game 4 victory?  I almost expect them to win tonight because that’s what they deserve.

But if the Yankees win tonight in the Bronx and that’s all she wrote for the Birds, I’ll be just fine.

Really.  I’ll sleep like a baby tonight if the Orioles lose in Game 4.

I’ve watched the first three games of the series with this peculiar “Lord only knows what’s going to happen tonight” sort of philosophy, which has served me well.  I didn’t go nuts when Ibanez beat Billy Cundiff Jim Johnson in the 9th inning, even though I assumed it was over when the team’s closer strolled to the mound to collect his nearly-automatic-save and give the Birds a 2-1 series lead.

It wasn’t over, unfortunately, when Ibanez drilled a pitch into the right field seats to tie it up at 2-2.

An hour later it WAS over – again unfortunately – when Ibanez popped Brian Matusz for the game-winning home run to put the Orioles into an “elimination game” for the second time in six days.

But make no mistake about it, my stomach didn’t start hurting last night the way it did in 1997 when Tony Fernandez ended our last playoff series with a home run in Baltimore.

I didn’t sleep well for a night or two after that loss to the Indians.

But this is much different now.  This is fun.  And I’ve enjoyed the living hell out of it.

No one expected this in March or April.  Hell, honestly, no one even expected this on Labor Day.

It’s just fun to see the team playing on national TV in October…so I’m good with anything that happens tonight.

If the Orioles win, I’ll be fired up for Game 5 tomorrow night.

If the Yankees win, we’ll do what we always do around here when baseball season ends.  We’ll turn our full attention to the Ravens.

Either way, it’s been a helluva run by the Orioles.

I sure have missed this since 1997.

And that’s why I’m good with any result.  Just getting back there and playing post-season baseball is enough to satisfy me.

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Orioles beaten at own illogical game in devastating 3-2 loss

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Orioles beaten at own illogical game in devastating 3-2 loss

Posted on 11 October 2012 by Luke Jones

NEW YORK — Sixteen straight wins in extra-inning games.

A 76-0 record when leading after seven innings this season.

Both streaks finished.

All season long, the Orioles have defied logic in completing a 24-game turnaround to win the American League Wild Card to meet the New York Yankees in the Division Series.

Their 3-2 loss in 12 innings at Yankee Stadium was as illogical as anything from which they benefited in the 2012 season. And the crushing defeat leaves them on the verge of elimination as veteran left-hander Joe Saunders will go to the hill to try to keep the Orioles alive in Game 4.

Jim Johnson had faltered only three nights earlier in allowing five runs in the ninth inning of the Orioles’ 7-2 defeat in Game 1. The closer had converted 51 of 54 save opportunities this season to earn his first trip to the All-Star Game. There was no way he’d stumble again with a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning and his work on Monday night reinforced that claim.

He certainly wasn’t supposed to have any trouble against pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez, who Yankees manager Joe Girardi shockingly sent to the plate to bat for the struggling Alex Rodriguez. Lifting the future Hall of Fame third baseman for an admittedly hot-swinging 40-year-old was as bold as any of the curious moves made by the Orioles this season that worked out for no sound reason at all, it seemed.

And Baltimore saw firsthand what it felt like to fall victim to something seeming to be illogical as Ibanez deposited a 1-0 fastball into the right-field seats to tie the game.

“If you make your pitch, it doesn’t really matter,” Johnson said. “That’s what it comes down to. Ibanez, he’s a good low-ball hitter and obviously he has that hook swing. It’s just pitching. You’ve got to pitch down, change speeds and locate.”

The blast meant extra innings, a territory in which the Orioles hadn’t failed since April 11 when they were coming off their second straight loss in extra frames — ironically against the same Yankees — in two nights.

The Baltimore bats remained silent as they had for most of the night before Ibanez stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 12th against left-hander Brian Matusz.

Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it? Certainly not in extra innings where the Orioles have been king?

Ibanez crushed a Matusz fastball into the right-field seats on the first pitch of the inning, sending the Yankees home happy and up 2-1 in the five-game series, pushing the Orioles to the brink of elimination.

It was difficult to believe as the Orioles discussed in the clubhouse what had just happened to them moments earlier.

“You never want to experience a situation like that,” Matusz said. “Whether it’s a game-winning walk-off home run or in the first inning. The ultimate goal is to go out there and throw strikes and put up zeros. It’s not a good feeling, but you have to stay positive and move forward.”

As much as fans will point to the failures of Johnson and Matusz in not being able to subdue Ibanez’s bat, the Orioles’ inability to generate much of anything offensively doomed their opportunity to take a series lead heading into Game 4. New York pitching retired 21 of 22 Orioles hitters at one point Wednesday night and the club has plated just seven runs in the first three games of the series.

