Tag Archive | "Brian Roberts"

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Big Trade Looming?

Posted on 07 July 2012 by Erich Hawbaker

The All-Star break is upon us. And, if the season ended today, the Orioles would be headed to the playoffs. Thursday’s disaster with the Angels notwithstanding, the Orioles have reached halftime without completely faceplanting as most of us expected they would. The bullpen has been the most pleasant surprise, with an ERA still close to the best in baseball. The offense (long balls in particular) has also been a big reason for the success, with Adam Jones on pace for 40 homeruns and several others flirting with 30.

However, just like last year, the most glaring weakness has been the defense. Unfortunately, the O’s also lead the league in errors, which has cost them at least three or four winnable games already this season. The other coin flip has been the starting pitching, which lately seems to always be either stellar or awful on any given night. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are aces more often than not, but the other three rotation spots have been consistently shaky with occasional flashes of brilliance.

The Orioles have already made a splash in the trade market this year by acquiring DH Jim Thome from the struggling Phillies for a pair of minor leaguers. For awhile now, I’d been wondering if they were really serious about being buyers this year like Dan Duquette said, and if, to that end, they would be looking to pick up another legitimate starting pitcher. Today when I checked my fantasy team (the Mercersburg Rebels, currently in 1st place), the news feed told me that the Orioles are trying to make a trade with the Brewers for RHP Zack Greinke. It also mentioned that the O’s have two highly-touted prospects in Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado that might be part of such a deal.

For the last few years, I’ve always made it a point to have Greinke on my fantasy team. He routinely goes deep into games, puts up lots of strikeouts, and has a very good ERA and WHIP. He won the 2009 AL Cy Young with the Royals, no easy feat when one considers that they’ve been about as bad as the Orioles over the last decade. This year, his record is 9-2, while his team is currently under .500 by five games.

So, all indications are that he would be an excellent pickup if the Orioles can pull this off. However, I would not part with Bundy or Machado to make it happen. Since Milwaukee lost Prince Fielder, they’re in need of a firstbaseman. Perhaps Mark Reynolds could be part of this trade? True, he’s not crushing the ball like he was last year, but Miller Park is definitely hitter-friendly. And now that the Orioles have Chris Davis, there isn’t a tremendous need for Reynolds here anymore. It would also make a big dent in that error rate.

Another thing to consider here is that the era of Brian Roberts is, regrettably, over. He’s given us some tremendous years, but unfortunately the Orioles simply cannot depend on him as an everyday player anymore. Therefore, letting go of Manny Machado would be unwise, because he will be coming of age right about the time when Roberts is officially finished. I don’t think I even need to elaborate on why trading Dylan Bundy would be a bad move, unless of course the Brewers are offering significantly more than just Greinke.

I have to admit, it’s a VERY nice thought that the Orioles’ rotation could eventually consist of Hammel, Chen, Greinke, Britton, and whoever gets their act together. That, coupled with Jones, Wieters, Davis, Markakis, Hardy, and our current bullpen would almost have to be a serious contender.

However, I must reiterate that even if this becomes reality, we are not yet free of Peter The Terrible, and I still remain unconvinced that the Orioles have truly turned the corner as long as he remains in the warehouse.

What do you think? Should the Orioles trade for Greinke? Is there someone else out there you’d like to see them pursue? Comments are always welcome.

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Relying On Roberts a Tricky Proposition

Posted on 05 July 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

Before saying anything that could be construed as criticism of Brian Roberts, I feel obligated to say the following:

I am in awe of Roberts and his comeback…simple as that. Baseball aside, by most accounts, the last year or so of Roberts’ life has been horrific. That he’s well enough to play is secondary to the fact that he’s well enough to enjoy his life. Given all that we’ve learned about concussions and their impacts in recent years, and all that Roberts experienced first hand as a result of his own concussions, it would have been easy for the longest tenured Oriole to ride out the remainder of his guaranteed contract, add on to his substantial bank account and ease into enjoying the next phase of his life. Enjoying the next phase of his life being the most important part of the entire statement, it can’t be ignored that with each game Roberts may be risking his ability to do just that. And for that I stand in simple admiration of his spirit and character.


He is however a baseball player, and inevitably all conversations will eventually lead back to his ability to play the game. And in that department, there are still a million questions yet to be answered about Roberts.


