Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

Is moving to a six-man rotation what’s best for the Orioles?

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Is moving to a six-man rotation what’s best for the Orioles?

Posted on 05 June 2014 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter often quips how his best-laid plans and toughest decisions tend to be made by the baseball gods, making Wednesday’s news of starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez possibly going to the disabled list with a strained oblique unfortunate but also fitting.

The injury came just a day after Showalter acknowledged the possibility of moving to a six-man rotation with left-handed pitcher and former two-time American League Cy Young Award winnter Johan Santana slated to be ready to return to the major leagues later this month. Baltimore’s starting pitching ranks 12th in the AL in earned run average and 14th in innings pitched, but no one starter has struggled significantly more than the others in trying to decide who might be replaced by the 35-year-old Santana.

Traditionalists still pining for the days of a four-man rotation and the 1971 Orioles will scoff at the notion of using six starters, asking why Showalter and the organization would want to make such a change when they don’t even have five starters consistent enough for their liking. One of the biggest arguments against a six-man rotation is that it limits the amount of work for your best pitchers, but no Orioles starter has performed well enough so far this season to really have such a gripe.

Assuming Gonzalez’s potential trip to the DL isn’t a lengthy one, what are the benefits of using a six-man rotation when Santana is ready to be activated?

The fundamental change does reduce the average starter’s workload by just over five starts in the course of a 162-game schedule, but it also adds an extra day of recovery time, which is an interesting variable considering how often Showalter has tried to gain an extra day of rest for the likes of Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen over the last couple seasons. Never one to shy away from thinking outside of the box, Showalter could reason that a six-man staff might require tinkering with pitchers’ between-start regimens — perhaps each member of the rotation has a day in which he’s available in the bullpen to account for the lost roster spot — but could also result in fresher arms come September.

Would a schedule in which a pitcher works every sixth day allow him to throw 15 extra pitches per start or — more importantly — to simply be more effective and efficient when he takes the hill because he feels stronger?

With the alarming increase in Tommy John surgeries for major league pitchers this year, some have discussed the merits of using the six-man rotation to alleviate stress on the elbow while pointing to Japanese baseball’s significantly lower rate of Tommy John surgeries compared to the major leagues. In this era of increased specialization and the desire to protect pitching investments reaching nine figures, it only seems to be a matter of when — not if — clubs begin shifting to six-man rotations in the same way that the standard changed from four starters to five beginning in the 1970s. It has already started with some clubs occasionally moving to six-man rotations to protect young pitchers’ innings limits and is likely to trickle down to underwhelming rotations — like the Orioles’ current group — before ultimately becoming the standard around the major leagues at some point down the road.

Moving to a six-man rotation would allow Showalter to add Santana to the mix without relegating a current starter to the bullpen where he might struggle to get regular work. One of the more overlooked challenges for a pitcher can be the in-season shuffle between starting and relieving, which can put significant strain on the arm. Should Santana’s surgically-repaired left shoulder not hold up or he simply prove ineffective after not pitching since 2012, the Orioles could either transition back to a five-man rotation or look to add 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman to the starting mix, which would also quell concerns about his innings limit in 2014.

There’s no clear-cut answer as some pitchers such as Chen and Gonzalez have thrived with extra rest while Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris have historically performed better working on four days’ rest. Perhaps a six-man rotation in which one or two starters take a higher priority in staying on turn would need to be designed, but Showalter’s mere acknowledgement of it being a possibility tells you the Orioles skipper has put extensive thought into it and has collected as much information as possible to make a potential decision.

Maybe we’ll see it or perhaps the baseball gods will intervene to prevent it from happening, but below is a look at the current starters’ results based on four, five, and six or more days of rest in their major league careers.

Chris Tillman
Four days: 4.47 ERA in 54 starts, 5.75 innings per start
Five days: 4.56 ERA in 18 starts, 5.59 innings per start
Six days or more: 3.82 ERA in 24 starts, 5.5 innings per start

Ubaldo Jimenez
Four days: 3.64 ERA in 131 starts, 6.23 innings per start
Five days: 4.31 ERA in 65 starts, 5.85 innings per start
Six days or more: 4.74 ERA in 27 starts, 5.42 innings per start

Bud Norris
Four days: 4.10 ERA in 65 starts, 5.81 innings per start
Five days: 4.49 ERA in 50 starts, 5.93 innings per start
Six days or more: 5.07 ERA in 21 starts, 5.49 innings per start

Wei-Yin Chen
Four days: 4.52 ERA in 30 starts, 5.84 innings per start
Five days: 3.89 ERA in 25 starts, 6.11 innings per start
Six days or more: 3.32 ERA in 11 starts, 5.91 innings per start

Miguel Gonzalez
Four days: 4.18 ERA in 25 starts, 6.12 innings per start
Five days: 2.77 ERA in 13 starts, 6.26 innings per start
Six days or more: 3.31 ERA in 14 starts, 5.83 innings per start

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Buck

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Showalter’s past–Baltimore’s Future?

Posted on 01 June 2014 by Tony Wisniewski

Don’t look now, but the past might be repeating itself.

There’s something to be said for being comfortable in your own skin—or in this case, you own spot in the batting order.

During the Buck Showalter era, the Orioles are no stranger to a lineup that has seen more shakeups than the Old Bay Crab Shuffle.

