Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Orioles can only wonder what might have been while looking to 2016

Posted on 17 September 2015 by Luke Jones

It was one year ago Wednesday that the Orioles officially clinched their first American League East title since 1997.

But this Sept. 16 brought a much different feeling as many in an announced crowd of 22,642 at Camden Yards were chased away by an early 9-0 deficit and the Orioles wrapped up their penultimate homestand of 2015 with a 10-1 loss to Boston.

Under typical circumstances, winning three consecutive series and completing a 4-2 homestand are nice consolations in a blowout defeat, but the Orioles now embark on a 10-game road trip trailing the second wild card spot by 5 1/2 games, needing a historic finish to even give themselves a chance. Baltimore not only would need to catch Houston, but three other clubs — Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Cleveland — must be passed in the process, making any loss devastating at this point.

The many reasons for the Orioles’ shortcomings are obvious in mid-September as a terrible offseason led to a maddeningly inconsistent offense and the starting pitching that was so strong last season completely fell apart in 2015. But even with the well-documented free-agent departures, the offensive struggles, and the poor starter ERA, the Orioles can still point to a stretch of 12 losses in 13 games that began in late August and lasted through Labor Day — their worst baseball over that period of time in four years — and wonder what might have been had they avoided such a dramatic slide.

Even going 6-7 over those 13 games — hardly an impressive feat — would have left the Orioles only 1/2 game behind Houston for the second wild card as they began a road trip against Tampa Bay, Washington, and Boston.

Of course, you can pick out any stretch of prosperity or futility over 162 games for these types of arguments as someone else could say the Orioles would be locked into last place had they not won 18 of 23 games in June. Ultimately, they’re right where they deserve to be after playing such inconsistent baseball over 5 1/2 months, but that 1-12 stretch that began with a stunning four-game sweep at home against the Twins will likely eat at Buck Showalter and his players throughout the winter.

Pondering next year’s rotation

With a 4.61 starter ERA ranking 14th out of 15 AL clubs and their most consistent starter Wei-Yin Chen set to become a free agent, the Orioles will be faced with the unenviable task of revamping a rotation that became their biggest weakness after being a strength in 2014.

Realistically, which pitchers make up your starting five next season?

Assuming super agent Scott Boras will command No. 2 starter money and a long-term contract for the 30-year-old Chen, the Orioles are unlikely to sign him and he may not bring the greatest return on a big-money contract anyway. The Taiwanese lefty remains on pace to allow a career-high 31 home runs and has never pitched 200 innings in a season, but he will still be difficult to replace.

Chris Tillman is in the midst of a poor season skewed dramatically by his nightmarish struggles against Toronto (15.50 ERA in five starts), but his track record over the previous three seasons all but guarantees him a spot in the 2016 rotation. That said, extension talks should be tabled for now.

Kevin Gausman hasn’t taken the step forward you’d like to have seen in 2015, but much of that can be attributed to the organization’s poor decision to put him in the bullpen to begin the year. Whether he ever becomes a top-of-the-rotation guy remains to be seen, but he’s shown enough to be one of the five.

Ubaldo Jimenez? You’d love to dump that contract, but there are 26.5 million reasons over the next two years to think a trade is unlikely to happen.

Miguel Gonzalez was in the midst of the worst two-month stretch of his career before going to the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis earlier this month, but he was too good for three years just to bury him. Maybe he shouldn’t be promised a rotation spot, but he’ll enter the spring with every opportunity to earn one.

Dylan Bundy will be out of minor-league options, but his lack of experience still makes him a long shot to fill anything but a long relief role to begin 2016. The former first-round pick needs to prove he can stay healthy before anything else is even discussed.

Sure, young pitchers such as Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright will garner looks — the latter seems destined for the bullpen with his latest struggles — but it’s clear executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should be looking to add at least one impact starting pitcher — a second would really help — to augment the rotation. Beyond that, you can be cautiously optimistic that the track records of the incumbents will lead to at least a couple bounce-back performances in 2016.

Below Par-ra

Remember the angst over the Orioles needing to re-sign outfielder Gerardo Parra this offseason when he was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for minor-league pitcher Zach Davies at the trade deadline?

