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Ten talking points for Orioles-Tigers ALDS matchup

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Tigers ALDS matchup

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Orioles prepare to play the Detroit Tigers for the first time ever in the postseason, here are 10 talking points to break down their meeting in the American League Division Series beginning Thursday night:

1. The outcome of the regular-season series between these clubs is irrelevant.

It’s generally unwise to make too much out of a six-game sample anyway, but the Tigers’ 5-1 mark against the Orioles during the regular season included taking two of three in Detroit the first weekend of April and a three-game sweep at Camden Yards in mid-May. Even if Detroit easily disposes of Baltimore and sweeps the Division Series, what happened between these clubs more than four months ago isn’t a good predictor when you acknowledge how much change each roster has undergone since then.

2. The Detroit rotation has the better pedigree, but the Orioles posted a superior starter ERA this season.

Yes, the Tigers have the bigger names and former Cy Young Award winners in David Price, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander, but the Orioles’ starting pitching ERA of 3.61 ranked fifth in the AL while Detroit’s 3.89 starter mark was only 10th. Consistency has been key for Baltimore as all four projected starters in the Division Series carry an ERA of 3.65 or better. Meanwhile, Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player in the AL, has been the weak link for Detroit with a 4.54 ERA this season. On paper, the Tigers have the edge in Games 1 and 3 with Scherzer and Price scheduled to pitch, but Games 2 and 4 will be much more interesting with Verlander struggling all year and Rick Porcello posting a 6.20 ERA in five September starts after throwing a career-high 204 2/3 innings this season.

3. Baltimore led the majors in home runs, but Detroit scored 52 more runs over the course of the year.

The Orioles’ offensive identity is clear as they’re very dependent on the home run and ranked 11th in the AL in on-base percentage and 13th in walks, which aren’t promising numbers when you’d prefer not see Detroit starters pitching deep into games. The Tigers also allowed the second-fewest number of homers in the AL this season. In contrast, the Detroit offense was second in the majors in runs scored, first in batting average, and second in on-base percentage. For an Orioles staff that’s been very effective without striking out many hitters (10th in the AL), location is always important, especially against a lineup as consistent as the Tigers. Anything can happen in a short five-game series, but the Orioles would benefit from the ball carrying at both Camden Yards and Comerica Park.

4. The Orioles have a clear advantage in the late innings.

The Orioles ranked third in the AL in bullpen ERA (3.10) while Detroit ranked 13th with a 4.29 ERA and saw its bullpen nearly derail the season on a number of occasions. Baltimore’s late-inning trio of lefty Andrew Miller, submariner Darren O’Day, and closer Zach Britton is as good as any you’ll find in the postseason while the Tigers have held on tight with 39-year-old closer Joe Nathan, who sports a 4.81 ERA and has blown seven saves in his first year with Detroit. The X factors that could make the bullpen better for Detroit are usual-starter Anibal Sanchez — who is back from injury — and Joakim Soria, who has closer experience and has posted a 1.35 ERA since returning from the disabled list earlier this month. But if manager Brad Ausmus blindly trusts Nathan and even setup man Joba Chamberlain, he’s really rolling the dice.

5. The Tigers’ speed on the bases will be an issue for Orioles catchers.

Unlike the station-to-station Orioles who stole fewer bases (44) than anyone in baseball, Detroit isn’t afraid to run and ranked fourth in the AL with 106 steals. However, 36 of those came from outfielder Rajai Davis, who is currently nursing a groin injury that could limit him in the Division Series. The Tigers’ speed will force manager Buck Showalter to take pause when choosing between Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley behind the plate. Joseph has thrown out 40 percent of runners attempting to steal this season while Hundley has gunned down only 19 percent. The problem is Joseph is currently mired in an 0-for-30 slump and has been more erratic behind the plate down the stretch, which could indicate late-season fatigue.

6. The Baltimore defense is substantially better than Detroit’s.

Even without two Gold Glove winners for much of the season, the Orioles have still played defense at an extremely high level, committing the third-fewest number of errors in the AL and ranking third in defensive efficiency, according to BaseballReference.com. Meanwhile, the Tigers committed 14 more errors than Baltimore and ranked next to last in the AL in defensive efficiency. The Tigers also had five players — Davis, first baseman Miguel Cabrera, regular designated hitter Victor Martinez, outfielder Torii Hunter, and third baseman Nick Castellanos — with a defensive WAR (wins above replacement) of -1.0 or worse while Baltimore didn’t have a single player with a defensive WAR worse than -0.9, per BaseballReference.com.