Their two All-Star hitters, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, are by no means the only ones not hitting, but the pair has combined for just three hits in their first 33 postseason at-bats counting the wild card play-in game against the Texas Rangers. A fielding miscue by Jones that led to a run-scoring triple by Derek Jeter certainly didn’t help matters, either.

The Orioles lineup did little — rookies Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado hit solo homers to account for the offensive production — to support the dominating performance from Miguel Gonzalez, who struck out eight and allowed one run in seven innings of work.

The offense simply hasn’t been good enough, and it’s a major reason why the Orioles find their backs to the wall. And the poor production placed them in a position for Girardi to send Ibanez instead of Rodriguez to the plate with a chance to tie the game with one swing.

Even with Rodriguez’s immense struggles, it didn’t seem to make sense to bench the highest paid player in the game, regardless of his struggles.

But it worked.

As a result, the Orioles now face the colossal challenge of winning two straight win-or-go-home games at Yankee Stadium to advance to the AL Championship Series. We’ll see if they’re ready to answer the bell in the way they have countless times this season, albeit with stakes that were never so high.

“It’s pretty much win or go home tomorrow, isn’t it?” Jones said. “There’s pretty much no turning back. We’re going to have the same attitude, the same mentality we’ve had since the first day of spring training. We’re going to have fun, let it fly, and live with the results.”

 

 

 

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Hammel to start potential Game 5 and other Game 4 pre-game notes

Posted on 10 October 2012 by Luke Jones

(Update: Joe Saunders was named the Game 4 starter following the 3-2 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday night.)

NEW YORK — As the Orioles prepared to play Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees on Wednesday night, their starting pitcher for Game 4 remained a mystery.

Manager Buck Showalter will wait until after Game 3 to decide between left-hander Joe Saunders and right-hander Chris Tillman to make Thursday’s start at Yankee Stadium. Saunders would be working on five days’ rest while Tillman hasn’t pitched since last Wednesday against Tampa Bay in the final game of the regular season.

“We were kind of hoping you would tell us,” said Saunders, drawing laughter from the media gathered prior to Game 3. “Because we don’t know yet. Whoever it is, me or Chris, we’re going to go out there and do our job.”

To the surprise of nearly everyone outside the organization, Saunders pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Texas Rangers in the AL Wild Card game last Friday to help land the Orioles in the Division Series. Saunders made one start against the Yankees in the regular season, allowing two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings of work at Camden Yards on Sept. 8.

In six career starts against New York, the 31-year-old Saunders is 3-1 with a 5.82 earned run average in 34 innings.

Along with Game 3 starter Miguel Gonzalez, Tillman was one of the biggest surprises of the second half and finished the regular season with a 9-3 record and a 2.93 ERA.

In two starts against the Yankees this season, Tillman was 1-0 with a 6.75 ERA in eight innings of work. His start at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 2 was cut short after three innings due to elbow stiffness.

Most consider Tillman to be the favorite to receive the ball as long as neither pitcher is required to pitch in relief behind Gonzalez on Wednesday night. However, the challenge of facing lefties such as Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson make the lefty Saunders a more appealing option despite his overall numbers being inferior to Tillman’s this season.

“I think you’ve just got to treat it like any other start,” Tillman said. “You can’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s not fair to yourself [and] not fair to the team.”

In other news, Jason Hammel will receive the ball for Game 5 against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia if necessary on Friday. The two faced off in Game 1, which resulted in a 7-2 win for New York.

Showalter was asked about the decision in August to move left-hander Brian Matusz to the bullpen, who provided a major lift in the absence of then-injured southpaw Troy Patton and with the struggles of power arm Pedro Strop. The Baltimore manager revealed Matusz will likely return to a starting role upon reporting to spring training in Sarasota next February.

“Compared to the options we had and the trade market and some other things, we thought Brian could do as well if not better than some of the others coming in,” Showalter said about the decision. “Brian will more than likely go into the spring as a starter and then we think he can go back and do this [if needed] but he needs to get his innings. It was also a carrot for him to come back to the big leagues, so there was a lot of want-to there.”

NOTES: The Orioles were 6-3 in the Bronx this season, outscoring the Yankees by a 49-32 margin. … Their six wins in New York were their highest season total since winning eight in 1976. Baltimore won all three series in Yankee Stadium in the same year for the first time since 1976. … Making their third appearance in the ALDS, the Orioles are 3-1 on the road with two of those wins coming in Seattle in 1997 and one in Cleveland in 1996. The Orioles won each of those series. … Center fielder Adam Jones was announced as a candidate for the 2012 Hank Aaron Award on Wednesday afternoon. It recognizes the top offensive performers in each league. Fan voting opened at MLB.com Wednesday and runs through Oct. 16. Winners will be announced during the World Series.

