Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 7-0 loss to Yankees

Posted on 05 May 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 7-0 defeat to the New York Yankees on Wednesday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 26th game of the 2016 season.

1st — The late Prince’s “1999” was played at one point between innings of Wednesday’s game at Camden Yards, but Yankees starter CC Sabathia pitched like it was 2009 with seven shutout innings. Watching Sabathia at this point is not unlike what we saw from Peyton Manning at the end of his career as the burly lefty struggles to reach the high 80s with his fastball after once being a power pitcher. However, he got vintage results to halt his club’s six-game losing streak by inducing nine grounders and striking out six over the course of the evening. Sabathia moved the ball around and out of the zone effectively — Orioles hitters obliged in expanding the zone — and ended his evening with 14 swinging strikes.

2nd — Though he tossed five scoreless innings to begin the night, the third time through the order proved to be the death knell for Tyler Wilson’s outing. The right-hander allowed only one hit and two walks through the first five frames, but Jacoby Ellsbury reached base for a third time with one out in the sixth and Wilson never really recovered from there as five of the next six Yankees hitters reached base, including Starlin Castro on a throwing error by Wilson that brought Mark Teixeira home with the third run of the inning. Two earned runs in six innings was a perfectly acceptable outing if he’d received even modest run support, but Wilson must find more success the third time through the order if he wants to stick in the rotation in the long run.

3rd — Sabathia deserves plenty of credit, but the Orioles left eight men on base and went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position over the course of the night. The New York starter didn’t record a single 1-2-3 inning, showing that Baltimore had its chances to give Wilson a lead long before he ran into trouble in the sixth. Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, and Mark Trumbo each grounded into double plays while Manny Machado and Chris Davis each went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position. In comparison to Yankee hitters going 3-for-5 with a walk and a sacrifice fly in their third plate appearances against Wilson, the Orioles went 0-for-7 with a walk in their third looks at the veteran Sabathia.

Home — After pitching a scoreless seventh, T.J. McFarland didn’t retire a batter in the eighth and allowed three runs, putting the game out of reach. … Jones went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout to drop his season average to .205. … The Orioles were shut out for the second time this season. … Machado doubled twice to elevate his average to .355. … Kevin Gausman takes the hill seeking a series win on Thursday while New York will turn to Masahiro Tanaka.

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Orioles keeping options open at shortstop in Hardy’s absence

Posted on 03 May 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The original Orioles lineup written out by Buck Showalter did not have Manny Machado at shortstop in the series opener against the New York Yankees on Tuesday night.

An afternoon conversation with the two-time Gold Glove third baseman, however, prompted the Baltimore manager to change his mind, shifting Machado to his natural shortstop position and moving recalled utility infielder Ryan Flaherty from short to third base. Showalter said earlier this season when Hardy was dealing with a calf issue that he slightly preferred the defensive alignment of Flaherty at third base with Machado at shortstop, but the Orioles will keep all options open with their three-time Gold Glove shortstop now expected to miss at least a month with a hairline fracture in his left foot.

Slick-fielding veteran shortstop Paul Janish remains a strong possibility to be promoted from Triple-A Norfolk in the near future, and Showalter reminded reporters that Pedro Alvarez has also started more than 500 games at the hot corner in his major league career. Of course, Alvarez at third base wouldn’t represent the optimal defensive alignment for a club that puts much emphasis in defense.

“There’s some other things that we could do,” said Showalter about his decision to move Machado to shortstop on Tuesday. “I’d keep in mind, too, that Pedro’s played a lot of third base. He’s actually played more third base than Manny has in the big leagues. There are some options there. I’d like to keep them all open; I’d also like to keep from moving guys around a lot.

“This is the way we’re going to go tonight.”

Drafted as a shortstop out of high school and having played all but two career minor-league games there before he was promoted to the majors in 2012, Machado was only making his ninth career major league start at short on Tuesday night. The Orioles know the 23-year-old can play elite defense at third base, but it remains to be seen just how good his defense would be at shortstop over the long haul.

The best defensive left side of the infield in Hardy’s absence would likely be Janish at shortstop with Machado staying at third, but the former has hit just .216 and posted a .574 on-base plus slugging percentage in parts of seven major league seasons, making him less than ideal for an everyday role. The Orioles would rather not weaken their defense at two positions, but Flaherty is a better third baseman than shortstop, which has facilitated the opportunity for Machado to play his natural position on occasion.

