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Nothing good comes from Tuesday’s brawl for Orioles

Posted on 08 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Yordano Ventura was the culprit in Tuesday’s brawl between the Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, but don’t be fooled by the crowd’s chants for Manny Machado after he charged the mound.

There was nothing to be proud of from the confrontation. Nothing good comes from this for Machado or the Orioles, even if they weren’t the ones at fault. And let’s not sing the 23-year-old’s praises when it was just two years ago that he embarrassed himself and the organization by being on the wrong side of another conflict by flinging a bat at the opposition. He has his own reputation for being a bit of a hothead, which may or may not have made him a prime target for Ventura’s behavior.

If you want to see a fight, check out a UFC pay-per-view or even WWE Monday Night Raw, which offers more believable grappling than what you’ll find in 90 percent of baseball brawls. I’d much prefer using this space to focus on a 9-1 victory in which the Orioles clubbed four home runs to improve to 11 games over .500 and remain in first place in the AL East instead of the rubbish we witnessed on Tuesday — no matter who’s to blame.

In a perfect world, Machado bites his tongue in anger and walks to first base as the Royals starter is ejected for the deplorable act of using a 99 mph fastball — his fastest pitch of the night — as a weapon, but you can understand an emotional reaction when your livelihood is being threatened. The 23-year-old shortstop wasn’t entirely blameless and did play a part in escalating the hostility in the previous at-bat when Ventura twice came inside without hitting him, but no amount of jawing warranted being hit in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The real problem is Major League Baseball’s willingness to allow these types of incidents to continue with little consequence. Instead of pimping highlights of the skirmish via social media, the league should crack down on pitchers who decide to punish someone because they were terrible at their job in the way Ventura was on Tuesday night.

With his own past likely being considered, Machado will be suspended for a handful of games and should be for charging the mound and throwing a punch, but what will the consequence be for Ventura, who committed a more dangerous act and already has a concerning history in his brief career? A suspension that will likely amount to one or two missed starts?

Give me a break with that slap on the wrist.

Adam Jones may have made the most cogent point of the night when citing how Ventura faces no threat of stepping to the plate to face the same music that he dished out. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but at least it’s a deterrent that exists in the National League to help offset baseball’s lack of a backbone over matters such as these.

Manager Buck Showalter said after Tuesday’s win that there were no apparent injuries stemming from the brawl, but we’ve seen them occur before, including one that nearly cost Cal Ripken his consecutive games streak in 1993. Machado’s anger was understandable, but he also put himself in further danger and his teammates in harm’s way when he charged the mound and the playoff-hopeful Orioles will now be without their best player for some number of games in the near future.

But more importantly, Machado could have been seriously injured by a 99 mph missile from Ventura, a reality that needs to be taken more seriously by the league’s decision-makers. More extreme consequences for pitchers intentionally hitting someone would go a long way in not only making the game safer but also putting players’ minds at ease that they don’t have to take matters into their own hands.

There just has to be a better way than players and teams policing themselves because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

Perhaps everyone would be a little more cordial if they knew they’d be banned for many more games and lose much more money when getting caught up in such nonsense.

Make no mistake, Ventura was the villain and the big loser on Tuesday night.

But that doesn’t make Machado the winner, either.

And we primarily have baseball to thank for that.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-1 win over Kansas City

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Monday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 56th game of the 2016 season.

1st Mike Wright took full advantage of the mulligan from his minor-league demotion last week with seven strong innings in which he allow one unearned run and five hits while striking out four and walking two. The right-hander did have a favorable matchup against an injury-depleted Kansas City lineup missing two impact lefty bats, but he did a superb job keeping his fastball down in the zone and Royals hitters were just 2-for-8 with a walk in Wright’s third trip through the order, which has been very problematic for him this year. His hold on a rotation spot entering Monday was tenuous at best, but Wright turned in his best outing of the year for his fourth quality start of 2016.

2ndMatt Wieters wasn’t quite tired and ready to go home in the seventh, but he was more than eager to help his starting pitcher get a win by homering to dead center off Royals starter Danny Duffy, who had shut down Baltimore over his first six innings of work. The blast would prove to be the winning run as Wieters slugged the 100th home run of his career as a catcher and is now batting .362 with 17 RBIs over his last 19 games. He also did an excellent job behind the plate with a young starter who was pitching for his job on Monday night.

