Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Gausman officially named 2017 Opening Day starter

Posted on 27 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Weeks of assuming have finally turned official as the Orioles announced Monday that Kevin Gausman will start on Opening Day.

The right-hander will be making the first season-opening start of his career as veteran Chris Tillman will begin the year on the disabled list, snapping his stretch of three straight Opening Day starts. Gausman will take the ball against Toronto while Dylan Bundy will start the second game of the season, according to manager Buck Showalter.

The Blue Jays will send right-hander Marco Estrada to the hill for next Monday’s opener.

Gausman blossomed into a top-half-of-the-rotation starter in 2016 with a 3.61 ERA in 30 starts covering 179 2/3 innings. His 9-12 record was a direct result of poor run support, but he looked the part of an ace over the final two months of the season by pitching to a 2.83 ERA over his final 12 starts spanning 76 1/3 innings. The breakthrough was no more evident than at Fenway Park on Sept. 14 when he pitched eight shutout innings in a 1-0 win over Boston and on the final day of the regular season when he pitched 7 1/3 strong innings at Yankee Stadium to help the Orioles clinch the second wild card.

It remains to be seen whom Showalter will tab as his fifth starter to begin the season as the Orioles won’t need one until April 15. Gabriel Ynoa and Jayson Aquino have emerged as intriguing candidates after strong Grapefruit League outings over the weekend.

Tillman is not expected to return in the first month of the season as he just began throwing again on Sunday after receiving a cortisone injection in his right shoulder.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts as spring training winds down

Posted on 22 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles in the midst of their final two weeks in Sarasota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Ken Rosenthal fairly laid out positives and concerns related to Brady Anderson’s organizational role, but the big question is the future. With Dan Duquette’s contract expiring after 2018, is Anderson viewed as his successor and, if so, is he adequately preparing for that while still wearing so many other hats?

2. Anderson’s criticism of the handling of Jake Arrieta coincides with Baseball Prospectus’ latest look at the Orioles’ track record with pitching prospects. More scrutiny for both their talent evaluation and development remains in order from top to bottom despite the club’s success over the last five years.

3. Count me as a new World Baseball Classic fan. It’s refreshing seeing outward emotion without it leading to World War III. Cultivating more of this mindset in the majors would better grow the sport than obsessing over shaving 10 minutes from the time of game. Joy isn’t a four-letter word.

4. With baseball being a regional sport in terms of fan interest and player popularity, it’s been fun seeing Adam Jones shine in the WBC spotlight. In the process of pointing out what he isn’t, too many overlook just how important he’s been to the Orioles’ turnaround. He deserves this.

5. As the club counts down to Chris Tillman attempting a long-toss session this Sunday, you have to wonder what’s next if he again experiences shoulder discomfort after a platelet-rich plasma injection in December and a cortisone shot earlier this month. Plenty of folks have to be holding their breath.

6. You shouldn’t read too much into any spring numbers, but Trey Mancini is doing everything he can to make the club. In addition to posting a .926 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, he is also learning the outfield. Finding a role for him is the obvious problem.

7. There’s much debate about whether Hyun Soo Kim is capable of hitting left-handed pitching, but he entered Wednesday just 2-for-5 with two strikeouts against southpaws in the Grapefruit League. It’d be tough to argue that Buck Showalter is committed to finding out if Kim can be an everyday player.

8. After Francisco Pena and Audry Perez were sent to minor-league camp on Tuesday, Chance Sisco remained as the only non-roster catcher in major league spring training. The 22-year-old isn’t making the club, but the Orioles wanting to take a longer look at him is a good sign.

9. Robert Andino will always be remembered for the final game of the 2011 season, but he’s appeared in only 13 major league games since 2013 and is just 4-for-39 with 11 strikeouts this spring. You have to wonder if the 32-year-old will be given a place in Baltimore’s minor-league system.

10. Perhaps Seth Smith doesn’t need a slew of at-bats to get ready for Opening Day, but he hasn’t played in two weeks because of a slow-healing hamstring injury. That’s an unsettling development for a 34-year-old right fielder who will likely be playing in cool conditions in April.

11. Despite his early success at the plate since re-signing, Pedro Alvarez going to the minors to learn the outfield should remain the plan. The corner outfield defense clearly hasn’t been prioritized recently, but run prevention needs to matter — at least somewhat — with a pitch-to-contact rotation.

