Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Labor Day weekend illustrates Orioles’ minuscule margin for error

Posted on 04 September 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles still have a pulse in their push for a wild-card spot.

Winning nine of their last 12 games was a must after falling four games below .500 two weeks ago, but the effort required for a 2-2 long weekend fit well with Monday’s holiday celebrating the unofficial end of summer.

Laborious.

Even with a 7-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Labor Day, the Orioles should feel fortunate. Instead of easily disposing of last-place Toronto in a four-game set, they were a bad pitch away on Friday and the subtraction of Welington Castillo’s game-tying home run on Sunday from finishing the long weekend on a five-game losing streak that would have wrecked their work from the previous week. They managed to come away with a four-game split that was an exhausting grind and left them vulnerable on Monday — even with top starter Dylan Bundy going to the hill.

After a blistering August at the plate, the Orioles have scored a total of 12 runs over the last four games, which included seven extra innings of play. In the two extra-inning wins over the weekend, the bullpen had to pitch a whopping 15 frames with much of that work going to Baltimore’s most reliable arms. Those innings took their toll as manager Buck Showalter confirmed after Monday’s loss that he wasn’t going to use three or four unidentified relievers in the opener against New York.

That’s why Bundy’s outing was so deflating as the Orioles needed their best starter to go at least six or seven innings to have any decent chance to win without a huge offensive performance. No one could have expected Bundy to duplicate the brilliance of a one-hit shutout in his last outing, but his short day was a death knell when the bats also went silent after three early runs.

Instead of being able to hand the reins of a close game over to a tough bullpen in the fifth, Showalter tried to squeeze extra outs out of his struggling starter and then had no choice but to turn to Miguel Castro, another young pitcher who’s had multiple long outings over the last 10 days. Castro struggled to throw strikes, eventually giving way to the likes of recent call-ups Richard Rodriguez and Gabriel Ynoa to finish the day. An expanded September roster allowed Showalter to rest his trusted relievers, but you’d prefer not using those extra arms when the outcome hasn’t fully been decided.

Monday’s loss and the weekend illustrated Baltimore’s minuscule margin for error.

Trying to give Bundy extra rest as much as possible since he’s already thrown a career-high 159 1/3 innings in 2017, the Orioles have continued to hand starts to Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez, who own the two worst ERAs in the majors among all pitchers with at least 80 innings. Those two still being part of a playoff contender’s six-man rotation in the final month of the season is an organizational failure from top to bottom, but the Orioles somehow still find themselves in the race.

Pitching on five days’ rest after a career-high 116 pitches last Tuesday, Bundy showed no dip in velocity, but his command wasn’t sharp from the get-go and the Yankees eventually exposed the deficiency in the fourth inning when he gave up three runs and needed 37 pitches to retire the side. Those struggles conjured unsettling thoughts of last season when Bundy posted a 5.11 ERA in September.

The Orioles’ formula for winning is difficult, but clear with 24 games remaining. They need to score runs at a prolific rate and use their bullpen to protect narrow leads in the late innings. The starting rotation merely needs to be mediocre like it was in August with an underwhelming 4.86 ERA and averaging 5.7 innings per start, which were dramatic improvements from the previous three months. We know this rotation isn’t going to lead the Orioles into October, but it has to be decent enough to keep them in games and not completely cripple the bullpen.

A 2-2 Labor Day weekend didn’t ruin their playoff chances, but it stretched their limits.

And we were reminded how little room the Orioles have for error with the days dwindling.

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Twelve thoughts on Dylan Bundy’s one-hit shutout

Posted on 30 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With Orioles starter Dylan Bundy pitching a one-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over Seattle, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. That was the kind of performance fans daydream about when their team selects a pitcher in the top five spots of the amateur draft. Whether we’re witnessing the start of something special or this was merely the pinnacle of a solid career, Tuesday’s outing was fun to watch.

2. All of his pitchers were working, but the slider was especially potent, fetching swings and misses on 10 of the 27 he threw. It’s been said before, but he’s tough to beat when he has that breaking pitch going.

3. It’s a bummer to think a chance at a no-hitter was lost on a bunt single by Kyle Seager, but he dropped that down facing a one-run deficit in the fourth inning and before anyone was thinking about any flirtation with history.