7. Camden Yards was a more pitcher-friendly venue than Comerica Park this season.

Historically, Oriole Park at Camden Yards as been a pitcher’s nightmare while Comerica has played pretty evenly to pitchers and hitters alike, but 2014 has painted a much difference picture in Baltimore as Camden Yards has ranked 22nd in runs and 20th in home runs using ESPN’s park factors. Run scoring and home runs hit have been down at Camden Yards this season, which might be explained in part by the mild temperatures experienced in the area this summer compared to most years in which the ball tends to fly out in the summer months. Orioles pitchers allowed fewer homers and posted a lower ERA at Camden Yards than they did on the road while it wasn’t until the final month or so that Baltimore hitters finally started feasting at their home park, finishing the season with three more homers at home than on the road. Will this make a dramatic impact on the ALDS? Probably not with the cooler temperatures of October anyway, but it’s something to remember as analysts constantly mention the comfy dimensions of Camden Yards this October.

8. Defense at third base is an issue for both clubs.

The Orioles’ concerns at third base have been discussed extensively recently with Ryan Flaherty the most likely to handle the bulk of the work at the position during the ALDS, but Detroit has dealt with its own issues at the hot corner with Castellanos, who posted a respectable .700 on-base plus slugging percentage as a 22-year-old rookie but is a much better fit in the outfield. His 15 errors don’t appear to be a major concern on the surface, but fielding metrics show very limited range and his defensive WAR of -2.7 is the worst mark on the Tigers. As a result, Castellanos is frequently replaced by utility infielder Don Kelly in the late innings. While Castellanos has more potential with the bat than any of the Orioles’ current options at third base, it will be interesting to see if defense at the hot corner has a significant impact for either club at some point during the series.

9. It will be intriguing watching a rookie manager match wits with a seasoned skipper.

Always respected for his baseball mind as a longtime major league catcher, Ausmus will be making his postseason managerial debut against Buck Showalter, who is making his fourth playoff appearance and second with the Orioles and carries 16 years of major-league experience as a manager. With Detroit’s bullpen being so inconsistent, how far Ausmus is willing to push his starter on any given night will be a factor to watch. In contrast, Showalter has so many trustworthy bullpen pieces that he won’t hesitate to call to the bullpen sooner rather than later in a tight game. As mentioned before, third base has likely provided some restless nights for Showalter, but there isn’t too much mystery with the lineup beyond that. How the inexperienced Ausmus manages his pitching staff will be one of the big stories of the series.

10. Beware of bad blood.

While the Orioles’ 1-5 record against Detroit in April and May might not mean much, there was some bad blood between these clubs earlier in the season that’s worth keeping in the back of your mind. On May 12, Bud Norris was pitching a terrific game into the eighth before surrendering a two-run homer to Ian Kinsler to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead. Norris responded by plunking the next hitter Hunter in the ribs, which prompted the pitcher’s ejection as both benches and bullpens emptied before order was restored. Verlander retaliated two days later by throwing a fastball behind slugger Nelson Cruz, which brought a warning to both sides. You certainly hope that cooler heads prevail with those events taking place so long ago and the high stakes of October now in front of both clubs, but you never know for sure.

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Tillman officially named Game 1 starter of ALDS

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Tillman officially named Game 1 starter of ALDS

Posted on 23 September 2014 by Luke Jones

In what was hardly a surprise considering his status as the staff ace, Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman has been named Game 1 starter of the American League Division Series that will begin next week.

Manager Buck Showalter confirmed the news with reporters in New York prior to Tuesday’s game against the Yankees, but he had hinted last weekend that Tillman would pitch the series opener when he indicated the right-hander would pitch on an extra day of rest in each of his next two starts, pushing him to Oct. 2 when the ALDS is scheduled to begin.

