Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Orioles hear Gausman’s statement loud and clear

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles lost 2-0 to the Texas Rangers on Thursday to drop their first series in a month, but that wasn’t the biggest story as it relates to the remainder of the 2015 season.

Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman staked an emphatic claim to a spot in the rotation with 6 1/3 scoreless innings, and the Orioles appear ready to accommodate after the continued struggles of Bud Norris in the first half. After Gausman allowed only four hits and matched a career high with seven strikeouts, Buck Showalter said the right-hander will accompany the club to Chicago instead of being optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk as many anticipated.

The Orioles manager didn’t confirm that Gausman would receive another start, but he did announce that Miguel Gonzalez would pitch on Sunday, presumably leaving Norris as the long man in the bullpen for at least the near future. Despite those criticizing the patience he’s shown with Norris — a 15-game winner in 2014 — Showalter saw what we all witnessed from Gausman on Thursday.

“Good, real good,” Showalter said. “He was using both depths with his fastball. Pitching down all the time isn’t always [good]. Good hitters get their arms extended, but he changed eye levels a lot with his fastball, which I thought was really good. It’s something he and [pitching coach Dave Wallace] have been working on. He was really good.”

Of course, Gausman made a strong case for a spot in the starting rotation long before Thursday’s performance against the Rangers. Showalter has pointed to Norris’ track record as evidence to stick with him throughout the first half, but you can only overlook a 6.79 ERA so long while acknowledging Gausman pitched to a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts last season, many of them coming in the second half in the midst of a pennant race.

Even if you didn’t like it, you could understand the organization deferring to the five veterans in the rotation to begin the season — especially with the 2015 money tied into Norris and the long-term commitment made to the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez — but the Orioles were shortsighted in sending Gausman to the bullpen in April. The decision likely played a part in the 2012 first-round pick developing right shoulder tendinitis and missing more than a month of action.

Now, there are no more excuses to hold Gausman back as he’s healthy and once again stretched out as a starter after a few outings in the minors and a solid start in Toronto last month. Pitching on three days’ rest, he turned in a performance on Thursday that was superior to any of Norris’ work during the 2015 season.

“I don’t know if I was making a statement, but I just wanted to pitch well,” said Gausman, who quipped that he packed a bag for Baltimore’s road trip in case he wouldn’t be optioned back to the minors. “That’s all I want to do is pitch, whether it’s here or in Triple A. I just want to pitch and throw a lot of innings. Going on the DL was something I didn’t plan. I wanted this to be the year I would get close to 200 innings, but it’s just not going to happen.

“Right now, I’m just focusing on getting more innings and going out there and competing and helping the team win.”

If the Orioles want to have their best chance to advance to the postseason for the third time in four years, Gausman should be in the starting rotation until he proves he’s not one of their best five starters.

Watching him pitch on Thursday, you were reminded of what he possesses that other pitchers simply do not. Seemingly every time he got to two strikes on a hitter, a fastball sitting comfortably around 94 mph in other counts would explode to 96 or 97 on the radar gun. Gausman also had his best split-changeup of the season, a pitch that’s devastating to left-handed hitters when he’s able to command it.

The development of a breaking pitch — a curveball he began throwing this year for the first time since college — is ongoing, but Gausman’s fastball and split were so strong on Thursday that he didn’t need to throw anything else, including his circle changeup. He may not be a finished product and it hasn’t been the easiest year for him, but Gausman is more than deserving of a spot in the major league rotation.

The time is now.

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Orioles sign former All-Star closer Perez to minor-league deal

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Though still needing to serve a 50-game suspension, former All-Star relief pitcher Chris Perez agreed to a minor-league deal with the Orioles on Thursday.

The 30-year-old will report to Sarasota while serving the ban for a second offense of using a drug of abuse. Perez had posted a 9.39 ERA in 7 2/3 innings for Triple-A Colorado Springs in the Milwaukee Brewers organization this season before opting out of his deal in late April to become a free agent.

“That doesn’t affect us right now, obviously, for 50 games,” said manager Buck Showalter, who learned of the signing Thursday afternoon. “We all makes some changes in our life and get better. I don’t know much at all about what’s been going on with him.

“I do know there are some other variables there that figure into it, I think.”