Perhaps the time is now to see how Machado’s incredible skill at third base translates to shortstop over an extended time as Showalter even noted that he’s seen better preparation than ever from the young superstar who was named American League Player of the Month for April.

“It’s just been so much more focused every day,” Showalter said. “You can tell by the look in his eye that he has a real passion for what he’s trying to accomplish for our team.”

Britton encouraged by ankle improvement

Closer Zach Briton was happy that a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed no structural damage to the left ankle he jammed on Saturday, and he hopes to return at some point during the Yankees series.

The lefty reliever played catch on Tuesday afternoon to better gauge how close he was to being 100 percent from a pitching standpoint. Britton told reporters that all pain is virtually gone when he walks after he was on crutches just a couple days earlier.

“I feel a lot better. The flexibility and range of motion is back,” Britton said. “It’s just swollen. It’s got some bruising, but as long as I can manage the pain. That’s going to be the biggest issue right now. Does it hurt me doing baseball things — covering first, having to field the bunt, or what not? Those are things that I’m going to have to test out.”

Gallardo update

It remains unclear when starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo (right shoulder tendinitis) will resume throwing, but Showalter is hoping they’ll see a better pitcher than the one who posted a 7.00 ERA in 18 innings last month.

“I’m very optimistic about the return we’re going to get on some of the things that he’s doing,” Showalter said. “Hopefully, he’s moving towards throwing here before too long.”

The 30-year-old was sent to the 15-day disabled list with an arm-related ailment for the first time in his career on April 23.

Harvey sidelined again

Showalter confirmed that top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey underwent sports hernia surgery on Tuesday, the latest challenge in a career that’s been derailed by various injuries since July 2014.

However, the Orioles aren’t as concerned with the current ailment since it has nothing to do with the elbow issues he experienced in each of the previous two seasons.

“If he pitches from June, July on and finishes up strong like we think he can, I think he’s OK,” Showalter said. “But we’d really like to see him get the ball every fifth day at some point there and kind of get some of that experience he needs to finish off some things [with his development].”

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Hardy’s status uncertain after fouling ball off left foot

Posted on 01 May 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles dropped the finale of a four-game set to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, but greater concern existed after the game regarding the status of J.J. Hardy.

The veteran shortstop fouled a ball off his left foot in the fourth inning and was removed in the top of the sixth as Pedro Alvarez entered the game at third base and Manny Machado shifted to shortstop. Manager Buck Showalter called Hardy’s injury a contusion after the game, but he hinted that the injury could be more serious without delving into specifics.

“I do know; I’ve got an idea,” Showalter said. “Right now, it’s a contusion. He fouled a ball off his foot, and it got real stiff and sore on it quickly, so he’s going to get some more detailed [tests]. I think it’s a scan [Monday] to see the extent of it. They took the X-ray here and they’re going to look at it in the morning.

“There are some things that we want to look at further and make sure that we’ve got our arms around what exactly it is.”

If Hardy were to be sidelined for an extended period of time, the Orioles could summon Ryan Flaherty or Paul Janish — or both — to provide more infield depth. Flaherty was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk last Monday, but he would not need to fulfill the full 10-day requirement to be recalled if Hardy were to go to the 15-day disabled list. The Orioles could elect to play Machado at short with Flaherty at third base in Hardy’s absence as they had a couple times last month.

Another option would be to promote Janish, who is not currently on the 40-man roster but has played well at Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles and Showalter love his defense at shortstop, but he is a career .216 hitter with a .574 on-base plus slugging percentage in 1,242 career plate appearances in the major leagues.

The 33-year-old Hardy is hitting .244 with two home runs, eight RBIs, and a .701 OPS in 22 games this season.

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Orioles, Britton hoping he can avoid trip to disabled list

Posted on 01 May 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 6:15 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — Despite using crutches to walk around the clubhouse on Sunday, Orioles closer Zach Britton told reporters he doesn’t expect to go on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left ankle.

The 2015 All-Star selection was injured trying to field a bunt in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s 8-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Britton had to leave the game and was limping as he walked to the dugout with head athletic trainer Richie Bancells, but his prognosis hadn’t changed since initially being labeled as “day-to-day” a night earlier.