Surely the Orioles resurgence (brief as it may be) since Roberts departure, along with their slide (coincidental or not) during his return will lead fans to question whether he’s what’s been wrong with the team lately. And statistically it’s a fair question.


The sample size is small, and the real truth is that as Roberts’ injuries have been described, he wasn’t able to do much of anything while dealing with the concussions and their aftermath. Being away from the game, and his regular conditioning programs for as long as Roberts was, appears to have taken its toll. So far the approach seems similar to the Roberts of old, but the results have been anything but, and lack of extra base hits is becoming alarming for the one-time best doubles hitter in baseball.


Maybe the itch to get back to action caused the player and the team to rush. Maybe the 20-game maximum rehab assignment just isn’t enough for a player that far removed from the game to get his rhythm, timing and strength back.


I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Roberts to concede the injury and return to the DL after all that he’s been through to get back. I’d like to believe that the “groin strain” is a way to get Roberts back into the weight room for a week or two and then back to the minors for another 20-games or so to really find his game again.


It’s easy to say that the O’s can’t win with Roberts and he’s certainly a tough guy to count on as you look ahead. Still, Roberts is nowhere close to himself yet, and the proposition of getting him there eventually should be encouraging to the team and their fans. It also seems a lot more realistic than waiting for them to make a big trade to add some talent.


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Showalter confident Roberts will start clicking at top of order

Posted on 29 June 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Playing his first major league game in over a year when he took the field against Pittsburgh on June 12, second baseman Brian Roberts made it look like he had never left with a 3-for-4 night.

However, the 34-year-old has struggled to find his footing since his first five games when he went 7-for-22 with four runs batted in. Going back to the start of the New York Mets series on June 18, Roberts is just 4-for-34 (.118) with three walks and six strikeouts as the Orioles have scored only 14 runs over their last nine games.

Manager Buck Showalter was asked if he thinks the extended time away from baseball has factored heavily into Roberts’ early struggles.

“I hope so. He’s had 55, 60 at-bats in over a year,” Showalter said. “He’ll be a contributor here. He’s aware; he knows when it’s right and when it’s not. He’ll get there, and we’ll reap the benefits of it when he does. He’s already done some good things for us early on and he will again.”

Roberts is hitting just .196 in 61 plate appearances and has yet to collect an extra-base hit, which is concerning when remembering the second baseman regularly hit 40 or more doubles per season over the course of his career.

Many wondered what impact his well-documented concussion-related issues would have on his aggression in the running game, but his struggles at the plate have prevented observers from really drawing any conclusions in that facet of the game. Roberts has only tried to steal one base and was thrown out against the Mets on June 19.

His fielding has been solid, though not spectacular in a limited number of games at second base. Roberts has committed one error while showing proficiency in turning the double play.

“We’ve got to keep in mind that things like that just don’t happen overnight,” Showalter said. “I think Brian’s got a real respect for the level of play. It’s the best players in the world, and nobody cares about some of the challenges guys may have had physically. But he’ll make somebody play for it eventually.”

Of course, it’s difficult to nitpick Roberts’ performance when a number of regulars who haven’t missed a year of time have struggled mightily over the last two weeks. It would be far more interesting to observe what the tone would be regarding the veteran if former starter Robert Andino had been hitting better prior to Roberts’ return earlier this month.

Showalter still views Roberts as his best option in the leadoff spot, which is hardly surprising considering how much difficulty the Orioles have had finding anyone else to handle the role with any level of proficiency over the last two seasons he missed extended time. The Baltimore manager still views Roberts as one of the best in the game at the top of the order.

“You put him on any team and that’s where they’d want to hit him for the most part,” Showalter said. “We’re lucky to have him back. It’ll happen.”

Roberts was hitless in his last 15 at-bats entering Friday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians.

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Fans at the Yard

Posted on 13 June 2012 by Tom Federline

I do not understand all the hullabaloo acknowledging Philly fans in attendance at Camden Yards this past weekend. Was the Yard packed? Was the Yard packed with baseball fans? Were Philly fans in attendance? Were Oriole fans in attendance? Were the Philly fans drowned out at attempts to cheer for their team? I believe the answer is “yes” to all. So what’s the problem? Baseball fans enjoying baseball at one of the more elite Parks in the league. Should Camden Yards be at capacity with all Oriole fans? Yes. But does that really happen? Does that really happen at any Major League ballpark? The answer would be NO to the last two questions. Home fans, opposing fans, fair weather fans all intermingled into one setting. 120,000+ fans over a weekend and O’s take 2 out of 3 – sounds good to me.