A two-time All-Star closer for the Cleveland Indians in 2011 and 2012 — he collected a combined 75 saves in those seasons — the right-hander and his wife were arrested for marijuana possession in 2013 after a package with nine ounces of marijuana was delivered to his home in their dog’s name. Perez’s career has declined since then as he was released by Cleveland after pitching a 4.33 ERA and converting 25 of 30 saves in 2013.

The Orioles previously expressed interest in Perez before he elected to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers and posted a 4.27 ERA in 46 1/3 innings during the 2014 season.

In his seven years in the majors, Perez has a career 3.51 ERA with 133 saves in 379 1/3 innings.

NOTES: There is no timetable for Matt Wieters to begin catching back-to-back games, but he is now throwing and doing other things to continue strengthening his elbow on non-catching days. Showalter reiterated that he expects the 29-year-old to do it at some point this season, but he didn’t want to predict when. … Norfolk will send four players to the Triple-A All-Star game with outfielder Dariel Alvarez being elected to start. Catcher Steve Clevenger and pitchers Michael Bowden and Oliver Drake will also represent the Tides as reserves. … T.J. McFarland started Thursday’s game for the Tides, but the lefty will return to a relief role after that and could be added to the Orioles bullpen sometime next week if there’s a need between now and the All-Star break.

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Orioles thoughts on Young, Paredes, starting rotation

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles made a tough decision, but the right one on Wednesday.

Delmon Young should never have to pay for a meal in Baltimore again after his three-run double in Game 2 of the 2014 American League Division Series last October, but the 29-year-old was caught up in the numbers game this year. And when the roster consists of several platoon outfielders, it boils down to versatility and how many different ways you can help your club win.

Beyond a decent .270 average, the offensive numbers weren’t pretty for Young as his 2.2 percent walk rate was the worst on the club and his .339 slugging percentage was lower than even the likes of Ryan Flaherty (.400) and David Lough (.340). Despite collecting eight outfield assists, his defensive limitations made Young the most vulnerable of the fringe players on the roster.

In contrast, Steve Pearce can fill a similar role against left-handed pitching while being able to play multiple positions at a higher level. Though his health is always a question, Nolan Reimold has power, solid defensive ability, and better speed. And even the maligned David Lough fills a bigger need — for now — as the backup center fielder until Adam Jones proves his right shoulder injury is completely in the rear-view mirror.

Last season, Young was in the perfect role in making just 56 starts — most of them against left-handed pitching — with the Orioles having a fixture in Nick Markakis in right field. However, Showalter being forced to mix and match at both corner outfield spots this year — with disappointing results — eventually led to the additions of Nolan Reimold and Chris Parmelee to the 25-man roster last month and a reduction in Young’s playing time.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would be wise in attempting to deal Young to a National League contender looking for a right-handed bat off the bench. Given his reputation in the postseason, you’d hate to see the Orioles potentially cross paths with Young this October — or sooner — if he were to end up with an AL club.

With the Orioles still wanting to activate second baseman Jonathan Schoop sooner rather than later, Duquette and manager Buck Showalter will face another difficult decision with so many outfielders remaining on the roster.

However, let’s not forget that these outfielders are all complementary pieces at the end of the day. The Orioles may not consider these as easy decisions, but parting ways with Young — or whoever else they might have chosen — was never going to make or break the season in the long run.

** Another reason why the Orioles felt they were able to part ways with Young was the emergence of Jimmy Paredes, who has been the most pleasant surprise of the 2015 season with a .319 average, 10 home runs, and an .867 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Thursday.

Paredes serving extensively as the designated hitter further diminished the need for Young, and the former’s most recent hot streak likely provided the final confirmation that the Orioles needed.

After hitting a remarkable .353 in his first 143 plate appearances this year, Paredes’ good fortune had appeared to run out when he went through a nightmarish two-week stretch from May 28-June 10 that saw his average plummet 59 points. It appeared that opponents had finally figured out how to pitch the switch hitter during a 4-for-41 drought that included 20 strikeouts.

However, Paredes has rebounded dramatically since then, hitting .404 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last 56 plate appearances. In recent weeks, he’s shown a little more discipline in laying off pitches outside the strike zone and even drew three walks during Sunday’s doubleheader.

It may be a tall order for Paredes to hit .319 the rest of the way, but he’s certainly shown enough over 242 plate appearances this season to make you think that Showalter and the Orioles have found a nugget with an intriguing future at just 26 years of age.