“Not much swelling. I think he’ll be a pitcher shortly — hopefully,” said manager Buck Showalter, who later revealed after Sunday’s game that Britton would undergo a precautionary magnetic resonance imaging exam on Monday. “It’s the left one. I actually kind of like that a little better than the right one. I’d rather have that one as opposed to the landing foot, but it was more like he kind of jammed the capsule in there a little bit as opposed to turning it. The lack of swelling kind of reiterated what Richie thought it was looking at the tape.”

It remains to be seen whom Showalter might use as his closer in Britton’s absence, and he was predictably tight-lipped about it when asked by reporters.

As the Orioles prepared to conclude a four-game set with Chicago, Showalter acknowledged there were a “couple” relief pitchers he wouldn’t use on Sunday, adding more intrigue to the possibility of a save situation. Having pitched in three of the last four games and throwing 35 pitches over the last two nights, primary setup man Darren O’Day was likely to be unavailable on Sunday. Givens also pitched in two of the first three games of the series and tossed a combined 50 pitches in those outings, leaving his status for the series finale in question.

The Orioles will be off on Monday, which will give Britton another day to recover and Showalter an opportunity to better set up his bullpen for a three-game series with the New York Yankees.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-1 loss to Kansas City

Posted on 24 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-1 defeat to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday afternoon?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 17th game of the 2016 season.

1st — The Orioles managed just one hit in Yordano Ventura’s final six innings of work after grabbing an early 1-0 lead. The Kansas City right-hander threw 28 pitches in an opening inning that included a Mark Trumbo RBI single, but the Orioles made Ventura throw a total of 25 in the next three frames and pushed only one runner into scoring position after the first. The lineup simply couldn’t handle Ventura’s effective off-speed stuff to go along with his fastball and were retired in order a total of six times on Sunday afternoon. You knew it wouldn’t be an easy day against the talented 24-year-old, but the inability to even make him work set up the Orioles for a long day at Kauffman Stadium.

2nd — After pitching well through six innings, Mike Wright couldn’t handle a long leash in the seventh and suffered his second loss. It’s a shame that many will look at the final numbers and just assume that the Orioles right-hander was lousy, but Wright effectively mixed in his off-speed and breaking stuff to compete against a lineup that included five lefty bats. That said, he left a 92 mph sinker up and over the outer half of the plate on Alex Gordon’s fourth-inning homer and hung a curve on Eric Hosmer’s long ball in the sixth, showing lefties are still problematic for him. To be clear, Wright doesn’t receive a pass as he entered the seventh at only 87 pitches, but Buck Showalter could have had a reliever loosening in a 2-1 game as the inning began. Even if it had been a clean inning, you wouldn’t have loved the Orioles’ chances with Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis looming in a 2-1 game, which could explain why Showalter tried to push it a little more than normal with Wright instead of going to the bullpen at the first sign of trouble. Right or wrong, that’s a choice that sometimes needs to be made when thinking of the long-term status of a bullpen that’s working behind a poor starting rotation in 2016.

3rd — You never know if the seventh would have been different for Wright if not for Chris Davis’ misplay of a Gordon chopper down the first-base line to open the inning. The Orioles made a handful of shaky plays defensively like the Royals did in Saturday night’s contest, but Davis would be the first to tell you that he should have turned that into the first out — even if catcher Caleb Joseph thought the ball was foul. Instead, it opened the floodgates to transform a close game into a blowout. Yes, Wright needs to be able to shake it off and not give up doubles to two of the next three hitters, but Baltimore’s stellar defense can’t bend like that when you’re asking a young starter to work into the seventh inning of a one-run game.

Home — Dylan Bundy wasn’t able to keep the Orioles in it after the deficit had grown to 4-1 in the seventh. He allowed three of the first four hitters he faced to reach as the Royals busted it wide open with a five-run advantage and allowed two more hitters to reach in the eighth. … Manny Machado saw his 16-game hitting streak come to an end as he went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Only Davey Johnson had a longer hitting streak (17 games) to begin a season in Orioles history. … Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-3 and is now hitting .108 to begin the season. … Trumbo collected his club-leading 16th RBI, but all have amazingly come on the road. … Kevin Gausman will be activated from the 15-day disabled list to make his 2016 debut against Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer on Monday night.