4. I was waiting for Buck Showalter to pop out of the dugout after Bundy hit Robinson Cano to lead off the ninth inning, but you had to be impressed with the way the young pitcher immediately went back to work.

5. His 95 game score is tied for the sixth best in club history, according to the Baseball Reference play index. That’s some impressive company over 64 seasons of Orioles baseball.

6. This was easily the best pitching performance by an Oriole since Erik Bedard’s two-hit shutout that included 15 strikeouts against Texas on July 7, 2007. I’ll give Bedard a slight edge since he didn’t walk a batter while Bundy walked two and hit one.

7. Bundy provided the club’s first complete-game shutout since Miguel Gonzalez pitched one in 2014 and its complete game since Ubaldo Jimenez’s last September. How much has the game changed over the years? Jim Palmer pitched 20 or more complete games in a season four times.

8. This was the third time in his last four starts he’s struck out 10 or more. According to ESPN, that’s more than the total for any Orioles pitcher over the last 10 years. Yes, that reflects the Orioles’ lack of high-quality pitching, but it’s still an impressive feat for Bundy.

9. After averaging an ordinary 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings over the first four months of the season, Bundy is striking out 11.3 per nine in August. Even with extra rest being an obvious factor, it’s encouraging for the future to see him missing more bats.

10. He became the second pitcher in Orioles history to record a one-hit shutout with 12 or more strikeouts. Mike Mussina was the first on Aug. 1, 2000 when Bundy was not quite 8 years old.

11. I understand concerns over a career-high 155 1/3 innings this season, but squabbling over the right-hander exceeding his career high in pitches by four to get the shutout just reeks of joylessness. That said, the Orioles need to continue massaging his workload the rest of the way.

12. Bundy was pitching with a heavy heart after his grandmother’s death last week. That outing sure was a special tribute to her.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following West Coast trip

Posted on 17 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their final two games in Seattle to finish a 4-6 trip on the West Coast, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A losing road trip doesn’t cripple their playoffs chances, but the Orioles entered Thursday with six clubs ahead of them for the second wild card. They’ve played better since the All-Star break, but repeatedly falling to the back of the line among so many mediocre teams isn’t encouraging.

2. With a bullpen in good shape going into an off-day, Buck Showalter stayed with Ubaldo Jimenez entirely too long in the fifth inning Wednesday. The already-struggling veteran was facing the top of the order a third time, but Showalter instead saved his best relievers and lost the lead.

3. Showalter letting Chris Davis bat against lefty Marc Rzepczynski was a tougher call. He’s 8-for-24 over the last week after being lowered in the order, and Rzepczynski has been tough against righties, too. If you’re trying to get Davis going for the stretch, I understand not testing his confidence further.

4. Of their six losses on the road trip, the Orioles held a lead in five of those defeats. Whether it was shaky pitching or the offense going to sleep after scoring an early run or two, the trip should have been better. That’s just another sign of mediocrity.

5. Tim Beckham will cool off eventually, but it’s fun thinking about the possibility that there was more to the idea that he didn’t like hitting at Tropicana Field than anyone thought. In 16 games, he already ranks seventh on the 2017 Orioles in wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

6. I’ve said this before, but Trey Mancini’s development has a left fielder continues to amaze after he only began learning the outfield this past offseason. I would never bet on him winning a Gold Glove, but he looks very capable, which is a nice bonus to accompany his dangerous bat.

7. Davis has fairly received plenty of heat in the midst of his worst season since 2014, but Mark Trumbo has been just as disappointing. Expecting him to match what he did in 2016 was unrealistic, but his .711 on-base plus slugging percentage is the second-worst mark of his career.

8. Since the All-Star break, the Orioles are 1-5 in games in which they’ve had an opportunity to move back to the .500 mark. Talk about beating your head against a brick wall as the second wild card sits there begging for someone to take control.

9. Kevin Gausman has allowed two or fewer runs in five of his last six starts and sports a 3.13 ERA when Caleb Joseph catches. Welington Castillo was behind the dish for that one non-quality start, and Gausman owns a 7.30 mark with him behind the dish. Stick with what’s working.