Tillman has eclipsed the 200-inning mark for the second straight year and currently owns a streak of 20 consecutive starts in which he’s allowed three or fewer earned runs, tied with Steve Barber for the second-longest streak in franchise history. The 26-year-old is 13-5 with a 3.26 ERA in 33 starts this season and will be making his postseason debut after he did not appear in the 2012 playoffs.

Showalter will wait to name the rest of his starting rotation until the Orioles’ ALDS opponent is determined. Baltimore is currently slated to play the Detroit Tigers as they held a one-game lead over the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central entering Tuesday. However, the Orioles are still pursuing the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage as they trail the Los Angeles Angels by 2 1/2 games going into Tuesday.

The order has yet to be determined, but most expect Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris to make up the rest of the ALDS rotation with Kevin Gausman moving to a relief role.

 

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Five questions for Orioles in final 10 games of regular season

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Five questions for Orioles in final 10 games of regular season

Posted on 18 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles may have already wrapped up their first American League East title in 17 years, but a number of questions are left to be answered as they play out the remainder of the regular season.

Here’s a look at what remains on manager Buck Showalter’s mind for his 92-60 Orioles as they enter the final 10 games before the postseason …

1. Is it more important to go for the No. 1 seed in the American League or to rest everyday players?

Even though a 43-31 road record suggests the Orioles shouldn’t be afraid of playing away games in October, it’s difficult to argue with wanting home-field advantage considering Showalter’s club is a remarkable 30-8 at Camden Yards since June 30 and hasn’t lost consecutive home games since June 28-29. Entering Friday, they trailed the Los Angeles Angels by 2 1/2 games for the best record in the major leagues, a deficit that is far from insurmountable with the Angels playing Seattle and Oakland three times each — all six games are on the road — in their final nine games.

But Showalter also knows players who are fresh — or are at least as fresh as possible in October — are even more important to the Orioles’ chances of playing deep into the postseason. The early indications are that we’ll see position players such as Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Nelson Cruz, and Steve Pearce sit on a rotational basis of one or two per game, but Showalter has also said resting pitchers will be the higher priority.

The club’s top relievers have already been rested periodically over the last couple weeks as we’ve seen the likes of Ryan Webb, Evan Meek, and Brian Matusz pitch in some high-leverage situations while Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton have gone unused in certain games when they’d usually be available. Showalter could also elect to give a spot start or two to Ubaldo Jimenez or Joe Saunders to align his rotation and give some extra rest to starters who have historically benefited from extra days like Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez.

Entering Friday, the Orioles owned an eight-game lead over current No. 3 seed Detroit, so there isn’t any real danger of losing their grasp on the second seed if the Angels hold a steady lead into next week.

2. “I Don’t Know’s on third?”

While many have focused on the lost power potential of Chris Davis when news broke of his 25-game suspension last week, his absence at third base — where he was doing a solid job filling in for the injured Manny Machado — created the bigger dilemma as we’ve seen the trio of Ryan Flaherty, Jimmy Paredes, and veteran Kelly Johnson share time at the hot corner since last week.

Flaherty is the best defensive option, but his .645 on-base plus slugging percentage creates another weak spot in a lineup that’s already carrying the inconsistent rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop and one of the catching duo of Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley. Paredes and Johnson have provided some heroics with the bat in recent days, but neither provides a great deal of confidence defensively and they don’t have a track record — Johnson’s numbers in recent seasons are far inferior to the hitter he was four or five years ago — suggesting their offense will make a great impact in October, anyway.

It’s unlikely that Showalter will make a definitive choice for October, but his strong affinity for defense might make Flaherty the best bet of the three to receive extensive time — at least against right-handed starters — unless Paredes or Johnson continue to rake over the final 10 games going into the playoffs. Of course, there’s no guarantee that both Paredes and Johnson make the postseason roster.

3. Who will make up the four-man rotation for the playoffs?

Not counting Ubaldo Jimenez who appears all but certain to be left off the postseason roster, the Orioles really can’t go wrong with all five of their starters currently sporting an ERA of 3.62 or lower.

However, it would appear that Kevin Gausman is the starter left out considering he’s the least experienced of the group. Showalter’s decision to leave Chris Tillman out of the rotation in the 2012 postseason is a good indication that he’ll lean on experience, but the Orioles would be foolish not to put Gausman’s power arm in the bullpen to spell any starter showing signs of early trouble.

