Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Five questions pondering Joseph, Garcia, others

Posted on 17 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Orioles or Ravens (or a mix of both).

Five questions

1. Does Caleb Joseph make it easy to wait for Matt Wieters to take his time to return?
No, I don’t expect the former to continue hitting .375, but it’s difficult to argue how good his defense has been as Orioles pitching posted a 3.00 ERA with him behind the plate in 2014, he threw out 40 percent of runners trying to steal, and his pitch framing rates better than Wieters’ did in either of his his last two full seasons. The question isn’t whether Joseph is better than or as good as the pre-injury Wieters — he’s clearly not — but it remains to be seen if the post-surgery Wieters will be the same defensively and whether he’ll provide enough offense to justify being the undisputed starter if he’s a shell of his old self behind the plate.

2. Does Buck Showalter need to figure out exactly what he has with Jason Garcia sooner rather than later?
I know the Orioles love the Rule 5 pick’s arm and he has nice potential at age 22, but they can’t afford to carry him if it means they essentially have a 24-man roster. If his arm is special enough to warrant keeping him, he should be able to get some meaningful outs along the way. The early-season struggles of Tommy Hunter and and the rest of the bullpen have magnified the situation, of course, but Showalter needs to be able to use Garcia in some legitimate situations, especially if he’s not going to give the Orioles length in the same way that T.J. McFarland did as a Rule 5 pick in 2013.

3. Should third base coaches take more chances around baseball?
I thought about this at different times this winter after Kansas City elected not to send Alex Gordon home as the potential tying run in Game 7 of the World Series, and the question returns with Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson drawing the ire of fans with some questionable sends at the start of the season. Historically, a runner standing on third base with two outs will score only 27 percent of the time, but data shows only five percent of runners being sent home from second base on a single with two outs are thrown out at the plate. Yes, that success rate looks great, but how many potential runs are ultimately being stranded at third base to avoid the chance of a runner being thrown out in favor of the potentially lower-percentage chance of the next batter driving him in. Of course, there are many variables involved such as the speed of the runner, the location of the ball, and the arm strength of the fielder, but it’s still interesting to ponder how many potential runs are lost due to the fear of failure and the criticism that a third base coach can face.

4. Is the exuberant friendship between Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop a joy to watch?
I first watched these two play together when they were at Single-A Frederick in 2011, and it’s scary to think how young both still are with so much untapped potential. Of course, scenes like this don’t hurt, either:

5. Do we still not appreciate Jim Palmer enough? The Hall of Fame pitcher celebrated the 50th anniversary of his major league debut Friday and he continues to remain a fixture on Orioles telecasts five decades later. As someone who only remembers Palmer the broadcaster, I marvel at his numbers, which included a period of nine times in 10 years from 1969-1978 in which he posted an ERA below 3.00 and at least 4.1 wins above replacement. His 211 complete games, 53 shutouts, and four seasons of 300 or more innings are numbers we don’t even see in video games today.

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Jones, Orioles don No. 42 jerseys for Jackie Robinson Day

Posted on 15 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Taking part in his eighth Jackie Robinson Day at the major league level, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones still cherishes the opportunity to wear the iconic No. 42 jersey.

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball celebrated the 68th anniversary of the former Brooklyn Dodgers infielder breaking the color barrier. Just like the Orioles and the opposing New York Yankees, all uniformed personnel around the majors wore Robinson’s jersey number.

“It’s awesome. It’s bringing unity to the game,” Jones said. “This game has extreme reach due to some bravery by Jackie back in those heydays of the [1940s]. As you see in our society, racism is still there, obviously, in bigger scales than the sport of baseball. Baseball is something that unites anyone. It doesn’t matter what you are: black, white, or indifferent. It unites us as you can see how our game is very international and our clubhouse is international. This is one thing that brings us together, and that’s sports.”

Jones spent the morning as part of the panel evaluating a “self-expression” contest with the Westport Homes Boys & Girls Club. Members were challenged to express their thoughts creatively through a speech, poem, art, or skit about Robinson’s values for success, which included “citizenship, commitment, courage, determination, excellence, integrity, justice, persistence, and teamwork.”

The anniversary of Robinson’s first game in the majors always sparks discussion about the waning popularity of baseball among African-American youth, but Jones doesn’t view himself as an ambassador to simply grow the sport’s popularity. He credited the ongoing efforts of groups such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, but he’s more concerned with young people just finding positive ways to spend their time.

Jones has spent time and resources over the last several years to assist the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore with him and the Orioles donating more than $100,000 toward the improvement of the Brooklyn O’Malley Boys & Girls Club Technology and Learning Center and the remodeling of the teen center at the Boys & Girls Club, Westport/Winans Homes Center.