10. I don’t have a major problem with temporarily sending Joey Rickard to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Anthony Santander, but Rule 5 players since 2012 have netted the Orioles a combined 2.4 WAR, per Baseball Reference. That’s a minimal return for so often playing with a shorthanded roster.

11. Speaking of questionable value, Jimenez and Chris Tillman have combined for a minus-2.4 WAR despite making a total of $23.55 million in 2017. That’s a heck of a price tag for below-replacement-level production.

12. The 25th anniversary celebration of Camden Yards will be a nice nod to the 1992 Orioles, who showed a 22-game improvement from the previous year. I’m a little bummed Randy Milligan — one of my favorites as a kid — won’t be there though. His .391 career on-base percentage was underappreciated.

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By not selling, Orioles continue course toward 2019 cliff

Posted on 31 July 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Monday’s trade deadline came and went with the Orioles taking no detour from their path toward that 2019 cliff.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette offered few specifics about any potential deals that were on the table for two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton or 2016 All-Star setup man Brad Brach. He did allude to Britton’s market being depressed because of his two-month absence for a left forearm strain in the first half and referenced the lucrative returns that the New York Yankees received for relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman at last year’s deadline.

“He’s one of the top relievers in the American League,” Duquette said. “There’s a steep price paid for the relievers that were traded last year, and that really wasn’t the market this year.”

Make no mistake, the Orioles were smart to aim high and not trade Britton if they couldn’t find a fair offer, especially with him being under club control through next season. He wasn’t just a rental for a contending club, but you’d certainly hope they plan to deal the talented — and increasingly expensive — closer this winter and not wait until a year from now when his hypothetical value would be considerably lower.

Keeping the likes of Britton, Brach, and third baseman Manny Machado for now isn’t necessarily the end of the world that many are making it out to be, but the Orioles remain on that ominous path when those three as well as veteran center fielder Adam Jones become free agents at the end of next season. You can’t help but feel that the longer they wait to deal such valuable pieces, the longer it will be until their next competitive window opens.

And just because the Orioles can still trade any of those individuals at some point over the next year doesn’t mean they will, which is an even scarier proposition.

Duquette talked at length about the organization not giving up on 2017, a notion that left many rolling their eyes as Baltimore entered Monday tied for the fifth-worst record in the American League. The acquisitions of veteran starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson — who’s only under contract through the end of the season — and 27-year-old infielder Tim Beckham are hardly the moves of a club that considers itself a serious contender.

At least Beckham, the first overall pick of the 2008 draft, is under control through the 2020 season and has developed into a useful major league piece after years of underwhelming results. The Hellickson deal reeks of pointlessness as even he admitted surprise when the fourth-place Orioles acquired him from Philadelphia late Friday night.

No, Duquette didn’t trade away the organization’s high-end minor-league pieces for a long-shot chance at a playoff berth, but middling activity such as these two deals once again left us wondering about the Orioles’ overall direction. Beckham could be the club’s starting shortstop for the next few years, but he’s not someone you’d point to as a difference maker, either.

“I still like this team. I like this team for this year; I like this team for next year,” said Duquette, whose contract expires at the end of next season. “You’ve seen fits and spurts of this team playing very, very good baseball. The consistency will come when we get a consistent, stable rotation.”

Duquette chuckled when asked how his and manager Buck Showalter’s contract status as well as the age of owner Peter Angelos — who turned 88 on July 4 — might impact the club’s overall plans, but those uncertain futures are even more problematic than what to do with the likes of Machado and Britton. It makes little sense to have a lame-duck general manager begin a rebuilding process, and he has little incentive to want to start such an arduous task without assurance of being able to see it through.

Angelos should have already decided what the future holds for Duquette and shouldn’t continue with him in charge if he isn’t going to be the architect after next season.

Instead, it appears to be all about the present, whether not selling at the deadline or continuing to move international signing bonus slots.

Are the Orioles committed to keeping the band together for a final run in 2018? If so, they’ll need to do a ton of heavy lifting to revive a starting rotation that’s been an utter disaster this season, and a veteran like Hellickson isn’t going to cut it. While they’re at it, the offense hasn’t been very good in 2017, either.

Will the Orioles start showing any regard for what happens beyond 2018 or stubbornly continue marching forward with a club that doesn’t appear to be good enough anymore?

Important questions, but no clear direction in sight.