People getting a little miffed that other baseball fans spend their money and time to visit Baltimore and Camden Yards. People getting miffed that Baltimoreans are not buying tickets for a losing franchise and greedy owner. People making videos of Philly fans at Camden Yards accompanied by a cover tune of “Philadelphia Freedom”.  I don’t get it. If you’re so miffed – go buy a ticket, get your friends to buy a ticket, be content you are doing your part. If you’re feeling strong about video – make a contrasting video on the other side of Camden Yards of Oriole fans leaving the Park going to their cars and Light rail to the tune of “Orioles Magic”. Maybe even make that video after Sundays game, after the O’s beat the Phillies in back-to-back extra inning games.

Why waste time publishing a “revolting” video clip of Philly fans leaving Camden Yards? I will admit, it always compelling to “stir the pot”. Missiion acomplished. A Philadelphia take-over? No, I don’t think so. The video was shot of out-of town fans heading down Conway street towards the Inner Harbor and their hotels. Baltimore fans are not headed down Conway to the Inner Harbor. Baltimore fans are headed home. How about this notion?  Philly fans travel and support their team well. And so do Yankee fans, Blue Jay fans, Boston fans, etc. etc. Philadelphia is 90 minutes up the road. Would you rather see a baseball game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia or Camden Yards in Baltimore?

I would rather see “fans” in the stadium than “people”. The only thing “people” add to the park are lines and rude cell phone usage. Opposing fans can be obtrusive at times and so can our own home town crowd. Ever go to a Friday night student drunk fest? Respectful opposing fans add to the event.

I have experienced section 34 at Memorial Stadium. I have experienced the “Golden” sold-out Years of Camden Yards. I have experienced these past 15 “lost” years. Give me 10-15,000 true Oriole baseball “fans” over 45,000 “people” in the stands any day. I would rather spend my time and money at a game with “fans – that want to be there” as opposed to “people – wanting to be there because it’s the thing to do.” I would rather “strike up” a conversation with a knowledgeable sports fan, than “listen” to a conversation of some cell phone using moron or Betty and Sue talking about Earl from the office and their next Zumba class.

Of course I’m not the one counting on the revenue from those “people”. It’s real simple and we have all heard it before – win and more “people” will show. Do I like it when there’s a sea of red (Boston or Phillies), blue (Yankees) at the Yards? Heck no. Do I like it when they start cheering for their home team? Heck no. I don’t even like it if an opposing fan is sitting in the same section as I am. Am I at the ballpark? Do I contribute and cheer louder than they do? Depending on the individual, do I strike up a conversation with that opposing fan? Yes, yes and yes.  

 The Oriole/baseball “fans” are there at Camden Yards. Come join us. We are the ones in faded orange shirts and the ones not talking, e-mailing or tweeting on cell phones within the bowl. We are the ones that start our own cheers and not instructed to cheer by the Diamond Vision. Camden Yards is a nice evening out, at half capacity and Oriole Fans. Now bring on the playoffs, a packed house and the orange Kool-aid.

How about Roberts last night? Cross fingers. Get Markakis back, pitching holds/gets better, Andino on third,  “Orioles Magic” – make it happen.



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For one night anyway, Roberts looked as though he’d never left

Posted on 13 June 2012 by Luke Jones

He has a few more gray hairs and now sports an oversized batting helmet with double ear flaps, but the rest of Brian Roberts looked very much the same in making his long-awaited return to the Orioles in an 8-6 win over the Pirates on Tuesday.

For anyone who’s followed the second baseman’s long, painful road to recovery from concussion-related symptoms over the last 13 months, simply seeing his name on the lineup card was enough to feel good for the 34-year-old who’s spent the last 12 seasons in Baltimore.

What Roberts provided in his first game back was simply the icing on the cake as he went 3-for-4 and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in his first major league game since May 16, 2011. But make no mistake, the veteran infielder was never satisfied with simply making it back to the diamond, especially with the Orioles playing their best baseball in seven years and entering the evening a game behind the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East.