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Gausman in line to make next start for Orioles

Posted on 21 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter hasn’t publicly committed to Kevin Gausman being activated from the disabled list to make his 2016 debut next week, but all signs point in that direction.

And with it comes hope that the 25-year-old right-hander will take the step forward many view him as capable of making as the Orioles entered Thursday’s game ranked 14th out of 15 AL clubs in starter ERA (4.97) and last in innings pitched by starters. The 2012 first-round pick allowed three earned runs and struck out nine in 5 2/3 innings for Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday.

“We’ll see how he feels today,” said Showalter, who was pleased with what he heard about Gausman’s outing. “He’s got a chance to pitch for us in his next outing. We’ll see how it all fluctuates.”

Baltimore hasn’t hesitated to show extra caution with Gausman, who was shut down with right shoulder tendinitis in the spring and received a cortisone shot on March 20. Showalter said earlier this week that Gausman told him his shoulder feels better than it has in quite some time — he also had a DL stint for shoulder tendinitis last May — but the Orioles wanted him to get the competitive juices flowing in Wednesday’s outing in Charlotte.

Gausman would be on track to make his next start on Monday as the Orioles begin a three-game road series against Tampa Bay.

“Obviously, there’s parts where you’re going through rehab and you’re working on things,” Showalter said. “The next one is getting back into the competitive part of it. Talking to [Norfolk manager Ron Johnson] and [director of player development] Brian Graham, that was definitely the case last night.”

The Orioles hope Gausman can emerge as a front-line starter after pitching to a 4.25 ERA in 112 1/3 major league innings split between the bullpen and the rotation last season. In his most extensive work as a starting pitcher two years ago, Gausman went 7-7 with a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts spanning 113 1/3 innings.

In other injury-related news, Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) remains on track to be activated from the DL on Saturday, but Showalter indicated that the lefty reliever could be reinstated a day earlier if needed.

Jimmy Paredes (wrist) took nine at-bats in extended spring training on Thursday and will join the Orioles in St. Petersburg next week before starting his rehab assignment.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-3 loss to Toronto

Posted on 20 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 4-3 defeat to the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 12th game of the 2016 season.

1st — The Orioles hit two home runs off Toronto ace Marcus Stroman, but they didn’t cash in on the few other opportunities they had over the course of the night. J.J. Hardy left the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth while Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo couldn’t do any damage with two runners on and Baltimore trailing by one run in the bottom of the eighth inning. When you score three runs and only leave five men on base, you didn’t have many scoring chances to begin with against a tough pitcher and the Orioles couldn’t provide enough support to combat a Blue Jays lineup that was the far-and-away best in baseball a year ago.

2nd — The Blue Jays scored three of their four runs in two-out situations, which will typically be the difference in a one-run game. Mike Wright’s overall performance was acceptable against a potent offense as he turned in the second quality start of the season for the Orioles, but Troy Tulowitzki’s two-run double past a diving Joey Rickard gave the Blue Jays breathing room with a 3-0 lead in the top of the third. The insurance run in the seventh off Tyler Wilson — the first run he’d allowed this season — was difficult to stomach considering the right-hander had retired the first two batters of the inning before giving up a single, a walk, and an RBI double off the bat of Jose Bautista.

3rd — Orioles hitters saw a total of 16 pitches in the fifth and sixth innings, which ultimately helped Stroman get through the seventh. Baltimore left the bases loaded in the fourth, but the right-hander threw 29 pitches in the frame, which put him in danger of not being able to go deep into the game and forcing Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to turn to the middle of his bullpen. What made those two innings even more frustrating was that they involved the top four hitters in the order not even mounting a threat when they were seeing Stroman for the third time. Of course, it’s fair to point out that Matt Wieters hit his two-run shot off the starting pitcher in the seventh, but the Orioles probably would have liked their chances getting to the Blue Jays bullpen much sooner.