Nelson Cruz, the Major League Leader in home runs has yet to have a clear-cut spot in the order.

He’s batted in the two-hole, which is typically reserved for slap-hitters, table-setters, and guys who can spray the ball around the field while being able to run fairly well and steal a base or two.

He’s batted in the six-spot, which is generally reserved for a guy who can’t quite carry the load in the four-or-five hole, but can still drive the ball.

And, in the same breath, he’s batted third, fourth, and fifth throughout the season.

If you look atop the AL East, to a team like the Toronto Blue Jays, you’ll find the exact opposite, where slugger Jose Bautista has batted third all-season-long.  Alas, Edwin Encarnacion played a few games early-on as the number-five hitter, but has settled in nicely as the cleanup guy during his record-setting home run tear during the month of May.

The same can be said for the majority of ML teams who boast consistent all-star quality talent like the Orioles.

Perhaps the issue is that Showalter doesn’t truly understand how to manage big-talent in the Big Leagues.

Taking a step back, you’ll find that Showalter’s track-record shows that he starts to falter when his team makes the turn into a legitimate annual contender.

After being fired by the New York Yankees after the 1995 season, he went on to turn the Arizona Diamondbacks into a force to be reckoned with in the NL West—then he was fired after his third season.

Upon his departure from Arizona, he led the Texas Rangers’ organization to a major turnaround, only to falter the following two seasons—leading to his firing after a mediocre 2006 campaign.

Four years later, Showalter comes to Baltimore, leading the Orioles to a turnaround that others like Bobby Valentine said was impossible due to a franchise that’s “unfixable.”

There’s no question that Showalter did the improbable by re-molding Baltimore into a legit contender, but there certainly should be a question over whether or not he knows what to do with the franchise once it’s reached that level.

Part of Showalter’s success is due to his ability to manage average-talent and utilize a plug-and-play type of system.

While he’s terrific with shuffling fringe starters in and out, and getting the most out of guys who don’t really have much of a clear-cut Major League future, he lacks the ability to appropriately manage superstars and legitimate Major League talent.

A perfect example is the continued shuffling of the lineup and the inability to give a player like Nelson Cruz a stable spot in the batting order.

Certainly this isn’t to say that there’s no room to change a lineup from time to time, even the best of managers sometimes rearrange things to keep players on-alert, but to do it game-in and game-out is sophomoric and a glaring weakness of a manager who has proven in three other cities that he simply can’t handle the type of talent that removes his power to micromanage every facet of the roster, lineup, and game.

When Showalter took over in 2010, the Orioles were an unmitigated disaster. Now, in 2014, they’re not.  They’re a team who should have some continuity and consistency.

While there’s no solid argument to question his ability to turn a franchise around, there’s certainly room for concern and debate over whether he’s the right guy to get the job done moving forward.

Sitting at .500, there’s plenty of room to question whether or not Showalter’s past is destined to become Baltimore’s future.

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Is it time to be concerned about Manny Machado?

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Is it time to be concerned about Manny Machado?

Posted on 30 May 2014 by Luke Jones

Anyone who expected Orioles third baseman Manny Machado to return from left knee surgery and simply pick up where he left off was hoping for too much.

With so much attention devoted this offseason to the rehabilitation of his surgically-repaired left knee and the question of when Machado would be ready to return in 2014, many forgot that the 2013 All-Star selection and Gold Glove winner is still only 21 years old and far from a finished product. That’s what made such a disruptive offseason so concerning in terms of his development and ability to continue working on his craft.

Through his first 25 games and 112 plate appearances entering Friday’s game, Machado is hitting just .216 with a .555 on-base plus slugging percentage and three extra-base hits after clubbing a league-leading 51 doubles and collecting 68 extra-base hits in his first full season in the majors. Recognized as one of the best defensive players in baseball, Machado has also committed six errors in 87 chances after making only 13 all last season.

Some rust was certainly expected for a talent still more than a month shy of his 22nd birthday, but is it now time to be concerned about Machado’s poor start?

Considering how exceptional Machado’s defense has been from the moment he made his major league debut late in the 2012 season, there’s no doubt that his slow start in the field will turn around. The third baseman has made his fair share of exceptional plays since returning on May 1 and will undoubtedly find the consistency he displayed in his first two seasons in Baltimore.

But Machado’s struggles at the plate aren’t new to 2014 after he struggled significantly down the stretch last year. The right-handed hitter was batting .321 with an .839 OPS on June 30 to seal his first invitation to the Midsummer Classic, but his second half was a different story.

Machado hit only .239 and posted a .638 OPS from the start of July until a gruesome knee injury ended his first full season in the big leagues on Sept. 23, 2013. Despite his impressive gap power, Machado showed flaws in his plate discipline throughout his first full year by drawing only 29 walks in 710 plate appearances.

Strangely enough, Machado has shown better patience at the plate this season, already drawing eight walks and seeing 3.87 pitches per plate appearance compared to 3.53 last year. Looking beyond the conventional statistics, Machado has profiled as a much different hitter in the kind of contact he’s making so far this season.

Machado is hitting fewer line drives (17.9 percent of balls in play to 20.6 percent last year) and fly balls (23.8 percent to 32.3 percent last year) and many more grounders (58.3 percent to 47.1 percent last year), which doesn’t bode well when trying to hit for any kind of power. Such a high propensity for hitting the ball on the ground may work for a speedster such as Houston’s Jose Altuve, but Machado isn’t fast enough to leg out many infield hits and certainly has the frame to drive the ball with authority.