The last thing Roberts wanted to do was mess up what’s been a good thing in Baltimore, as he admitted to having bad dreams the night before returning to the Camden Yards diamond.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Roberts said. “I wasn’t expecting three hits. I was just trying to go out there and — as cliched as it sounds — try to have good at-bats and try to do something that would help us win a game. I really didn’t want to be part of coming in here and losing five or six in a row. That was probably my biggest fear more than anything.”

The tests came immediately as Roberts singled in the first inning after the kind of six-pitch at-bat the leadoff hitter was famous for over his many seasons with the Orioles. He then proceeded to dive back into the bag on a few pickoff attempts.

He slid hard into second base to break up a potential double play in the eighth, showing no hesitation in his approach as many wondered if he would.

You can only take away so much from one game, and the Orioles and their fans will continue to hold their breath on whether the concussion symptoms resurface as they did early in the 2011 season. But Roberts passed another test with flying colors in his first game back, looking as aggressive and capable as ever.

“I think he’ll pick his spots,” said manager Buck Showalter, who plans to use Roberts at second base every day unless circumstances dictate otherwise. “But this game’s challenging enough physically. I’ve seen a lot of guys have more trouble injury-wise when they’re playing at a different clip. I don’t think you’re going to see Brian change a lot of things that he does that makes him what he is.”

If you’re a fan of redemption stories, you couldn’t help but smile seeing Roberts run onto the field after knowing how he even struggled to live a normal life at different points over the last year. It was an ordeal no amount of money — even the $10 million paid to Roberts annually — could cure despite the ignorant cries of those questioning his integrity and desire to play at various points during his recovery. The infamous occasion in which Roberts struck himself in the head with a bat in late September of the 2010 season was a mistake, not a premeditated scheme on which to hold a grudge as some detractors elected to do based on misplaced frustration.

Many inside and outside the organization understandably doubted whether Roberts would ever play again, wondering if his symptoms would ever dissipate or were part of a greater medical issue at work. It was human nature to try to examine what was happening — even with minds such as mine that were uneducated about the brain — but Tuesday should eliminate any doubts about the Baltimore second baseman’s will to play.

One three-hit night doesn’t mean the Orioles once again have the Brian Roberts of old, but it was another successful step — the latest of many the infielder has taken in recent months — for him to reclaim his regular spot as the club’s leadoff hitter and regular second baseman. And his reemergence would make the Orioles a better team than what they’ve already been over the season’s first 2 1/2 months.

For Roberts, the biggest example of feeling like a normal member of the club may have come in the moments after the game when center fielder Adam Jones — the ringleader for post-game antics — offered the shaving cream pie to the second baseman’s face in what’s become a customary practice after wins.

“After I wiped it off, all the fans were cheering around me,” said Roberts, whose voice cracked subtly at a few points during his post-game press conference. “I got a little emotional again. Talk about being a part of a team. I hadn’t felt like that in a long time.”

It was the perfect ending to a heartwarming night for the second baseman, who was greeted with a standing ovation by the sparse crowd at Camden Yards during his first at-bat.

Despite months of everyone — Roberts included — wondering if such a moment would ever take place, there he stood, ready to step in against Pittsburgh starter Brad Lincoln.

He was simply a baseball player again, no longer a cheerleader relegated to the dugout or the guy unable to move from his couch after another frustrating spell of dizziness.

“It took me a second to gather myself,” said Roberts in describing the warm reception. “It was very special and much appreciated. That’s for sure. Everyone has been so good to me here in my career. The fans have been so great and supportive of me the whole time.”

It was good to see that support on display once again.

And even better to witness the successful night that followed for the Orioles second baseman.

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Morning Reaction Orioles 10-Game Scorecard (Games 51-60)

Posted on 12 June 2012 by Luke Jones

During the 2012 season, Drew Forrester and Luke Jones of The Morning Reaction will provide the “10-Game Scorecard” for the Orioles, rating the club in 10-game increments in a number of categories and looking ahead to how Baltimore will fare over the next 10 games on the schedule.

To hear the full explanation from Monday morning, click HERE.

1. Should the Orioles have been better or worse than their 5-5 mark?
Drew: Worse
Luke: Worse

2. Most Valuable Player/Least Valuable Player
Drew: MVP – Wei-Yin Chen; LVP – Robert Andino
Luke: MVP – Jim Johnson; LVP – Jake Arrieta

3. Biggest surprise
Drew: How badly Jake Arrieta has struggled
Luke: Winning two out of three at Fenway Park

4. Best thing about the 10-game stretch
Drew: The Orioles went 5-5 and are still above .500 despite injuries and the pitching woes.
Luke: Wei-Yin Chen rebounded from recent struggles to pitch a gem in Boston.