Home — After Manny Machado doubled on a 3-2 count and Nolan Reimold drew a four-pitch walk off lefty Brett Cecil with one out in the eighth, Davis swung at the first pitch and fouled out to the catcher. … Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-4, dropping his average to just .143 and his on-base plus slugging percentage to .493. … Mychal Givens pitched a scoreless ninth inning, but it was the first outing of the season in which he didn’t record a strikeout. … Machado hit his fifth home run of the season in the fourth to extend his hitting streak to 12 games to begin the 2016 season. … Adam Jones left the game at the end of the sixth inning with a stomach virus that began affecting him during batting practice, according to manager Buck Showalter. … The Blue Jays snapped the Orioles’ 10-game home winning streak, which was tied for the seventh longest in club history. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill on Wednesday night while Toronto will counter with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

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Orioles stats to ponder after Sunday’s postponement

Posted on 17 April 2016 by Luke Jones

We’re still in the midst of “small sample size” territory to begin the 2016 season, but below are six statistics to ponder as the Orioles’ series finale with the Texas Rangers was postponed on Sunday.

1. Yovani Gallardo hasn’t recorded an out after the sixth inning since June 27, 2015.

This stat doesn’t exactly make Buck Showalter’s decision to send Gallardo back out for the seventh inning of Saturday’s game look any better. His velocity was slightly better against Texas, but the 30-year-old still isn’t carrying the kind of stuff that makes you think he’ll be able to pitch more than five or six innings in any given start, which isn’t what you’re looking for in a $22 million investment.

2. The starting pitching entered Sunday averaging the fewest innings per start in the AL, but the rotation has allowed only five home runs, tied for fewest in the league.

Starters are averaging only 5.09 innings per start through 11 games, but at least they’ve kept the ball in play. Of course, the Orioles have pitched in plenty of cold weather early on in 2016, but the rotation gave up the second-most homers in the AL last year. That’s a little bit of progress, right?

3. J.J. Hardy has collected six extra-base hits in 10 games after amassing only 22 all last year.

We know an injured left shoulder played a big role in the veteran posting a .564 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2015, but Hardy is showing he still has the ability to hit the ball with authority. Per FanGraphs, 50 percent of the balls Hardy has put in play have been hard contact and just 16.7 percent have been soft contact after just 23.7 percent were hard contact — his worst percentage since his rookie year — and 19.5 percent were soft contact in 2015. Of course, the key will be keeping the 33-year-old healthy over the course of the season, but Hardy is showing that the ability for him to contribute offensively is still there.

4. Orioles hitters are seeing more pitches per plate appearance and drawing walks more frequently than in 2015.

We’ll see if it continues moving forward, but the Orioles entered Sunday tied for fourth in the AL in walks after finishing 13th in that department in 2015. Their 2016 walk rate is 8.7 percent of all plate appearances so far compared to just 7.0 percent a year ago. The lineup is also seeing 3.98 pitches per plate appearance through 11 games after seeing 3.81 a year go. Through two weeks, the Orioles are showing more of a willingness to work counts and have swung at just 31 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, down from 34.1 percent last year (FanGraphs).

5. Mychal Givens is second on the club in strikeouts while only eighth in innings pitched.

The 25-year-old has been scored upon in three of his six appearances to begin the season, but he’s struck out a whopping 13 batters while walking two in 5 2/3 innings. Lefties have been a problem going 6-for-8, but he held lefty bats to a .555 OPS in 30 innings last season, making you think this is more of an aberration than a startling absolute. Showalter might be wise to limit his exposure to lefties for the time being, but averaging 20.6 strikeouts per nine innings is a ridiculous rate and opponents won’t sustain a .727 batting average on balls put in play against him.

6. Baltimore leads the majors with 23 home runs.

The 1997 Seattle Mariners hold the major league record with 264 long balls in a single season, and the Orioles are averaging just over two per game so far and the weather hasn’t even been that conducive for hitting the ball out. No club has hit more than 250 in a season since the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays, but there’s no reason why this lineup can’t at least approach that plateau if everyone stays healthy.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 8-4 loss to Texas

Posted on 16 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 8-4 defeat to the Texas Rangers on Saturday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 11th game of the 2016 season.