“I’ve even told my nephews, ‘You don’t necessarily have to play baseball,'” said Jones, citing how so many different sports are available for youth to play today. “I’m not trying to get all African Americans to play baseball. I’m trying to get them to do something productive with themselves. Playing a sport is something that bonds you and creates so many lifetime bonds with people that you never would have had if you don’t play sports.”

The day brings special meaning for manager Buck Showalter as he remembers stories from his former minor league pitching coach Russ Meyer, who played with Robinson from 1953-1955. The late Meyer recalled to Showalter the great courage and dignity Robinson possessed both on and off the field.

The celebration is also a reminder of baseball’s ugly history in which African Americans waited for decades to prove they belonged in the majors.

“It makes me proud that we are having this special day,” Showalter said. “It doesn’t make me particularly proud when you think about how long it took.”

Hardy takes batting practice for first time

Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy reached the final hurdle before going on a minor-league rehab assignment after taking batting practice for the first time since injuring his left shoulder on April 27.

Hardy took 18 swings in live batting practice on Wednesday and is expected to hit again at Camden Yards on Thursday before potentially going on a rehab assignment to Double-A Bowie. But that all depends on how the left shoulder responds as he has still experienced a “little catch” at the very end of his follow-through.

The 32-year-old infielder says it’s been tricky differentiating soreness related to the shoulder strain from normal soreness that comes from not swinging a bat for an extended period of time.

Hoping to be playing with Bowie as early as Friday, Hardy doesn’t anticipating needing many at-bats in order to get ready to rejoin the Orioles since he was healthy for most of spring training.

Pearce, Davis scuffling

After a red-hot start to the season that included two home runs in his first two games, Steve Pearce was out of Wednesday’s lineup while mired in a 2-for-26 slump that includes eight strikeouts over that time.

Pearce has already played both corner outfield spots and first base as well as serve as the designated hitter in the Orioles lineup this season, but he started a game on the bench for the first time since last year.

The right-handed hitter isn’t the only one struggling at the plate as first baseman Chris Davis has only one hit in his last 14 at-bats and has struck out nine times over that stretch. He was dropped to sixth in the order against Yankees lefty CC Sabathia on Tuesday, but he batted fifth on Wednesday night.

Injury updates

Catcher Matt Wieters (right elbow) threw from 120 feet, caught three bullpen sessions as well as the starting pitcher, and had five at-bats in a simulated game in Sarasota on Wednesday.

Utility player Jimmy Paredes (lower back) played right field in an extended spring game in Sarasota and will now travel back to Baltimore. He is expected to meet with Showalter and take batting practice at Camden Yards on Thursday and could report to Bowie later that evening or by Friday to begin a rehab assignment.

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Orioles let one get away against Yankees

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It’d be tough to sugarcoat the Orioles’ 6-5 loss to the New York Yankees on Monday night.

That one stung.

No, it isn’t crushing in the sense that the Orioles currently own a 3-4 record, and it’s premature to be concerned about an up-and-down week to begin the season. But Monday brought the kind of defeat that you can’t help but feel should have been a win if not for a series of missteps. Those are the losses on which you’ll reflect, depending on where you ultimately stand in the pennant race a few months from now.

Of course, right-hander Tommy Hunter received much of the blame for failing to locate a 3-1 fastball that resulted in a go-ahead grand slam off the bat of pinch hitter Stephen Drew in the top of the seventh inning. Despite only giving up a bloop single to Chris Young and an infield hit to Jacoby Ellsbury — a play that could have resulted in the third out of the inning had Chris Davis corralled Jonathan Schoop’s bullet throw from close range — Hunter had walked John Ryan Murphy earlier in the inning and had already labored through 24 pitches when Drew stepped to the plate.

Manager Buck Showalter had Brian Matusz ready in the bullpen before electing to let Hunter face Drew, explaining after the game that he was trying not to use the lefty specialist who had thrown 26 pitches in Sunday’s loss. Drew was 0-for-5 in his career against both pitchers, but the decision to stick with Hunter appeared counterintuitive since Matusz was ready to go and is paid to get lefty hitters out. Drew owns a career .227 average against southpaws and had batted .129 against them in 2014.

With Wesley Wright expected to miss the next four to six weeks with left shoulder inflammation, the Orioles currently have just one lefty in the bullpen aside from closer Zach Britton.

“I was trying to stay away from Brian,” Showalter said. “We’ve had a couple short starts and we only had three pitchers we were going to use in the bullpen, so it’s tough. [Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s] also got another weapon over there in [Chase] Headley, so he can [then hit for Drew] if he wants to.”