5. Ten games from now…
Drew: Brian Roberts will be hitting .300.
Luke: Brian Roberts will be firmly established once again as the Orioles’ leadoff hitter.

6. Record in the next 10 games (three with Pittsburgh, three at Atlanta, three at New York Mets, one with Washington)
Drew: 4-6
Luke: 6-4

7. Stock rising/falling over the next 10 games
Drew: Rising – Wei-Yin Chen; Falling – Mark Reynolds
Luke: Rising – Mark Reynolds; Falling – Steve Pearce

8. Grading Buck Showalter in games 51-60
Drew: A
Luke: A-

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Your Monday Reality Check-What a difference a week makes?

Posted on 11 June 2012 by Glenn Clark

Perhaps you’re not familiar with WNST.net MLB analyst Allen McCallum. Allen was once the Ballpark Reporter at WNST, covering the Baltimore Orioles on a daily basis. He’s remained with us in the years since then, appearing once a week in studio (currently with Thyrl Nelson on “The Mobtown Sports Beat”) to talk Major League Baseball and Baltimore Orioles.

Allen is a really good dude, but is decidedly un-American in my book. You see, Allen doesn’t like football. I don’t understand it either, trust me. I have every reason to believe he celebrates the 4th of July and enjoys a good slice of Apple Pie, but he loves baseball and just doesn’t care about our national pastime.

Despite this obvious flaw, I’ve maintained a level of friendship and (as much as is possible for someone who I have to imagine may be a communist) respect for Allen. I don’t dislike him, I just don’t understand how someone like him can exist in this country. You see, football is our beautiful game. It’s a game fathers play in the backyard with sons. Baseball is okay when there aren’t real sports to watch, but is clearly inferior to football in every way.

I’m kidding. Well I’m kidding a LITTLE bit anyway.

The reason my lede is about our resident purveyor of Orange Kool-Aid is because Allen likes to make a point during the course of baseball season that is relevant to both sports. As Birds fans have a tendency to freak out over the results of a couple of games (or one game…or a couple of innings…or a single at-bat), Allen likes to send out a reminder that “this isn’t football. There’s 162 games to be played.”

It hasn’t always been good news in Charm City that the O’s have to play 162 games, but the point he makes is relevant. During Ravens season we tend to overreact to one particular game, but we do that knowing that one game reflects roughly six percent of the season. While a NFL team can certainly recover from a stretch of two or three bad games, a bad streak can quickly spiral into killing a quarter of a football season. At the same time, a bad streak of three or four games during baseball season does not even represent the same six percent of the season that one football game represents.

Let me try to step away from math for a second. A single football game is more significant than a single baseball game. But you already knew that.

Seven days ago (which as I type this would have been June 4), there was reason for great concern amongst Baltimore baseball fans. After getting off to a 27-14 start, the Birds were mired in a streak that saw them drop 10 of 13 games. Sitting at 30-24, the Birds had appeared to already be well into their annual “June swoon” and seemed destined to find themselves on their way to the cellar of the AL East.

But something funny happened in the six games that followed. Instead of continuing their free fall, the Birds stabilized. They won two of three against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, then returned home to take two dramatic extra inning contests against the Philadelphia Phillies at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in front of thousands of stunned supporters who had made their way down I-95 from The City of Brotherly Love.

(Continued on Page 2….)

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Roberts set to return Tuesday, leaving questions about Andino’s role

Posted on 10 June 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With Sunday’s 5-4 win in 10 innings over the Philadelphia Phillies, the Orioles brass will now meet on the off-day to discuss the future of veteran second baseman Brian Roberts prior to the start of a three-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates beginning Tuesday.

The 34-year-old’s 20-day rehab assignment ends on Monday, and Baltimore is expected to activate Roberts, who will be making his return to the major leagues for the first time since May 16, 2011. However, manager Buck Showalter still wasn’t ready to risk jinxing the impending move prior to Sunday’s game.

“Let’s talk about that when it happens,” Showalter told reporters Sunday morning. “I don’t want to — not jinx it — but it’s been such a long road for Brian, and more importantly, I really don’t want to address it yet to be honest.”

