Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

Cuban outfielder Urrutia joins Orioles to start second half

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Cuban outfielder Urrutia joins Orioles to start second half

Posted on 18 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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After three red-hot months in which Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia feasted on minor-league pitching, it appears the wait to see him in Baltimore is over.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Orioles will promote the 26-year-old outfielder after he completed a short stint with Triple-A Norfolk in which he hit .367 in 60 at-bats. This success and his .365 average that included seven home runs and 37 RBIs at Double-A Bowie were more than enough to persuade the Orioles to give him a chance to pump life into a stagnant designated hitter role.

This season, the Orioles have hit only .197 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs while posting an anemic .643 OPS (on-base plug slugging percentage) from the DH spot.

In addition to Urrutia, MASN reports Danny Valencia is also on his way to Texas as the Orioles begin their post-break schedule with a three-game set against the Rangers. The additions of both Urrutia and Valencia would appear to be bad news for Nolan Reimold, who has batted .195 and struck out 41 times in 140 plate appearances this season.

Reimold is out of options, meaning the Orioles’ only choice would be to designated him for assignment unless he is heading back to the disabled list. Since returning from the DL earlier this month, Reimold is just 6-for-27 with a homer, three RBIs, and 11 strikeouts.

Urrutia would likely serve as the left-handed DH with Valencia serving as a right-handed bat off the bench and potential DH against left-handed starters. Given the current construction of the Orioles bench that includes two second basemen behind Brian Roberts, Ryan Flaherty would be a logical option to be optioned to Triple-A Norfolk due to his sporadic playing time since Roberts’ return.

With the non-waiver trade deadline less than two weeks away, the Orioles need to see if Urrutia can provide the necessary production from the DH spot that they haven’t received all year, and the 26-year-old has certainly proven worthy of an opportunity after performing admirably at the two highest levels of minor-league ball.

Jurrjens chooses free agency after clearning waivers

As was anticipated last week, the Jair Jurrjens era has officially come to an end in Baltimore.

Despite clearing waivers and being outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk, the 27-year-old pitcher has instead elected to become a free agent. The right-hander was designated for assignment to make room for right-handed reliever Jairo Asencio on the 40-man roster after the former Norfolk closer was promoted to the active roster.

In two appearances with Baltimore this year, Jurrjens made one start and one relief appearance, posting a 4.91 ERA in 7 1/3 innings of work. He had an up-and-down season with Norfolk, going 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA in 16 starts.

“At his young age, I still wouldn’t close the door,” said Showalter, who initially expressed hope that Jurrjens would remain with Norfolk despite a crowded starting rotation that now includes Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman. “I think Jair still has a chance to pitch competitively up here. He’s shown periods down there. It’s just been inconsistent.”

With his fastball only in the mid-to-high 80s, Jurrjens’ velocity never improved to the level at which he had so much success in Atlanta. His 2011 All-Star selection must feel like a distant memory for a pitcher who passed through waivers after he was designated for assignment by the club on July 12. Of course, injuries and declining velocity can spell disaster for any pitcher in a very short period of time.

Ironically, it was just two winters ago that the Orioles engaged in trade talks with the Atlanta Braves that involved current center fielder Adam Jones, with Jurrjens often being mentioned as a prominent name in a potential deal. Now, Jones is in the midst of his third All-Star season and Jurrjens is looking for work after going unclaimed by the other 29 major league teams.

The Orioles and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette couldn’t have dodged a bigger bullet.

Schoop thriving in rehab stint

Infield prospect Jonathan Schoop is nearing his return to Triple-A Norfolk after hitting his second home run in six games for the Gulf Coast League Orioles. The 21-year-old Schoop is 7-for-18 with two homers, two doubles, seven RBIs, and four walks on his rehab assignment.

Schoop hasn’t played a game for the Tides since being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back in late May. Norfolk began its second-half action Thursday night in Charlotte.

While Schoop’s chances for a promotion to Baltimore during the 2013 season were diminished greatly due to the injury, it will be interesting to see whether a strong rest of the season would put him in line for an opportunity to win the starting second baseman job to begin the 2014 season.

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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

Posted on 16 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Standing at 53-43 and sending five representatives to Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, the Orioles had quite the memorable first 3 1/2 months of the season filled with plenty of highs and also some lows.

Before manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles get back to business in Texas on Friday, I’ve composed my list of All-Star break awards. Some are more serious than others, but there was plenty to remember over the first 96 games of the 2013 season.

Most Valuable Player: Chris Davis
Skinny: Manny Machado deserves more consideration here than most will give him if you take his remarkable defense into account, but the Orioles first baseman is on pace to break franchise records for RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS, extra-base hits, and total bases as well as surpass the American League home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. Who else could it really be?