Other than that cliff ahead.

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Lost weekend sweeps away any glimmer of hope for 2017 Orioles

Posted on 17 July 2017 by Luke Jones

You may have talked yourself into there being hope for the Orioles coming out of the All-Star break after they’d defied logic so many times in the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era.

Then came the bucket of ice water to the face that was the weekend sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs. The reigning World Series champions may have entered Friday only a game ahead of Baltimore, but it was evident that these were two teams moving in opposite directions in 2017 and beyond.

Friday night felt like the final nail in the coffin for the 2017 Orioles, who impressively managed to erase an 8-0 deficit to tie the game in the eighth inning before Brad Brach surrendered the game-winning home run to Addison Russell in the ninth. In a season filled with painful losses, that one was the most deflating as the Orioles were outscored 18-3 the rest of the weekend to fall a season-worst seven games below .500.

Yes, it’s time for the Orioles to start thinking about improving their outlook for the future. It’s no secret that they’re set to fall off a cliff at the end of next season when the likes of Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Adam Jones, and Brach hit free agency, but going 20-39 since May 9 offers similar imagery.

Desperation has been there for a while now as we’ve seen Jonathan Schoop shift to shortstop to make room for journeyman second baseman Johnny Giavotella and Jones move back into the leadoff spot, a role not suited for someone with a .301 on-base percentage no matter what anyone tries to tell you about last year. The mere fact that Kevin Gausman, Wade Miley, and Ubaldo Jimenez started the first three games of the second half really says all you need to know about the state of the Orioles and their starting rotation. The four 20-game winners from 1971 aren’t magically walking through that clubhouse door.

The truth is that the Orioles haven’t played like contenders for a long time now despite qualifying for the postseason for the third time in five years last October. Dating back to the beginning of last July, they hold an 84-91 record. An offense once feared around baseball ranks an underwhelming 11th in the American League in runs scored over the last calendar year. Their minus-94 run differential for 2017 is the worst in the American League and indicates that the Orioles have actually been fortunate to be as good as 42-49.

Yes, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but the failure of the 2017 club begins and ends with a starting rotation on track to be the worst in club history — the 2008 Orioles currently own the worst starer ERA at 5.51 — and one of the worst in baseball in over 100 years. The Orioles entered Monday with an AL-worst 6.02 starter ERA that’s more than a full run worse than 14th-ranked Chicago and a staggering 1.3 runs worse than last year’s rotation that was already viewed as a major weakness.

The starting rotation has been astonishingly terrible.

Amazingly, Cincinnati owns an even worse starter ERA at 6.04. According to Baseball Reference, the Reds currently sport the seventh-worst starter ERA and the Orioles the 10th-worst in major league history going back to 1913.

Misery loves company, right?

It’s easy to view the Orioles as sellers at this point as FOX Sports insider Ken Rosenthal reported as much on Sunday, but will it happen to the degree that it needs to under owner Peter Angelos? The Orioles do not have to trade their biggest chips in the next two weeks if they don’t find the right deal, but the longer they wait, the more diminished the return will be — at least in theory. Everything should now be on the table, however, making the indication that the Orioles won’t even listen to offers for Machado disconcerting.

But there’s a bigger question that needs to be addressed, one that could shape the club’s outlook for the next decade.

Do the Orioles want to retain Duquette beyond 2018 and does he even want to stay? Allowing a lame-duck executive to begin a rebuilding process would be unwise, so you’d hope there’s some resolution — at least privately — in the coming weeks and months as we move toward the offseason. His successes and shortcomings have been discussed at length in recent years, but it’s certainly fair to question whether Duquette would be the right choice to undertake a rebuilding effort.

If he isn’t going to be around after next season, there’s no sense waiting to find his replacement at such a critical time for the organization. That’s also a potential argument for the Orioles to abstain from dealing their best pieces now and instead wait until a long-term general manager is in place.

Of course, we know how the Orioles typically proceed on matters such as these. It’s rarely conventional and can often be detrimental despite their overall success in recent years.

How they handle Duquette’s status would undoubtedly impact the future of Showalter, who will also see his contract expire at the end of next season.

With most attention shifting away from the ugly results on the field and toward what’s happening behind the scenes, the Orioles are at a crossroads full of uncertainty.