Roberts went 0-for-4 for Norfolk in the Tides’ 4-2 loss on Sunday and is 5-for-21 (.238) in five games at Triple A. In his combined rehab time with Delmarva, Bowie, and Norfolk, Roberts has gone 10-for-42 (.238) with one home run, five doubles, four runs batted in, and seven walks in 14 games.

While many have wondered what Roberts’ return means for current second baseman Robert Andino, Showalter has been clear in his belief that Roberts will be an everyday player who can hopefully fill the lead-off spot that’s been an albatross for the Orioles since left fielder Nolan Reimold went down in late April. However, there’s little doubt that Showalter will continue to find regular at-bats for Andino, whose average is down to .243 after a 1-for-5 performance on Sunday.

Andino will likely assume a super-utility role similar to that held by Melvin Mora in the early part of last decade before he became the regular third baseman in 2004. The 28-year-old is capable of playing all infield positions and could become a factor in left field as well, though he has limited experience there.

“Robert’s been a guy that I’ve always felt comfortable playing anywhere,” Showalter said. “If Brian had been a little further along than this, I was going to try to play him a lot in the outfield in the spring. We talked about it. But we’ll continue to make use of Robert’s skills.”

Many have debated the merits of whether Roberts should simply retake the job, but Showalter will make sure each player gets regular at-bats. The Baltimore manager takes any opportunity he can to offer praise for what Andino brings to the club, so Roberts’ return shouldn’t be viewed as a negative unless he proves unable to play anymore. Whether it’s spelling Roberts and allowing the veteran to serve as the designated hitter once or twice a week or filling in at other positions, Andino will likely find his way into the lineup at least four or five games a week depending on the pitching matchups.

The question remains who will be sent out to clear room for Roberts. Despite a big day with a three-run homer on Sunday, infielder Steve Tolleson appears to be a strong candidate to go with utility player Ryan Flaherty being a Rule 5 selection the club must keep on the 25-man roster. With the club being so shorthanded in the outfield, veteran Steve Pearce has a stronger case for remaining with the Orioles for now. A darkhorse candidate could be first baseman Nick Johnson, who brings less versatility than either player and has made just one start since May 27, though Showalter likes having his left-handed bat off the bench in late-inning situations. .

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Moyer throws five shutout innings in Norfolk debut

Posted on 10 June 2012 by WNST Staff

Jamie Moyer and Brad Bergesen combined on a two-hit shutout as the Tides blanked the Buffalo Bisons 5-0 Saturday evening.

Moyer (1-0) was brilliant in his Tides’ debut, as he yielded one single while striking out five in five innings of work. The 49-year-old, who was signed by Baltimore as a free agent earlier this week, did not walk a batter while throwing 52 of his 84 pitches for strikes.

Bergesen tossed the final four innings of the contest to register his first career save. He struck out one and walked one, and he’s now 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA over his last six outings – five of which have been starts.

Norfolk scored all of its runs in the fifth inning, as the Tides sent eight men to the plate against Jenrry Mejia (0-1). The big hit of the inning was a three-run homer by Lew Ford, his fourth home run of the season.

Brian Roberts and Bill Hall each had two hits apiece for Norfolk.

The two clubs will square off again Sunday afternoon, with first pitch slated for 1:05. Left-hander Zach Britton (1-0, 6.00) will take the mound for Norfolk against right-hander Dylan Owen (3-3, 5.32).

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With Roberts’ potential return looming, Orioles still seek leadoff solution

Posted on 29 May 2012 by Luke Jones

After being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk prior to Tuesday’s game in Toronto, 22-year-old outfielder Xavier Avery became the latest in a long list of candidates to fall short in stabilizing the Orioles’ leadoff spot over the last two seasons.

Since second baseman Brian Roberts exited a game with concussion-related symptoms on May 16, 2011, the Orioles have been without a bona fide hitter at the top of the order despite trying a number of candidates in the role.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy had a higher degree of success than others last season, but his .295 on-base percentage while batting in the leadoff spot — to go along with a career .320 on-base percentage — didn’t exactly scream top-of-the-order hitter. In fact, Hardy’s power numbers (40 home runs in 176 games with the Orioles) suggest a player better suited to hit in the middle of the order than at the top.

