Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

Gausman’s upside too good to pass up for Orioles rotation

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Gausman’s upside too good to pass up for Orioles rotation

Posted on 13 June 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter wasn’t ready to commit to a decision, but he had to know the truth following a series-opening 4-2 win over the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays.

Following a second straight quality start and an impressive six-inning performance over another first-place team, 23-year-old right-hander Kevin Gausman deserves to remain in the rotation — at least, for now. Sure, the details might be a little foggy at the moment with Miguel Gonzalez — who turned in four straight quality starts before suffering an oblique strain — slated to return from the 15-day disabled list early next week, but Gausman’s upside is too much to overlook as the Orioles closed the gap to 3 1/2 games in the AL East on Thursday night.

“He’s done what it takes to be considered,” Showalter said. “He’s taking care of his end of it. And the good news for us is we’ve got some other people capable of pitching well, too. … ‘Gaus’ has pitched well in his two outings. I hope he’s starting to grasp what it takes to consistently help this team win.”

Pitching well against average opponents is one thing, but Gausman held Oakland and Toronto — two of the best offenses in the major leagues — to two runs in 13 innings to earn his first two wins as a major league starter. After being selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft, Gausman is starting to provide major-league substance to go along with the sizzle of a high-90s fastball that caused many to project him as a future ace coming out of Louisiana State University.

Already possessing a plus fastball and an impressive split changeup, Gausman has credited the development of two additional pitches in his repertoire to make himself a more viable option as a major league starter. Those pitches have been on display in his two outings since replacing Gonzalez in the starting rotation last week.

“I didn’t throw a circle change until I got to the big leagues last year, and I think it’s one of my better pitches now,” said Gausman, who relied on the pitch even more than his splitter on Thursday night. “My slider has gotten better as the year has gone on. It’s tremendously better than last year.”

The problem for Showalter is figuring out exactly how to handle his starting rotation. He’s spent the last few days downplaying the discussion of a six-man rotation that started last week before the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by veteran Johan Santana, but that always remains a distinct possibility.

Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Bud Norris are currently pitching too well to remove from the rotation, and the Orioles remain hopeful that 2013 All-Star selection Chris Tillman will build on his most-recent start against Boston to eventually regain his form from the last two seasons. That leaves right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and the $50 million contract he signed during spring training.

His 5.01 ERA is the worst among the five starters as Jimenez is coming off his worst start of the season in a disastrous 11-1 loss to Oakland on Sunday. Of course, the Orioles should have known that Jimenez wasn’t a model of consistency when they signed him to a four-year deal but recognized his upside of being able to dominate when his unorthodox mechanics are in check.

Would the organization consider temporarily shifting him to the bullpen or attempt to find a physical concern to put him on the DL to give him time to revamp his mechanics? It’s difficult to say after the Orioles made the biggest long-term commitment to a pitcher in franchise history just a few months ago.

Still, the questions about how to accommodate Gausman should not overshadow what he could bring to the rotation over the final 3 1/2 months of the season as the Orioles try to advance to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. A simple assessment from one of the best hitters in a tough Athletics lineup told everything you need to know about the pitcher’s ability after he held Oakland to one run in seven innings last Saturday night.

That included a dominating sequence in which he struck out Josh Donaldson on an 85 mph splitter and Brandon Moss on a 99 mph fastball to leave runners stranded on second and third in the sixth. It was a big-boy performance in which a starter shows that rare ability to reach a new level late in an outing.

And it left one of the best offenses in the majors thoroughly impressed.

“I got to home plate in my first at-bat and I looked at [the catcher] and said, ‘How is that guy in Triple A?’” said Moss, who has 16 home runs and 53 runs batted in this season. “From what I understand, he’s had some command issues [in the past] and stuff like that. The way he pitched [Saturday] night was the best stuff we’ve seen all year.

“The first at-bat, you could tell he had [velocity], but you never know how that’s going to go. We can adapt to that. But the second and third at-bats, he started to mix in off-speed for strikes and balls and keeping it down. And then he had 99 in the tank when he had to hump up. You’re going to run into guys like that every now and then. We tried to battle.”

The Orioles must use a similar line of thinking with Gausman to what they did upon signing Jimenez to a four-year contract in focusing on the upside. The jury’s still out on whether the Jimenez contract will prove to be a wise one, but the goal of finding a pitcher who can dominate for important stretches of time — such as in a September pennant race or in a tight five- or seven-game series in October — should make it an easy decision to keep Gausman around for now.