It became painfully obvious over the weekend that contention in 2017 isn’t in the cards.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 win over Toronto

Posted on 27 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their third straight game in a 3-1 final over the Toronto Blue Jays, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles jumped ahead early with Mark Trumbo’s two-run double with two outs in the first, but Adam Jones drawing a walk after falling behind 0-2 was the biggest at-bat of the inning. It was an impressive way to finish an eight-pitch battle with Joe Biagini.

2. Kevin Gausman showed good fastball command low in the strike zone as he pitched 5 1/3 innings to collect his first victory since May 31. You’d like to see him get deeper into the game, but he was able to build on encouraging signs from his last outing.

3. His command was shaky early in the game, but double plays in the first and second innings went a long way in allowing Gausman to settle down. He retired eight in a row after the twin killing in the second.

4. Toronto made some loud contact in the fourth, but Gausman dotted a 3-2 fastball at the bottom of the zone to strike out Josh Donaldson looking. That was one of his best pitches of the night.

5. Despite the Blue Jays featuring seven right-handed bats in their starting lineup, Gausman continued to use his split-changeup as his go-to secondary pitch and didn’t throw a single slider, according to Statcast. That’s an interesting development.

6. Thanks to the off-day, Buck Showalter was able to deploy his bullpen earlier than normal as Gausman was pulled after 99 pitches with a one-out jam in the sixth. That’s the kind of bullpen chain the Orioles have too frequently lacked over Zach Britton’s absence.

7. Mychal Givens was wild in the sixth, but he got Kendrys Morales to expand the zone for a strikeout to leave the bases loaded and then calmed down to toss a perfect seventh. His ability to pitch more than one inning as been huge all season for an undermanned bullpen.

8. The last seven weeks of Orioles baseball haven’t been easy, but watching Jonathan Schoop continue to grow as an offensive force has been fun. His two-out hits in the first and third started both of Baltimore’s scoring rallies on Tuesday.

9. I’ll never grow tired of watching encounters between Darren O’Day and Jose Bautista. The veteran reliever came out on top this time and has looked sharp in three scoreless innings since returning from the disabled list Friday night.

10. Brad Brach allowed a two-out home run to Troy Tulowitzki in the ninth, the first run he’d allowed since May 16. Other than his struggles from late April through early May, he’s done a commendable job filling in for Britton.

11. Hyun Soo Kim drew two walks, but he’s only 7-for-31 without an extra-base hit since the Chris Davis injury more than two weeks ago that led to more playing time for the left fielder. His season on-base plus slugging percentage is just .620.

12. The Orioles were one strike away from pitching a shutout four days after tying the major league record for allowing five or more runs in their 20th consecutive game. Baseball’s funny.

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Orioles pitching staff making history for wrong reasons

Posted on 23 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Frustration turned to astonishment at some point over the last week watching the Orioles try to pitch.

Even the best clubs endure a poor stretch from time to time, but a streak of 19 consecutive games allowing five or more runs is nothing short of historic. It’s the kind of American League record a team never wants to set, but the Baltimore staff has been a special kind of bad over the last three weeks after merely being below average before that.

That reality begs the question of where it ranks among the most infamous periods of futility in franchise history. A 6-13 record over the streak isn’t anything memorable from a historical context, but a 7.33 ERA over that long of a stretch is difficult to fathom. Since starting a surprising 22-10 with a respectable 3.85 ERA, the Orioles have gone just 13-27 while pitching to a horrendous 6.13 ERA.

Those pitching numbers are worse than virtually any other stretch that Orioles fans have tried to forget over the years.

Remember that 14-42 conclusion to 1986 that sent the Orioles to the first last-place finish in club history? The team ERA of 5.05 over that stretch pales in comparison to the current club’s streak.

The historic 0-21 start for the 1988 Orioles was accompanied by a 5.96 ERA. That number is worse than it looks today in what was a lower scoring environment at the time, but it still doesn’t measure up to the current pitching streak on the precipice of a major league record.

The Orioles posted a 5.63 ERA over their unthinkable 4-32 finish to complete the 2002 season. It was an incredible collapse after that young club had reached the .500 mark in late August, but the pitching still wasn’t historically poor.