The 28-year-old was in the midst of the best season of his career with a .328 average and an .886 on-base plus slugging percentage at the time of the trade, but he’s hit just .226 with a .619 OPS with Baltimore and has been worth -0.6 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. Instead of providing the spark the Orioles needed for the final two months, Parra has been swallowed up by the Orioles’ 2015 corner-outfield wasteland.

At the time of the trade, the Orioles were essentially hoping to cash in on another club’s version of a 2014 Steve Pearce for the final two months, but Parra has been worse than the player he was over the first six years of his career when he sported a .720 OPS. His career .595 OPS against left-handed pitching makes him an obvious platoon player, which is how Showalter has used him over the last couple weeks.

Even if the club feels inclined to bring him back — to be fair, he’s better than what he’s shown so far with the Orioles — Parra should hardly be viewed as a priority and doesn’t deserve big-time money to stay as he’s been no better for the Orioles than the likes of Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider were this season.

Managing Hardy

Watching J.J. Hardy post Belanger-like numbers for Ripken-like money in 2015 has been painful, but a portion of the blame probably needs to go to Showalter.

It’s no secret that Hardy has dealt with several physical ailments that have led to his OPS free-falling from .738 in 2013 to .682 last season to a career-worst .552 in 2015, but a simple look at his game log shows inadequate consideration for his long-term health. Not counting time he’s actually spent on the DL or when he’s missed a few games with a specific injury, Hardy has received very few games off over long stretches of time. For example, the veteran shortstop started every game the Orioles played from June 5 through Aug. 11, only enjoying rest provided by the schedule or the weather gods.

In order to salvage the final two seasons of a three-year, $40 million contract signed last October, not only does Hardy need to find a way to get healthy in the offseason and stay that way, but the Orioles can no longer treat him like a player who’s going to play 155-plus games a season. Periodic days off and resting him for day games after night contests like a catcher should become the norm for the 33-year-old dealing with back and shoulder problems. Sliding over Manny Machado or playing Ryan Flaherty at shortstop more often is worth it if it means Hardy can contribute more at the plate.

Hardy’s defense remains good, but his offense has been a substantial liability this season. No one should expect a return to his level of production from 2011-2013, but the Orioles need Hardy to at least offer what he did at the plate in 2014 to prevent his contract from being a total disaster over the next two years. More rest over the course of the season would appear to give him a better chance of doing that.

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Davis’ two longest bombs of year give Orioles temporary relief

Posted on 03 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Chris Davis’ longest home run of the year and the emphatic bat flip that followed are unlikely to save the season, but the Orioles could breathe a temporary sigh of relief on Wednesday night after they hadn’t led over their previous 51 innings before the walk-off blow against Tampa Bay.

The 459-foot blast to the back of the right-center bleachers in the bottom of the 11th came after a 446-foot shot in the fourth inning that had been his longest homer of the 2015 season. His 37th and 38th long balls of the year were instrumental in the Orioles snapping a six-game losing streak, but the precursor for his breakout performance may have come a night earlier.

With Baltimore trailing 11-0 to Tampa Bay in the late innings and Buck Showalter looking to give his biggest stars — Davis, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado — a breather, the first baseman asked his manager to let him stay in the game. Like many of his teammates, Davis was angry and just didn’t feel like throwing in the towel on what would be the Orioles’ 12th loss in 13 games.

The lefty slugger hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to avoid a shutout, inconsequential to the game’s outcome but maybe a trigger for one of Davis’ patented hot streaks.

“I understand Jonesy playing center field every day, Manny playing third every day,” said Davis about his request to remain in Tuesday’s game while his teammates exited early. “I had a DH [day] in Texas and had a chance to get my legs under me a little bit and I wanted to stay in that game. I didn’t like the way things were going. I didn’t like the way I was playing, and I just wanted to try to get something started.

“There may have been some carryover [to Wednesday], but I think more than anything, it was just an attitude. ‘It’s not over. Enough’s enough.’ And just trying to turn it around.”

With the Orioles entering the off-day still five games below .500 and 6 1/2 games behind the second wild card in the American League, now it’s about looking toward the future with Davis set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Fans certainly hope Baltimore’s future involves Davis remaining a fixture in the heart of the lineup, but he won’t come cheap as he closes in on the second 40-homer season of his career.

The 29-year-old has hit 150 home runs since the start of 2012 and has hit at least 33 in three of his four full seasons with the Orioles.