For the sake of ranking the remaining four from top to bottom, Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, and Norris would be a fair order based on how they’ve pitched in recent weeks.

4. Which 25 players will make up the Division Series roster?

The Orioles elected to keep 12 pitchers for the Division Series two years ago, which gave them an eight-man bullpen and plenty of flexibility to match up.

There shouldn’t be too much drama in the bullpen as Britton, Miller, O’Day, Gausman, Matusz, Brad Brach, and Tommy Hunter would fill the first seven spots with the final slot potentially going to long man T.J. McFarland or right-hander Ryan Webb. With three of the four rotation members right-handed, McFarland could be Showalter’s preference in the event of an early exit by a starter as he’d be a long reliever throwing from the opposite side to face a lineup designed for the right-handed starter.

Working under the assumption that Jones, Markakis, Cruz, Hardy, Pearce, Schoop, Joseph, Hundley, Flaherty, Delmon Young, and Alejandro De Aza are locks, Paredes, Johnson, and outfielders David Lough and Quintin Berry would be the realistic candidates fighting for two spots. It will be interesting to see if Showalter values having either Lough or Berry as a pinch-running option and late-inning defensive replacement, which would push either Paredes or Johnson off the roster with the other  guaranteed to make it as an option at third base.

The suspended Davis isn’t eligible to return until after the first eight games of the postseason, so his status isn’t a factor for the Division Series.

5. Will the Orioles be able to maintain their edge?

With so much discussion about Showalter needing to rest his everyday players, there’s a fine balance between providing a breather and accidentally turning off a competitive switch that isn’t guaranteed to come back on in October.

This could be a real concern for many clubs locking up a playoff spot in mid-September, but the mental toughness shown from the likes of Jones and Markakis all the way down to Paredes and De Aza makes you think the Orioles are incapable of losing their focus. Of course, the possibility of still being able to catch the Angels for the top seed provides extra incentive for players to remain engaged over the final 10 games.

Considering they’ve overcome season-ending losses to two All-Star players and haven’t even blinked since Davis’ suspension began last week, it would be difficult to fathom the Orioles finally having a mental letdown at this late stage. The Orioles may ultimately fall short in the playoffs, but it won’t be due to a lack of focus or going through the motions.

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Nothing typical about these AL East champion Orioles

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Nothing typical about these AL East champion Orioles

Posted on 17 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — For years, the discrepancy was clear as the Orioles wallowed at the bottom of the American League East.

Lagging behind in payroll and player development, they looked up at the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays while being stuck in neutral with no apparent direction or plan of how to get better. The Orioles didn’t spend like New York or Boston and couldn’t cultivate their own talent like Tampa Bay while suffering through a seemingly endless run of fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the toughest division in baseball year in and year out.

When the Orioles finally broke through Tuesday night with an 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays to win their first AL East title since 1997, it was an atypical sum of the parts that put them on top. Yes, their payroll is higher now than it was for years, but it still remains in the middle of the pack and far below those of the Yankees and Red Sox. Their farm system has produced a number of key players, but it isn’t the well-oiled machine like those of other top organizations in baseball.

It started with Andy MacPhail using some savvy trades and top draft picks to put together a core group of All-Star talent and continued with the arrival of manager Buck Showalter and current executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who began filling in the gaps with below-the-radar additions and, finally, a couple high-profile free agents this past winter. What’s resulted is a club that’s won more than 90 games for the second time in three years and appears poised to make a deep run in October.

The journey certainly hasn’t been easy as the season-ending injuries to catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado and the recent 25-game suspension of first baseman Chris Davis have provided easy excuses for the Orioles to wilt down the stretch. Not all has gone to plan as the $50 million free-agent addition of starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has been an utter failure in the first season of a four-year commitment.

But Tuesday’s win provided the perfect microcosm of what’s made the Orioles continue to thrive in 2014.

You can expect the unexpected.

Making his first start in a month after being dumped from the starting rotation, Jimenez overcame a shaky beginning to pitch five solid innings to earn just his fifth win of the season. Ironically, it was the kind of important game in which the Orioles envisioned Jimenez pitching when they signed him in February.