This season, left fielder Nolan Reimold appeared to be an intriguing — but unconventional — choice with his career .338 on-base percentage, but a herniated disc in his neck has sidelined him after a fast start. In his absence, the combination of Endy Chavez, Robert Andino, Ryan Flaherty, and Avery has not been able to produce and set the table for the middle of the order.

Avery shows promise for the future, but his extended audition exposed the need for him to improve against off-speed pitches and develop further at Norfolk before he’s ready to assume the leadoff role on a permanent basis.

In 2011, the No. 1 spot in the order accounted for a .240 batting average and a .290 on-base percentage, the worst figures of any spot in the batting order. The numbers have been even worse this season as the top spot in the order has produced an anemic .213 average to go along with a .258 on-base percentage.

While many place too much emphasis on the batting order, the leadoff spot is expected to be occupied by a player with a strong ability to get on base and speed — a combination that has eluded the Orioles.

So, who might manager Buck Showalter turn to?

Ironically, it might be the man the Orioles have been trying to replace for over a year.

Five games into his minor league rehabilitation assignment, Roberts has yet to experience any setbacks while collecting two hits and two walks in 12 plate appearances at Double-A Bowie. Even if his rehab stint goes off without a hitch, it would be ambitious to expect Roberts to return to the form of a career .353 on-base hitter, but the 34-year-old infielder would easily become the most viable option in the top spot if he’s even remotely close to the player he was prior to the injury.

The debate will continue over how Showalter should handle Roberts’ workload and what it means for current second baseman Robert Andino, but the Orioles desperately need more production from the leadoff spot.

And with Roberts’ return looking more realistic every day, he would be as close to the ideal candidate as the Orioles have had since his exit over a year ago.

Starting pitching woes

The news of veteran pitcher Roy Oswalt signing a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers stole some of the thunder of this topic, but it’s become clear the Orioles need better starting pitching if they hope to maintain anything close to the 29-20 pace that’s put them in first place for much of the first two months of the season.

The current 4.31 earned run average from the starting rotation is just above the league average of 4.30, but that number becomes more concerning when you consider starters pitched to a 3.63 ERA in April but have posted a 4.94 mark so far in May.

Left-hander Zach Britton is expected to take the place of the struggling Tommy Hunter, who was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday with his ERA ballooning to 5.59 after another poor start in Toronto on Monday. However, the in-house options are few and far between after that, making the idea of Oswalt so appealing before he decided to sign with the defending American League champions.

The Orioles have few pieces in their system to warrant anything better than what they already have in making a trade, meaning they will likely have no choice but to depend on the continued success of Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen and hope for more consistency from Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz to prevent too much wear and tear on the bullpen.

While the health of Britton’s left shoulder remains the priority over any short-term results, the Orioles can only hope the 24-year-old more closely resembles the pitcher who was 5-2 with a 2.35 ERA in his first 10 starts last season than the one posting a 6.25 mark over his final 18 starts, which included a demotion and a trip to the disabled list with that sore shoulder.

With two days off during the current nine-game road trip, the Orioles will not need a fifth starter again until June 9. Barring any setbacks, Britton should be ready to join the starting rotation by that point in time.

Given Oswalt’s preference to play for a winner, Baltimore was an extreme long-shot, but his veteran presence for one season — without a long-term financial commitment — would have brought some much-needed stability and a veteran presence to the rotation.

Carrying Flaherty becoming burdensome?

Showalter has said how impressed he is with Rule 5 selection Ryan Flaherty on several occasions this season, but you have to wonder if the 25-year-old is becoming too great a burden on the 25-man roster for a first-place team.

Injuries provided the utility player more playing time in the early stages of May, but his .143 batting average (7-for-49) has led to less playing time over the last two weeks. Since going 0-for-4 in Kansas City on May 17, Flaherty has received only one start and four plate appearances while being relegated to the bench.

The idea of a Rule 5 player on a team projected to be in last place sounds like an acceptable situation, but carrying a player like Flaherty when you’re trying to win is a dicey proposition, especially when the Orioles have elected to go with a three-man bench and 13 pitchers at times when the bullpen has been overworked.

In addition to Flaherty, infielder Steve Tolleson doesn’t have a strong hold on his roster spot, so it will be interesting to see what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette decides to do if and when Roberts is ready to be activated on June 12. Regardless of whether Roberts takes Andino’s starting job or not, his addition will take away another roster spot and make you wonder if the Orioles can keep Flaherty around much longer if he isn’t going to produce.



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