The third baseman’s contact percentage (79.9 percent to 80.1 percent) is nearly identical to what it was last year, so it’s not a matter of Machado swinging and missing more often, but you do wonder if rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee has zapped some strength from his legs that’s necessary for driving the ball. Even as he was struggling in the second half last season, Machado never had a groundball percentage higher than 53 percent in any one month, making what we’ve seen so far this year more perplexing.

Manager Buck Showalter sliding Machado to the No. 7 spot in the order on Thursday was a clear indicator that the Orioles are concerned enough about his slow start to try to alleviate some pressure and allow him to get on track. His defense is too much of a strength to even remotely consider sending him down to the minor leagues unless his slow start at the plate would continue for an extended period of time, but the Orioles need more production from a player who showed the ability to be an elite hitter in the first half of last season.

It’s important not to read too much into his first month of 2014 alone, but Machado is hitting only .234 in his last 411 at-bats going back to last July and is showing few signs of a hitter on the cusp of driving the ball the way he needs to.

Machado certainly isn’t alone in his slow start as J.J. Hardy is still looking for his first home run, but even the shortstop’s .361 slugging percentage dwarfs the .284 mark posted by the third baseman. For some context, the constantly-criticized Ryan Flaherty even has six extra-base hits — and a higher OPS — in 97 at-bats compared to Machado’s three in 102 at-bats.

The third overall pick of the 2010 draft certainly is one of several hitters still trying to find his way, but Machado’s continued development is critical to the club’s future with the likes of Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Hardy all becoming free agents over the next two offseasons. Machado and center fielder Adam Jones will be counted on to be two of the main pillars of the Baltimore lineup after the 2015 season when the makeup of the roster is likely to be very different.

The first priority was making sure Machado was healthy once again, but the Orioles need to start seeing more signs of the player he’s capable of being to improve their chances of contending in the American League East.

 

 

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Not all 2012 similarities provide feel-good reminder for Orioles

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Not all 2012 similarities provide feel-good reminder for Orioles

Posted on 27 May 2014 by Luke Jones

Nearly two months into the 2014 season, the similarities are there between this year’s Orioles and the 2012 club that broke a streak of 14 straight losing seasons and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Contributions from unexpected heroes, a 5-1 record in extra-inning games, an 11-6 mark in one-run contests, and an ability to overcome a slew of injuries to this point are all themes reminiscent of two years ago. A bullpen that ranks fifth in the American League in earned run average and now appears stabilized — knock on wood — with Zach Britton stepping into the closer role appears to be emerging as a strength for manager Buck Showalter.

But another similarity to 2012 doesn’t make one feel inclined to print the playoff tickets just yet as the Orioles currently rank 11th in the American League in starter earned run average and tied for 13th in innings pitched by starters entering play on Tuesday. Two years ago, the Orioles ranked ninth in starter ERA and starter innings, but that improved ranking only came after substantial improvement in which they had the fifth-best ERA in the AL in the second half.

Of course, it didn’t take a shrewd prognosticator to anticipate struggles with the starting pitching this season, but the current state of the rotation still has an upside-down feel to it. Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez occupied the top two spots in the Opening Day rotation and have been the weakest — or, at least, the most frustrating — links through the first two months of the season. Jimenez’s inconsistency shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s paid close attention to his career and his unorthodox mechanics, but Tillman’s struggles after his first three starts of the season in which he posted a 0.84 ERA have become very alarming.

In his last eight starts, the 2013 All-Star selection has posted a 6.64 ERA, and that’s even including a complete-game shutout against Kansas City on May 16. What initially looked like a stretch of simple inconsistency is quickly becoming a long-term concern with Memorial Day now in the rear-view mirror and many fans wondering if the de facto ace is hiding an injury.

The 26-year-old right-hander has maintained he’s fine physically aside from some minor groin tightness a couple weeks back, but his fastball command has failed him, making it difficult to use his other pitches effectively. He’s walked 24 batters in his last 42 innings after walking only three in his first 21 1/3 innings of work in 2014.

Meanwhile, the trio of Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Wei-Yin Chen have pitched more effectively despite plenty of clamoring for upgrades to replace any combination of the three earlier this spring. Norris has quietly been the club’s best starter with a 3.83 ERA and has averaged more than six innings per outing, the only member of the rotation to do so.

Fans were screaming for Gonzalez to be removed from the rotation after he allowed 10 earned runs in his first two starts, but the right-hander has posted a strong 3.19 ERA since those horrific outings and has turned in three consecutive quality starts. Chen may cause plenty of nerves once he hits the 90-pitch mark in a given outing, but his 4.08 ERA is acceptable in the AL East.

Despite Norris, Gonzalez, and Chen keeping the rotation afloat while Tillman and Jimenez try to rebound from their poor starts, Showalter and the Orioles clearly need more from the starting pitching. It’s a common theme that played out in 2012 — when Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter occupied the top two spots in the Opening Day rotation — before Tillman and Gonzalez provided second-half shots in the arm to a rotation that improved over the course of a 93-win campaign.