3rdMark Trumbo was the first Orioles batter to solve Duffy on Monday by homering on the third pitch of the bottom of the seventh after the Royals had taken a 1-0 lead on Jonathan Schoop’s error in the top half of the inning. Trumbo now leads the majors with his 19 homers, just three shy of his 2015 total in 307 fewer plate appearances this season. It was the 150th long ball of his career.

HomeBrad Brach continued his brilliant season by striking out the top three hitters in the Royals order in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He extended his scoreless streak to nine games covering 10 2/3 innings to lower his season ERA to a microscopic 0.88 in 30 2/3 innings. … Zach Britton induced three quick grounders on just eight pitches to earn his 18th save in as many tries and extend his scoreless streak to 14 games spanning 15 1/3 innings. … Adam Jones’ RBI double in the seventh tied Brady Anderson for first place in extra-base hits (243) in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. … In the eighth, Manny Machado clubbed his 15th homer, the first of the season allowed by standout reliever Kelvin Herrera. … With Monday’s victory, Showalter surpassed former Orioles manager Davey Johnson for sole possession of 29th place on the all-time managerial wins list with 1,373. … The Orioles lead the majors with 19 comeback victories and have won five of their last six with all five of the come-from-behind variety. … Ubaldo Jimenez takes the hill on Tuesday while Yordano Ventura will start for Kansas City.

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Orioles shortstop Hardy increasing baseball activity in Sarasota

Posted on 06 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles appear to be moving closer to restoring their regular left side of the infield with shortstop J.J. Hardy beginning baseball activities in Sarasota.

After playing catch from 90 feet over the weekend, the 33-year-old took 25 ground balls on Monday and is taking swings and hitting off a tee as he continues to work his way back from a fractured left foot suffered on May 1. According to manager Buck Showalter, Hardy will not rejoin the club to continue his rehab until he is participating in full baseball activity in Sarasota.

The hope is that Hardy could still be ready to be activated from the disabled list later this month, but he would need to complete a minor-league rehab assignment after such a lengthy absence.

“It’s more about the player. J.J. knows what it takes to be up here,” said Showalter when asked how long Hardy’s rehab assignment might take. “We’ll trust him with that. I don’t think you’re going to see him go down there and play one game and four at-bats and say, ‘I’m ready.’ He’s going to do some of that in the extended-spring program probably before he goes out [on an assignment].

“But I wouldn’t say it’d be quick. I’d like for it to be quick. We miss him.”

Two-time Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado has filled in admirably playing his natural shortstop position in Hardy’s absence, but the Orioles have struggled to receive production at third base with defensive-minded players Ryan Flaherty and Paul Janish providing below-replacement-level offense and slugger Pedro Alvarez serving as a defensive liability in his six starts at the hot corner.

Though coming off the worst season of his major league career in 2015, Hardy was hitting .244 with two home runs, eight RBIs, and a .701 on-base plus slugging percentage in 86 plate appearances this season.

Last rehab start for Gallardo?

Right-hander Yovani Gallardo will make what the Orioles hope is his final rehab start on Tuesday afternoon at Triple-A Norfolk, putting him in line to potentially return to start the series finale in Toronto on Sunday.

Have the woes of the current starting rotation altered how the Orioles evaluate Gallardo’s readiness to return from right shoulder tendinitis?

“You mean all he’s got to do is show up and be breathing and he’s in it?” said Showalter, cracking a smile. “I’m just being frank. No, it shouldn’t and I’d like to think it doesn’t. Are you going to base it on performance or how he feels? You hope you get both.

“Yovani wants to get back. He’s champing at the bit. If I had a choice between [him] being productive and being healthy tomorrow, I’ll take the healthy part.”

Waiting game for Joseph

A week after Caleb Joseph suffered a testicular injury that required surgery from a foul ball to the groin area, Showalter confirmed the backup catcher would not be ready to return after the minimum 15 days for a DL stint.

Joseph will not to resume catching until the four-week mark from when the injury took place on May 30. Showalter said the 29-year-old should be able to take part in all other baseball activities before then, but there understandably will be an adjustment period for Joseph to once again take work behind the plate after sustaining such a gruesome injury.

Fortunately for the Orioles, recently-promoted backup Francisco Pena has collected multi-hit games in each of his first two starts since Joseph was placed on the DL.

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Gallardo to make next rehab start at Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 03 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo is moving closer to a return from the disabled list and will make what he hopes to be his final rehab start at Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday afternoon.