Matusz eventually pitched to two batters in the ninth inning anyway, but the damage had already been done.

That sequence aside, the Orioles didn’t help themselves by making three outs on the bases with Alejandro De Aza and Adam Jones both being thrown out trying to steal and catcher Caleb Joseph failing in trying to stretch a single into a double with two outs in the fifth. Jonathan Schoop would have made another out on the bases trying to stretch an RBI single into a double in the second inning, but a nifty slide resulted in the original out call being overturned after a Showalter replay challenge.

Many clamored this offseason for the Orioles to be more aggressive on the bases, but there’s a fine line between pushing the envelope and wasting precious outs, something they’ve been guilty of doing on several occasions in the opening week. There’s no way of knowing if any of these instances could have resulted in more scoring had they been handled differently, but you’d like to think the Orioles having three extra outs might have made a difference in a one-run game.

The rotten cherry on top of a frustrating night was watching former Oriole and new Yankees closer Andrew Miller convert a five-out save to hand Baltimore its fourth loss in the last five games. It’s no secret that Miller is a dominating presence, but the early-season struggles of the Orioles bullpen have only magnified his departure.

After the game, there was no panicking about a bullpen that’s now allowed at least one run in each of the club’s first seven contests.

“I have the utmost faith and respect for those guys,” said Jones, who hit a clutch two-run homer to break a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the sixth. “Hey, get it out of the way now. No one wants to see that in August or September. It is just how it works. I am pretty sure they are all frustrated, but me being the center fielder, I have all the faith in those guys.”

Losing is a part of the game as even the best teams will likely experience it upwards of 60 times this season, but letting potential wins slip away will wear on you. Because you never know where you might be in September and how much losses like this one can potentially cost you in the long run.

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Lough activated from DL, Gamboa optioned back to Norfolk

Posted on 13 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After dealing with a crowded bullpen, an injury, and pitching struggles over the first week of the season, Orioles manager Buck Showalter finally has his four-man bench.

Prior to the series opener against the New York Yankees, outfielder David Lough (left hamstring) was activated from the 15-day disabled list while right-handed pitcher Eddie Gamboa was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk in time to make his start for the Tides Monday night. The Orioles had began the season with 13 pitchers, but the left trapezius injury suffered by lefty reliever Wesley Wright officially sent him to the DL on Saturday.

The club summoned Gamboa to the majors after Bud Norris lasted just three innings in the 12-5 loss in the home opener to Toronto on Friday, but he did not appear in a game. Lough will bring speed and strong defense to the outfield picture, adding more versatility that Showalter appreciates in the late innings.

On Sunday, the Orioles had Delmon Young, Caleb Joseph, and a less-than-100-percent Jonathan Schoop on the bench, which provided few options in the latter stages of a close game.

“You don’t want to have to make two moves to make one move with a three-man bench, which is what we would have to do,” Showalter said. “Now, we have some flexibility there if our pitching can cooperate a little bit and stay a little more conventional. It helps us a lot, especially in that 7-8-9 area [of the lineup]. It’s a guy that can run, pinch-hit, and defend without having to make two moves for one and burn two players.”

Lough went 5-for-27 with two stolen bases in Grapefruit League play after posting a .694 on-base plus slugging percentage in his first season in Baltimore. Despite a rough start in his first two months with the Orioles, Lough hit .337 with four home runs, 13 RBIs, and a .959 OPS over 99 plate appearances from June 1 until the end of the regular season.

In other injury-related news, Schoop is back in the lineup after taking off Sunday with some quadriceps soreness, a move that was more precautionary than any real concern.

Catcher Matt Wieters (right elbow tendinitis) took live batting practice Monday in Sarasota and is expected to serve as the designated hitter in an extended spring training game on Tuesday.

Wright underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday, but Showalter hadn’t received the results when he spoke to media three hours before the game.

Utility player Jimmy Paredes (lower back) went 1-for-4 and played nine innings split between left and right field in an extended spring game on Monday. He will play again on Tuesday and Wednesday before potentially going on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey threw once again on Monday as he continues his recovery from a fractured right fibula.

Pitching coach Dave Wallace was away from the club to attend a funeral on Monday. Bullpen coach Dom Chiti will be in the dugout while Ramon Martinez fills in as the bullpen coach in the series opener against the Yankees. Wallace is expected back by Tuesday.