Making changes may prove more complicated this time around as Tillman’s track record suggests Showalter will continue running him to the hill every fifth day — and he probably should for the time being. Of course, there are 50 million reasons why you shouldn’t expect Jimenez’s spot to be in any real jeopardy despite a 4.98 ERA, and you simply hope he discovers one of his customary hot stretches at the right time in what’s been a consistently inconsistent career.

But it’d be difficult to convince anyone that the Orioles will make the postseason with the same five starting pitchers in their rotation all year. Reinforcements will be necessary as they are for any team in any season.

At this point, it appears that 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman and veteran reclamation project Johan Santana are the most likely candidates to receive opportunities.

Putting aside an ill-advised call-up to start on three days’ rest earlier this month, Gausman remains the crown jewel of the minor-league system and is still expected to be a contributor for a large portion of the 2014 season. His 2.41 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Norfolk has kept him on the fast track to Baltimore, but it remains to be seen if his slider has developed enough to make him the kind of pitcher that can go through a lineup three times in a given night.

The most intriguing pitcher to watch over the next couple weeks will be Santana, who appeared to be nothing more than a lottery ticket the Orioles purchased in spring training as he was recovering from a second surgery on his left shoulder. His fastball velocity is now in the high 80s — about where it was with the New York Mets — giving him the desired 10-miles-per-hour difference with his famous changeup that the Orioles feel is necessary to be successful.

The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner completed his final extended spring training start on Monday and has an opt-out clause that can be used at the end of the month, but he’s expected to be assigned to a minor-league affiliate with the potential to receive a shot in the Baltimore rotation in the not-too-distant future. Reports and results from Sarasota have been favorable on the 35-year-old, but there’s no way of knowing whether his health or current stuff will hold up at the major league level.

Even with all the feel-good comparisons to the 2012 Orioles tossed about by media and fans alike, this year’s club knows it needs better starting pitching to stay afloat in what’s been a mediocre AL East this season. Their best hopes are with Tillman or Jimenez — preferably both — to reverse their early-season struggles, but the Orioles will inevitably need to lean on reinforcements because of injuries or ineffectiveness at some point.

Those reinforcements worked in 2012, but it remains to be seen if that’s another trend that will resurface for the Orioles.

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B&B Big Story Banter: Orioles Lineup Makeover

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B&B Big Story Banter: Orioles Lineup Makeover

Posted on 23 May 2014 by Brett Dickinson

The week in Orioles baseball has been a memorable one, for better and for worse. After last week’s difficult 1-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals in which Adam Jones and Chris Davis stranded the tying run at third, questions surrounded manager Buck Showalter’s stubbornness with his everyday lineup. With Manny Machado playing every day and batting second, the Orioles most consistent hitter, Nelson Cruz, has now been moved down to the fifth spot.

After a week in which the Orioles have actually put runs on the board with Showalter’s “stubborn” lineup, the team has won just once. Cruz continues to impress, while it appears that Jones has settled in to the three hole with 8 hits in his last 4 games. Which begs the question: Should the Orioles make major changes to their lineup? 

 

FOR By: Brett Dickinson 

Though the Orioles had a decent week at the plate, that does not change the long-term reality for some “stars” in this current lineup.  At the top, Nick Markasis has been steady getting on base as needed with some many run producers batting behind him.  Manny Machado has struggled through his first several weeks, coming off a serious knee injury and missing out on the entire off season.  It may be hindering the team now, but getting the young superstar comfortable is much more important for this team’s success later on.  Hopes are he can start to turn things around and be the same type of player that filled the two hole for the Orioles last season.

But the heart of the lineup is where I see Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter really struggling with his inner demons.  He is consistently not putting his best hitters in the best situations to succeed at their highest level.  Nelson Cruz is certainly an extremely early MVP candidate, yet is left batting in the fifth spot.  Showalter has been loyal to a fault in his tenure with the organization; clearly evident with his handling of Jim Johnson and the closer role last season. The same can be said with the team’s highest paid player (and supposed team leader) center fielder Adam Jones.

When everyone watching the game knows the scouting report on a player (including my own wife, who knows baseball, but doesn’t follow it as intently as most fans), then there is a problem. Just the other night Adam Jones came to the plate; her exact quote as a slider was thrown to the outside corner, into the dirt:

“I’m surprised he didn’t swing at that one…”

Adam JonesJones plate discipline this season has been down right despicable.  Yet he still bats third in a lineup that has struggled to consistently score runs all season.  Buck needs to stop worrying about hurting his feelings and tell the young man he is moving down a couple spots.  It should not matter that he is the “face of the franchise;” if that were true, he should do what’s best for the team without hesitation.  Ideally, Chris Davis should move into his slot, because though he does not have the massive power numbers of 2013, he is getting on base at an alarmingly high rate, taking an massive amount of walks in the process.

This would lead to Nelson Cruz batting cleanup, where he has the potential to come to the plate with runners on base each and every time.  Doesn’t that seem like the smart decision for a guy that among the tops in the entire MLB in home runs and RBI? Moving the free swinging Jones down to the fifth spot should not hurt his approach either, because he really doesn’t have one at this point.  Whether he bats third, fifth or ninth, he is going to swing and swing a lot.

Time to stop being loyal to a player’s past performance and looking at his current contributions Buck!

 

AGAINST By: Barry Kamen 

In the month of May, it is very easy to overreact to things that happen during the course of an entire baseball season. Sure, no Oriole fan likes to see the middle of the order fall flat in a close game. But every fan LOVES it when 3 Orange Crushes leave PNC Park. There are ebbs and flows to every season. The goal of the Orioles in May is consistency, ensuring that the peaks and the valleys are not drastically far away from each other.