If he regresses or proves incapable of building upon what he did against Oakland and Toronto, you can always send him back to Triple-A Norfolk. At the very least, Gausman deserves the chance to prove he doesn’t belong in the majors after these two starts that suggested the very opposite.

Perhaps he can be that missing piece that Showalter wasn’t necessarily depending on at the beginning of the season but will ultimately need. The Orioles manager would certainly take it if Gausman is ready to become that guy.

“Every team, to get where you want to get at the end of the season, the last team standing, if you look back at the characteristics of all of those teams, something that they weren’t particularly counting on appeared on the scene and was a big difference-maker. Kevin has the possibility of being that, but he’s going to need a lot of help.”

First, he needs the chance to do it.

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Machado 6-7

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Orioles Have Issues

Posted on 09 June 2014 by Tom Federline

A little over one-third of the way in and this current Oriole team is no playoff contender. At this stage in the game, it does not even look like either of the two wild cards are going to come out of the east division. Don’t get me started on the TWO (2) wild card teams and one game winner-take all scenario. That is bogus! For future (and from a past) blog – I say 142 game season (players salaries adjusted/decreased), season is from mid-April to mid-September, 3 division winners/ 1 wild card, 3 out of 5 Division series, 3 out of 5 Championship series, 4 out of 7 World Series. Season over by 2nd week of October. Ok enough, had to get that out there. Bottom line – O’s at current rate there will be no October ball anyway.

Oriole Issues - challenged starting pitching, questionable middle relief, no closer threat (yet), minimal clutch hitting, to many men left on base, increased errors, no catcher and lack of team discipline. All that and they are in second place of the American League East with a 31 – 30 record. To put in perspective -that is the 7th best record out of 15 teams in the American League and 14th out of 30, in both leagues. It is amazing they have been able to hold on as long as they have, considering the inflated pitching ERA and loss of their major signal caller and part backbone of the team (Wieters).

I see a team not focused. Next time you’re at the Yards, check out the dugout, during and in between innings. Buck-Buck does NOT have a handle on the boys. There should be a rule – ‘No one goes down the tunnel unless you are due up and require warm-ups for your at-bat. No buffet snacking during game. No video games. Just stay out of the tunnel and all it’s amenities.” Watch game, with teammates, on bench. That should not be tough requirement for the over-paid, spoiled, self-indulged roster players. Buck-Buck should remind them of their hourly rate.

I see a major bust in Jimenez. BTW – nice move Orioles magazine editor – putting Ubaldo-more on the cover of the first Oriole magazine this year. See blog from Opening Day – “Play Ball”.  One, maybe two decent games? He’s 2 -7 with a 5.01 ERA. Yeah, there’s a #2 starter for ya. “O” wait-a-minute, that’s right the weather has to warm up in order for him to perform at a comfortable level. Hmmm – seemed pretty warm to me for about a month now.

I saw a youngster breakdown and act his age this past weekend. Well, actually the over-paid, spoiled, self-indulged “star-in-the-making” acted more like a 10 year old. Team discipline? Manny-O-Manny, did you need your Mommy this weekend? Over -reaction on Friday night. Whined all weekend. Lackluster performance on his Bobblehead night annnnnnnnnd thennnnnnnn, yesterdays throwing of the bat. Fine him, suspend him, send him to his room with no snack before bed time. Maybe he was just miffed that they used a JJ Hardy look-a-like bobblehead instead of using the picture of himself he has hanging above his bed as the model.

Whatever the case, Machado still has some growing up to do. Ok, he’s still young, he will be 22 in July. Nope, not buying that one either. He needs a mentor. He needs a taste of Humble Pie.  He needs a butt kicking. He also needs to be put in the 6th hole and out of the #2 spot. He’s an inning killer. In particular, the first inning. Markakis is rolling at that top spot and it’s getting wasted. This is a case for Buck-Buck, Jones or Markakis to take control in the clubhouse. Actually, it’s a job for his parental units. Enough of that embarrassing situation.

The team appears in disarray at the moment. The boys holding this thing together are: Markakis, Jones, Cruuuuuz (until they pop him for juicy juice again) and Hardy. Pitching: Thank you Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Zach Britton – saving graces. Wieters being out – hurts offensively and defensively. The captain on the field is out and it shows. If the Orioles stay at current pace, it’s going to be a frustrating year. It’s time for Buck-Buck to “Whip It” – Devo. And whip it good! Get the boys back on track. How about one step at a time – just beat the Bosox!

