Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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No excuse for Orioles’ sloppy play to begin season

Posted on 23 April 2015 by Luke Jones

A 7-8 record for the Orioles is nothing over which to panic.

Every team in baseball will undergo a three-game losing streak this season and will go through stretches when the pitching or the hitting — or both — will fail to do the job.

But the sloppiness with which the Orioles have played at times through the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season is concerning. And you know that isn’t sitting well with manager Buck Showalter.

Yes, they’re missing All-Star players in J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters and lost young second baseman Jonathan Schoop to a knee injury last weekend, but that can’t excuse the fielding miscues and the baserunning gaffes uncharacteristic of Showalter clubs that we’ve seen. The Orioles may not play small ball, but they’ve still done the little things well for the most part.

Over the last few years, they’ve hit the cutoff man, minimized mistakes on the bases, and made the plays they’re supposed to make.

That hasn’t been the case in the season’s first 15 games.

Their current three-game losing streak has included six official errors, but the defensive struggles came to a head Tuesday night with right fielder Travis Snider making a few gaffes that had fans pining for Nick Markakis’ steady defensive work. Aside from the last few games, the defense hasn’t been awful, but it’s certainly fallen short of the high standard the Orioles set over the last few years.

Baltimore has done a poor job controlling the running game as catcher Caleb Joseph had failed to throw out the first eight runners attempting to steal against him this season before finally gunning down Toronto catcher Russell Martin at second base on Wednesday night. Opponents are 10-for-12 in stolen base attempts this year after Joseph threw out 40 percent of runners last season. Of course, the pitching must also take blame in failing to hold runners as several stolen bases have come after huge jumps.

Perhaps the signature play of the sloppy start to the season was Alejandro De Aza’s inexplicable attempt to steal third base in the top of the seventh of Wednesday’s game. Chris Davis was at the plate as the potential tying run before De Aza was gunned down to end the inning and protect the Blue Jays’ 4-2 lead.

Any baseball fan knows you never make the third out of an inning at third, but it’s an even worse play with one of your best power hitters at the plate and you’re facing a two-run deficit in the seventh.

Brutal.

To be clear, the Orioles need to play better overall as the pitching has been poor — starters have completed six innings just four times this season — and the offense squandered a slew of opportunities to score more than two runs on Wednesday night.

But you can minimize the damage when you’re not pitching or hitting at your best by doing the little things well — the parts of the game that don’t always show up in the box score.

And that’s where, as Adam Jones would say, the Orioles need to clean it up.

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Jones not missing his pitch in hot start for Orioles

Posted on 20 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Even after an 0-for-2 showing in Monday’s 7-1 loss that snapped a nine-game hitting streak, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is off to one of the best starts of his career through the first two weeks of the 2015 campaign.

The numbers resemble something from a video game as Jones is hitting .438 with five home runs, 16 RBIs, and a 1.294 on-base plus slugging percentage, but the most encouraging stat that could make room for Jones to sustain improvement in 2015 is his impressively-low number of strikeouts. Entering Monday with a career 19.3 percent strikeout rate, Jones has gone down on strikes just five times in 54 plate appearances this season.

Jones has only walked three times, but he’s making more contact on pitches in or out of the strike zone. Of course, we’re dealing with a small sample size, but even a reasonable improvement from his career 73.5 percent contract rate — Jones entered Monday making contact on 78 percent of his swings — could make an already-dangerous hitter even better.

Manager Buck Showalter has also noted that several of Jones’ big hits early in the season have come on pitches well outside the zone, which should serve as a reminder for those who like to harp on his lack of plate discipline and inability to draw walks. You take the good with the bad with Jones, and there’s been much more of the former in his eight years with the Orioles.

** The final numbers showed that all five runs that Wei-Yin Chen surrendered on Monday were unearned, but anyone who watched his performance knows nearly all of the damage was self-inflicted for the Taiwanese lefty.

Committing an error and walking four batters in the third — he walked no more than three in any of his 31 starts last season — Chen struggled to shake off the fielding miscue and allowed it to affect his performance on the mound. Of course, the error committed by Manny Machado with the bases loaded led to two more runs and a 5-1 deficit.

The defensive gaffe and the control problems are uncharacteristic for Chen, who is regarded as an exceptional fielder and walked only 1.7 hitters per nine innings last year. For now, you chalk it up as one of those days even though he’s now walked eight batters in 14 2/3 innings in 2015.

** With another strikeout on Monday, Chris Davis has now gone down on strikes 21 times in 50 plate appearances to begin the year.

It isn’t news that Davis strikes out a lot as he fanned 199 times in his 53-homer season in 2013, but the left-handed slugger striking out in 42 percent of his plate appearances is alarming even for his standards. Despite this, Davis has still managed to produce with two home runs, seven RBIs, and a .457 slugging percentage.