The only notable period of time that stands out as being worse statistically than the current staff’s run is a 3-18 stretch for the 2007 Orioles that included an absurd 8.95 ERA as well as the previous club record for the most consecutive games (11) allowing five or more runs. That run included the humiliating 30-3 loss to Texas – which does skew the team ERA during that stretch – but removing that outlier still leaves a 7.89 ERA over the other 20 contests.

Even if you give the 2007 Orioles the nod for the most pathetic run of pitching in club history, there’s no denying the current staff being on a very short list of the worst.

“The Streak” has just put it under an unwelcome spotlight for the entire baseball world to see.

Positive signs for Gausman

If you’re looking for any semblance of hope in regards to the starting rotation, Kevin Gausman showed positive signs despite so-so final results in Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to Cleveland.

The right-hander struck out a season-high nine batters and walked only two, showing improved fastball command and throwing strikes on 66 percent of his pitches. An obvious difference in his performance was the increased use of his split-changeup, which had been his best secondary pitch in the past and has fallen by the wayside too frequently this year. Gausman threw it a season-high 23.2 percent of the time against the Indians, inducing swings and misses on nine of the 26 he threw.

It’s worth noting that the Cleveland order did include six left-handed bats and the split-change plays better against lefties, but Gausman also threw it effectively against right-handers, twice striking out the dangerous Edwin Encarnacion with the pitch. It was a welcome change after seeing the 26-year-old rely too much on his slider this season with such underwhelming results.

Another potentially interesting development from his start came from BrooksBaseball.net. According to the data-collecting site, Gausman threw his sinker more than 54 percent of the time after barely throwing the pitch all season. Statcast data still reported his fastball as a four-seamer, however, and Gausman made no mention of a change in his post-game interview Wednesday. It’s worth noting that his average fastball velocity was down a bit from recent starts, which could also support the possibility of him using a different grip.

Of course, Gausman ran into trouble in a three-run fifth inning as his command wasn’t as sharp and he relied too heavily on his fastball at times despite getting into plenty of favorable counts that called for secondary stuff. But the overall eyeball test showed a better Gausman than we’ve seen throughout 2017.

Now he needs to prove whether that was a turning point or a mere aberration.

Buyers or sellers?

Much has been made about reports of the Orioles’ intentions to be buyers at the trade deadline, but we’re still four or five weeks away from any definitive calls needing to be made.

It’s understandable not to want to concede anything publicly as Baltimore entered Friday just 2 1/2 games out of the second wild card, but even the eternal optimist would have to scoff at the notion of the Orioles being a legitimate contender if there isn’t some substantial on-field improvement sooner than later. And then there’s the issue of what exactly the Orioles have in their system to give up if they want to try to add any pieces to truly move the meter.

Keep in mind there are various degrees of buying or selling that could play out. Even if executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette concludes that contention isn’t in the cards by the time late July rolls around, that doesn’t mean a full-blown fire sale would take place. Moving the likes of Seth Smith, Welington Castillo, Hyun Soo Kim, and Wade Miley in the short term might fetch a complementary piece or two and not necessarily wreck the potential to make another run in 2018, regardless of whether that’s the wisest way to proceed.

However, it’s difficult envisioning the Orioles trading Manny Machado or Zach Britton before ownership at least determines the long-term status of Duquette and manager Buck Showalter, who are both under contract through only next year. At this point, moves of that magnitude feel more like offseason agenda items.

Regardless of how the next few weeks play out on the field, these conversations need to happen before any meaningful roster decisions should be made to shape the present and, more importantly, the future of the organization.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-3 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 23 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles concluding a disappointing 3-4 homestand with a 6-3 loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Streak continued with Baltimore giving up at least five runs for the 19th consecutive game, which is now one shy of the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies’ major league record. If it helps, try to envision the banner being unrolled on the Warehouse to some John Tesh music.

2. The pitching earned the headline, but the offense left a small village of men on base early. When you only manage two runs from a total of 10 baserunners in the first three innings, it’s going to haunt you. The Orioles were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

3. Remember when Wade Miley was pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA because of so many escape acts over the first seven weeks of the season? His ERA has climbed nearly two whole runs over his last six starts.