** Though we shouldn’t read too much into the projected starters for this weekend’s series in Chicago, it was interesting to note that Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined.

For what it’s worth, that is supposed to be Bud Norris’ next turn in the starting rotation, but Showalter revealed that the struggling right-hander will be available in relief on Thursday since Tyler Wilson was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for starter Kevin Gausman on the 25-man roster, once again leaving the Orioles with a six-man bullpen.

What happens after Thursday will be interesting with the Orioles counting down to the All-Star break, a time when they’ve gotten creative with the use of their roster over the last few years. Not only does the four-day break begin on July 13, but the Orioles also have an off-day next Thursday, which could prompt them to option a starter — maybe even two — to the minor leagues before the season’s intermission begins.

Should Gausman pitch well against Texas on Thursday, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for the Orioles to keep him around and elect to give the ball to Miguel Gonzalez on four days’ rest on Sunday, meaning they would skip Norris and use him as a long reliever for the time being. They could then option Gonzalez to the minors on Monday to give them an extra roster spot as they would only need four starters for the remainder of the first half with a day off on July 9.

This could be a desirable scenario if they would prefer Gonzalez to pitch over the break as he’s not far removed from a stint on the disabled list and has been out of sync since returning.

It’s only spit-balling and the Orioles could just as easily option Gausman to the minors immediately after Thursday’s game, but Showalter certainly left the door open to pondering the alternatives by not immediately listing Norris as his starter for the series finale against the White Sox.

 

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Orioles remain in holding pattern with Schoop

Posted on 30 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles know Jonathan Schoop is ready to be activated, but they’re not in a rush to make it happen.

The second baseman once again worked out at Camden Yards on Tuesday and will continue his rehab assignment at Single-A Frederick in the next day or two. What happens after that remains to be seen as Schoop’s assignment is scheduled to expire on Friday and the Orioles are discussing their options, including sending him down to the minor leagues temporarily.

A well-documented surplus of outfielders on the 25-man roster remains a sticking point as executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are currently using a six-man bullpen and will need to make space for Kevin Gausman to start Thursday’s series finale against the Texas Rangers. Schoop is not expected to travel with the Orioles to Chicago for the weekend series against the White Sox.

“Obviously, he can be optioned. There are a lot of things there for us,” Showalter said. “Jonathan will benefit by every day he can get the knee that much stronger. It’s a pretty significant injury, so I want to keep that in mind, but we feel like Jon — if we had to — could be activated [or] he could benefit by playing in the minor leagues.”

While many have questioned the Orioles’ hesitation in activating Schoop, there is a baseball argument in favor of optioning him to the minors that goes beyond the roster crunch and wanting to take it slow with his rehabilitated right knee. Few would dispute Schoop’s potential or standing as the second baseman of the future, but the Orioles have received better-than-expected play from Ryan Flaherty at second base this season.

It was easy to get caught up in Schoop’s hot start to 2015 with three home runs in 29 plate appearances, but the young infielder is far from a finished product after hitting .209 with a .598 on-base plus slugging percentage as a rookie. Entering Tuesday, Flaherty was hitting .254 with a very solid .734 OPS, which ranked seventh in the American League among second basemen with at least 150 plate appearances.

To be clear, there is no second base controversy, but the position has been in good hands during Schoop’s recovery and will remain that way while the Orioles bide their time with the roster crunch and making a decision on when to activate the 23-year-old. Once Schoop returns, Flaherty has earned the right to remain in the mix at second base while also occasionally spelling J.J. Hardy at shortstop.

“He’s a lot more than a safety net,” said Showalter of the utility infielder and former Rule 5 pick. “He’s a guy you can run out there at about six positions that I feel comfortable with him. You don’t really appreciate those guys until you don’t have them. Everybody’s always looking for that guy.

“Ryan’s showing some things that you look for in an everyday player too. He’s made some adjustments in his swing and mentality that have been very evident. Some guys figure it out at 28 or 29. He’s a guy that’s easy to trust.”

NOTES: Right-handed pitcher Jason Garcia is expected to begin a rehab assignment in the near future after a couple more bullpen sessions. The Rule 5 selection was placed on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis on May 15. … Chris Davis was making his fourth start in right field in the last five games with Chris Parmelee back at first base on Tuesday night. … Manny Machado entered Tuesday ranked sixth in batting average (.307), fifth in hits (91), and ninth in OPS (.891) in the American League.