Sidelined since leaving an April 22 start with right shoulder tendinitis, the 30-year-old made his first rehab start at Single-A Frederick on Thursday, giving up three runs and seven hits while striking out four and walking two in three innings of work. Despite the unimpressive results, manager Buck Showalter was pleased with the reports from his first outing as few of the hits were squared up against a shaky Frederick defense.

“I feel fine. I feel great today,” Gallardo said on Friday. “A little soreness, which is expected. Nothing crazy or different than any normal soreless. It’s kind of my side or [latissimus muscle], which is a good sign. It means I’m getting full extension to release the ball.”

Gallardo is expected to throw 75 to 80 pitches in his next rehab start, which should stretch him out to the point where he could be activated to pitch during the Orioles’ next road trip. Showalter preferred to see the veteran compete against higher-level hitters in his second start instead of simply staying close to Baltimore at a lower affiliate.

On Thursday, his fastball velocity reportedly averaged 87 to 88 mph and occasionally touched 90, according to reports from Frederick. Gallardo’s average fastball velocity over his first four starts was 87.2 mph, according to FanGraphs.

“I can actually feel the ball coming out of my hand good,” Gallardo said. “That life and that late break on the slider and the curveball and changeup and all my pitches [was there] instead of just staying flat and not feeling that finish through the zone. I think that’s another reason why my lat’s a little sore just from getting that full extension and finishing off my pitches. That’s where you get that life on the baseball and that good stuff through the zone instead of not feeling it.

“I was excited. I’m not worried about it.”

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Orioles place O’Day on disabled list with hamstring strain

Posted on 03 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles placed right-handed relief pitcher Darren O’Day on the 15-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain prior to Friday’s series opener with the New York Yankees.

Right-handed pitcher Mike Wright was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take O’Day’s place on the 25-man roster. Optioned to the Tides on Thursday, Wright was not required to remain in the minor leagues for 10 days since he was taking the place of a player going on the DL.

O’Day is expected to receive a platelet-rich plasma injection to help the healing process in hopes of him being ready to return after the minimum 15-day requirement. He last pitched in Wednesday’s 13-9 win over Boston in which he gave up a solo home run to Chris Young.

“He felt it a little bit [before], but covering first base the other night, [the hamstring] grabbed on him,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It wasn’t better the next day. We hope to get him back in 15. We’ll see. I’m cautiously optimistic about that. His arm feels great.”

Signed to a four-year, $31 million contract extension after his All-Star season in 2015, O’Day has posted a 3.15 ERA in 20 innings of work this season, but the sidearm reliever has surrendered five home runs, matching his total in 65 1/3 innings a year ago. His absence means the Orioles will likely lean more heavily on Brad Brach and Mychal Givens in the late innings to help bridge the gap to closer Zach Britton, meaning the likes of Dylan Bundy and Brian Duensing will need to filling more meaningful roles in middle relief.

Since 2012, O’Day has served as the backbone of the Orioles bullpen by pitching to a 2.00 ERA in 283 innings and averaging 68 appearances per season.

Yet to announce a starting pitcher for Monday’s game against Kansas City, Showalter was noncommittal about Wright making what was to be his original start before he was optioned to the minors on Thursday. The 26-year-old will be available in the bullpen after Friday’s game.

“We’ll see what Monday brings,” Showalter said. “We’re trying to get through Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It will kind of be a moving target for a couple days.”

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Orioles send down struggling Wright, add Duensing to bullpen

Posted on 02 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sorting through their current mess of a pitching staff, the Orioles optioned right-hander Mike Wright to Triple-A Norfolk and selected the contract of lefty reliever Brian Duensing on Thursday.

After making the club out of spring training as the No. 4 starter, Wright had failed to complete six innings in four of his last five outings and allowed a career-high four home runs in just 2 2/3 innings against Boston on Wednesday. His season ERA had risen to a robust 5.88 in 49 innings that included nine starts.

Manager Buck Showalter said the 26-year-old will start for the Tides on Monday and emphasized that he would remain a starter when asked if Wright could be moved to a bullpen role as many have suggested.

“I know he spent the day looking at the tape of all of his starts in the big leagues,” Showalter said. “He’s in the process of becoming a good pitcher for us up here. Mike’s going to be a good starter for the Baltimore Orioles. That’s what I feel. Today is part of the process. A lot of guys come up and they get a little better each time. We’re hoping the next time Mike comes up that we won’t need this move to be made.