What might be more concerning than the strikeout rate is the fact that Davis has only drawn two walks this season. Despite his nightmarish 2014 season that included a .196 average, Davis still drew 60 walks in 525 plate appearances to at least salvage a .300 on-base percentage.

With the increased use of the shift against him, Davis will do himself no favors if he doesn’t have patient at-bats. Of course, pitchers may not feel the need to pitch him as carefully this season, which could also impact his ability to earn free passes.

** Once J.J. Hardy returns, many assume Everth Cabrera will become the primary second baseman in place of the injured Jonathan Schoop, but I’m not convinced.

Cabrera has just 12 games of major league experience at the position while Ryan Flaherty has proven he can play above-average defense at second. The former has also shown little at the plate with a .244 slugging percentage this season after posting a .572 OPS in his final season in San Diego last year.

Flaherty is a polarizing figure among Orioles fans, but he’s off to a strong start in 2015 with a .333 average and two homers in 24 at-bats. If you view him in his proper context as a utility player who can play six different positions well, it’s easier to see why manager Buck Showalter likes him so much.

Because of Flaherty’s power potential and his ability to play good defense at second, I’d be inclined to give him an extended look at the position before automatically handing the job over to Cabrera when Hardy is back at shortstop.

** The silver lining in Monday’s rain-shortened game was the Orioles bullpen receiving a breather aside from Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia, who pitched for the first time since April 10.

Orioles relievers pitched 12 1/3 innings in the first three games at Fenway and will now travel to Toronto to take on a potent Blue Jays lineup that entered Monday ranking first in the majors in runs scored. On top of that, Baltimore will not have another day off until April 30.

** The Orioles Hall of Fame has come under criticism in recent years with a number of players being inducted who were viewed as unworthy, but Melvin Mora shouldn’t be mentioned in that group after it was announced that he and former platoon partners John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke will be enshrined this August.

Mora, a two-time All-Star selection, is 13th in all-time wins above replacement in club history and ranks in the top 10 in a number of categories including doubles, RBIs, home runs, runs, and total bases. That sounds like a player deserving of inclusion, regardless of whether you think the overall standard has dropped.

His 2004 campaign in particular goes down as one of the most underrated seasons in franchise history and Mora was one of the lone bright spots in a very dark time period for the Orioles.

In the same way that we don’t attach the stench of 1988 to Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, Mora shouldn’t be classified as an unworthy inductee for the Orioles Hall of Fame because of the terrible teams on which he played.

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Schoop out indefinitely with partially-torn PCL, sprained MCL

Posted on 18 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The injury bug continues to bite the Orioles as second baseman Jonathan Schoop has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right knee injury suffered in Friday’s loss to Boston.

The 23-year-old suffered a partial tear of the posterior cruciate ligament and a mild sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee when he tripped over first base running out a grounder. Fortunately, he did not suffer any damage to his anterior cruciate ligament.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Boston that Schoop’s injury was not caused by the hard slide of Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval trying to break up a double play in the second inning.

There is no timetable for Schoop’s return, but Showalter expressed optimism that the young infielder will return at some point this season. His injury will not require surgery and is apparently not as serious as the PCL tear suffered by veteran infielder Wilson Betemit in spring training two years ago. Betemit did not return until late August of that season and appeared in only six games before being released a few weeks later.

Schoop is expected to travel to Sarasota to begin rehabbing the injury. This is the third significant knee injury suffered by an Orioles infielder under age 24 in less than two years after third baseman Manny Machado suffered serious knee injuries in each of the last two seasons.

Infielder Jimmy Paredes was activated from the 15-day DL to take Schoop’s place on the 25-man roster. With Schoop joining shortstop J.J. Hardy on the DL, the Orioles’ decision to sign veteran infielder Everth Cabrera appears that much wiser less than two months later. Cabrera was starting at shortstop with Ryan Flaherty playing second base in Saturday’s game against the Red Sox.

The Orioles will clearly miss Schoop’s strong defense at second base, but his strong start offensively had fans salivating at his potential in his second full season as he was batting .259 with three home runs, seven RBIs, and a .940 on-base plus slugging percentage in 29 plate appearances.

 

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Five questions pondering Joseph, Garcia, others

Posted on 17 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

Five questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 15 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardy takes batting practice for first time

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

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

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

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

Pearce, Davis scuffling

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

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

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

Injury updates

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

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

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Orioles let one get away against Yankees

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

That one stung.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lough activated from DL, Gamboa optioned back to Norfolk

Posted on 13 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below are Monday night’s lineups:

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

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

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

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

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Orioles musings on the opening week of the season

Posted on 13 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jimenez offers reminder why Orioles wanted him

Posted on 12 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Orioles place left-handed reliever Wright on DL

Posted on 11 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below are Saturday night’s lineups:

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

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

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

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

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