Below are Monday night’s lineups:

NEW YORK
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
DH Carlos Beltran
1B Mark Teixeira
3B Alex Rodgriguez
RF Chris Young
C John Ryan Murphy
SS Did Gregorius
2B Gregorio Petit

SP Michael Pineda (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP)

BALTIMORE
LF Alejandro De Aza
RF Steve Pearce
1B Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
DH Travis Snider
3B Manny Machado
2B Jonathan Schoop
SS Everth Cabrera
C Caleb Joseph

SP Wei-Yin Chen (0-0, 6.23 ERA, 1.39 WHIP)
 

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Orioles musings on the opening week of the season

Posted on 13 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Based on how they performed over the first week of the season, the Orioles are right where they belong sitting at the .500 mark while allowing one more run (32) than they’ve scored (31) through the season’s first six games.

The fact that a number of fans are concerned about a 3-3 record shows just how far the Orioles have come over the last three years under manager Buck Showalter in that they’re now expected to win. For anyone concerned about the first week of the season, keep in mind that the Orioles began last season with a 1-4 mark and were still sitting at .500 at the beginning of June before playing .639 baseball the rest of the way.

For context, the Orioles are roughly at the same point in their season now as the Ravens were when Joe Flacco tossed an interception in the third quarter of the 2014 season opener against Cincinnati last September.

Beyond Bud Norris being a “person of interest” with a poor start in the home opener that followed his concerning spring and Ubaldo Jimenez reinforcing his strong finish in the Grapefruit League with a brilliant performance Saturday night, I haven’t seen much of anything that changes my overall attitude or outlook on the 2015 campaign. The Orioles obviously need to pitch better than they did in the first week, and I think they will based on the track record of many of these hurlers over the last few seasons.

* The Orioles have given up 10 or more runs in a game twice already after doing it just five times all last season, which brings two thoughts to mind.

One, it shows how consistent the staff was in 2014 despite not having the kind of starting rotation that inflicts fear like Detroit’s last year or the current Washington group. In 2013, the Orioles allowed 10 or more runs nine times and surrendered at least that many in a game 10 times in 2012.

It also speaks to how impressive the Toronto lineup was in scoring 23 runs in a three-game series in which the Blue Jays were nearly shut out in the second contest. The Blue Jays weren’t exactly struggling to score runs anyway before the offseason arrivals of an MVP-caliber player like third baseman Josh Donaldson and veteran catcher Russell Martin, who posted a .402 on-base percentage with Pittsburgh last year.

I still have my doubts about how quickly their young pitching will come together in both the rotation and the bullpen, but the Blue Jays will hit the ball as well as anyone in the majors.

* Third baseman Manny Machado’s 0-for-15 streak to begin the 2015 season ended Sunday, but his .053 average isn’t anything to be concerned about just yet as he’s hit several balls hard and has shown improved patience at the plate in drawing three walks in 23 plate appearances. He’s only struck out three times over that span, which suggests making contact isn’t a concern.

What has been an encouraging sign that his surgically-repaired knees are not an issue is the number of “Machadian” plays — yes, I’ve coined a new adjective to describe his impeccable defense — he’s already made in the field.

Considering he won’t be 23 until July, it’s amazing to think how many highlight plays he’s already offered up in his major league career. You just hope the problems with his knees are finally behind him, so we can enjoy watching this kid play a full season.

* Right-hander Kevin Gausman is off to a rocky start in the bullpen, allowing three earned runs and four walks in 3 2/3 innings.

While I’ve made no secret about my disagreement with his handling, it’s worth noting that he’s begun throwing a curveball — seemingly abandoning his slider that was still a work in progress — for the first time since college. In talking to Gausman late last week, you got the sense that he’s trying to emulate Chris Tillman a little more by adopting the curve to change hitters’ eye levels and throwing more high fastballs, which will certainly get him in trouble if he doesn’t locate and pick his spots carefully.

You wonder if these fundamental adjustments along with some natural disappointment over not being in the rotation have led to his early-season struggles, but there’s too much talent there for him not to right himself sooner rather than later.

* I’m guessing not many would have predicted knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa as the first minor-league pitcher to be recalled by the Orioles this season, but it further illustrates how timing and flexibility have more to do with promotions than anything.

More heralded arms such as Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson had already pitched in the previous two days and the Orioles preferred to give T.J. McFarland his scheduled start with Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, paving the way for the 30-year-old Gamboa to receive his first promotion to the majors. Of course, he was only going to pitch in an extreme situation such as an injury or two taking place or the score being totally out of hand, but it once again shows how manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will utilize resources at Norfolk and even Double-A Bowie however they see fit.

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Jimenez offers reminder why Orioles wanted him

Posted on 12 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — In the same way that it would be premature for the Orioles to bury Bud Norris after his poor start in the home opener, Ubaldo Jimenez can’t erase the memory of an awful 2014 season with one terrific outing.