“The guy’s going to hit 40 home runs and drive in 100 runs,” Showalter said. “He posts up every day. And like the story I told you, him playing the last inning or two [Tuesday] night might have been the key to tonight and the rest of our season. Those are the little things that go unnoticed.”

Davis’ rebound campaign from a disastrous 2014 certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed, begging a crucial question to be asked.

After watching Nelson Cruz depart last offseason, can the Orioles really afford to lose a 40-homer slugger for a second year in a row both on the field and in the eyes of their fan base?

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Struggling Gonzalez undergoes MRI on shoulder, elbow

Posted on 01 September 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 11:30 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — Performing poorly for more than two months, Orioles starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Tuesday as he’s been experiencing discomfort in his right elbow and shoulder.

Manager Buck Showalter said after the 11-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays that the exam revealed only inflammation and no structural concerns, but the 31-year-old has already received a cortisone injection in his shoulder and is expected to at least miss a start or two. The right-handed hurler could pitch again later this month, according to Showalter.

“It was a positive report. They didn’t find any structural damage,” Showalter said. “We’re going to let that quiet down [and] see if we can get him ready to pitch again. It was as good news as you could expect.”

Gonzalez sported a 3.33 ERA when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a groin strain on June 11. Since returning in late June, the right-hander has pitched to a 6.49 ERA that’s elevated his season mark to a robust 4.85.

Signed to a minor-league contract prior to the 2012 season, Gonzalez posted an ERA of 3.78 or better in each of his first three seasons with the Orioles and has been a mainstay in the starting rotation for two postseason clubs over that time. The organization had hoped there was nothing structurally wrong with his elbow since he already underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009.

The Orioles no longer plan to place Gonzalez on the DL, which would have allowed them to recall another player who has not fulfilled his 10-day minimum in the minors such as the recently-demoted Henry Urrutia.

On Tuesday, right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson (oblique) threw a four-inning simulated game and fellow right-hander Mike Wright (calf) started for Norfolk, pitching six shutout innings in a win over Charlotte. Wright is considered a strong option to replace Gonzalez in the Baltimore starting rotation.

Showalter had been considering pushing right-hander Kevin Gausman’s start back to Friday in Toronto, but the 24-year-old will pitch the finale against the Rays as scheduled.

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Schoop coming into own since returning from knee injury

Posted on 20 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Lost in the excitement surrounding Henry Urrutia’s walk-off home run for the Orioles on Wednesday night was the bounce-back performance from Jonathan Schoop.

After his worst game of the season in which he committed two errors, dropped a relay throw, and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Tuesday’s loss to the New York Mets, Schoop took accountability for his performance, saying he played poorly and needed to be better for his teammates.

A factor often overlooked because he didn’t make it to the majors until more than a year after a then-20-year-old Manny Machado, Schoop is a young player in his own right, just nine months older than the two-time All-Star third baseman. But the Orioles were confident in his ability to bounce back quickly as he shook off two difficult at-bats against Mets starter Noah Syndergaard on Wednesday to belt a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth.

The blast came on a Syndergaard curve, the same pitch that had given fits to Schoop earlier in the game.

“Jon’s right where he should be for a college senior [by age],” manager Buck Showalter said. “I feel confident he’ll be as good as he’s capable of being. He cares, he cares. Like a lot of young guys, he’s impressionable and you want to have the right people around him. Same thing with Manny.

“Jon’s become more and more confident with his take on things, which is good.”

Schoop is also becoming more confident at the plate as he entered Thursday’s series opener with Minnesota sporting a .301 average with nine home runs, 24 RBIs, and an .865 on-base plus slugging percentage in 164 plate appearances. The 23-year-old’s play is impressive considering a right knee injury cost him nearly three months of action at a time so critical to a young hitter’s development.

After hitting .209 with 16 homers, 45 RBIs, and a .598 OPS as a rookie, Schoop has improved his homer rate (3.3 to 5.5 percent) and improved his strikeout rate (25.4 to 20.7 percent) from a year ago. According to Baseball Reference, Schoop was worth 1.5 wins above replacement in 2014 with most of that value derived from his defense, but he has already been valued this year at 1.4 wins above replacement in what amounts to just over a quarter of a season.

Such impressive talent coupled with the words of teammates like Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy made it a foregone conclusion that Schoop would be fine despite a forgettable night on Tuesday.