A three-run home run in the first inning came off the bat of Steve Pearce, the journeyman who was designated for assignment in April before being re-signed a few days later when Davis went on the disabled list. The 31-year-old has gone on to hit a career-high 18 homers, which is more than he’d hit in his first seven major league seasons combined. More than any other player, Pearce might be the ultimate symbol of the 2014 Orioles when the final chapter is written sometime next month.

A solo shot came an inning later from third baseman Jimmy Paredes, who was claimed off waivers by the Orioles during spring training and then lost to the Kansas City Royals a couple days later. Duquette eventually reacquired the 25-year-old in time for him to provide a handful of big hits in his few weeks with the club.

T.J. McFarland pitched a scoreless sixth inning. He was the Rule 5 selection the Orioles stubbornly retained on the 25-man roster all last season.

Darren O’Day provided 1 1/3 innings of excellent relief as he has for the last three seasons. The sidearm pitcher was claimed off waivers from Texas before Duquette was even hired three years ago.

Left field Alejandro De Aza hit the three-run triple in the seventh to bust the game open after he was acquired for two nondescript minor-league pitchers at the waiver trade deadline late last month.

Dominant lefty Andrew Miller struck out the only two hitters he faced and has been exactly what the Orioles envisioned when they acquired the best relief pitcher on the market while the rest of baseball lauded Oakland and Detroit for acquiring Jon Lester and David Price, respectively. The Orioles now own a better record than the Athletics and the Tigers.

When Pearce fielded the final out for the club’s 91st win of the season, it was just the latest example of the sum being much greater than the parts appear on paper.

There hasn’t been a set formula apparent to the rest of the baseball world that explains the Orioles’ ascent over the last few years, but they play great defense, hit home runs, and have pitched as well as anyone since early June. Those strengths have allowed them to overcome the loss of All-Star position players and failed free-agent acquisitions.

For Duquette and Showalter, the question isn’t who is the best player as much as it’s who is the best fit. It hasn’t been about spending money as much as it’s been about making the smartest decision.

And it’s been perfectly imperfect as Baltimore wrapped up the division title with 11 games to spare.

Whether they have 11 wins in them next month remains to be seen, but the journey to this point has been both difficult and overwhelmingly rewarding.

And it paid off with a celebration at Camden Yards Tuesday night while the rest of the American League East was looking up at the Orioles for a change.

 

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Orioles’ ability to overcome adversity begins with starters

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Orioles’ ability to overcome adversity begins with starters

Posted on 14 September 2014 by Luke Jones

With Friday’s surprising news of Chris Davis being suspended 25 games for amphetamine use, the same question that’s been tossed the Orioles’ way all season was uttered once again.

How can they overcome this?

Despite an 88-60 record entering Sunday that had them days away from the American League East championship, the Orioles have faced anything but a problem-free campaign in 2014.

All-Star players Matt Wieters and Manny Machado have suffered season-ending injuries. Top free-agent acquisition Ubaldo Jimenez has not only failed to meet expectations, but has been banished to the last spot in the bullpen and is very likely to be left off the postseason roster. And even before Davis’ suspension that now bans him until at least the AL Championship Series — if the Orioles advance that far — the slugger was hitting only .196 a year after hitting a franchise-record and league-leading 53 home runs.

“The game usually gives you back kind of what you put into it,” said manager Buck Showalter after the Orioles’ doubleheader sweep of the New York Yankees on Friday. “Everybody’s putting something into it.”

The narratives of resiliency and a different hero every night have frequently rung true, but they don’t paint the entire picture of how the Orioles have managed to all but run away with their first division title since 1997. We knew the Orioles would hit home runs and play exceptional defense entering the season, and those skills have certainly been there all year.

But the biggest question would be the pitching, particularly in the rotation. Even with the struggles of their $50 million addition in Jimenez, the starting pitching has not only silenced the doubts, but has been a strength since the first two months of the season. Through the end of May, the starting rotation had posted an underwhelming 4.49 ERA as the Orioles were 27-27. Since June 1, starters have pitched to an impeccable 3.20 mark, which would be tops in the AL if extrapolated over the entire season. The Orioles have gone 61-33 over that period of time, a .649 winning percentage.