But catcher Caleb Joseph said it best in describing the right-hander’s seven shutout innings in which he allowed only one hit while striking out eight and walking one in a 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.

“He was like a video game out there,” Joseph said. “I haven’t caught very many major league games, but that may have been one of the [most fun]. What he’s been through over the last year or so and then working really hard and getting better each and every spring training start, and then when the lights really come on — playing for real — he did such a great job.”

Despite the frustration of a fan base that expected big things from the 31-year-old when he signed a four-year, $50 million contract 14 months ago, it’s easy to see how well liked Jimenez is by teammates and coaches. Working hard to simplify and repeat his delivery this offseason, Jimenez has been praised for his commitment to improve from the time he arrived in Sarasota for spring training two months ago.

Asked what impressed him most about Jimenez this spring prior to Saturday’s game, manager Buck Showalter was direct in saying it was the results and how the veteran had improved a little bit each time he went to the hill. Jimenez pitched on the road — meaning he would face more of the opposition’s regular hitters — in all but one of his seven spring starts, posting a 2.88 ERA in his final 25 Grapefruit League innings and walking just six batters over that span.

That success carried over and then some on Saturday as Jimenez stifled a Blue Jays lineup that had piled up 12 runs and 16 hits just a day earlier. It began with fastball command and impeccable control as Jimenez delivered first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 23 hitters he faced. He also effectively mixed in his split-fingered fastball and curveball while his two-seam fastball induced 11 grounders that were turned into outs by the excellent defense behind him.

Jimenez is gradually learning to trust that defense, adopting pitching coach Dave Wallace’s philosophy of pitching to weak contact and not always needing to rely on the strikeout. Unlike other starters in the current rotation, Jimenez has the ability to consistently miss bats — he still averaged 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings last season — but it can’t come at the expense of control.

Yes, it’s only one start, but it was a glimpse into what the Orioles envisioned when they made a four-year commitment to the 2010 All-Star Game starter for the National League. While a career-worst 5.5 walks per nine innings average and a 4.81 ERA from last year are fresh in observers’ minds, Jimenez has pitched at a high level at various times in his career, which is the upside that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was attracted to.

For now, Jimenez can only take it one start at a time, one strike at a time while observers will understandably remain skeptical until he proves himself consistently.

“The only thing I’m worried about is being there for the team,” Jimenez said. “If I pitch good, they will forget [last year], but my main goal is be there for the team. I can’t be worried about what everyone is thinking.”

Saturday reinforced that the Orioles were right to give Jimenez a chance to reestablish himself in the rotation. He’ll need to prove he can remain there, but owing a pitcher $39 million over the next three years has a way of making an organization provide as many opportunities as humanly possible to fetch a return.

The Jimenez who’s surfaced over the last month dating back to spring training is one the Orioles would like to see pitching meaningful games in September and beyond. It’s the reason why they brought him to Baltimore in the first place despite his opening act being a dud.

“Nobody’s worked harder than him. You can tell he did it in the offseason, too,” Showalter said. “He came in here with a real purpose. Tonight was a good reminder why he’s been a good quality major league starter for a long time.”

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Orioles place left-handed reliever Wright on DL

Posted on 11 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Faced with a crowded bullpen to begin the 2015 season, the Orioles will now have that problem alleviated in a way they didn’t anticipate.

Left-handed pitcher Wesley Wright has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left trapezius strain. The reliever disclosed the injury after pitching 1 1/3 innings in Friday’s 12-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

“After we see the [doctor], we’ll know what the next step will be,” said Wright, who revealed Friday that he’s been dealing with the issue for a few days. “I’m hoping that it’s something that can get taken care of kind of quickly and hopefully I can be back on the field soon. It wasn’t worse, so I’ll take that aspect of it. I knew the way I felt yesterday, it was going to take something dramatic for me to feel a lot better this morning. When I woke up, I felt basically the same.”

In two appearances, Wright has allowed one earned run and two hits in 1 2/3 innings with his new club.

It remains unclear how long Wright will be sidelined, but the Orioles recalled pitcher Eddie Gamboa from Triple-A Norfolk to take his place in the bullpen just in time for Saturday’s game. Outfielder David Lough (hamstring) is expected to be activated from the DL in the coming days, but the Orioles intend to send him on a brief minor-league rehab assignment with Single-A Frederick beginning Sunday.

Unlike other options on the 40-man roster who had pitched in the last day or two, Gamboa is fresh and can provide the Orioles with length in the bullpen for however long he remains in Baltimore. The 30-year-old knuckleballer is scheduled to start for the Tides on Monday, but that will depend on whether manager Buck Showalter will need to use him over the next couple days.