“He’ll contribute to our club this year as a starter. I really believe that.”

Despite possessing a good fastball, Wright hasn’t been able to consistently command his off-speed pitches and has struggled against lefties, who are batting .369 with four homers and a 1.028 on-base plus slugging percentage against him this year. He has held right-handed bats to a .234 average.

It remains unclear who would immediately take Wright’s spot in the rotation with T.J. McFarland and Vance Worley being the two logical candidates currently on the active roster.

The roster move came on the same day that Yovani Gallardo was making his first minor-league rehab start and the struggling Ubaldo Jimenez was taking the hill against the powerful Red Sox lineup. At Single-A Frederick, Gallardo pitched three innings, allowing three runs and seven hits while walking two and striking out four.

Showalter reiterated on Thursday that the plan was for Gallardo to make at least two rehab starts, meaning he wouldn’t be ready to be activated to take Wright’s next turn in the rotation on Monday.

The 33-year-old Duensing adds an experienced left-handed reliever to a club that parted ways with Brian Matusz last month. Beginning the year in Kansas City’s organization, Duensing had opted out of his minor-league deal to join the Orioles and had thrown three scoreless innings for the Tides.

He had spent his entire career with the Minnesota Twins prior to this year, serving exclusively as a reliever since 2013. In 48 2/3 innings for the Twins last season, Duensing pitched to a 4.25 ERA with 4.4 strikeouts and 3.9 walks per nine innings.

He holds a 4.13 career ERA in seven major league seasons.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 13-9 win over Red Sox

Posted on 02 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 13-9 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 51st game of the 2016 season.

1st Matt Wieters led the offensive attack with three RBIs, which came on a sacrifice fly in the first inning and an important two-run single in the seventh that provided the Orioles some much-needed separation in a back-and-forth game. The Baltimore catcher was also fortunate in the sixth when he hit a sure double-play ball that was booted by Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, allowing the go-ahead run to score in an 8-8 game. Buck Showalter said that was the ultimate sign that things were going the Orioles’ way on a “Twilight Zone night” at Camden Yards. 

2ndMark Trumbo provided the early lift the Orioles needed after Mike Wright had surrendered a leadoff home run to Mookie Betts by drilling a two-run single into right field with the bases loaded in the first. Considering the ugliness of the first two games of the series, the Orioles could hardly afford to fall behind big early and Trumbo capitalized on their first big scoring chance of the night and also walked twice on the evening. Momentum is often an overrated concept in baseball, but Baltimore hanging four runs on the board in the first inning set the tone for the offensive explosion.

3rdHyun Soo Kim has become an important part of the lineup over the last week and collected his second three-hit game in his last seven starts. In addition to his double to deep center and two singles, Kim also walked and scored twice to raise his on-base percentage to an impressive .469. Not only is the Korean outfielder playing more frequently, but he has served as a productive top-of-the-order option for the Orioles, something they’ve needed in recent weeks.

HomeBrad Brach provided one of the only pitching highlights from either team by tossing 1 2/3 scoreless innings, entering the game when it was tied 8-8 in the sixth and lasting long enough to pick up his fifth win and lower his ERA to a microscopic 0.94. … The Orioles scored a season-high 13 runs and drew a 2016-best nine walks in Wednesday’s win. It was also the first time Baltimore had won a game in which the pitching staff allowed five homers since April 7, 2000 against Detroit. … Ryan Flaherty drove in two runs and has now recorded at least one RBI in three straight games to match a career high. … Chris Davis was the only Orioles starter not to collect a hit, but the first baseman walked four times to match a career high and scored three runs. … Pedro Alvarez registered three hits for the second time this season. … Wright surrendered a career-high four home runs in lasting just 2 2/3 innings, his shortest start of the season. … Betts became the first player in major league history to homer in both the first and second innings of consecutive games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. … Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts extended his career-high hitting streak to 25 games. … On Thursday night, the struggling Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill with the Orioles seeking a series split while Boston will hand the ball to right-hander Rick Porcello.

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Wieters, Orioles in better position to endure Joseph’s absence

Posted on 31 May 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There’s never good timing for the kind of injury Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph suffered as we collectively cringed watching him take a foul ball to the groin area during Monday’s game.

But with the defensive-minded backup undergoing surgery for a testicular injury and being placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Orioles are in better position to endure his absence than they’ve been in a long time. With three-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters playing more frequently in May being nearly two full years removed from Tommy John surgery, the Orioles can feel more comfortable with the recalled Francisco Pena serving as his backup for at least the next couple weeks.