1st — Buck Showalter is as good they come handling a pitching stuff, but the Orioles manager was too greedy sending Yovani Gallardo out to the mound to begin the seventh inning with a 4-2 lead. It wasn’t even about the right-hander having thrown 96 pitches to that point, but multiple Texas hitters had made hard contact in the previous two innings, making you think the Orioles were already pushing their luck with the veteran through six. A questionable decision was made even worse by allowing Gallardo to not only issue a four-pitch walk to the No. 9 hitter, Brett Nicholas, but a double to Delino DeShields before finally going to T.J. McFarland, who was put in a difficult spot. That seventh inning had Brad Brach’s name written all over it, but he had been used each of the previous two nights. That said, there were too many other options in the bullpen to excuse sticking with Gallardo for the seventh.

2nd — Even if Showalter made a bad decision leaving Gallardo in too long, McFarland and Mychal Givens didn’t do their jobs in the seventh and couldn’t keep the Orioles in the game. It was a lot to ask the former to strand runners at second and third with no outs, but three of the four hitters McFarland faced were left-handed and he needed to be able to keep the game tied at the very least. Givens wasn’t much better as he gave up back-to-back singles that busted it open for the Rangers instead of slamming the door and keeping it a 5-4 deficit when he entered.

3rdThe defense also melted down in the seventh as McFarland failed to cover first base on a grounder to Chris Davis that turned into an infield hit for Nomar Mazara, the first batter the lefty faced. An out there certainly would have improved their chances of keeping it tied or to a smaller deficit. Making matters worse was Mark Trumbo letting Rougned Odor’s two-run single skip under his glove, allowing the speedy second baseman to advance to third and score on a single a batter later. It capped off a nightmare inning that began with a two-run lead and ended in a four-run deficit.

Home — The Orioles left nine runners on base. … Jonathan Schoop was the only Baltimore hitter not to record a hit and went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position. … Manny Machado homered in the first inning and has now hit safely in all 11 games to begin the season. … Pedro Alvarez drove in his first run of the season with a two-out single in the fifth. … Mike Wright goes to the hill in the series finale on Sunday against Rangers lefty Derek Holland.

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Orioles continue to take time with Matusz’s return

Posted on 16 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Left-handed relief pitcher Brian Matusz was originally slated to be activated from the disabled list by the Orioles last weekend, but he instead will continue a minor-league rehab assignment with one more appearance this week, manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Texas.

After allowing seven earned runs in his first three appearances with Double-A Bowie, Matuz gave up only one run in three innings for Single-A Frederick on Friday night, but his shaky performance makes up only part of the early-season predicament. The Orioles entered Saturday with an 8-2 record, but they’ve leaned heavily on their bullpen as they rank 13th in the AL in starter ERA and have averaged a league-worst 5.0 innings per start through their first 10 games.

Manager Buck Showalter would clearly like to see his starters get deeper into games, but Matusz’s absence has allowed the Orioles to carry an additional long reliever in the bullpen, which has proven to be useful early in the season. The southpaw’s return would likely mean T.J. McFarland or Tyler Wilson being optioned to the minor leagues, giving Baltimore less length when starters are knocked out early.

Matusz began the season on the 15-day DL with a left intercostal strain that hindered him for much of the spring.

So far this season, the Orioles have lacked a lefty specialist — a role in which Matusz has been effective over the last four years — but adding another reliever who can’t be sent to the minor leagues brings less flexibility to a bullpen with four other pitchers out of options. Matusz was respectable against right-handed hitters in 2015 by holding them to a .244 average, but they have batted .299 with an .853 on-base plus slugging percentage against him in his career, which limits the situations in which Showalter would ideally use him.

With late-inning options in right-handers Darren O’Day and Brad Brach who fare very well against batters from both sides of the plate, one could argue that a lefty specialist only facing a batter or two is more of a luxury than a real need in a bullpen that will likely be forced to handle plenty of innings in 2016. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen the Orioles try to stretch Matusz out in his last two rehab outings.

Making $3.9 million in his final season before becoming a free agent, Matusz could be activated next weekend in Kansas City, but it’s fair to ask whether his skill set is the best fit for a bullpen already sporting plenty of talent in the late innings but needing to do more work early in games. He’ll be capable of getting out a tough lefty bat or two from time to time, but Matusz will likely need to give the Orioles some contributions in the middle innings to be a valuable member of the bullpen.

And that helps explain why the Orioles haven’t been in a hurry to activate the 29-year-old, who hasn’t exactly impressed during his rehab assignment anyway.

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