Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Schoop coming into own since returning from knee injury

Posted on 20 August 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Injury report

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Pearce, Roe inching closer toward return to Orioles

Posted on 19 August 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joseph, Clevenger offer possible glimpse into Orioles catching future

Posted on 18 August 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 16 August 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lough becomes latest Orioles outfielder to be designated for assignment

Posted on 14 August 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday loss in Anaheim exposes real concerns for Orioles

Posted on 09 August 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Orioles activating Garcia puts unneeded strain on bullpen

Posted on 06 August 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Showalter still considering options in leadoff spot for Orioles

Posted on 28 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With Nick Markakis in the midst of his return to Baltimore, the Orioles trotted out their fourth different leadoff hitter in the last five games for Tuesday’s contest against the Atlanta Braves.

After manager Buck Showalter moved Manny Machado down to third over the weekend, the All-Star third baseman returned to the top spot, the place in the lineup he’s now occupied 73 times during the 2015 season. Of course, the thinking with moving Machado down in the order was to create more run-producing opportunities for the 23-year-old, but the lack of an ideal option to replace him in the top spot is the bigger long-term problem.

Jimmy Paredes, David Lough, and Nolan Reimold received opportunities in the top spot while Machado hit lower in the order. Showalter has used six different players in the leadoff spot this year with two of them — Alejandro De Aza and Everth Cabrera — no longer with the organization.

“If you hit Manny first, who hits third?” Showalter said on Monday. “If you hit him third, who hits first? You take one away and then you’re trying to replace it. We put out there what we think is best. Guys know that we’re having some challenges there.”

Despite Reimold going 2-for-4 with a double and a walk in the No. 1 spot in Monday’s 2-1 win, Machado struggled in the third spot in the order, going 2-for-15 with four strikeouts and a walk. One certainly shouldn’t draw strong or permanent conclusions from that sample size, but it might have been the level of anxiousness Machado displayed in two at-bats on Monday that reinforced the idea that maybe it’s unwise to mess with a good thing.

Machado came to the plate with two runners on base in the eighth and 10th innings of Monday’s game and struck out each time, swinging at several pitches outside the strike zone. One of the biggest factors in the young infielder’s leap at the plate this season has been his improved plate disciplined with a career-high 42 walks in 423 plate appearances entering Tuesday’s game.

Did the move to the No. 3 spot alter Machado’s mindset?

“I actually asked him about that today. ‘Do you feel any different mentality there? Are you getting bigger?'” Showalter said prior to Tuesday’s game.  “He said, ‘No, it’s just a [slump].’ Since he’s been here — up until the last two or three games — that’s as long as I’ve seen him engaged with a good approach where he was not letting them get him out other than [on] stuff within the zone. He was walking.

“You always think it’s a day away. It’s like he said today, ‘I’ve got to get back to what I was doing. It’s got nothing to do with where I’m hitting him in the order.’ Of course, what’s he going to say?”

Machado looks the part of a hitter who will eventually settle into the No. 3 spot for a long time, but it would be wise to leave him in the role where he’s thrived in 2015, especially with few other options inspiring confidence in the leadoff spot right now.

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Five questions pondering Hardy, Rice, Alvarez, Ravens franchise value

Posted on 24 July 2015 by Luke Jones

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

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or should the Orioles be concerned about the remainder of J.J. Hardy’s contract? Baltimore’s announcement of a three-year, $40 million extension with the veteran shortstop on the eve of last fall’s American League Championship Series seemed like good news at the time, but it was fair to wonder if it was a sound investment in a middle infielder on the wrong side of 30 and wrapping up a season plagued by back issues that zapped his power. Hardy entered Friday’s game with a .345 slugging percentage, which would be the lowest of his career after he hit only nine homers and slugged .372 last season. To be fair, Hardy is hitting .263 with four homers and a .401 slugging percentage since June 9, but his lack of power is just one of many reasons the Orioles have struggled with offensive consistency all season and he’s still owed a total of $26.5 million in the next two seasons.

2. Is it just me or is it obvious why Ray Rice hasn’t gotten another shot in the NFL? The question really isn’t whether the former Ravens running back should get a second chance, but the fact that Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson have survived their own off-field transgressions would lead you to believe the 28-year-old is in line for an opportunity. Many — including myself — have discussed Rice’s poor 2013 season and his workload dating back to college as factors supporting the idea that his career might be decline, but it comes down to one factor and one factor alone — the surveillance video of him striking his wife being on display for the world at any moment. Photos and words describing an incident are heinous, but many have sadly become desensitized to those mediums. The video and its public release changed everything, however, as NFL owners have been unwilling to budge on Rice to this point.