Manny MachadoOne way to ensure is consistency is with the lineup. The criticism surrounding Adam Jones is largely unwarranted. The free-swinger is what he is; a .280 hitter with above-average home run and RBI numbers for his position. Jones doesn’t walk, and he is going to strike out more than he should. Fan frustration should not be with Jones, but with the injuries that have plagued the team all season. With Manny Machado’s bat starting to come around after joining the team at the beginning of May, the entire lineup has produced as a result. Assuming no other injuries occur, the Orioles have one of the best 1-5 lineups in all of Major League Baseball. Not only is the top and middle of the order talented, but there are very few mysteries associated with each player. The biggest question mark could very well be Chris Davis, as he works to ensure that last year’s production was not a fluke.

Rather than tinker with the lineup, depth becomes the next issue for Showalter to deal with. David Lough has played himself out of the lineup, and the end might be nearing for the former Royal. With Delmon Young and Steve Pearce in the fold, there is very little reason to keep Lough. It will not be long before Steve Lombardozzi returns to the majors, and could make a significant impact at the bottom of the order. Until then, tread water in May, and prepare for the high tide in September.

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Struggling Orioles reliever Hunter lands on DL with groin injury

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Struggling Orioles reliever Hunter lands on DL with groin injury

Posted on 22 May 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A week after surrendering the closer job due to his early-season struggles, Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left groin strain.

The right-hander said he suffered the strain while throwing prior to Wednesday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hunter was unavailable on Wednesday night and was replaced on the 25-man roster by right-hander Preston Guilmet, who had a brief stint with the Orioles earlier this month before being optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk on May 13.

“Anytime you do anything to move it around, it’s going to be sore,” Hunter said prior to Thursday’s series opener against the Cleveland Indians. “I shut it down as soon as it happened, so I went in and got treatment and showed up today.”

Hunter has a history of groin issues that dates back to his days with the Texas Rangers as the 27-year-old had a stint on the DL that lasted two months, but manager Buck Showalter is optimistic that the club was being proactive in shutting down the struggling reliever immediately to allow him to return quickly.

Named the Baltimore closer at the end of spring training, Hunter has a 6.06 earned run average and was 11-for-14 in converting save opportunities, but consecutive blown saves last week prompted Showalter to remove the hard-throwing pitcher from the role. Left-hander Zach Britton has converted the only situation the Orioles have had since Hunter blew a save against the Detroit Tigers on May 13.

It remains unclear whether the reliever will remain with the club for the next road trip or travel to Sarasota to continue treatment and rehab for the injury. Hunter made it known that the groin strain was not what was causing his struggles over the first two months of the season as he’s posted a 1.84 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in 19 appearances spanning 16 1/3 innings.

“There is really no excuses for those [games], sorry,” Hunter said. “If that is what everyone is fishing for. I apologize.”

The 26-year-old Guilmet has appeared in two games for the Orioles this season, striking out three without allowing a run in 1 2/3 innings. Showalter was hopeful that Guilmet could provide some length out of the bullpen if necessary after Chris Tillman was knocked out in the second inning of Wednesday’s game at Pittsburgh.

Davis healthy and expecting

First baseman Chris Davis hopes to build on the momentum of Tuesday night’s three-homer performance in Pittsburgh and says the strained oblique that landed him on the 15-day DL in late April is no longer a factor as he tries to bounce back from a slow start to the 2014 season.

The 2013 All-Star selection quipped that his left elbow was hurting after being hit by a pitch on Wednesday, but his oblique has held up well since returning from the DL on May 11.

“The first couple of games I came back, I don’t want to say it was stiff, but it was almost like it was rusty,” Davis said. “I hadn’t done anything for a couple of weeks. But it hasn’t bothered me. There were a couple times this last series when I took some hard check swings, but stopping [my swing] was something that killed me. I didn’t feel it, so it’s good to know that it is behind me.”

Davis’ wife, Jill, is expecting the couple’s first child and is scheduled to be induced on Sunday morning, meaning the Orioles are planning for Davis to miss games on Sunday and Monday before rejoining the club in Milwaukee. Of course, that timetable would change if she goes into labor prior to then, and Davis will be placed on the paternity list, which allows a player to be removed from the roster for up to three days.

Infielders Jemile Weeks and Steve Lombardozzi are considered the prime candidates to take Davis’ place on the roster.

Santana making more progress

Veteran left-hander Johan Santana continues to impress in his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery as he threw 58 pitches in a four-inning outing in an extended spring training game.

Santana allowed one run on a home run and his velocity was once again in the upper 80s as his fastball was clocked as high as 90 miles per hour. Santana is expected to pitch in one more extended spring game before being assigned to pitch for an affiliate.

After signing the former two-time American League Cy Young Award winner in early March, the Orioles estimated that Santana would need until early June to continue rehabbing his surgically-repaired left shoulder, a timetable that appears to be very accurate as he continues making progress and increasing his velocity.

More baby news

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and his wife, Amy, welcomed a baby boy named Colt shortly after midnight on Thursday morning.