In 2014, Gamboa went a combined 5-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 108 2/3 innings split between Norfolk and Double-A Bowie. He has never appeared in the majors in his seven-year professional career.

Left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland could have been recalled as he was the scheduled starter for Norfolk on Saturday, but the Orioles prefer giving him some regular work in Triple A to begin the season. Right-hander Mike Wright remains on the club’s radar, but he started for Norfolk on Friday and touched 99 miles per hour at one point, according to Showalter.

In other injury-related news, catcher Matt Wieters (elbow tendinitis) took batting practice from both sides of the plate in Sarasota on Saturday. He is expected to throw from 120 feet and catch batting practice on Sunday.

“That was all encouraging to hear,” Showalter said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow, but that’s kind of moving [forward] a little bit.”

Shortstop J.J. Hardy continues to progress but is feeling slight discomfort in his left shoulder at the very end of his follow through when swinging. Showalter doesn’t want him to be thinking about that when he’s hitting, which means the Orioles won’t rush him to go on a rehab assignment until he’s fully ready.

“I want to get it right the first time. I don’t want him to feel like he has to rush,” Showalter said. “It’s like Matt — I want to get it right the first time and not have to look back and worry about it. But I like where he is with it right now.”

Infielder Jimmy Paredes (lower back) is expected to play in an extended spring training game on Monday. If that goes well, he could go on a minor-league rehab assignment in Frederick next week.

Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey (broken fibula) completed two sets of 25 throws from 60 feet on Saturday. He hasn’t pitched since he was struck in the ankle with a comebacker in minor-league spring training late last month.

Below are Saturday night’s lineups:

TORONTO
SS Jose Reyes
CF Dalton Pompey
RF Jose Bautista
DH Edwin Encarnacion
3B Josh Donaldson
C Russell Martin
1B Justin Smoak
LF Kevin Pillar
2B Devon Travis

SP Aaron Sanchez (2014 stats: 2-2, 1.09 ERA)

BALTIMORE
LF Alejandro De Aza
RF Steve Pearce
1B Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
DH Travis Snider
3B Manny Machado
2B Jonathan Schoop
SS Everth Cabrera
C Caleb Joseph

SP Ubaldo Jimenez (2014 stats: 6-9, 4.81 ERA)

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A home opener to forget for the Orioles

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Maybe rain would have been better for the Orioles, after all.

Despite a threatening weather forecast that never came to fruition Friday, a dark cloud in the form of the Toronto Blue Jays ruined Baltimore’s home opener in a 12-5 final before 45,936 fans at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Battering starting pitcher Bud Norris and the bullpen for much of the afternoon, the Blue Jays handed the Orioles their worst defeat in a home opener since 1995. Baltimore hadn’t allowed 12 runs in its first home contest of a season since Milwaukee defeated the hapless 1988 Orioles in a 12-0 final to begin the infamous 21-game losing streak. The run total also matched the season high surrendered in any game by Orioles pitching last year.

At least nobody tripped running down the orange carpet during introductions?

Beyond the magnified nature and overreaction that can accompany the early days of a season, it was a single defeat, but one the Orioles would like to immediately forget.

One poor start for Norris wouldn’t be much cause for concern if it hadn’t followed a spring in which the right-hander posted a 9.26 ERA, allowed five home runs, and walked nine batters in just 11 2/3 innings in Grapefruit League play. Pushing the panic button would be premature, but it would be fair to at least consider Norris a person of interest along with the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez in monitoring the starting rotation in the early stages of the season.

Frequently missing the target provided by catcher Caleb Joseph, Norris allowed four extra-base hits, eight total hits, walked one, and hit a batter before being lifted with no outs in the fourth inning. Blue Jays hitters hit several balls hard and found a hole in the defense on a couple others, a trend that continued against the bullpen as Toronto finished with 16 hits, eight of them doubles.

“You can’t just look at the results,” said Norris, who labeled his day “frustrating” in allowing eight earned runs in front of the home crowd. “You have to look at other things — how you feel and all the rest. I got through the spring healthy, and that was a big one for me. The results were not great on paper, but that is just one side of the story. I’ve been a confident player and I have another opportunity in five days.”

As if a shaky effort from relievers Brad Brach, Jason Garcia, and Wesley Wright behind Norris weren’t enough, it was revealed after the game that Wright is dealing with a sore shoulder and neck and will be reevaluated on Saturday.

The pitching wasn’t alone in the misery as the Orioles lineup squandered two early opportunities to chip away at 4-1 and 5-1 deficits against Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle, who won his 200th career game on Friday. Everth Cabrera lined out to right to after Baltimore had loaded the bases with two outs in the second, and Delmon Young grounded into a double play with runners on the corners to end the third.