12. After enduring headaches with fringe roster players being out of options in recent seasons, the Orioles’ only decision in that department is reliever Oliver Drake. The 30-year-old has had some limited major league success over the last two seasons, but he isn’t helping his cause with a 10.61 spring ERA.

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2017 Orioles preview: J.J. Hardy

Posted on 21 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than two weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

Manny Machado
Kevin Gausman
Adam Jones
Darren O’Day
Seth Smith
Mike Wright
Caleb Joseph
Donnie Hart
Jonathan Schoop
Mychal Givens
Ryan Flaherty
Brad Brach

SS J.J. Hardy

Opening Day age: 34

Contract status: Under contract through the 2017 season

2016 stats: .269/.309/.407, 9 HR, 48 RBI, 43 R, 0 SB, 438 PA

Why to be impressed: Hardy rebounded from a miserable 2015 in a big way, thanks in large part to the best hard-contact percentage of his major league career that led to 16 more extra-base hits in virtually the same number of plate appearances as 2015. His percentage of contact to the opposite field didn’t deviate from his career mark, but he hit it the other much more successfully, posting a .368 average.

Why to be concerned: The shortstop will be 35 in August and missed much of the spring with a cranky back, which also hindered him a great deal during the 2014 season. It’s also worth noting that manager Buck Showalter has remained reluctant to give Hardy regular days off despite the luxury of being able to slide Manny Machado over from third base to play short in those instances.

2017 outlook: The former All-Star infielder deserves credit for 2016 after his career looked to be falling off a cliff, but he will need to continue his revamped approach to hit more line drives rather than going for the long ball. With Hardy not having more than 438 plate appearances in a season since 2014, the Orioles need to keep him fresh and healthy to keep his defense at a high level and his bat respectable.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .251/.293/.382, 10 HR, 53 RBI, 55 R, 0 SB, 503 PA

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Tillman receiving cortisone injection for ailing shoulder

Posted on 15 March 2017 by Luke Jones

After weighing the options with the Orioles medical staff, starting pitcher Chris Tillman will receive a cortisone injection for the right shoulder that’s given him problems since last August.

The right-hander was shut down last weekend because of lingering shoulder discomfort that scrapped what was supposed to be a pivotal bullpen session. Already ruled out for the start of the 2017 regular season after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection in his shoulder in December, Tillman had hoped to be ready to join the major league rotation by April 15 when the Orioles need a fifth starter for the first time.

Manager Buck Showalter expressed optimism to reporters in Florida on Wednesday that the shot could allow Tillman to resume throwing in the near future, which would mean he wouldn’t have to start from the beginning of his throwing progression. However, this is the second cortisone injection Tillman has received since August, leading one to wonder how serious the issue might be with his right shoulder. Showalter told reporters earlier this week that surgery is not an option now.

Placed on the disabled list with the shoulder problem last August, Tillman missed the better part of a month before returning to make five starts at the end of the 2016 season. He then began experiencing discomfort when he began his throwing program in December, leading to him receiving a PRP injection. Set to become a free agent next winter, the 28-year-old has made at least 30 starts in each of the last four seasons, but that streak is in clear jeopardy unless he responds very favorably to the cortisone.

Kevin Gausman is expected to be the Opening Day starter as Tillman’s streak of three straight will be snapped. It remains to be seen who might step into the No. 5 starter role with Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Gabriel Ynoa, Jayson Aquino, and Chris Lee being the internal candidates to slot behind Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley in the Baltimore rotation.

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Tillman shut down again with latest shoulder discomfort

Posted on 12 March 2017 by Luke Jones

A weekend bullpen session was supposed to determine whether Oriole starting pitcher Chris Tillman would remain on track to return to the major league rotation by mid-April.

Instead, it never even took place.

After right shoulder soreness postponed his scheduled Saturday session for a day, the veteran right-hander experienced more discomfort playing long toss and was shut down on Sunday morning. The Orioles had hoped that the recent soreness was caused by an antibiotic, but reality appeared to set in for their best starter since 2012.

“We’ve got a pretty good feel for what the issue is structurally,” manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Florida after Baltimore’s 8-6 win over Minnesota. “I’m still very confident he’s going to pitch for us at some point this year.”

Tillman has dealt with the right shoulder issue since last August as he missed the better part of a month of action. The 28-year-old did return to make five starts at the end of the season, but he experienced discomfort once again in December when he began his offseason throwing program, prompting the Orioles medical team to give him a platelet-rich plasma injection. The setback made it clear that Tillman wouldn’t be ready to start on Opening Day for the fourth straight year, but the club had hoped the shoulder issue was behind him once and for all and that he would miss minimal time in 2017.