 

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Lombardozzi squeezed out of infield picture with Machado’s return

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Lombardozzi squeezed out of infield picture with Machado’s return

Posted on 01 May 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles had a decision to make about the state of their infield with the much-anticipated return of third baseman Manny Machado, and Steve Lombardozzi ended up being the odd man out on Thursday.

Despite hitting .292 in 72 at-bats, the 25-year-old infielder was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Machado on the 25-man roster, raising a few eyebrows among fans who expected the light-hitting Ryan Flaherty or the recently-recalled Jemile Weeks to be demoted. As is typically the case when faced with these decisions, manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette sided with the stronger defensive player.

Weeks provides an element of speed that the Orioles are taking advantage of for the time being.

“I think where we are as a club and what are needs are going to be with Manny coming back, just initially [Jemile] might fit us a tad better, but we’ll see,” Showalter said. “But that’s a good tough decision. Two switch-hitting middle infielders.”

With Machado and shortstop J.J. Hardy coming off injuries and the first base position in flux with Chris Davis on the disabled list, versatility is a must off the bench and Flaherty has the ability to play quality defense at all four infield positions. Lombardozzi appeared in 19 games this season at second base but did not play another position as there are questions about his arm strength to play on the left side of the infield.

Of course, the Orioles could revisit the decision if Hardy and Machado play a couple weeks without any injury concerns, which would decrease the urgency for having Flaherty at their immediate disposal off the bench.

For what it’s worth, Lombardozzi’s career .638 on-base plus slugging percentage is only slightly higher than Flaherty’s .636. Of course, the latter is off to a poor start at the plate for the second year in a row and is hitting just .188.

Veteran Steve Pearce was officially back in the Orioles clubhouse Thursday and made the start at first base in Game 1 of the doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates. While right fielder Nick Markakis and Flaherty could still factor into the puzzle at first base, Pearce figures to receive an extensive opportunity as he’s played 94 games at the position in the major leagues.

“Stevie’s been hitting, he’s stayed active during the time,” said Showalter, referencing the fact that Pearce was designated for assignment on April 22. “I don’t think he ever left Baltimore.”

Machado did not start in the opening game of the doubleheader as Showalter and the 21-year-old both agreed it would be too aggressive to try to play 18 innings in his 2014 season debut. The Baltimore manager didn’t want Machado playing in Game 1 and sitting around all evening before coming off the bench to play in the late innings if necessary.

The third baseman said he didn’t do anything special over the last three days other than his normal in-season workouts and admitted he would feel some nerves before taking the field in Game 2. Showalter quipped that Thursday night would be Machado’s Opening Day after the All-Star break, referencing the club’s three straight days off because of inclement weather.

“It’s actually been kind of good for him to take his breath and get settled here in the locker room instead of traveling back and forth to Frederick,” Showalter said. “There’s nobody more excited today than Manny.”

The Orioles will activate left-handed relief pitcher Troy Patton after the first game of the doubleheader, meaning they will need to make a roster move before the nightcap. Showalter acknowledged having a roster move in mind and an intention to keep the roster at 12 pitchers, but that was dependent on how the pitching staff made it through the opening game.

Candidates to be sent out included long reliever Josh Stinson — who would need to be designated for assignment — and fellow reliever Evan Meek, who has an option remaining.

In injury-related news, veteran left-hander Johan Santana was able to touch 86 to 87 miles per hour on a few occasions while pitching in a simulated game in Sarasota on Monday. Trying to make a comeback from shoulder surgery, Santana’s velocity has steadily increased since he was signed in the spring.

Outfielder Nolan Reimold took batting practice Wednesday in Sarasota as he continues to rehab his surgically-repaired neck on the 60-day disabled list.

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Schoop should stick with Orioles in wake of Davis injury

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Schoop should stick with Orioles in wake of Davis injury

Posted on 28 April 2014 by Luke Jones

It all appeared to be coming together as third baseman Manny Machado started his rehab assignment and the Orioles anticipated having their full lineup together for the first time all season.

Of course, a left oblique strain suffered by Chris Davis has delayed that vision indefinitely, but Machado is expected to return this week, instantly boosting the infield defense as well as helping an offense now devoid of Davis’ Herculean power. Even with the All-Star third baseman’s return, the injury to Davis forces manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to alter the way in which they view the starting lineup.

Even if Nick Markakis proves capable of handling the defensive duties of first base — his errant throw on a rundown play led to a run in Sunday’s loss to Kansas City — he’s a significant downgrade offensively just like any realistic replacement would be. It’s why the Orioles may need to take chances elsewhere in trying to make up for Davis’ absence.

In addition to Nelson Cruz filling a full-time outfield role with Markakis in the infield, the Orioles would be wise to continue playing Jonathan Schoop at second base after Machado officially returns. His future appeared to be the club’s biggest roster decision a few days ago as the argument could be made that Schoop needs more seasoning and both Steve Lombardozzi and Ryan Flaherty are stronger defensive players.

But when missing a player of Davis’ ability, the Orioles would benefit from Schoop’s offensive upside while also remembering he’s handled 30 chances at second base without an error. The 22-year-old has struggled bouncing back and forth between second and third base due to the Orioles’ injury-related needs in the first month of the season, but his four errors have all come while playing the hot corner.

“He’s going to turn the double play well above average with arm strength,” said Showalter when asked to assess Schoop’s play at second base. “That’s one thing that steps out at you. He could profile down the road as an offensive run producer that can play the middle infield. We’ll see. I feel confident that Jonathan is going to be as good as he’s capable of being. That’s what makes me feel good about him.”