“To be honest, I’ve got great teammates and coaching staff,” Schoop said. “They talked to me and made me feel like that wasn’t me. Like I said yesterday, I have to play better, especially this time of year with focus. All those guys told me everybody has a bad day. Just flush it out and get it tomorrow.”

Those bad days have been few and far between for Schoop as he’s on the verge of becoming a mainstay in the heart of the Orioles lineup.

Injury report

Steve Pearce (oblique) began his minor-league rehab assignment for the Gulf Coast League Orioles on Thursday, going 1-for-4.

The outfielder and first baseman will play there again on Friday — including defense after serving as the designated hitter in his first game — before reporting to a minor-league affiliate closer to Baltimore over the weekend. Showalter was noncommittal about the possibility of Pearce being ready to rejoin the Orioles to begin the road trip on Monday, citing that the 32-year-old has missed more than a month of action and will need some time to get back into a groove.

Despite initial optimism that right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe (right shoulder tendinitis) would be ready to rejoin the Orioles when eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, Showalter indicated his activation would be closer to Sept. 1.

Right-handed pitcher Mike Wright (calf strain) will throw a three-inning, 45-pitch simulated game on Saturday.

Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey threw a 25-pitch bullpen session as he continues to go through his throwing progression. The 20-year-old right-hander and 2013 first-round pick has been sidelined all season due to a flexor mass strain in his right forearm, but the Orioles hope to see him pitch this autumn in either the instructional league or the Arizona Fall League.

The Orioles expect Norfolk right-hander Tyler Wilson to get back on a mound shortly as his oblique strain continues to improve.


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Pearce, Roe inching closer toward return to Orioles

Posted on 19 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As the Orioles continue to search for consistent production in left field, outfielder and first baseman Steve Pearce appears to be moving closer to a return from an oblique strain.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters prior to Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets that Pearce took live batting practice in Sarasota, but the 32-year-old was hit in the back by a pitch in his third at-bat, bringing an end to his session. Should Pearce respond well to hitting live pitching and feel no ill effects from the hit by pitch, the Orioles are hoping to send him on a minor-league rehab assignment in the near future.

Baltimore is currently using a platoon of Henry Urrutia and Nolan Reimold in left field after exhausting a number of unsuccessful options over the course of the 2015 season. Of course, Pearce was in the midst of a poor campaign of his own with a .227 average in 193 plate appearances, but he might represent the organization’s best internal option of receiving production in left field if he can channel his 2014 success over the final weeks of the season.

Pearce was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain on July 22 and is eligible to be activated at any point. After a horrendous start in which he batted just .183 through June 3, Pearce was hitting .321 with an .856 on-base plus slugging percentage over his last 59 plate appearances before the injury.

In other health-related news, right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe threw off flat ground on Wednesday, the first time he’s picked up a baseball since being placed on the 15-day DL with right shoulder tendinitis. Roe will repeat that task a couple more times before throwing off a mound and could then go on a brief minor-league rehab assignment.

He is eligible to return from the DL on Aug. 25, and the club remains hopeful that he will be able to return close to that date if he isn’t quite ready at the conclusion of the minimum 15 days.

Showalter said Matt Wieters’s hamstring felt good after returning to the lineup on Tuesday. The catcher also took a foul tip off his knee in the 5-3 loss to the Mets, but he stayed in the game.

The Orioles signed left-handed reliever Mike Belfiore to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Norfolk. He made his major league debut for Baltimore in 2013, but the 26-year-old appeared in only one game.

After officially being released by the Orioles, outfielder Travis Snider has signed a minor-league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the club that traded him to Baltimore last winter.

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Joseph, Clevenger offer possible glimpse into Orioles catching future

Posted on 18 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Over the final two games of the Oakland series, Orioles catchers on the 25-man roster collected two home runs, three doubles, and nine RBIs.

That production came with Matt Wieters sidelined due to a hamstring issue as Baltimore completed a four-game sweep over the hapless Athletics. And it could offer a glimpse into the Orioles’ future at the position with Wieters set to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Could the combination of Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger — or another quality backup paired with the former — make the decision not to re-sign Wieters an easier one?