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Orioles prospect Bundy unlikely to pitch again this year

Posted on 29 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, Orioles pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is unlikely to pitch again in 2015 due to right shoulder inflammation.

After being assigned to Double-A Bowie at the start of the season, Bundy was shut down after a start on May 21 due to right shoulder tendinitis and hasn’t thrown since. Buck Showalter chose not to reveal specific details about Bundy’s visit to renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, but the manager made it clear the 22-year-old won’t be pitching anytime soon.

He is 0-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 22 innings for the Baysox this year.

“I’m not going to elaborate on doctors’ evaluations and whatever, but I know Dylan throwing again is not imminent,” Showalter said. “I haven’t heard surgery mentioned — not at this point. He’s just kind of shut down for the near future. Kind of let everything calm down and see where we are.”

According to The Sun, Bundy is dealing with calcification in the back of the right shoulder that is causing the inflammation. Surgery is not being discussed as an option at this point.

The news is concerning for Bundy and the Orioles as he is out of minor-league options next year since he signed a major league contract when he was selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft. Continuing health problems are concerning enough, but the right-hander has missed valuable experience in only making 40 professional starts in four years and would need to be on the 25-man roster next season if he’s healthy.

Bundy has been coveted by other clubs in potential trades over the last few years, but the Orioles were always hesitant to part with him because of his potential to become a top-of-the-rotation starter. This latest setback makes that projection feel even more tenuous as many have pointed to his past workout habits and heavy workload in high school as factors that have contributed to his ailments as a professional.

“Depending on how you look at it, it’s probably as good of news as we could expect,” said Showalter of Bundy’s prognosis. “We’ll see. I obviously know a lot more than I’m going to talk about here. I don’t think it’s good for anybody right now, the timing. But he won’t be throwing for a little while. We’ll see how long that is.”

In other prospect-related news, 2013 first-round pick Hunter Harvey is set to begin a throwing program soon after being shut down with a flexor mass strain earlier this year. Harvey received a platelet rich plasma injection and was prescribed rest when he visited Andrews last month.

Harvey was shut down early last year with the same ailment.

Right-handed pitcher Matt Hobgood, the Orioles’ first-round pick in the 2009 draft, will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, the latest setback in a disappointing professional career. Hobgood will become a minor-league free agent after the 2015 season.

NOTES: Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman remains on track to start Thursday’s series finale against the Texas Rangers. Barring something unforeseen, Showalter doesn’t anticipate the 24-year-old staying with the club after that as the organization wants him to continue pitching every fifth days. … Entering Monday, the Orioles were 10-1 at home and 18-8 overall in the month of June. The last time Baltimore posted 20 wins in a calendar month was September 1999. … In the latest American League All-Star voting update, Manny Machado ranked fourth among third basemen and Adam Jones was seventh among outfielders. The starters will be announced on Sunday night with reserves, pitchers, and the “Final Vote” candidates being unveiled on Monday night. A special will be televised on ESPN both nights. Five Kansas City Royals players remain in the lead to start after eight were leading the voting at their positions earlier this month.

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Orioles once again looking part of first-place club

Posted on 29 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles pitched two shutouts, their top six relievers threw a combined 18 pitches, and Adam Jones finally made his return to the lineup on Sunday.

The Buck Showalter garden gnome giveaway was a huge hit.

And, oh yeah, the Orioles found themselves back in first place in the American League East for the first time since April 19.

Cleveland manager Terry Francona might have been asking himself why he waited until the ninth inning of Game 2 to get ejected after his team’s abysmal day, but the Orioles couldn’t have asked for a better doubleheader. In tossing shutouts in both games of the twin bill — a 4-0 win in the opener and an 8-0 final for the nightcap — the Orioles did something they hadn’t accomplished since Sept. 6, 1974 when they twice blanked the Indians in a doubleheader at old Cleveland Stadium.

“It was big. It was a good day,” said Game 2 winner Chris Tillman, who pitched a much-needed seven shutout innings to help his own psyche after Ubaldo Jimenez tossed eight scoreless frames in the opener. “Ubaldo went out and did an outstanding job. There was a lot of offense today in both games. It was really fun to watch.”

On the same day they won the 5,000th game in club history, the Orioles came out of the weekend only reinforcing what many have begun thinking more and more over the last four weeks. They’re looking like a first-place club and woke up Monday morning in that very position, percentage points ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in a division where four clubs are currently separated by one game.