Even with the unevenness of April and May included, Baltimore ranks sixth in the AL in starter ERA, which nearly any fan would have gladly taken at the start of the season. The current team ERA of 3.50 would be the Orioles’ lowest in a full season since 1979 when the AL champions posted a 3.26 ERA.

When being compared to the other top clubs around baseball, the Orioles are often sold short for lacking a true ace, but that hasn’t stopped the starting rotation from becoming the strong heartbeat of a club nearly 30 games above .500 in mid-September. All five members of the current rotation sport an ERA of 3.74 or better, making Showalter’s job a difficult one when deciding which four will make the postseason rotation.

Not only has the quintet of Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman pitched effectively, but the group has been durable with only Gonzalez and Norris spending brief time on the disabled list this season. After using a total of 12 or more starters in each of the previous three seasons under Showalter, the Orioles have sent just seven starters to the hill in 2014 with long reliever T.J. McFarland only receiving one spot start.

Four Oriole starters — Tillman, Chen, Norris, and Gonzalez — have made 24 or more starts. For perspective, only three made 24 or more starts in 2013 and just one did it in 2012 when the Orioles earned their first postseason trip in 15 years.

Upon learning of Davis’ suspension on Friday, the Orioles responded by promptly sweeping a twin bill over the Yankees in which they allowed one run in 20 total innings. The nightcap was particularly indicative of what the Orioles have become as they fielded what looked like a spring training lineup that included only four players from the Opening Day order and three who weren’t even on the 40-man roster at the start of the year. It was no problem for Bud Norris, who pitched seven shutout innings against the fading Yankees in a 5-0 victory.

“Good pitching solves a lot of problems, issues, whatever you might want to call it,” said Showalter as he reflected on the work his club did following the Davis announcement on Friday. “That’s usually where it starts.”

And it’s why the Orioles shouldn’t be counted out, even after this latest blow to the lineup.

 

 

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Davis receives 25-game ban for amphetamine use

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Davis receives 25-game ban for amphetamine use

Posted on 12 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Closing in on their first American League East title in 17 years, the Orioles learned Friday that slugger Chris Davis has been suspended 25 games for testing positive for amphetamine use.

Manager Buck Showalter confirmed the news Friday morning prior to Baltimore’s day-night doubleheader against the New York Yankees. Davis phoned his manager Thursday night to break the news as his 25-game ban will extend into the postseason, meaning he would not be eligible to play in the first eight games of the playoffs should the Orioles advance that far.

In a statement released Monday morning, Davis said he tested positive for Adderall, a drug he had an exemption to use in the past, but not this season.

“I apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Orioles organization and especially the fans,” Davis said. “I made a mistake by taking Adderall. I had permission to use it in the past, but do not have a therapeutic use exemption this year. I accept my punishment and will begin serving my suspension immediately.”

Davis hit a franchise-record 53 home runs a year ago before falling off significantly this season, hitting just .196 with 26 home runs and 72 runs batted in.

The 28-year-old was outspoken against performance-enhancing drug use in the midst of his record-breaking season and while Adderall doesn’t carry the same stigma of a steroid, doubts about his feats in 2013 will undoubtedly come under even more scrutiny with Friday’s news.

“At this point it’s not up to me to gauge what’s fair or not fair,” said Showalter about public perception. “I know what the positive test was for and believe me, I’m not condoning any positive test. Everybody knows what the rules are, so it is what it is. We’ve all made mistakes and none of us would like to have our whole life judged by our worst decision.”

For the first game of Friday’s doubleheader, Steve Pearce started at first base while the recently-acquired Kelly Johnson played third. The Orioles will have an open spot on the 40-man roster with Davis suspended, which means they could consider adding someone from their “taxi squad” in Sarasota. First baseman and the organization’s minor league Player of the Year Christian Walker is among the players continuing to work out in Florida.

With Davis ineligible for the first eight games of the postseason if the Orioles advance to the American League Championship Series, they would have to potentially decide whether to name him to the ALCS roster and play a man down to begin the series or push back his potential return until the World Series. Of course, there isn’t much precedent for a situation such as this as teams are only allowed to change their roster in the midst of a postseason series because of an injury.

Should the Orioles’ season end without playing eight postseason games, the remainder of Davis’ suspension would carry over into the start of the 2015 campaign.