The notion isn’t as far-fetched as it would have sounded a year ago when you consider the three-time All-Star selection still isn’t catching consecutive games 14 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Wieters was always going to be a challenge to re-sign because of super agent Scott Boras, but would giving a lucrative long-term contract to a catcher approaching the wrong side of 30 even be the right move for a club with other holes to address this offseason?

In 272 plate appearances this season, Joseph has hit .255 with 11 homers, 43 RBIs, a .323 on-base percentage, and a .780 on-base plus slugging percentage. In contrast, Wieters has batted .278 with five homers, 17 RBIs, a .305 on-base percentage, and a .755 OPS in 167 plate appearances. Couple that similar offensive production with the fact that the 29-year-old Joseph is under club control through the 2020 season and you have a sound argument in favor of going with the cheaper option, especially if you pair Joseph with a good backup catcher that can spell him two or three times a week in a timeshare that would keep him fresh and help his offense as we’ve seen it do since Wieters has returned.

That’s where Clevenger could enter the picture as he was recently recalled from Triple-A Norfolk after hitting .305 for the Tides this season. Serving as the designated hitter over the final two games of the Oakland series, Clevenger collected four hits in Sunday’s 18-2 win and blasted a three-run shot off All-Star pitcher Sonny Gray on Monday night, making him the first Oriole actually from Baltimore to homer at Camden Yards.

He’s 10-for-24 with three extra-base hits in his brief time with the Orioles this season.

The sticking point with Clevenger receiving an opportunity to be Baltimore’s backup over the last couple years has been his defense, but manager Buck Showalter and other members of the organization have credited his work ethic and improvement behind the plate, making him a distinct possibility to factor into the catching picture for 2016 and beyond. Of course, the Pigtown native is more of a unknown than Joseph at this point — at least playing with the Orioles — but he has a track record for handling the bat well in the minors despite his defense holding him back.

Similar sentiments were shared about Joseph in the past as he was stuck at Double-A Bowie for four straight seasons, making you wonder if Clevenger could follow in those footsteps as a late bloomer to find success at the major league level.

In his second season in the majors, Joseph has shown himself to be capable of serving in a role much bigger than the traditional backup catcher who plays only once a week. And in limited opportunities this season, Clevenger is stating a case to be the complementary piece to help fill the catching void should Wieters depart.

Taking nothing away from the All-Star catcher, but the Orioles are looking more and more capable of being able to survive without him as his free agency is rapidly approaching.

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Clock ticking, price rising for Orioles to re-sign Davis

Posted on 16 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The most surprising aspect of the Orioles’ record-tying 26-hit showing in an 18-2 win over Oakland on Sunday was how little the white-hot Chris Davis factored into the demolition.

It was still a good afternoon for the first baseman as he went 2-for-5 and drove in his league-leading 89th run of the season as the Orioles won their third straight game over the Athletics, but his performance paled in comparison to what we saw in consecutive walk-off wins on Friday and Saturday. After hitting a go-ahead home run in an eventual 13-inning victory in the series opener, Davis followed that feat with a two-homer game on Saturday, including the winning blast in the bottom of the ninth.

To put it mildly, the 29-year-old is seeing the ball well these days with an incredible 15 home runs in the last 23 games entering Sunday’s action. It’s a stretch reminiscent of what he put together in 2013 on his way to a club record 53 long balls.

Davis is now on pace to hit 47 home runs, the kind of territory no one expected him to reach again after he hit an anemic .196 and just 26 homers last season.

“Anytime you’re swinging the bat well, you feel good about where you are,” Davis said on Saturday night. “I try not to read too much into it. I know as quickly as it comes, it can go. You just try to take it one day at a time and stay with your approach.”

After Davis’ nightmarish 2014 ended prematurely with a 25-game suspension for unauthorized Adderall, some questioned whether the Orioles even should have tendered the 29-year-old a contract in his final year of arbitration. It was fair to question whether Davis would be worth $12 million following a season in which he hit rock bottom on the field and in the public eye.

A reasonable expectation for Davis laid out over the winter was a return to his 2012 level of production in which he hit 33 homers and drove in 85 runs with an .827 on-base plus slugging percentage. If he wasn’t as bad as he was in 2014 and not as great as he was two years ago, the truth fell somewhere in the middle, right?