Now, a rotation that was already lacking quality depth will be tested without the man who’s posted a 3.81 ERA in 844 2/3 innings since the start of the 2012 season. The ailment is also cruel timing for Tillman as he’s scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman is expected to take the ball on Opening Day, but determining who will be Baltimore’s fifth starter is anyone’s guess three weeks before the season begins. The internal options could include right-handers Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Gabriel Ynoa as well as left-handers Jayson Aquino and Chris Lee.

Of course, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette could look for a veteran addition with Doug Fister and Colby Lewis headlining the list of still-available free agents.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on start of Grapefruit League play

Posted on 27 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles already playing spring games in Sarasota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Having fetched compliments for his early-spring work, Ubaldo Jimenez induced four ground-ball outs in two solid innings on Monday. Command remains his biggest need, but his average fastball was just 90.1 miles per hour last year, making it even more important for him to effectively use his two-seamer.

2. Jimenez gave up a run thanks in large part to a chopper that Mark Trumbo should have handled. Hyun Soo Kim later lost a routine fly in the sun. Both plays were ruled hits and are examples why error totals and fielding percentage aren’t particularly helpful statistics for evaluating defense.

3. Jonathan Schoop hit a monster homer that Yankees left fielder Aaron Hicks didn’t even bother to react to on Monday. The 25-year-old clearly needs to become more selective, but improving further against lefties like he did last year is another key to him finding another level of success.

4. The early reviews from Sarasota have been positive for Welington Castillo, but you still hate to see the new catcher spending so much time away from Orioles pitchers to play in the World Baseball Classic.

5. I like the idea of celebrating a global game, but I hate the timing of the WBC. Yes, injuries will occur anyway — evident by the Orioles’ ailments before Grapefruit League play — but potentially losing a valuable commodity when it’s not even under your watch is a cruel risk.

6. Donnie Hart struck out two in a scoreless inning against the Yankees and could be an important cog. He held lefties to a .347 on-base plus slugging percentage last year and will be a real force if he uses his changeup to hold his own against right-handed bats.

7. Speaking of young lefties, prospect Tanner Scott was consistently hitting the mid-to-upper 90s in striking out two and walking one in an inning on Monday. The 22-year-old averaged an unseemly 8.0 walks per nine innings last year, but he’ll be fun to watch if he can find more control.

8. It was only his first spring outing, but former Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo was roughed up for four runs, three hits, and two walks in an inning for Seattle on Monday. No matter how Seth Smith performs this season, I still like that trade.

9. Vidal Nuno was sharp in two scoreless innings against the Yankees and looks like a good fit to fill the Vance Worley role this year. The difference is that Nuno has a minor-league option remaining, which will aid in the flexibility of the bullpen when necessary.

10. On the other hand, Oliver Drake is out of options and gave up the game-winning three-run homer Monday. The 30-year-old has had some success with a 3.48 ERA in 33 2/3 major league frames, but he needs to have a strong spring to be in position to make the club.

11. A cranky back for J.J. Hardy to begin the spring should be a reminder to give the 34-year-old shortstop enough periodic rest. There’s no reason not to do it when you have Manny Machado to slide over to short as well as Ryan Flaherty to help spell the veteran.

12. Buck Showalter wants to move on from last year’s wild-card game, but you hope everyone learned from it. When possible, your best reliever should be deployed for the game’s most critical moment, which isn’t always for the standard save situation in the ninth. That’s not radical “baseball nerd” talk.

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Three key Orioles remain on mend for start of Grapefruit League

Posted on 23 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Three key contributors remain on the mend as the Orioles begin Grapefruit League action on Friday.

Closer Zach Britton (oblique), shortstop J.J. Hardy (back), and starting pitcher Chris Tillman (right shoulder) are said to be improving, but it remains uncertain when any of the three will be ready to play in spring training games. Britton’s injury appears to be the least serious and has not been specifically labeled an oblique issue, but he told reporters in Sarasota on Thursday that he is still feeling lingering discomfort in his side and hasn’t been cleared to begin throwing again.