D.I.Y.

Fedman

 

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Wieters to see Dr. Andrews next week after slow progress with elbow

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Wieters to see Dr. Andrews next week after slow progress with elbow

Posted on 09 June 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With Monday’s discussion centering around a potential suspension for third baseman Manny Machado, the Orioles received not-so-encouraging news regarding the future of catcher Matt Wieters.

Manager Buck Showalter confirmed the 28-year-old is expected to see renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews for a follow-up appointment next Monday to reevaluate the status of his sore right elbow. Wieters began a throwing progression on May 30 but is still experiencing discomfort in his elbow, which could result in him electing to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.

“He probably hasn’t as progressed as quickly as Matt had hoped it would, but it hasn’t been any setback or anything,” Showalter said. “I think he just wants to get from Dr. Andrews where he thinks he is and let him see it again. It wasn’t per se scheduled, but I think it’s something Matt would like to do just to make sure that he agrees with where he is and the way we’re proceeding.”

Wieters completed his latest throwing session on Monday, which was one of his best since he was cleared to throw. The Orioles have discussed July 1 as the point when a decision would need to be made about undergoing surgery to make sure the two-time All-Star catcher would be ready for the start of the 2015 season, the final year he is under team control before hitting free agency.

The Orioles placed Wieters on the 15-day disabled list on May 11 and hasn’t caught in a game since May 4. The trio of Caleb Joseph, Steve Clevenger, and the recently-acquired Nick Hundley have filled in behind the plate in Wieters’ absence.

“I’m still holding out hope that we get something accomplished and Dr. Andrews says, ‘This is so; let’s continue down this path,’” Showalter said. “It’s a date that would allow him to start the season next year. That’s really what it is. It doesn’t mean that he can’t continue down this road and not start the season on time next year. That’s a decision that he’s going to make, and we’re going to be supportive of it regardless.”

Wieters leads American League All-Star voting at the catcher position and was off to arguably the best offensive start of his career, hitting .308 with five home runs and 18 runs batted in.

Showalter remained optimistic on Monday, but the continued presence of pain is not a good sign as Wieters and the Orioles try to decide how to proceed. The Baltimore manager expected Wieters to continue his program of throwing every other day until his appointment with Dr. Andrews next Monday.

“He still has some discomfort, but nothing like he had,” Showalter said. “Matt was hoping it would have progressed a little more at this point. I think he wants to get Dr. Andrews’ opinion, and Dr. Andrews thinks that’s a good idea. He’s just going to go in and what they come out of that appointment with, let’s put it this way, I hope I see him [next] Tuesday.”

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I’m actually glad Machado snapped like a 6-year old yesterday

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I’m actually glad Machado snapped like a 6-year old yesterday

Posted on 09 June 2014 by Drew Forrester

Honestly, I’m glad Manny Machado flipped out in the 8th inning of yesterday’s clubbing administered by the Oakland A’s.

I was a little concerned — selfishly — that I might have opened a can of worms this morning when I bashed him for his silly tirade on Friday night when – GASP! – he was tagged out by A’s 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson.  I assumed a few folks in town would rally behind Machado when I chided him for being an over-sensitive wimp who was angry because Donaldson “tagged him too hard.”

Now you know why I was happy to see Machado go off the reservation yesterday.

There’s no defending him on that — and no defending him for Friday’s episode, either.

He obviously tried to throw his bat at the pitcher yesterday.  That came on the heels of the pitcher trying to hit him (or, at the very least, “send a message”) with the previous pitch.  All of that, I’ll remind you, was part of a Friday night debacle where Machado acted like a complete lunatic after Josh Donaldson tagged him out on a play near third base.  My guess is there was plenty of chirping going on throughout the three games — between both Machado and the A’s — and the A’s quietly said to themselves, “Well, if we can somehow get a 10-run lead on these guys at some point, we’ll deal with the whiz kid.”

Sadly, Machado is turning into the very player we DIDN’T want to see with one of our hotshot rookies.  He has apparently evolved into a cross between Bryce Harper (“I’m untouchable”) and Brett Lawrie (“If things don’t go my way, I just act like a jerk”).  That’s not good.