Wieters rarely caught on consecutive days upon returning to action last season, creating more of a timeshare behind the plate.

“It doesn’t change anything about Matt,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We’re not going to start pushing up his load and jeopardize something down the road. He may feel differently, but we’ll take it day to day. It shouldn’t change anything about that, but we’ll see.”

Wieters may never again start 135 or more games at catcher in a season like he did earlier in his career, but he caught on three straight days last week for the first time since having elbow surgery and has caught on back-to-back days five other times since the end of April, taking on more of a conventional workload for a starting catcher in recent weeks. Including Tuesday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, Wieters has served as the starting catcher in 14 of the Orioles’ last 21 games.

That is good news for the Orioles, who will now depend on a backup catcher with all of nine career games in the majors. Acquired from the Kansas City Royals in December, Pena at least had the opportunity to work with many of the club’s pitchers during spring training and had thrown out 11 of 23 runners attempting to steal while catching for Triple-A Norfolk this year.

However, the 26-year-old was hitting .200 with a .491 on-base plus slugging percentage in 87 plate appearances for the Tides. Joseph was off to a poor start at the plate this season with a .182 average, but the 29-year-old hit .234 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs last season.

From an offensive standpoint, the Orioles hope Wieters can continue what he’s been able to do while receiving more regular at-bats in May. After hitting .214 in the first month of the season, Wieters entered Tuesday hitting .354 with three homers and a .933 OPS in May.

Just having him behind the plate more regularly is more of a relief for the Orioles while Joseph recovers.

“I feel good, but I also feel like Frankie’s a guy who can go back there and catch, too,” Wieters said. “I think that’s one thing we’ve always preached. We’ve got to be able to have guys at Double A and Triple A who can step in and play in a big-league game. We’re not going to call anybody up we don’t feel can go out there and catch in a game.

“Whatever needs to happen for the team to win games, I’m all for. But I have complete confidence in Frankie getting back there and catching a big-league game and getting wins.”

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Jimenez’s dramatic struggles have Orioles in unenviable position

Posted on 29 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles weren’t expecting Ubaldo Jimenez to be their ace in 2016.

Manager Buck Showalter probably would have taken a repeat of last season in which he posted an unspectacular but acceptable 4.11 ERA, even if it did include a 5.63 mark in the second half after a sparkling 2.81 ERA before the All-Star break. With so many questions about their starting rotation entering the season, the Orioles needed Jimenez to be more 2015 than the 2014 version of himself.

So far, they haven’t even gotten the latter model as another poor performance Saturday elevated his ERA to 6.36, third worst among qualified pitchers in the majors entering Sunday. He’s averaged 5.2 walks per nine innings and opponents have a .375 batting average on balls in play against him, numbers suggesting he’s been both bad and unlucky this season.

And it’s only getting worse as the 32-year-old has posted a 10.26 ERA over his last four starts with the Orioles losing the last three in blowout fashion. Jimenez has walked 14 in 16 2/3 innings over that time, perhaps the clearest barometer of his inability to give his club much of a chance to win these days.

Making matters worse, Jimenez allowed four stolen bases in Saturday’s game and opponents have stolen 11 bases against him already this season, another of Showalter’s pet peeves.

Something has to give — and soon.

Showalter said before Sunday’s finale in Cleveland that Jimenez is listed as the “projected” starter for the series finale against Boston this week. The thought of the struggling right-hander facing the best lineup in baseball on Thursday almost appears cruel at this point, but the Orioles’ alternatives are limited.

Unlike two years ago when Jimenez lost his spot in the starting rotation, there isn’t a Kevin Gausman waiting to take his place. It’s no coincidence that Yovani Gallardo will make his first minor-league rehab start on the same day Jimenez is set to make his next start, but the former may need another start or two after that in his recovery from right shoulder tendinitis.

Even if you decide that Gallardo — or Vance Worley or T.J. McFarland or anyone else — takes his rotation spot, what do you do with the struggling veteran?

Despite many fans continuing to call for it, the Orioles aren’t releasing a pitcher owed the remainder of his $13 million salary this year and another $13.5 million in 2017. Unless you have two or three legitimate pitching prospects waiting at Triple A to take the next step, you don’t dump a pitcher who showed he was able to pitch at a high level for a significant portion of last season when he’s owed so much money — even if it might amount to little more than a way-too-expensive lottery ticket at this point.