Even the Orioles’ offensive star of the game, Adam Jones, was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth with a 10-2 deficit. His first home run of the season and 4-for-4 performance were rare highlights in a disappointing day, but his mistake hurt with the Orioles needing baserunners to mount a huge comeback.

It was just one of those forgettable days for the Orioles, who dropped only their seventh home opener in 24 seasons at Camden Yards and their first since 2010.

Though Norris must stew over his performance in his 2015 debut, the Orioles can turn the page quickly knowing there are 158 games remaining with the next one coming Saturday night.

“I was happy for the fans that [the rain] held off and it wasn’t too uncomfortable for them,” said manager Buck Showalter in describing the atmosphere of the home opener. “Toronto probably made it uncomfortable for them, too.”

No, the predicted storms never came, but the Blue Jays certainly rained on the parade at Camden Yards.

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Showalter makes Orioles best bet in question-filled AL East

Posted on 06 April 2015 by Luke Jones

I’ll admit I don’t love this Orioles roster going into the 2015 season.

While fighting the thought that they may have missed their last best chance to go to the World Series last October, the Orioles lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller this offseason while making no sure-fire additions to replace their production. Yes, the payroll rose to just under $120 million to account for a laundry list of players receiving raises in arbitration, but that still doesn’t erase the feeling of it being an underwhelming winter.

Those factors alone make it easy to pick against the Orioles this year before you take a step back to examine the remaining roster.

Will the Orioles miss Cruz and Markakis? Absolutely, but will they miss them more than they might have yearned to have the injured Matt Wieters and Manny Machado last season while still managing to win 96 games? Will they ache for Cruz quite as badly if Chris Davis rebounds from a horrific campaign to look more like the slugger he was in 2012 or, better yet, 2013?

And while Miller found a lucrative contract in Yankee pinstripes, the rest of a pitching staff that finished third in the American League in ERA last season remains intact. So does a defense that’s been the best in baseball over the last three years and might be the biggest reason for the Orioles’ success.

If you’re not yet convinced, a look around the rest of the AL East might do it.

Boston? That’s one hell of a scary lineup, but four of their five starting pitchers posted an ERA above 4.00 last year and the bullpen headlined by ailing closer Koji Uehara is shaky at best.

Toronto will again hit the baseball with the additions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, but the bullpen is a major weakness and the loss of Marcus Stroman puts too much stress on veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle and three starters below the age of 25.

The Yankees? That roster would have scared you five years ago, but age and injuries will be their undoing as it was a year ago.

Tampa Bay will have a strong starting rotation if early-season injuries are overcome, but the Rays will struggle to score runs all year and the magic maneuvering of former manager Joe Maddon is now gone.

No, the Orioles won’t run away with the division, but there’s vulnerability anywhere you look. And that’s where the potential tiebreaker comes into play that will push Baltimore over the top.

Taking nothing away from Boston’s John Farrell and New York’s Joe Girardi for having won World Series rings with their respective clubs, but I’ll count on Buck Showalter to get the absolute most from his roster while hiding deficiencies better than any manager in the AL East.

For the last three years, the Orioles have thrived on overcoming adversity while relishing opportunities to prove their doubters wrong. Showalter and his players were already talking about many naysayers picking them to finish in last place weeks ago, even if those slights are more fabrication than reality.

The knee-jerk reaction in assessing the Orioles after an underwhelming offseason is to drop them substantially in the standings, but then you remember they clinched the division in mid-September and won the AL East by a whopping 12 games. That’s a lot of ground that the others in the division needed to make up.

The Red Sox appear to have emerged as the media favorite to win the AL East, but that didn’t stop 30 of ESPN’s experts from picking Baltimore to take the division compared to 36 forecasting Boston. A number of other national outlets are giving the Orioles plenty of respect as well, and even their bigger critics are generally picking them no worse than second or third.

After watching the Orioles average 91 wins per year while outperforming projections over the last three seasons, we should know better at this point. The questions that exist elsewhere in the AL East should only confirm the truth.

You don’t bet against Buck.

And even if I may not like the Orioles as much as last year, they will still be the best that the AL East has to offer in 2015.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what can’t go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2015 after we looked at what factors must go right on Thursday. In an effort to avoid being redundant in the wake of the first piece, I avoided the polar opposites of the factors already discussed.

1. The worm turns on the health of the pitching

In addition to recapturing the success from last season, Orioles pitching would desperately like to extend its run of good fortune in the health department as only four pitchers — Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez –visited the 15-day disabled list in 2014. Of those four, only Jimenez spent more than 18 days on the DL and there was plenty of external debate over the severity of his ankle injury as he was in the midst of a disappointing season.