Davis is scheduled to become a free agent after next season and has undoubtedly cost himself millions with a poor 2014 followed by the news of Friday’s suspension.

Resilient all year long despite season-ending injuries to catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado, the Orioles will now face another substantial challenge, even if Davis failed to approach the success he enjoyed in 2013.

“I’m disappointed, but I know Chris is, too. It is what it is,” Showalter said. “We’re going to try to deal with it and move on. The timing’s never good, but it’s one of those challenges. That’s why we have this in place and [are] fully supportive of it. These are the things that everybody knew beforehand.

“You learn to deal with the problems and the challenges along the way. If they’re self-inflicted, there’s no ‘woe is me.’ And this is self-inflicted.”

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Orioles hoping to have Hardy back in lineup by Friday

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Orioles hoping to have Hardy back in lineup by Friday

Posted on 10 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles hope the favorable results of a magnetic resonance imaging exam will lead to shortstop J.J. Hardy’s return to the lineup as early as Friday when they welcome the New York Yankees to Camden Yards for a day-night doubleheader.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Boston that Hardy met with Dr. Michael Jacobs and received a cortisone injection in the sacroiliac joint in his lower back on Tuesday. It’s similar to the treatment Hardy received in April when he experienced spasms that caused his back to lock up, and the MRI results showed no changes or structural concerns, according to the Baltimore skipper.

The injection typically requires 48 hours to take effect, which would presumably have Hardy ready to go by Friday in Showalter’s mind. Of course, the Orioles have taken great caution with their Gold Glove shortstop as a 10-game lead in the American League East entering Wednesday allows them to do.

Hardy originally experienced a lower back spasm that forced him out of a game on Sept. 1. After returning to the lineup for three contests last week, Hardy hasn’t played since last Friday as he continues to experience soreness. The 32-year-old missed six games in early April due to lower back spasms that were more severe than what he experienced last week.

In 480 at-bats this season, Hardy is hitting .281 with nine home runs, 26 doubles, and 52 runs batted in.

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Keeping eye on Orioles bullpen in September

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Keeping eye on Orioles bullpen in September

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

There’s little to be concerned about with the Orioles enjoying a 9 1/2 game lead in the American League East entering the weekend, but the late innings of Thursday’s 9-7 win over the Cincinnati Reds suggest there might be something worth monitoring in the short-term future.

The Orioles bullpen has been stellar all season, ranking fourth in the AL with a 3.21 ERA, but there have been a few leaks over the last week that likely grabbed the attention of manager Buck Showalter. Baltimore relievers only rank sixth in the AL in innings pitched, which doesn’t indicate overuse being a major concern, but witnessing Brian Matusz and the newly-recalled Evan Meek warm up in the eighth inning of a two-run game Thursday — the night after Miguel Gonzalez had pitched a complete-game shutout to give the entire bullpen a night off — made it clear that Showalter didn’t have his full array of arms.

Left-handed reliever Andrew Miller is currently dealing with a tweaked hamstring and hasn’t pitched since Monday when he allowed two hits and an earned run while retiring only two batters. The former Boston reliever has downplayed the significance of his injury, but it’s clear the Orioles manager was trying to avoid using him this week.

Outstanding right-hander Darren O’Day not warming up after Tommy Hunter allowed a leadoff double in the eighth inning Thursday makes you wonder if he might be dealing with a physical challenge as well. O’Day did throw 26 pitches in a rare poor appearance Tuesday when he allowed a grand slam to Jay Bruce, but the submarine-style pitcher only seeing one appearance since Saturday is a little unusual.

Right-hander Brad Brach has been one of the better stories of the 2014 season, but the 28-year-old has allowed five earned runs, nine hits, and three walks in his last three innings of work spanning five appearances. His four runs allowed Thursday allowed the Reds to come back from what was originally a 6-0 deficit in the first inning to force a 7-7 tie in the seventh.

And even though closer Zach Britton continues to do remarkable work in the ninth, he ranks eighth in the majors in innings pitched by relievers and recently completed a stretch in which he appeared in five games in seven days. The former starting pitcher is used to a heavy volume of work, but pitching so frequently is a difficult adjustment for someone in his first season pitching in relief.