Do you just send Jimenez to the bullpen? The problem with that is you can only count on him for mop-up duty and one of the last things you want in a long reliever is to walk hitters when you’re just trying to eat low-leverage innings. At the very least, it would give him opportunities for side sessions to try to fix his mechanics, something not easy to do when you have just four days between starts.

Will the Orioles find a physical issue — authentic or not — that would allow them to put him on the disabled list? Two years ago, an ankle injury met with plenty of outside skepticism allowed Jimenez to rehab and pitch in two minor-league games before he was activated roughly a month later.

Even if Jimenez can reverse his latest struggles, how much can you trust him to pitch for a contender?

Of course, these alternatives aren’t preferable to Jimenez doing the job the Orioles are paying him handsomely to do. Nearly 2 1/2 years into their marriage, the right-hander has turned in one excellent half of pitching with occasional good starts sprinkled in the rest of the time.

His woes aren’t from a lack of effort, but the well-liked Jimenez just isn’t getting the job done.

The Orioles find themselves back in the same position they experienced two year ago, in contention and needing to replace him.

It appears time for a change.

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Jimenez could be impacted by Gallardo’s return

Posted on 23 May 2016 by Luke Jones

(Editor’s note: The Orioles traded left-handed reliever Brian Matusz to Atlanta for two minor-league pitchers on Monday night.)

The Orioles were pleased with the first bullpen session for Yovani Gallardo on Sunday, marking another significant step in his recovery from right shoulder tendinitis.

On the 15-day disabled list since April 23, the 30-year-old is expected to complete another bullpen in Houston before pitching a simulated game and potentially beginning a minor-league rehab assignment as early as next week. That timetable would put Gallardo in line for a return in early June, which could potentially impact a pair of struggling pitchers on the current roster.

Manager Buck Showalter said Sunday that right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is not in danger of losing his spot in the starting rotation, but his ERA has climbed to 6.04 after he allowed six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in a 10-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-familiar position for Jimenez and the Orioles, who replaced him in the starting rotation with Kevin Gausman two years ago in the midst of his abysmal first season with Baltimore.

As Showalter pointed out when asked about Jimenez’s status in Anaheim, however, the Orioles don’t have a clear-cut replacement this time around despite the 32-year-old pitching to a 5.79 ERA in his last 135 1/3 innings going back to last year’s All-Star break. Whether fans like it or not, the organization isn’t about to designate a pitcher for assignment who is making a total of $26.5 million over this year and 2017, but Gallardo’s return could prompt the Orioles to have a difficult conversation with Jimenez if he doesn’t fare better over his next few starts.

If young pitchers Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright continue to outperform Jimenez, the Orioles might have no choice but to put the struggling veteran in the bullpen, which could then impact another struggling hurler on the 25-man roster.

There’s little roster flexibility in the current bullpen with Mychal Givens being the only member with minor-league options, and it’d be a tough sell to say you’re doing what’s best for the club if you send your fourth-best reliever to the minors. The next names to enter the conversation would be Vance Worley — who has done an acceptable job as a long reliever — and Brian Matusz, who is currently serving as the forgotten lefty specialist who hasn’t been able to get lefties out since returning from the DL last month.

Of course, any role for Jimenez in the bullpen would more closely resemble what Worley currently does, but how much longer can the Orioles continue to carry Matusz — despite his $3.9 million salary for 2016 — if he’s not going to begin showing signs of turning his season around? He’s made just four appearances this month and lefty bats have gone 5-for-11 with a home run, a double, and five walks against him this season.

The Orioles would clearly like to have an effective lefty specialist in their bullpen, but right-handers Brad Brach and Darren O’Day have performed well enough against lefty bats to help minimize that deficiency on the roster. Carrying Jimenez in the bullpen in place of Matusz would be far from ideal and likely only a temporary measure, but the first-place Orioles haven’t suffered too much without a viable lefty specialist through the first quarter of the season and could likely endure without one for a little longer.

What’s best for Baltimore would be for Jimenez to straighten himself out to pitch more like the guy who posted an impressive 2.81 ERA in the first half of 2015 and for Matusz to regain his form against tough lefty bats in the later innings, but time could be running out for both. Something will have to give sooner than later once Gallardo is ready to return to the rotation.

The pressure is on both Jimenez and Matusz to turn their fortunes around.

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