3. Is it just me or is it difficult to explain the Orioles’ dramatic struggles on the road? There are a slew of reasons why the 2015 season has been disappointing, but one of the biggest mysteries is why the Orioles have been so poor away from Camden Yards. Baltimore’s 19-30 road record entering the weekend series at Tampa Bay was the worst in the American League while a 27-18 home mark is in line with the success of the last few years. Few would have predicted the Orioles repeating their excellent 46-35 road record from 2014, but even a record in the neighborhood of .500 away from home would have them within striking distance of the Yankees. Alas, a mark of a good club is being able to hold its own on the road and Buck Showalter hasn’t seen that from the Orioles in 2015. Plain and simple, you can’t expect to contend when you play like a 100-loss team on the road.

4. Is it just me or is it time to take a look at Dariel Alvarez and Christian Walker in Baltimore? Instead of more discussion about a crowded outfield of underwhelming veterans, the Orioles should be making room for the 26-year-old Cuban outfielder, who has 13 homers for Triple-A Norfolk and has rebounded nicely after hitting .238 over the first two months of his 2015 campaign. It remains to be seen whether Alvarez profiles as anything more than a reserve outfielder in the majors, but his rifle throwing arm and power are skills worth evaluating while the Orioles continue to receive so little from their current options. It could also be time to take a look at Walker instead of continuing to run Chris Parmelee out to first base and while contemplating a trade of Chris Davis. The 24-year-old got off to a terrible start, but Walker has heated up over the summer and has four homers in his last 10 games.

5. Is it just me or is it difficult to believe the Ravens are entering their 20th season? As the great John Eisenberg penned earlier this week, seeing Forbes magazine rank the Ravens as the 24th most valuable sports franchise in the world was a pleasant reminder of how far the city has come in football perception. It was just two decades ago that Baltimore kids only dreamed of having an NFL team while their parents and grandparents shared stories of Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, and Bert Jones. Not only have the Ravens been profitable, but they’ve been a model of consistency on the field with two Super Bowl titles, four AFC championship game appearances, four division titles, and 10 playoff appearances in the last 15 years. While many opine that NFL owners didn’t support the city’s bid for an expansion team in the 1990s because the package was so attractive to owners pondering relocation, the current franchise value only reiterates how wrong the league was in not giving the ball to Baltimore over other cities.

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of the first half

Posted on 16 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Though standing at just 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have benefited from their share of surprises as they now look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

A staple of the prosperity during the Showalter-Duquette era has been the emergence of at least a couple relative unknowns to make key contributions each season while counting on established players to either rebound from previous disappointments or to take their talents to a new level. Even if their season hasn’t gone exactly to plan through the All-Star break, the Orioles have experienced a little bit of everything in terms of pleasant surprises.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season:

Honorable mention: Darren O’Day, Ryan Flaherty

5. Zach Britton

Why does an All-Star closer with an ERA just a shade higher than it was a year ago belong on the list of surprises? A deeper look at the numbers shows just how dominant Britton has been in his second year as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man.

Relying on a heavy sinker to induce grounder after grounder last season, Britton converted 37 of 41 save opportunities and pitched to a 1.65 ERA, slightly lower than his 1.72 mark this year. However, the lefty benefited greatly from opponents batting .219 on balls in play (BABIP) in 2014, much lower than the league average of .297.

Such numbers would have made it reasonable — if not very likely — to expect some regression similar to what fellow sinkerballer Jim Johnson endured in 2013, but Britton has been even more imposing despite not being nearly as fortunate. Opponents have a .304 BABIP against Britton, but he’s overcome that with an improved slider to help increase his strikeout rate per nine innings (7.3 in 2014 to 10.1) while decreasing his walk rate per nine (2.7 to 2.0).

Simply put, Britton hasn’t been nearly as “lucky” as he was a year ago, but he’s pitching to less contact and still inducing a boatload of grounders when opponents do hit the ball. Britton had a great season in 2014, but he’s established himself as one of the best closers in the game by converting 23 of 24 save chances so far in 2015, numbers that rightly earned him a trip to his first All-Star Game.

4. Manny Machado

It was difficult to know what to expect from the 23-year-old third baseman after he suffered a second serious knee injury in less than a year last August. Machado’s defense and gap power established him as an All-Star-caliber player in 2013, but he’s blossomed into one of the best players in the AL this season and the kind of performer the Orioles hoped he might become one day.