But in a contract year, Davis has already outdone those 2012 numbers with 34 home runs and an .895 OPS, to go along with a very respectable .261 batting average in 473 plate appearances. The higher average is especially impressive when acknowledging the extreme infield shifts continuing to be employed against him.

“He’s done this before,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He had good periods last year, he had good periods the year before, and over in Texas. The thing I’ve been most proud of is where his batting average is.”

Despite much handwringing over Davis’ strikeout totals and low average, Showalter’s assessment of the slugger’s run in Baltimore is spot on. There has been far more good than bad in Davis’ four full years with the Orioles as he’s homered at least 33 times in three of those seasons.

In a pitching-rich era in which offense is at a greater premium, can the Orioles afford to let Davis walk away this offseason? Part of a free-agent-to-be trio that includes left-handed starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and catcher Matt Wieters, Davis now appears to be the most appealing of the three to keep in Baltimore for the long haul.

The slugger says he isn’t dwelling on his future right now.

“I’d love to stay here,” Davis said. “I told you guys in spring training I wasn’t going to talk about contracts this year. We have way too much on our plate right now [and] too much to focus on. I feel like it’s selfish for me to sit here and talk about my future with the team when we’re trying to make the postseason. We’ll address it when the time comes.”

The excuses are plentiful for why the Orioles won’t do it.

Even if Davis cools considerably over the final six weeks of the season, the left-handed hitter would likely command the richest contract in club history.

It will be a headache negotiating with super agent Scott Boras.

The memory of his poor 2014 and his Adderall suspension are examples of his baggage that will always be in the back of your mind.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette dragged his feet over offering Nelson Cruz a fourth year last offseason, but Davis is nearly six years younger and has hit more homers than the former Oriole over the last four seasons. In addition to age, Davis brings more value defensively with the ability to play both first base and right field at a solid level.

At a forum with Orioles season-ticket holders on Saturday, Duquette said the organization wants to re-sign Davis this offseason and indicated that he would be a priority. It’s clear at this point that Davis won’t be cheap, but his strengths are worth having with no acceptable replacement at first base waiting in the wings.

With some high salaries coming off the books this winter, the payroll flexibility will be there — if the Orioles choose to use it — to make a serious run at keeping Davis.

But the price continues to climb with every mammoth home run.

If you’re going to pay a premium for any of the Orioles’ big three free agents, Davis is the clear choice, even with his sometimes-frustrating flaws. It will be intriguing to see what the rest of his season brings as the Orioles try to qualify for the postseason for the third time in four years.

“It’s just words right now,” said Davis of Duquette’s comments on Saturday. “My focus is on the field trying to do everything I can to help us win a game.”

Just words, indeed, as Duquette and ownership will have the opportunity to step to the plate to avoid having another slugger walk away.

Fans can only hope the Orioles won’t whiff again, but they have every right to be skeptical after what transpired last winter.

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Lough becomes latest Orioles outfielder to be designated for assignment

Posted on 14 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles continued their purge of disappointing corner outfielders on Friday by designating David Lough for assignment prior to their series opener against the Oakland Athletics.

With Matt Wieters currently nursing a hamstring strain, catcher Steve Clevenger was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take Lough’s place on the 25-man roster. Lough, 29, became the fifth Orioles outfielder to be designated for assignment since late May, joining Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Chris Parmelee, and Travis Snider as players who failed as part of the offseason plan to replace free-agent departures Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

Originally acquired to replace former Oriole Nate McLouth in left field two winters ago, Lough never established himself at the plate and was relegated to a role as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner for much of his two seasons with Baltimore. The July 31 acquisition of Gerardo Parra made Lough even more expendable because of his ability to back up Adam Jones in center field, a role that he held for the last two years.

After hitting .247 in 197 plate appearances last season, Lough was hitting just .202 in 2015 and was mired in a 2-for-26 slump in early July.

Manager Buck Showalter expressed hope that Lough would remain with the organization and accept an outright assignment to Norfolk if he goes unclaimed on waivers. The Orioles would then consider him for a September call-up.

Clevenger went 5-for-11 in a brief stint with the Orioles earlier this year and has had an impressive season for Norfolk, batting .305 with four home runs, 32 RBIs, and a .769 on-base plus slugging percentage. The organization has also been pleased with his improved defense behind the plate, a weakness of his when acquired from the Chicago Cubs in 2013.