Truthfully, his offensive numbers don’t overwhelm you as Schoop is hitting just .241 and has struck out 26 times in his first 82 plate appearances as major league pitchers continue to challenge him with breaking balls, but his numbers dwarf Flaherty’s paltry .188 average and he has more power (.405 slugging percentage) than Lombardozzi (.333), who appears best suited for a utility role.

We’ve seen with Showalter’s patient handling of Flaherty that defense can trump offensive production with the rest of the lineup so dangerous, but the Orioles must be more judicious in that approach with Davis missing from the order. Schoop has given no reason to indicate he can’t play a solid second base — the position at which he had the most experience in the minor leagues — and is fifth on the club in total bases and first in doubles.

The rockets he hit in New York and Toronto earlier this month for his two home runs show what kind of power potential he brings to the table. It’d be interesting to see what he can do without the unrest of switching positions on a regular basis weight on his mind.

“You can be in the big leagues 10 years and it’s never going to be easy, but I think the game’s slowing down a little bit,” Schoop said. “I’ve still got to get better. In situations, I’ve got to think what I’m going to do before the ball comes to me. I’ve got to get better.”

A few days ago, it would have been easy for the Orioles to send Schoop to Triple-A Norfolk and settle on the strong defensive platoon of Flaherty and Lombardozzi at second base while watching the rest of the lineup wreak havoc on opposing pitchers. But with Davis sidelined and his teammates trying to pick up the slack, the second base position needs to provide some of the offensive lifting.

While far from a finished product, the Curacao native has shown more than enough flashes for the Orioles to take a chance that he’ll be up to the task.

“I’m glad he’s on our side. He’s got a chance to be a pretty good one,” Showalter said. “But we’ll see where he settles out and see how things go with Manny in the next few days.”

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Orioles move Markakis to first base with Davis sidelined

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Orioles move Markakis to first base with Davis sidelined

Posted on 26 April 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Veteran right fielder Nick Markakis prepared to make his third career start at first base Saturday night as the Orioles awaited the results of Chris Davis’ magnetic resonance imaging scan on the strained left oblique he suffered in Friday’s loss to the Kansas City Royals.

Davis told reporters he was feeling a little better on Saturday, and manager Buck Showalter described the All-Star first baseman as “day to day” for the time being. The Orioles are hoping Davis can avoid a trip to the 15-day disabled list and scheduled days off on Monday and Thursday would ease the hardship of him being unavailable for a few days.

Markakis hadn’t started a game at first base since Sept. 4, 2011 and was on the field early Saturday afternoon working at the position where he’d only appeared three times in his nine-year career. Showalter moved Nelson Cruz to right field and placed the newly-recalled Jemile Weeks in the leadoff spot as the designated hitter with Markakis moving to the No. 3 position in the lineup.

Whether Markakis remains the first baseman in Davis’ absence is undetermined, but the Orioles have few options on the 25-man roster after designating veteran Steve Pearce for assignment earlier this week. Showalter indicated hesitancy in moving catcher Matt Wieters to first base when he’s not starting behind the plate.

Markakis played first base extensively at Young Harris College before the Orioles drafted him with the seventh overall pick of the 2003 amateur draft.

“He’s one of our options,” said Showalter, who moved Ryan Flaherty to first base when Davis exited in the fifth inning of Friday’s game. “We’ll see how it presents itself tonight. [Nick] takes some work there every once in a while.”

Davis’ immediate future remains up in the air, but the Orioles are optimistic about Manny Machado’s pending return to the lineup after the 21-year-old third baseman went 1-for-4 and started at third base in Single-A Frederick’s 4-2 loss to Carolina on Saturday. Machado is scheduled to play third base once again at Frederick on Sunday before the Orioles decide whether he’ll continue playing for the Keys or will move to Triple-A Norfolk on Monday.

Showalter didn’t dismiss the possibility of Machado rejoining the Orioles for their two-game series against Pittsburgh that begins on Tuesday, but next weekend appears to be the logical target for his return when Baltimore travels to Minnesota to take on the Twins.

“I wouldn’t say anything is [off] the table right now,” said Showalter, who dismissed the notion that Davis’ injury might rush the timetable to activate Machado. “It’s a baseball decision right now as much as physical.. We will have a pretty good idea after tomorrow.”

Here are Saturday night’s lineups:

KANSAS CITY
RF Nori Aoki
2B Omar Infante
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvador Perez
3B Danny Valencia
CF Justin Maxwell
SS Alcides Escobar

SP Jeremy Guthrie (2-1, 4.68 ERA)

BALTIMORE
DH Jemile Weeks
RF Nelson Cruz
1B Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy
3B Ryan Flaherty
2B Jonathan Schoop
LF David Lough

SP Wei-Yin Chen (3-1, 4.91 ERA)

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smith

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Nelson Cruz and Steve Smith: An Oriole and a Raven searching for redemption

Posted on 26 April 2014 by johngallo

One man wants to forget his past; the other is motivated by it.

One man is sorry for the mistake he made; the other is adamant he did nothing wrong to be sent packing.

One makes a living hitting home runs; the other earns his paycheck scoring touchdowns.