Serving in the leadoff role out of necessity — who else could even handle the role right now? — Machado is hitting .298 with a .361 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, 35 walks, and 13 stolen bases, numbers which are all already career highs. And while the Orioles will continue to knock on wood and keep their fingers crossed for his health, Machado has started all 88 games at third base and you’d never know he has two surgically-repaired knees while watching him play.

Machado has been the club’s best player by a significant margin, continuing to play Gold Glove defense and providing the kind of offense that’s turned him into an MVP candidate in 2015. According to Baseball Reference, the 2010 first-round pick ranks second behind only Mike Trout in the American League with 4.8 wins above replacement.

Taking nothing away from Adam Jones who is having a fine year and has been the club’s best player for several years, we could be seeing the passing of the torch this season with Machado emerging as the kind of rare superstar who makes the game look easy. The Orioles and their fans just pray the injuries are finally behind him.

3. Chaz Roe

Though it’s also a reflection on a disappointing winter, I doubt anyone would have projected the minor-league signing of a 28-year-old reliever with a career 4.44 ERA last December to be their best offseason addition so far in 2015.

Beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk, Roe quickly established himself as a viable option for manager Buck Showalter in the late innings with a two-seam fastball and a devastating slider that’s helped him strike out 30 hitters while posting a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings with the Orioles.

Roe has struggled of late by allowing six earned runs in his last five outings, but it’s clear the Orioles saw something in the right-hander as he’s throwing his two-seamer more than ever and the movement on his slider has baffled hitters since he was called up in May. His stuff should allow him to remain an effective member of the bullpen even as he’ll need to make adjustments in the second half.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez

Perhaps his track record suggests his rebound shouldn’t have been so surprising, but anyone who watched Jimenez pitch in 2014 couldn’t have easily imagined him being one of their two best starters in his second season in Baltimore.

Simplified mechanics, the heaviest reliance on his two-seam fastball since his 2010 All-Star season with Colorado, and a dramatically improved walk rate (just 2.9 per nine innings this year after an awful 5.5 in 2014) have made Jimenez the pitcher the Orioles envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract last year. His improvement is a major reason why the Orioles remain firmly in contention despite poor seasons from Chris Tillman and Bud Norris.

After throwing his two-seamer just 16.4 percent of the time a year ago, Jimenez has used the pitch more than a third of the time (37 percent) this year to induce more grounders while still striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings. It was a brilliant adjustment to make for the 31-year-old to better take advantage of one of the best defensive infields in baseball.

In the second half, consistency will be the key for Jimenez as it has been throughout his career, but the Orioles couldn’t have asked for much better from him than a 7-4 record with a 2.81 ERA and a 3.21 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark that is easily the best of the rotation. Other than maybe only Wei-Yin Chen, there’s not another starter Showalter would want to take the ball more on a given night as Jimenez will make the first start of the second half in Detroit on Friday.

1. Jimmy Paredes

Who else could it really be?

After hitting .302 in 55 plate appearances late last year, the 26-year-old was a name of interest in spring training but hardly someone most predicted to make the 25-man roster. Paredes was out of minor-league options and lacked a position with the defensive-minded Orioles, but he stated his case by hitting .364 with a 1.005 OPS in 55 Grapefruit League at-bats before a back injury landed him on the disabled list to begin the year.

Once Jonathan Schoop went down with a knee injury in mid-April, Paredes got the call and hit an astounding .353 in his first 143 plate appearances this year. A 4-for-41 slump that dropped his average 59 points in two weeks appeared to signal the end of a nice story, but the switch hitter has bounced back to hit a very steady .310 in his last 91 plate appearances dating back to June 12.

Clearly better from the left side of the plate, Paredes hinders Showalter’s lineup flexibility with his defensive limitations — the Orioles want him to learn to play the corner outfield spots this winter — but it’s difficult to nitpick a man who was such an unknown. Paredes is hitting .299 with 10 homers, 39 RBIs, and an .809 OPS in 277 plate appearances this year and has been the club’s third-best offensive player behind Machado and Jones.

His 69 strikeouts are the highest on the club behind only Chris Davis, but Paredes has drawn six walks in his last 51 plate appearances, which the Orioles hope is a sign of improved discipline at the plate. Time will tell whether Paredes sticks, but it’s hard not to be impressed — and really surprised — with what he’s accomplished so far in 2015.

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