The Orioles have also summoned Norfolk outfielder Henry Urrutia to Norfolk and are expected to activate him for Saturday’s game, meaning another roster move is coming. The Cuban outfielder hasn’t played for Baltimore since hitting .276 in 58 plate appearances in 2013, but the lefty is batting .292 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs for the Tides this season.

It doesn’t look like the Orioles will make room for Urrutia by placing Wieters on the disabled list as the three-time All-Star catcher said prior to Friday’s game that his hamstring is feeling much better, joking that he’s closed to being back to his normal “slow speed” on the bases. The 29-year-old said he would be available off the bench if needed, but Clevenger being recalled reflects a desire to stay away from using Wieters for at least another day or two if possible.

Right-hander Chris Tillman will complete his bullpen session on Saturday and is still in line to make Monday’s start despite being struck with a line drive on the right triceps during his last start in Seattle.

Right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe received a cortisone injection in his right shoulder and is responding well, leading to optimism that he’ll be ready to return after the 15-day minimum on the DL.

Steve Pearce is now taking batting practice in Sarasota as his injured oblique continues to improve. The Orioles hope he can begin a minor-league rehab assignment as early as the beginning of next week.

Right-hander Mike Wright is still feeling “tentative” when running and pushing off with his calf as Showalter did not make it sound like his return from the DL was imminent.

According to Showalter, pitching prospect Hunter Harvey’s throwing program is proceeding well as he continues to throw off flat ground. The organization is deciding whether he will pitch this fall and where that might take place.

Showalter also said that 22-year-old pitcher Dylan Bundy will have an appointment with Dr. James Andrews at the end of the month to determine how his shoulder is progressing after extensive rest.

Right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson is currently on the minor-league seven-day DL and is improving, but his return from an oblique strain is not considered imminent.

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Sunday loss in Anaheim exposes real concerns for Orioles

Posted on 09 August 2015 by Luke Jones

Some of the Orioles’ biggest concerns were exposed in Sunday’s 5-4 extra-inning loss in Anaheim that prevented a second straight series win on the West Coast.

Much of the focus fell on the 11th inning and Los Angeles Angels outfielder David Murphy’s game-winning hit off lefty reliever Brian Matusz, but that was only part of the story.

First and foremost, a maddeningly-inconsistent offense managed just two runs over the final 10 innings at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Sunday afternoon. After jumping on Angels starter Jered Weaver for two in the opening frame, the Orioles bats disappeared over the next four innings as the soft-tossing right-hander matched a season high of seven strikeouts in his first start since June 20.

Scoring a single run over their final five frames probably would have been enough for the Orioles to come away with a series win, but the pressure was on the Baltimore bullpen to pitch six innings on Sunday before Murphy finally hit one over left fielder David Lough’s head to plate the winning run with two outs in the 11th.

That’s what brings us to a concern that isn’t helping manager Buck Showalter rest easy in mid-August. Starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez has been an underrated part of the Orioles’ success dating back to the second half of 2012, but the right-hander hasn’t been the same since a stint on the 15-day disabled list in June and again struggled on Sunday, allowing four earned runs and seven hits while lasting just 4 2/3 innings.

Gonzalez had gotten off to arguably the best start of his career with a 3.33 ERA in his first 12 outings of 2015 — he completed seven or more innings in five of those starts — before a groin injury sent him to the DL. Since returning to the roster on June 25, Gonzalez has pitched to an alarming 6.22 ERA in 46 1/3 innings.

On Sunday, he displayed a better-than-normal fastball clocked at 94 mph — making you conclude his problems probably aren’t related to health — but his third inning couldn’t have been more frustrating. With runners at the corners and no outs, Gonzalez struck out All-Star sluggers Mike Trout and Albert Pujols and appeared on the verge of escaping unscathed when he got to an 0-2 count on Murphy. He then grooved a high fastball over the heart of the plate that Murphy sent into the right-field stands for a three-run shot and a 4-2 lead for the Angels.

It was the latest example of Gonzalez making a poor pitch while ahead in the count after earning a reputation for having good command over his first 3 1/2 seasons.

As important as Gonzalez has been over the last few seasons, the Orioles must be growing impatient with his woes over the last six weeks. The 31-year-old has now failed to complete at least six innings in seven of his nine starts since returning from the DL — raising his season ERA to a career-worst 4.45 — and he is putting more strain on a bullpen that doesn’t need it right now.