4. Seth Smith hit his fourth leadoff home run of the season with an impressive opposite-field bomb into the visitors bullpen. Meanwhile, Seattle just moved Yovani Gallardo and his 6.30 ERA to the bullpen. I’d say that trade worked out well.

5. Unfortunately, Miley gave up the lead to the Indians in a matter of three batters to begin the second inning. That’s been an all-too-familiar theme for Orioles starters all season.

6. The third inning was even worse as Miley allowed four straight batters to reach — two via walks — after retiring the first two hitters to begin the frame. His poor command culminated with Austin Jackson’s two-run single that gave Cleveland the lead for good.

7. Miley went to three-ball counts to 10 of the 24 hitters he faced. As bad as that sounds, I honestly would have guessed a higher total than that. He needed 72 pitches just to record his first nine outs.

8. The most maddening at-bat of the night came from Ruben Tejada, who didn’t receive the memo that Indians starter Mike Clevinger was struggling with his command. After Hyun Soo Kim walked to put two men on with one out, Tejada grounded into an inning-ending double play on the first pitch.

9. Manny Machado had a superb night with two walks and two opposite-field hits, one being an RBI double in the ninth. Over the last six games of the homestand, he went 9-for-22 with three homers, three doubles, three walks, and eight runs batted in. He’s now hitting .302 in June.

10. Longtime “Wheel of Fortune” host and Orioles fan Pat Sajak tweeted what many of us were thinking watching a game moving at a glacial pace over the first several innings. There was little to enjoy about that viewing experience.

11. Adam Jones received the night off with the Orioles now going on the road to play their next six games on turf against Tampa Bay and Toronto. The veteran center field being more receptive to occasional days off says plenty about how he’s feeling right now.

12. Buck Showalter missed Thursday’s game to welcome his first grandchild into the world. Of course, that prompted some fans to ask how soon young Winston would be ready to pitch for his granddaddy. In all seriousness, I’m glad the Orioles manager was able to be there for the special day.

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O’Day, Britton take positive steps in their anticipated returns

Posted on 21 June 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Former All-Star relievers Zach Britton and Darren O’Day have taken important steps to make their respective returns to the Orioles from the disabled list.

O’Day’s activation could occur as soon as Friday after the right-hander successfully completed a simulated game on Wednesday. The 34-year-old hasn’t pitched since June 6 while dealing with a right shoulder strain, the same ailment that cost him more than a month late last season.

Meanwhile, Britton pitched in his first minor-league rehab game Tuesday and is eligible to return to the Orioles as soon as July 4 after he was recently placed on the 60-day DL, a procedural move that cleared a 40-man roster spot for outfielder Craig Gentry. The two-time All-Star closer and 2016 American League Reliever of the Year hasn’t pitched since the recurrence of a left forearm strain in early May, but he tossed a scoreless inning with a strikeout and a walk for short-season Single-A Aberdeen.

The southpaw will continue his rehab assignment at Single-A Delmarva with scheduled appearances on Thursday and Saturday.

“As I go forward, it’s about commanding my sinker and throwing other pitches and getting back and actually executing pitches,” said Britton, who compared Tuesday’s outing to the first appearance a pitcher makes in Grapefruit League action. “Maybe you look at the results a little bit more as we go forward, but it was a big step yesterday. And I feel good coming in today, which is only positive.”

Manager Buck Showalter hasn’t enjoyed a fully-healthy bullpen since mid-April and has attempted to proceed through the late innings in recent weeks with only two established relievers — Brad Brach and Mychal Givens — from last year’s group that ranked among the best in the majors. In addition to going 47-for-47 in save opportunities and posting a microscopic 0.54 ERA last season, Britton was worth 4.3 wins above replacement and led all major league pitchers in win probability added (WPA), measures of just how critical he is to Baltimore’s success.

In nine innings this season, Britton has a 1.00 ERA with seven strikeouts, four walks, and 12 hits allowed. He converted all five of his save opportunities before initially going to the DL on Easter Sunday.

“His face and just his whole demeanor getting that first [rehab outing] behind him is better,” Showalter said. “It’s not anxiety, but just anticipation. He’s kind of in the groove.”

Britton saw a familiar face with the IronBirds Tuesday as former Orioles pitcher Mark Hendrickson was making his debut as their pitching coach. The two played together in Baltimore in Britton’s 2011 rookie season.