I have no idea what sort of relationship Buck Showalter has with Machado.  For all I know, Machado might completely march to the beat of his own drum and not listen to anyone, including his manager.  That said, Showalter has a great opportunity to do some real coaching now.  He can either protect his player or tell him the truth.  If he tells Machado the truth, he’s going to hurt his feelings.  But, truth be told, Machado embarrassed himself this weekend.  He embarrassed the organization, too.  And, in a weird way, he’s embarrassing Showalter, too.  If the skipper can’t get his wonder-boy under control, we’ll all be left to wonder if Showalter has any juice (no pun intended) in the clubhouse or is he just the old guy who fills out the lineup card?

All Showalter has to do is have the tough talk with him that no one in the organization is willing to do:  ”Manny, you’re acting like a punk, now.  You can’t spend the rest of your career getting pissed off every time something doesn’t go your way.”

Machado won’t like it.  But it’s the truth.

He’s embarrassing himself.

I assumed he was above that, being 21 years old and a superstar and all.

Apparently not.

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Orioles place Gonzalez on DL, summon Gausman to start on Saturday

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Orioles place Gonzalez on DL, summon Gausman to start on Saturday

Posted on 06 June 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After making it through the first two months of the season with their Opening Day rotation making all but one start, the Orioles placed starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right oblique on Friday.

Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman has been summoned to make the start against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday but will not be activated for the series opener. The Orioles also optioned right-handed relief pitcher Preston Guilmet to Triple-A Norfolk, recalled left-handed pitcher Tim Berry from Double-A Bowie, and selected the contract of right-handed pitcher Evan Meek from Triple-A Norfolk.

To make room for Meek on the 40-man roster, the Orioles transferred Rule 5 infielder Michael Almanzar (knee) to the 60-day disabled list.

Manager Buck Showalter expressed optimism that Gonzalez’s time on the disabled list will be minimal as he could begin a minor-league rehab assignment at Bowie or Single-A Frederick as early as the middle of next week, putting him in line to return as early as his first day of eligibility on June 15. Gonzalez expressed optimism on Friday afternoon that he would still be able to make Saturday’s start, but Showalter did not want to risk him going to the hill and experiencing an issue with the oblique strain, leaving the Orioles in a dangerous position with their bullpen.

“No one wants to be on the DL, but you’ve got to think about it in the long run,” Gonzalez said prior to the news becoming official. “You don’t want to go out there and hurt yourself and be out for 2 1/2 months and miss all that time. You don’t want to do that.”

Gonzalez’s stint on the DL is retroactive to May 31 as he started against the Houston Astros last Friday. The 30-year-old right-hander is 3-4 with a 4.17 earned run average in 58 1/3 innings this season and had registered four straight quality starts prior to waking up with pain in his right side earlier this week.

Gausman will be making his second start of the season for the Orioles after being tagged for five earned runs in four innings in a spot start against the Detroit Tigers on May 14. Showalter expressed hope that the 2012 first-round pick would make it difficult on the Orioles to decide on his fate once Gonzalez is ready to be activated later this month.

In 10 starts for Norfolk this season, Gausman is 1-3 with a 2.98 ERA and has struck out 44 batters and walked 18 in 42 1/3 innings.

Berry and Meek were summoned to provide extra help in the bullpen after starter Chris Tillman was knocked out in the second inning of Thursday’s 8-6 loss to the Texans Rangers. The Orioles would then option Berry back to Bowie to make room for Gausman to start on Saturday if all goes to plan.

A 50th-round pick in the 2009 draft, the 23-year-old Berry landed firmly on the Orioles’ prospect radar after a 3.85 ERA at Single-A Frederick last year and was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason. He is 3-3 with a 4.12 ERA in 11 starts for Bowie this season.

In other injury-related news, right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter (groin) will make a rehab appearance for Single-A Delmarva on Saturday and could be activated from the disabled list as early as Sunday.

During his outing in Sarasota on Friday, veteran left-handed pitcher Johan Santana was struck by a line drive and felt something in his Achilles tendon while trying to field the ball, causing him to leave the game. The 35-year-old was still being examined when Showalter met with local reporters on Friday afternoon.

Santana was expected to be assigned to a minor-league affiliate for his next outing as he is moving closer to an expected debut in Baltimore later this month, so it remains to be seen if those plans will now need to be altered.

 

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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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