Injuries are a part of the game and it’d be difficult for the Orioles to expect that same level of health, but you can only hope the baseball gods don’t decide to exact revenge in 2015. Baltimore was one of only 10 teams in the majors last year to have four pitchers make 25 or more starts while only two clubs — Kansas City and Washington — had five pitchers make 25 or more.

The odds are not in the Orioles’ favor to repeat last year’s injury-light run as any given club has a 65 percent likelihood of having two starters ailing at the same time at some point in a season, according to FanGraphs. That reality makes it clear why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was so hesitant to part with any of the club’s top six starters this winter.

While many focused on the misfortune of the injuries suffered by Wieters and Machado last season, the rotation and the bullpen were as healthy as you could have hoped for on the way to 96 wins.

2. Corner outfield spots become a wasteland

It’s been impossible to escape the lamenting over the departure of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason as the Orioles weren’t willing to invest the combined $101 million that the pair received elsewhere in free agency. The veterans accounted for a total of 207 starts at the corner outfield spots that others will need to assume in 2015.

No two individuals will be expected to fill their roles exclusively as some combination of Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Travis Snider, David Lough, and possibly Nolan Reimold will receive early opportunities. Even if you thought Cruz and Markakis were overpaid, the Orioles still need to account for the 116 extra-base hits the two produced last year.

Of course, the club can reasonably expect better offensive returns from the likes of Davis, Machado, Wieters, and J.J. Hardy at their respective positions, but there’s a lot of unknown that Showalter will be facing in trying to pull the right strings with a cast of unproven or flawed characters flanking center fielder Adam Jones.

The Orioles don’t necessarily need the overwhelming success of platoons resembling the best days of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke, but poor production from the corner outfield spots is a recipe for a lineup likely struggling to score runs.

3. Matt Wieters is a shell of his old self defensively

There was a reason why I didn’t include Wieters having a bounce-back year as one of the things that must happen for the Orioles. The truth is they proved they could win without him last season.

Make no mistake, the Orioles would benefit from a better offensive catcher than Caleb Joseph, but a more uncomfortable proposition might be a Wieters behind the plate who is a shell of what he used to be defensively. If Wieters is fully cleared, Showalter will immediately reinstall him as the starter, but that doesn’t guarantee his defense will warrant him being the overwhelming regular, potentially creating an awkward situation.

Last season, Joseph produced 1.5 defensive wins above replacement — a better mark than Wieters in either of his last two full seasons — and the Orioles allowed the eighth-lowest total of stolen bases in the majors. For a club that prides itself in controlling the opponent’s running game, Wieters’ defense is more important than his offense.

Yes, it’s important to have Wieters back, but him returning as a defensive liability while also remembering that his on-base plus slugging percentage steadily declined from 2011 through 2013 would be worrisome. With a small number of catchers having undergone Tommy John surgery at the major league level over the years, it’s impossible to truly know what to expect.

4. Injuries continue to zap J.J. Hardy of his power

A back injury that lingered for much of the 2014 season limited the three-time Gold Glove shortstop to just nine home runs and a .372 slugging percentage, which is what made the news of a shoulder injury last week disheartening for the 32-year-old.

Hardy isn’t expected to miss much time, but the Orioles are counting on him to be part of the equation to fill the power void left behind by Cruz. Before Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract last fall, the organization had to be expecting a return to power numbers similar to what he posted in his first three years in Baltimore.

Back and shoulder issues for a shortstop on the wrong side of 30 are worrisome, especially when you’re counting on Hardy to hit a few more out of the ballpark this season. His defense is his best asset, but the Orioles need more than that while paying him an average of just over $13 million per season over the next three years.

5. The underwhelming offseason and the reality of 11 pending free agents create a tight clubhouse

Several players made no secret about their disappointment in this past offseason in watching the departures of Markakis, Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller while seeing minimal additions for the 2015 season. Duquette has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but it’s human nature for veterans to be disappointed to see a longtime Oriole like Markakis depart.

On top of this, the club has 11 players currently slated to become free agents next offseason including position players such as Davis, Wieters, Pearce, De Aza, and Young and starting pitchers Norris and Wei-Yin Chen. That’s why many are viewing 2015 as the Orioles’ last chance to seriously contend for at least a couple years.

Showalter is as good as any manager in baseball in cultivating a loose clubhouse and strong player leadership remains despite Markakis’ departure, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if players might be too tight this season, especially if the club were to get off to a slow start.

And the memory of a disappointing four-game sweep in last year’s American League Championship Series could creep back into players’ psyche in the process.

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