It’s a different season and a different club, but you couldn’t help but notice that the Orioles seized first place for good on July 3 last season. The similarities are there with an excellent defense, a stellar bullpen, and a revitalized offense hitting home runs, but even the starting pitching got into the act after struggling in recent weeks by allowing just two earned runs in 21 innings of work against the Indians.

Right now, the AL East is far from the poor division it looked to be six weeks ago as three clubs — Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and New York — would have qualified for the playoffs if the season had ended on Sunday. Whether the Orioles will follow the same script of 2014 remains to be seen, but 18 wins in 23 games to move to the top of the division would have any club feeling good about itself.

“It’s a return for that, but it can be very fleeting,” Showalter said. “The only thing I look at is the loss column now and then. I don’t pay much attention to the other part of it.

“See if you can stay engaged and have a chance to roll the dice in September. That’s what it’s about. Position yourself to be in it in September and play meaningful games when the leaves start turning. It’s not that complicated.”

Continuing to win at a .783 clip as they have for more than three weeks isn’t sustainable, but the Orioles learned last year that it doesn’t take prolonged winning streaks to pull away from the pack if you consistently win series. If you combine the four games — two home and two away — against Philadelphia, Baltimore has now secured seven consecutive series wins.

Unlike the Orioles clubs from a few years ago, this group of players has the experience of bouncing back — like when they were six games below .500 earlier this month — that brings confidence the rest of the way. They know it won’t be this easy over the final three months of the season, and Showalter makes sure his players are prepared for that reality, never wanting them to be too high or too low after any result.

“We have the ups and downs,” said third baseman Manny Machado, who hit his career-high 15th homer on Sunday and continues sprinting toward superstar status a week shy of his 23rd birthday. “We started off a little slow. We had players injured, and we’re just getting back into it. Everybody’s starting to get healthy. This is just the midway point.

“There’s a lot more baseball ahead, a lot more slumps, a lot more games lost coming ahead, but we’ve got to stay focused and stay with the mindset that we have.”

The Orioles know they aren’t perfect.

Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette are still sifting through a crowded corner outfield situation that will likely require parting ways with one or two options. As a whole, the group has been more productive in June, but the Orioles have to hope they’ll make the right decisions and the remaining pieces will continue getting the job done.

Tillman’s strong performance on Sunday was a step in the right direction as he and Bud Norris still have a long way to go to quell concerns over their immense struggles in the first half of 2015.

But these issues don’t feel insurmountable and certainly aren’t any worse than the weaknesses the other AL East contenders are facing. Even in winning 96 games and the club’s first division title in 17 years last year, the Orioles had their flaws.

It’s tough to ignore the similarities with 2014, even down to the contributions from unexpected sources such as Jimmy Paredes, Chaz Roe, and Chris Parmelee a year after Steve Pearce, Brad Brach, and Caleb Joseph emerged from the shadows.

“This team tries as much as we can not to think about last year,” said Chris Davis, who hit his club-leading 16th homer on Sunday night. “It was obviously a great year, but it’s over with. You have to turn the page and focus on what’s at hand. I think we’re proud of the way we’re playing right now and battling these last few days and playing with somewhat of a short roster.

“Guys have stepped up and have done a great job.”

And the Orioles have stepped to the top of the AL East as a result.

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Jones makes return to starting lineup for Orioles

Posted on 28 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Taking advantage of Saturday’s rainout to test his sore right shoulder, Adam Jones returned to the Orioles lineup for the first game of a doubleheader against Cleveland on Sunday.

The center fielder had missed eight of the previous 10 games since injuring his right shoulder in a win over Philadelphia on June 15. The 29-year-old was batting third and back in center field for the first time since hurting his shoulder diving for a ball against the Phillies.

“I’m ready to play baseball. I missed my teammates,” said Jones, who joked he was now ready to chase Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak. “I missed being out there in the grind with the guys. We’ve been playing good baseball, so we’ll see if we can continue that today. I feel fine. The last three days [throwing], they’ve all gotten better.”

Taking advantage of a brief window of lighter rain at Camden Yards on Saturday afternoon, Jones tested his shoulder in the outfield with head athletic trainer Richie Bancells observing.