By no means should these factors instill any sense of panic, but they do provide evidence for Showalter to make use of his September bullpen that currently features 11 pitchers. The manager has already said he won’t change his managerial style before the Orioles potentially clinch their first division title since 1997, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to lighten the load for the key members of his bullpen such as Britton, O’Day, and Miller while passing a few more opportunities toward the likes of Hunter, Matusz, Ryan Webb, T.J.McFarland, and even veteran Joe Saunders.

It’s a careful balancing act as relievers need regular work to remain sharp, but there’s no question that Showalter will want to do everything he can to ensure that his late-inning weapons are as close to full strength as they can be in October.

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Hardy out of Tuesday’s lineup, four more added to Orioles’ expanded roster

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Hardy out of Tuesday’s lineup, four more added to Orioles’ expanded roster

Posted on 02 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles began a three-game interleague series with the Cincinnati Reds without the starting shortstop in the starting lineup Tuesday.

After leaving Monday’s loss to the Minnesota Twins with back spasms, J.J. Hardy was on the bench as manager Buck Showalter wanted to give the veteran infielder an extra day to rest. Hardy told reporters following Monday’s game that the spasm did not cause his back to lock up like the one in April that forced him to miss five games.

Infielder Ryan Flaherty was starting at shortstop in place of Hardy against the Reds.

The Orioles continued their roster expansion Tuesday by recalling pitchers T.J. McFarland and Ryan Webb and catcher Steve Clevenger and selecting the contract of Triple-A Norfolk outfielder Quintin Berry. Showalter told reporters prior to Tuesday’s game that he doesn’t anticipate adding any other players unless injuries dictate a need.

While McFarland and Clevenger were recently on the roster before temporarily being optioned, Webb is making his return to the Orioles bullpen for the first time since being optioned on Aug. 1. The acquisition of left-handed pitcher Andrew Miller at the non-waiver trade deadline pushed Webb to the minor leagues where he posted a 4.76 ERA in 11 1/3 innings for the Tides. In 42 2/3 innings for the Orioles this season, the 28-year-old has pitched to a 3.80 ERA.

Berry will provide the Orioles another speedy option off the bench as he batted .285 with 25 stolen bases in 31 attempts in 112 games for Norfolk this season. Including the postseason, Berry is 29-for-29 stealing bases in his major league career, which includes stops in Detroit and Boston.

In order to make room for Berry on the 40-man roster, the Orioles placed third baseman Manny Machado on the 60-day disabled list. The 22-year-old Gold Glove winner underwent season-ending knee surgery last week.

In other injury-related news, first baseman and outfielder Steve Pearce continues to improve after suffering an abdominal strain last week. The Orioles and Pearce are hopeful that he’ll be ready to return this weekend against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg.

After tweaking his leg on his final pitch against the Twins on Monday afternoon, Miller is day to day and may have just experienced a cramp, according to Showalter.

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Hardy leaves Monday’s game with light back spasms

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Hardy leaves Monday’s game with light back spasms

Posted on 01 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Shortstop J.J. Hardy lefty Monday’s game with some light back spasms in the eighth inning of the Orioles’ 6-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins.

Hardy went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and was replaced by utility infielder Ryan Flaherty after he came around to score on catcher Nick Hundley’s three-run homer to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh. After missing five games earlier in April due to a similar ailment, Hardy did not seem overly concerned following the game and told reporters he expected to be in the lineup when the Orioles welcome the Cincinnati Reds to Camden Yards on Tuesday night.

“Earlier this year, it started with spasms, but then it completely locked up on me and I missed a week,” Hardy said. “It didn’t lock up on me [this time], so I think it’s just some light spasms. It’s probably a good thing that I got out of there.”

Hardy wondered if the heat finally hitting Baltimore over the weekend had a part in the spasms occurring. The infielder estimated he lost six or seven pounds from perspiring during Sunday’s game.

Manager Buck Showalter wanted to play it safe with his Gold Glove shortstop and described Hardy as “day to day” following the game.

“He kind of wanted to continue, but I didn’t want to take a chance of him getting any worse,” Showalter said. “I’m hoping it was just a sticky, hot day, and it caught up with him a little bit. I just wanted to be on the safe side and see what tomorrow brings. His last at-bat, I noticed he looked a little different. He said it had just tightened up on him a little bit.”

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