Gonzalez has a minor-league option remaining, but the best candidate to take his place, right-hander Tyler Wilson, was reportedly scratched from his Sunday start for Triple-A Norfolk with an oblique issue. Showalter and the Orioles will likely lean on Gonzalez’s track record a little longer, but the right-hander must pitch better than what he’s shown throughout the summer.

Even after Gonzalez’s rough day, the Orioles were still right there in the bottom of the 11th, but the decision to activate Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia from the DL and the undermanned bullpen it’s created materialized in a crucial spot. With only Matusz, the seldom-used Garcia, and closer Zach Britton remaining in the bullpen — you could argue Showalter should have gone to his closer despite it being a tie game — Showalter elected to have his lefty specialist intentionally walk Trout and Pujols to load the bases with two outs for the lefty-hitting Murphy.

That strategy was the correct one with Matusz in the game — lefties were hitting .129 against him while righties had a .304 average entering Sunday — but it would have been nice to have had the option of going to a Tommy Hunter or a Mychal Givens against Pujols in that spot instead of loading the bases. The new void in the bullpen is magnified by the recent struggles of Chaz Roe, who gave up the leadoff double to Carlos Perez that became the winning run.

No, a series loss in Anaheim doesn’t cripple the Orioles, but it did expose some of their biggest concerns.

The Orioles could not have anticipated Gonzalez’s problems over the last several weeks, but going with a weaker bullpen is their own choice.

That combination — along with another inconsistent performance by the offense — hurt them in a winnable game on Sunday.

And sitting five games out of first in the American League East and three games behind the second wild-card spot, they can’t let too many more opportunities slip through their fingers.

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Orioles activating Garcia puts unneeded strain on bullpen

Posted on 06 August 2015 by Luke Jones

Maybe the 22-year-old Jason Garcia blossoms into an All-Star closer one day.

The Rule 5 pick possesses a high-90s fastball and a promising slider, but future upside is all he offers now as the Orioles entered Thursday 5 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East and only a game back of the second wild card. It creates another hole in the bullpen after executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette justified last week’s puzzling trade of Tommy Hunter as a way to create a spot for the talented Mychal Givens, who was optioned back to Double-A Bowie to make room for Garcia on Thursday.

In 13 2/3 innings with Baltimore earlier this year, Garcia pitched to a 5.93 ERA and walked 11 batters before being sent to the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis in mid-May. The right-hander posted a 4.20 ERA, 14 strikeouts, and nine walks in 15 innings for Bowie during his rehab assignment, which expired on Thursday. The right-hander must spend at least 90 days on the active roster in order to lose his Rule 5 status for next season, meaning the Orioles couldn’t simply wait to activate him until Sept. 1 when rosters expand.

Not only does it reinforce the mixed signals stemming from the Hunter trade that felt more like a salary dump instead of a move to improve a club in the midst of a playoff race, but it’s fair to question whether Garcia’s upside is even worth it in the end.

The Orioles bullpen currently houses Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Chaz Roe, who were all obtained for little cost. O’Day was a waiver claim after the 2011 season, Brach was acquired for little more than a spare part in the minors two winters ago, and Roe was inked to a minor-league deal last December.

For an organization showing an ability to find impact relievers seemingly out of nowhere for cheap, is it prudent to essentially play a man down in the bullpen for the next 3 1/2 weeks?

Yes, it’s unlikely that manager Buck Showalter will even entertain the thought of using Garcia in a close game, but T.J. McFarland — or anyone else the Orioles might recall in his place if and when there’s a need for a fresh arm — now moves up the pecking order. The lefty and former Rule 5 selection sports an unhealthy 1.83 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in 15 1/3 innings this season.

The trickle-down effect might lead to more strain on the Orioles’ most reliable relievers and could even cost the club a game or two at some point, which is an uncomfortable margin for error in a tight race.

As was the case with the Hunter trade, this may not end up hurting the Orioles down the stretch, but it very well could, making the decision fair to question.

That’s why many fans are once again scratching their heads over a club that traded for a rental outfield upgrade a week ago and is aiming for a third trip to the postseason in four years.

This move may not be a big deal, but it makes contending harder than it needs to be.

You just hope Garcia’s upside is ultimately worth it.



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