Buck Showalter told reporters after Thursday’s intrasquad game that Hardy received a cortisone injection for the lower back spasms he’s been experiencing since last month. The Orioles manager said the injection was planned all along, but it comes a week after Hardy underwent various tests to determine whether there were any structural concerns with his back. The 34-year-old has dealt with the spasms at various points during his Orioles tenure, but these have lingered longer than in the past.

Tillman continued his throwing program on Thursday and says his right shoulder has responded well to the work. The 28-year-old won’t be ready for Opening Day and is likely to begin the season on the disabled list, but the Orioles have expressed hope that he can begin pitching in spring games by mid-March if there are no setbacks. Tillman received a platelet-rich plasma injection for his shoulder in December.

The good news is that Opening Day is still more than five weeks away, giving Britton and Hardy ample time to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Relief pitcher Logan Ondrusek is also continuing to recover from an ankle injury suffered earlier in camp.

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Sorting Orioles corner outfield spots begins with Kim

Posted on 21 February 2017 by Luke Jones

At first glance, veteran outfielder Michael Bourn brings obvious skills that the Orioles are lacking.

His speed and defensive ability can be assets for an outfield that ranked last in the majors in defensive runs saved a year ago, but it remains to be seen whether the 34-year-old is a great fit among a crowded group of corner outfielders with question marks. A below-average hitter, the left-handed Bourn is trying to crack a 25-man roster that already needs a viable platoon partner for the lefty-swinging Seth Smith in right field.

And that brings us to the biggest key in sorting out the corner outfield hierarchy for 2017.

The Orioles must find out if left fielder Hyun Soo Kim can be an everyday player. The 29-year-old more than proved himself as the starter against right-handed pitching to the tune of a sparkling .393 on-base percentage last season, but he went hitless in 22 plate appearances against left-handers. That’s hardly a fair sample from which to draw any real conclusion, but an 0-for-17 body of work doesn’t exactly bring confidence, either. His numbers from his final two seasons playing in the Korea Baseball Organization suggest he could be up to the challenge, but that success doesn’t guarantee to translate to the majors.

Either way, he deserves an extended look against southpaw pitchers to find out.

If Kim is able to handle a full-time role, Bourn becomes easier to carry on the bench as a late-inning defensive replacement and a pinch runner while the Orioles use a platoon in right with Mark Trumbo then serving as the everyday designated hitter. But if Kim can’t cut it against lefties, the need for platoons at both corner outfield spots becomes more problematic for the makeup of the roster.

Joey Rickard’s .861 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties last year makes him the early favorite to serve as a platoon partner, but the Orioles are reportedly intrigued with the defense and speed of Craig Gentry so far in spring training. The problem is that the 33-year-old was little more than a league-average hitter at his best and has posted a .553 OPS over his last 353 plate appearances in the majors dating back to the start of 2014.

It’s worth noting that Bourn posted an .844 OPS in 75 plate appearances against lefties last season, but he owns a career .644 OPS against left-handed pitching. If the Orioles are putting that much stock in those numbers for a potential platoon, the 2016 struggles of both Adam Jones and Trumbo against lefties should be much bigger concerns than they’ll discuss. In other words, you shouldn’t draw anything definitive from one season of work against lefties compared to the larger body of work.

Manager Buck Showalter could always cite the defensive upgrade in left as justification for Bourn playing against left-handers over Kim. The Korean outfielder was worth minus-13 defensive runs saved in left field last season as he lacks range and a strong throwing arm. However, Bourn starting against lefties could create a big hole in a Baltimore lineup that already fared very poorly against lefties in 2016.

The Orioles could also elect to use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but finding the room to carry Trey Mancini as a designated hitter under such a scenario might be difficult with the addition of Bourn.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Bourn even makes the club as Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander shouldn’t be dismissed from the roster discussion. Gentry could win a job to push either Rickard — who has minor-league options — or Bourn from the 25-man roster.

There’s plenty of time for Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to evaluate and decide.

Regardless of how it all plays out, Kim showing the ability to hit left-handers would make life much easier for the Orioles.

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Back spasms sideline Hardy for start of spring training

Posted on 17 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Just a few days after revealing starting pitcher Chris Tillman won’t be ready for Opening Day, the Orioles are dealing with another injury concern at the start of spring training.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy told reporters in Sarasota that he’s been experiencing lower back spasms that will keep him out of baseball-related activities for the remainder of the month. Hardy has managed back spasms at different points during his tenure with Baltimore — including most of the 2014 season — but he has been dealing with this latest bout since late January.