On Sunday morning, Buck Showalter was noncommittal about Jones’ availability for the nightcap against the Indians — the center fielder went 0-for-4 in the first game before starting Game 2 on the bench — but the Baltimore manager expressed confidence that the four-time All-Star selection was finally ready to return. Jones told reporters he would have been able to play on Saturday if the game hadn’t been postponed.

“I think we’ve been cautious with it. Who knows what’s going to happen today?” Showalter said. “It’s a different speed. I don’t know what else you can go off of. He’s throwing and said he doesn’t feel anything and he’s ready to go. I don’t want to have him sit around all day and play at 7:00.”

NOTES: Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman pitched three scoreless innings for Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday in an abbreviated outing to keep him in play as the likely option to make Thursday’s start for the Orioles against Texas. … Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was with the Orioles on Sunday, but the club is still contemplating whether to activate him from the 15-day disabled list on Monday or to send him to Norfolk for additional rehab games. … Chris Davis was making his second straight start in right field on Sunday after not playing their since 2012. … First-round pick DJ Stewart reported to short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Sunday after his agreement with the Orioles was officially announced. … The Orioles entered Sunday just one victory shy of 5,000 wins in club history.

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Britton closing in on deserved All-Star appearance

Posted on 27 June 2015 by Luke Jones

If anyone benefited from Saturday’s postponement due to heavy rain, it was Orioles closer Zach Britton.

Second in the American League behind only Minnesota’s Glen Perkins with 22 saves, Britton pitched for the fifth time in seven days Friday to preserve a 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians. As the Orioles have played their best baseball of the season with 16 wins in their last 21 games, Britton has earned the save in nine of those victories.

“Sometimes, his performance gets taken for granted,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s really hard to do what Zach’s doing.”

While no Oriole currently leads his position in AL All-Star voting, Britton’s performance all but demands an invitation to Cincinnati on July 14 at this point. If selected by Kansas City manager Ned Yost, Britton would become the 10th Orioles closer since 1979 to be named to the All-Star Game.

The lefty has pitched more innings (32 2/3) than any AL reliever with more than five saves and is 22-for-23 in save chances with his only blemish coming on April 25 when suspect defense contributed to a blown save in a game the Orioles won in extra innings. His ERA of 1.93 and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings — he struck out just 7.3 per nine in 2014 — have squashed any lingering doubts that Britton could repeat what he did last season.

After transitioning from starter to long reliever to first-time closer last year, Britton has been asked to carry a heavier workload in his second year as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man. In an era when most closers are only asked to pitch one inning, Britton converted the two four-out saves of his career earlier this season and has twice secured five-out saves this month.

It’s no wonder Showalter made a point to recognize Britton’s heavy workload on Friday night after his fifth save in a week.

“It’s difficult. You physically have to make sure that you’re OK to go — you’re doing stuff in the gym or maintenance,” Britton said. “These are things that I’m learning. Last year, I don’t know if I had that many appearances in that [few] days. It’s just little things I’m learning, but it’s kind of the job title. I’m just adjusting to it.”

Because he doesn’t shy away from pitching to contact, the Orioles closer will go through spells in which he puts runners on base like he has in recent outings. Of his nine saves in the month of June, Britton has allowed at least one batter to reach eight times, but he continues to get that all-important 27th out to preserve victories.

As we saw in the clinching Game 3 of last year’s AL Division Series, Britton escaping trouble is typically only a ground ball away. On Friday, he worked around a leadoff single to convert his 18th consecutive save opportunity, matching his best stretch of 2014.

“It’s not always easy I guess,” Britton said. “The last couple, I’ve had some guys on and had to work out of it a little bit. The hitters up here are so good, and guys are starting to get aggressive on that sinker, so it is just about execution on that first hitter. The last couple times, it just hasn’t been there. It’s not easy; I learned that last year you go through times where you have guys on every time out there. It’s the times where things aren’t going your way all the time that you just got to battle.

“I’m just making pitches when those guys get on and getting out of those jams. I think the big thing is I know I’m one pitch away from getting that double-play ball.”

It may not be easy, but Britton has made it look that way, leaving him more than deserving of a trip to the All-Star Game.

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Orioles continue rolling despite June rotation struggles

Posted on 25 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have played their best baseball of the season over the last three weeks.

Having won 15 of their last 20, Baltimore returns home Friday with a 38-34 record, one game better than the club was through 72 games last year. After a nightmarish May, the Orioles lineup has averaged 5.9 runs per game and outscored opponents by a 118-69 margin in the last 20 games.