One was a strike away from winning a World Series in 2011; the other was denied a championship on a field goal with four seconds left in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Nelson Cruz, the Orioles’ designated hitter and outfielder, and Steve Smith, who Ravens fans want to be the second coming of receiver Anquan Boldin, hope their futures in Baltimore are as bright as their pasts. Cruz made the All-Star Game twice as a Texas Ranger, while Smith was named All-Pro twice as a Carolina Panther.

Two players, two sports, two careers that took unlikely turns, yet both are connected by a single word in Baltimore: redemption.

Turbulent, yet successful pasts

Nelson Cruz is off to a strong start in Baltimore, as he led the Orioles in homers (6), runs batted-in (23), runs scored (16) and on-base percentage (.391) through 22 games. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Cruz’s time in Texas was over following the 2013 season, when he turned down the Rangers’ one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer after serving a 50-game suspension last season for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy in connection with the sport’s investigation of the Biogenesis of America, an anti-aging clinic in Florida.

Smith’s 13-season run in Carolina was marred by punching two teammates – receiver Anthony Bright during a film room meeting in 2002 and defensive back Ken Lucas at a training camp practice in 2008 – and highlighted by leading the squad to the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance in 2004. It ended in March when the Panthers felt he was no longer worth a $7 million hit to their salary cap.

Cruz, 33, is from Monte Cristi, a poor city in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic, where he worked in his uncle’s shop as a mechanic from age 10 to 16. He played professionally for three seasons in the Dominican Republic after signing as an undrafted free agent by the Mets in 1998. In 2000, he arrived in the U.S. after being traded to Oakland – not bad for a teenager who grew up idolizing Michael Jordan before falling in love with baseball.

Smith, 34, is from inner-city Los Angeles, where he never took the SAT while becoming an all-California Interscholastic Federation receiver at University High School. He took the bus to his $5.75 an hour job running the cash register and sweeping floors at Taco Bell, where worked from his junior in high school until he left nearby Santa Monica College. That’s where he and teammate and future All-Pro receiver Chad Johnson had college recruiters flocking to the junior college. Smith earned a scholarship to the University of Utah, where he dominated the Mountain West conference en route to being drafted in the third round (74th overall) by the Panthers in 2001.

Both have traversed the country en route to Baltimore, which represents where they hope to find redemption, yet could be the last place they ever play.

Think about it: What team will sign Cruz if he flops as an Oriole after putting up amazing numbers that could have been the result of using performance-enhancing drugs? What team will sign Smith if he can no longer get open as he did so effortlessly when he was among the NFL’s best receivers as a Panther?

Cruz’s road to Baltimore included stops in Oakland, Milwaukee and Texas, where he highlighted his eight years in as a Ranger by belting six homers and driving in 13 runs en route to being named the most valuable player of American League Championship Series in 2011. His six homers and 13 RBIs are major league records for a championship series. The Rangers lost the World Series to St. Louis in seven games, after being a strike away from a title-clinching win in Game 6.

“Whatever happened in the past, I look to move forward and have a great year with the Baltimore Orioles,” Cruz said at his press conference, where he was joined by eight Oriole teammates after signing a one-year, $8 million deal with February.

Smith had just one stop as a professional, Carolina, where all he did was set more than 30 career, single-season and single-game team records on offense and special teams, including becoming the franchise’s career leader in total touchdowns (75), receiving touchdowns (67), receptions (836) and receiving yards (12,197).

“Steve Smith has been one of the NFL’s finest receivers for over a decade and has been the face of the franchise for a large part of the team’s history,” Carolina General Manager Dave Gettleman told the team’s website after waiving Smith. “This was not an easy decision. As a team, we made a step forward last year; however, we are also a team in transition, which is a part of the NFL.”

Steve Smith is adjusting to life as a Raven by attending voluntary workouts, where he’s jelling with teammates, learning the playbook and developing a hatred for Baltimore’s biggest rival. (Courtesy of Baltimore Ravens)

When he was released, the five-time Pro Bowler vowed he’d make the Panthers pay, claiming they’ll be “blood and guts everywhere” when he plays them. The teams meet in Week 4 on Sept. 28 at M&T Bank Stadium.

“When you look at the Ravens, they’ve had an amount of great success with integrating older players and younger players and fusing them together and understanding the right combination,” Smith told the Ravens’ website after signing a three-year deal worth a reported $11.5 million. “That part is very intriguing to me and also brings a challenge that I’m up for….They are getting an old guy in age, but a young guy’s spirit and work ethic.”

What’s next?

Where would the Orioles be right now without Cruz? Maybe not 11-11 and in second place in the American League East following a loss to the Royals on April 25. Cruz leads the team in homers (6), runs batted-in (23), runs scored (16) and on-base percentage (.391). His .588 slugging percentage is tied with Steve Clevenger, who has played in seven games compared to Cruz’s 21.

“Nelson is a great hitter,” catcher Matt Wieters told reporters after Cruz blasted two homers during a 10-8 win over Toronto on April 23. “I always had trouble calling pitches against him so I’m glad he’s on our team. He’s a huge addition to the middle of our lineup.”

“We all know what he’s capable of,” Manager Buck Showalter said of Cruz after the game.

Meantime, Smith is adjusting to life as a Raven by attending voluntary workouts, where he’s jelling with teammates, learning the playbook and developing a hatred for Baltimore’s biggest rival.

“My dislike 4 @steelers will grow everyday I’m in the #caste,” Smith tweeted.

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