It was also the first time Britton had made an Opening Day start since he was still in the minor leagues.

“We were both nervous. It was his coaching debut,” Britton said. “I was like, ‘This could either go really bad or really good for you, right?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, please don’t do anything stupid.’ It was a cool moment to be part of that with him.”

NOTES: Injured first baseman Chris Davis received two platelet-rich plasma injections in an effort to speed up the healing of his strained right oblique. He is not expected to return until after the All-Star break. … Catcher Welington Castillo was out of the lineup Wednesday with a sore right shoulder after being hit there by a foul tip on Monday. Showalter said he was likely still available to come off the bench if needed.

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Hardy sidelined at least 4-6 weeks with right wrist fracture

Posted on 19 June 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is expected to miss at least four to six weeks after suffering a non-displaced fracture of his right wrist in Sunday’s win over St. Louis.

The 34-year-old underwent a CT scan Monday, but the injury will not require surgery. Hardy was hit by a 93 mph fastball from Cardinals starter Lance Lynn in the fourth inning and left the game before his next at-bat two innings later.

The Orioles selected the contract of veteran infielder Paul Janish from Triple-A Norfolk to take Hardy’s place on the 25-man roster.

This marks the second year in a row in which Hardy will miss extended time because of a broken bone. He suffered a hairline fracture when he fouled a ball off his left foot last May, an injury that sidelined him for just over six weeks.

“I felt like I was making strides getting out of the little funk I was in and then this happens,” said Hardy, who is batting a career-low .211 this season. “It’s just frustrating. I’d never broken a bone in my life until last year and now this.”

Hardy owns the second-worst on-base plus slugging percentage (.556) among all qualified major league hitters this season, but he said he had recently made some adjustments at the plate with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and had been 7-for-23 with four doubles over his last seven games. He is in the final season of a three-year, $40 million contract.

Manager Buck Showalter said veteran Ruben Tejada will receive the bulk of the opportunities at shortstop in Hardy’s absence. Once the starting shortstop of the New York Mets, Tejada, 27, is a .252 career hitter with a .647 OPS in 2,284 career plate appearances over eight major league seasons.

Third baseman Manny Machado moving over to his natural shortstop position is not a consideration at this point. Showalter would prefer leaving the rest of the infield intact and expressed belief that it was “taxing” for Machado to move back and forth between the two positions in Hardy’s absence last year.

Despite Hardy no longer bringing the offensive value he offered in his first three seasons with the Orioles from 2011-2013, his teammates and coaches have regularly spoken about the veteran infielder’s intangibles and on-field leadership over the years.

“He’s always separating offense from defense and always [handling] coverages on stolen bases, hit-and-runs, relays,” Showalter said. “He’s kind of like the quarterback of the infield so to speak. There’s a lot of things that people miss that he brings. There’s just a real calmness with everybody. He makes everybody click a little bit better.

“He’s driven in some big runs for us. I know it hasn’t been offensively what he wants it to be or he’s capable of. But he still had some big hits through that. There are a lot of things you miss with him that you can’t quantify.”

According to Baseball Reference, Hardy has been worth minus-0.6 wins above replacement, another indicator of how dramatic his struggles at the plate have been this season. He has been worth one defensive run saved and owns a 0.4 defensive WAR.

In other injury-related news, closer Zach Britton was scheduled to begin his minor-league rehab assignment at short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Monday, but that’s been rescheduled for Tuesday because of inclement weather. The two-time All-Star selection has been on the disabled list with the recurrence of a left forearm strain since early May.

Right-handed reliever Darren O’Day had a successful mound session Monday and will pitch in a simulated game on Wednesday. If that goes well, O’Day could be activated from the DL as soon as Friday. He has been out since the first week of June with a right shoulder strain.

Utility infielder Ryan Flaherty (right shoulder) experienced a setback throwing from more than 60 feet in Sarasota on Monday. He had felt no discomfort in previous throwing sessions from up to 60 feet, but this development obviously means his return is not imminent.

Right-handed pitcher Mike Wright will travel to Sarasota to continue rehabbing his right shoulder Tuesday. First baseman Chris Davis (strained right oblique) will remain with the club and travel with the Orioles for this weekend’s series against Tampa Bay before reporting to Sarasota next week.

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