The bullpen continues to excel with a 2.08 ERA in 164 2/3 innings dating back to April 29, but Thursday’s 8-6 win over Boston offered a tiny glimpse into what has to be a lingering concern in manager Buck Showalter’s mind despite his club’s recent success.

Returning from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, Miguel Gonzalez lasted just five innings and allowed four earned runs and eight hits while laboring to hold the comfortable 6-1 lead he was presented in the fourth inning. It would have been unfair to expect too much from the right-hander in his first start for the Orioles since June 9, but it was the 14th time in the last 20 games in which a starting pitcher has failed to complete six innings. The Orioles have received only one start of seven or more innings over that time, which was Wei-Yin Chen’s eight shutout innings against Philadelphia on June 15.

Showalter told reporters following Thursday’s game that he needed to rest Darren O’Day, Chaz Roe, and Brad Brach, leaving him to use T.J. McFarland and Tommy Hunter to bridge the gap to Zach Britton. It worked out for the Orioles as they won their sixth consecutive series, but not before the left-handed closer was working in his fourth game in six days to pick up his 21st save of the season.

The bullpen continues to be terrific, but the starting rotation must get deeper into games if Showalter wants to keep his relievers fresh for the second half. In 23 June games, starters have posted a 4.58 ERA and are averaging just 5.22 innings per outing while the bullpen has posted a miniscule 1.80 ERA.

In 2014, the starting rotation pitched to a mediocre 4.49 ERA in April and May before taking off in June with a 3.47 mark and posting an exceptional 2.98 ERA in the second half of the season.

Gonzalez, Chen, and Ubaldo Jimenez have performed well enough this season to feel confident in the trio moving forward, but Chris Tillman is having the worst season of his career thus far and Bud Norris still can’t avoid the big inning as we witnessed again in Wednesday’s loss to the Red Sox. Every time either of the two struggles, there is a growing temptation to turn to Kevin Gausman, who pitched to a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts last season and is the most talented hurler in the organization.

For now, the Orioles continue to benefit from a swinging-door spot in the bullpen that’s been filled by the likes of McFarland, Tyler Wilson, Oliver Drake, and Mychal Givens at various points to give their most reliable arms a breather when possible. But such a luxury would disappear if they’re forced to move either Norris or Tillman to a long relief role since neither pitcher has a minor-league option.

The results of the last three weeks remind us of last year when the Orioles took off in the second half of the season to win their first American League East championship in 17 years. Their offense has come alive, the defense has been excellent, and the bullpen has dominated for two months now.

If the starting rotation can step up like it did right around this time a year ago — at least closer to that  2014 level — the Orioles will not only take off, but they’ll become the clear favorite in the AL East.

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Jones moving closer toward trip to disabled list?

Posted on 23 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Adam Jones was out of the lineup for the fifth time in seven games on Tuesday, increasing concerns that the Orioles center fielder may wind up on the 15-day disabled list.

Jones told reporters in Boston that he still doesn’t anticipate a trip to the DL, but he continues to experience right shoulder soreness after injuring himself diving for a ball on June 15. The 29-year-old missed the final three games of the Philadelphia series last week before serving as the designated hitter in Toronto on Friday and Saturday. Jones was originally slated to return to the field on Friday before testing out his shoulder at Rogers Centre and deeming himself unready to play defense.

Manager Buck Showalter elected to sit Jones on Sunday with the hope that the rest followed by an off-day would do the trick for his shoulder as the Orioles opened a three-game set with the Red Sox on Tuesday night. However, reports from Boston are now saying the four-time All-Star outfielder likely won’t return to the lineup until Friday at the earliest.

Tuesday marked the seventh game of the season missed by Jones, who sat out a total of five games from 2011-2013. He hasn’t missed more than three games in a row since sitting for five straight contests in September 2010 because of a left shoulder injury.

Considering the Orioles’ reputation for manipulating their 25-man roster as much as possible, Jones is one of the few exceptions for which they’ll wait before placing him on the DL and losing him for a minimum of 15 days. A crowded roster of position players would temporarily find more space if Jones were to be moved to the DL, but the Orioles would not get him back until July 6 if such a decision were to be made now.

Of course, the Orioles want to make sure their biggest star is healthy for the second half of the season, which could make a DL trip a necessary evil if his shoulder doesn’t improve in the next couple days.

 

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