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Orioles embrace underdog role like few teams ever have

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Orioles embrace underdog role like few teams ever have

Posted on 06 October 2012 by Luke Jones

You’d think we would have learned our lesson after 162 games, but the Orioles opened our eyes once again on Friday night.

With few giving them a chance after a deflating series at Tampa Bay that forced them to go to Arlington for the first ever wild card play-in game, the Orioles knocked off the Texas Rangers to advance to the American League Division Series.

We assumed the task was too much for the Orioles to top the two-time defending American League champions after they went 2-5 against the Rangers and were outscored 56-24 in the season series. It didn’t matter that Texas had lost nine of its last 13 games or that Baltimore held the best road record in the American League. The epitaphs had already been written and recited by many over the last two days leading up to Friday’s first pitch.

Manager Buck Showalter’s decision to give the ball to left-hander Joe Saunders was met with more than a few raised eyebrows considering the soft-tossing veteran was 0-6 with a 9.38 earned run average in six career starts at Rangers Ballpark before Friday night. Even those defending the decision assumed a brief outing for Saunders before a 10-man bullpen would match up the rest of the way.

The middle-of-the-road starter couldn’t possibly contain the powerful Rangers bats, could he?

Saunders did just that, using effective off-speed stuff to pitch 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball before turning it over to the bullpen, the group most responsible for landing the Orioles in the postseason for the first time since 1997.

Arguably the player of the game, reliever Darren O’Day was brilliant over two innings of work to bridge the gap to the late innings. New lefty specialist Brian Matusz blew away Josh Hamilton on three pitches to end the eighth with the slugger representing the tying run. And, finally, Jim Johnson closed the door on the Rangers’ season and sent the Orioles back to Baltimore for the ALDS.

The Baltimore bats were far from fertile but did just enough against Texas starter Yu Darvish to give Saunders and the bullpen a slim lead.

Left fielder Nate McLouth drove in two runs and scored another to lead the offensive attack, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones each knocked in one, and rookie Manny Machado tacked on an insurance run in the top of the ninth with a run-scoring single.

And as McLouth squeezed the final out in left to seal a 5-1 win, there was Showalter watching from the dugout as his players celebrated their unlikeliest feat to date in a season full of head-shaking wonder. At this point, you wonder just how unlikely the Orioles viewed it as they didn’t blink in a place that’s been a house of horror for them in recent years.

Why do we still doubt them?

The response was lukewarm in late August when executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette brought Saunders to Baltimore in exchange for reliever Matt Lindstrom. It wasn’t the impact move for a starting pitcher the Orioles desperately needed to push the Orioles over the hump in their playoff push.

Considered washed up and simply hoping for another chance in the big leagues while playing for Triple-A Norfolk only two months ago, McLouth was summoned to Baltimore as many laughed and rolled their eyes. Those same people then cringed when the thumb injury to Nick Markakis forced him to assume the leadoff spot duties.

Critics said 20-year-old Manny Machado wasn’t ready for the big leagues and certainly couldn’t handle playing third base after playing only two games at the position in his brief minor league career.

O’Day was a castoff from the Rangers who many thought didn’t even deserve a roster spot at the start of the season after being injured for much of spring training. Matusz endured one of the worst seasons in major league history a year ago and was demoted again earlier this season before ultimately being sent to the bullpen.

Yet, the moves worked and those individuals figured heavily into the Orioles’ first postseason win since 1997.

While I wondered if the Rangers could get off the mat after collapsing in the final two weeks of the regular season and losing their grasp on the AL West title, the Orioles emphatically delivered the knockout blow to their 2012 season. Perhaps the Rangers were the better team and would have prevailed in a longer season, but the Orioles were the better team on Friday and that’s all that matters.

Yes, this perfect group of imperfect players comprised of holdovers used to losing, career minor leaguers, has-beens, never-will-bes, and baby-faced rookies may look like a jumbled mess of individual parts, but the unconventional concoction made by Showalter and Duquette is now 11 wins away from a World Series title.

Suggesting that possibility still sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? I thought so.

They’ll undoubtedly be tabbed as the underdogs against the AL East champion Yankees, a team they tied 9-9 in the season series.

But that underdog label doesn’t bother the Orioles. They’ve heard it all year and they’ll just keep playing with their house money, proving more and more people wrong in the process.

We’ll keep waiting for that bankroll to expire while Showalter’s club continues one of the most remarkable baseball stories we’ve seen in a long time for at least another postseason series.

We don’t know when it will come to an end, but few teams have ever embraced the underdog role with such vigor.

And they’ll keep reminding you why you shouldn’t doubt them.

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