Hardy has undergone a magnetic imaging exam and other testing to make sure there isn’t a structural problem with his back, but manager Buck Showalter told reporters that he had already planned to take it slow with the 34-year-old to begin the spring. The three-time Gold Glove winner is in the final season of a three-year, $40 million contract and has dealt with a variety of ailments in recent seasons. He bounced back nicely from a brutal 2015 campaign last year when he batted .269 with nine home runs, 29 doubles, and a .716 on-base plus slugging percentage despite missing more than six weeks with a fracture in his foot.

Hardy’s absence opens the door for All-Star third baseman Manny Machado to take more reps at shortstop. The 24-year-old infielder is expected to play that position for the Dominican Republic in next month’s World Baseball Classic.

Should Hardy’s back problems linger longer than expected, Showalter would be looking at the likes of utility man Ryan Flaherty and non-roster invitees Robert Andino and Johnny Giavotella to potentially fill in at shortstop or third base — depending on where Showalter would use Machado.

Hardy does have a $14 million option for the 2018 season that reportedly vests if he collects 600 plate appearances, but the Orioles can buy it out for $2 million if he doesn’t reach that threshold. Since having 644 plate appearances over 159 games in 2013, Hardy has recorded no more than 569 in any of the last three seasons.

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Castillo under microscope as new Orioles catcher

Posted on 17 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles weren’t wrong to move on from Matt Wieters when they signed new catcher Welington Castillo to a one-year, $6 million contract with a $7 million player option for 2018 in December.

If they truly believe Chance Sisco is their catcher of the future, it would have made little sense to commit big money and multiple years to Wieters after they were stuck paying him the $15.8 million qualifying offer amount last season. And even with the veteran backstop still dangling on the open market in mid-February, the thought of the Orioles possibly playing the waiting game for a starting catcher this late into the offseason just wouldn’t have made sense. Wieters clearly wasn’t signing a short-term deal in mid-December like Castillo did.

Despite agent Scott Boras’ best efforts to create a market for his client, the idea of Wieters has always been better than the real product, which began with the unfair amount of hype he received before ever stepping foot in the majors. It’s dangerous investing in a 30-year-old catcher who’s already had an incredible workload behind the plate and has seen his offense decline over the last five years. For all of the praise for Wieters’ handling of a pitching staff, his pitch-framing numbers are below average and the Buck Showalter-era Orioles pitched at their best in 2014 when he missed most of the season due to Tommy John surgery, making you question the true value of those intangibles.

Since being worth 3.5 wins above replacement in the 2012 season, Wieters has been valued at a total of 3.9 WAR in 373 games since the start of 2013.

Of course, none of this will prevent Castillo from being under the microscope this season as he replaces a four-time All-Star selection who was popular in the clubhouse.

Castillo has the edge over Wieters offensively over the last two seasons with a .747 on-base plus slugging percentage compared to the latter’s .723. He’s also a year younger and hasn’t logged nearly as many innings behind the plate in his major league career. Castillo is unlikely to hit in the heart of the order, but his offense shouldn’t be an issue, either.

But there are fair concerns about a catcher now with his fourth major league club since the start of 2015.

You can understand Castillo’s desire to play for his country in the World Baseball Classic, but the Dominican native forgoing the opportunity to better familiarize himself with a new pitching staff can’t sit too well with the organization privately. Whether he’s on the same page with Orioles pitchers early in the season will be something to monitor.

Castillo improved in the pitch-framing department last season — finishing better than Wieters — but he was one of the five worst catchers in the majors over the previous three years, according to StatCorner.com. He worked on this part of his game with former major league catcher Jose Molina — one of the best framers in baseball throughout his career — in the offseason, but spending more time in Sarasota reinforcing these “presentation” principles with bench coach John Russell and projected backup and above-average framer Caleb Joseph would be preferable to playing in the competitive environment of the WBC next month.

The 5-foot-10, 220-pound catcher threw out an impressive 38 percent of runners attempting to steal last year, but his 10 passed balls tied for the National League lead. In contrast, Wieters threw out 35 percent and had just one passed ball in 65 more innings behind the plate.

These concerns aren’t secrets, evident by Arizona’s decision not to tender Castillo a contract after a 2.4 WAR season. The Orioles know they signed a catcher with imperfections, but those flaws aren’t terribly different from the more acclaimed catcher who was seeking a much bigger payday.

The Orioles made the right decision to move on from Wieters, but it will be up to Castillo to show they chose the right replacement.

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