Best Starting Pitcher: Miguel Gonzalez
Skinny: Chris Tillman received the All-Star nod, but Gonzalez has been the Orioles’ best starter, especially since posting a 2.88 earned run average in his last 10 starts upon returning from a May stint on the 15-day disabled list. The 29-year-old posted seven straight quality starts heading into the All-Star break and his 3.48 ERA is the best in the starting rotation.

Best Relief Pitcher: Tommy Hunter
Skinny: Darren O’Day earned consideration here, but Hunter’s ability to pitch more than one inning has saved the bullpen numerous times. With Luis Ayala traded early in the season and Pedro Strop unable to bounce back from his late-season struggles from a year ago, the Orioles would have been in major trouble with their bullpen without Hunter’s 2.41 ERA and 52 1/3 innings of work.

Biggest Surprise: Manny Machado
Skinny: With Davis taking aim at the record books, it’s difficult not to give him the nod here, but I would have predicted Davis to be more likely for a breakout season than Machado, who just celebrated his 21st birthday less than two weeks ago. We now see the third baseman as a doubles machine with a shot at the single-season record, but many thought Showalter had gotten too much Florida sun when he put the unproven Machado in the No. 2 lineup spot at the start of the season.

Biggest Disappointment: Jason Hammel
Skinny: The Opening Day starter was counted on to be the de facto ace and has instead looked like the weak link in the current starting rotation. His 5.24 ERA is worse than his career mark, but most of his other numbers align closely with his career statistics prior to his arrival in Baltimore last season.

Most Overrated Performer: Nick Markakis
Skinny: The Orioles right fielder was close to being voted into the All-Star Game, but he is on pace for career lows in batting average and OPS and has become more of a singles hitter in recent years except for his 2012 injury-plagued campaign. Markakis is still a good player, but the clamoring for his inclusion in the Midsummer Classic was more about his popularity and less about his production. Many will argue that catcher Matt Wieters deserves this distinction, but few tried to say he was deserving of All-Star honors with his poor offensive output this season.

Most Underrated Performer: Nate McLouth
Skinny: Even McLouth’s biggest supporters had to wonder if the second-half success he enjoyed last season was a fluke, but the left fielder continues to be a spark plug at the top of the order and on the base paths with a team-leading 24 stolen bases. He doesn’t do anything that blows you away, but McLouth makes a substantial contribution just about every night, whether it shows up in the box score or not.

Most Improved Player: Ryan Flaherty
Skinny: The second baseman hit .133 in his first 102 plate appearances before being demoted to Triple-A Norfolk and has batted .300 in 94 plate appearances since being recalled at the end of May. The simple fact that many are clamoring for Flaherty to play over veteran Brian Roberts says all you need to know about his improvement since the start of the season.

Biggest Injury: Wei-Yin Chen’s strained right oblique
Skinny: The Taiwanese lefty went down with the injury in mid-May, leaving a major hole in the rotation for nearly two months. Ironically, the long layoff may pay off in the long run for Chen, who tired down the stretch last year and should now feel strong for the remainder of the season after less wear and tear on his pitching arm.

Most Important Win: A 2-1 victory over the Yankees thanks to Adam Jones’ homer off Mariano Rivera on July 7
Skinny: Even Showalter downplayed the significance of the dramatic victory in early July, but the Orioles were on the verge of dropping their third straight one-run game to New York to complete a 1-5 road trip before Jones tagged the greatest closer of all time for his first blown save at Yankee Stadium since 2010.

Most Disappointing Loss: Jim Johnson’s meltdown in Toronto on May 26
Skinny: The Orioles sent Johnson to the mound with a 5-2 lead and needed only three outs to take three of four from the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. A double, two singles, a walk, and a Munenori Kawasaki double later, the closer had blown his fourth save in his last five chances and the Orioles had suffered a stunning 6-5 loss on a Sunday afternoon.

Most Exciting Moment: Chris Dickerson’s walk-off homer against the Tigers on May 31
Skinny: All-Star Game starter Max Scherzer had pitched brilliantly for eight innings before Detroit manager Jim Leyland turned the game over to Jose Valverde with a 5-3 lead in the ninth. Before an electric crowd of over 46,000, the Orioles staged a rally as Markakis hit a homer to lead off the inning and the part-time player Dickerson hammered a three-run blast into the right-center bleachers for one of the most exciting regular-season moments in Camden Yards history.

The Kevin Gregg-Michael Gonzalez Fireman Award: Pedro Strop
Skinny: The Orioles tried to stick with the volatile but talented Strop as long as they could, but you knew time was running short for the 28-year-old on June 29 when Showalter felt the need to warm up O’Day in his bullpen as the struggling reliever was working the ninth inning with an 11-3 lead over the Yankees. Sporting a 7.25 ERA in 29 appearances, Strop was dealt along with Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs a few days later in exchange for starting pitcher Scott Feldman.

The Justin Duchscherer “Yes, He Was an Oriole” Award: Mike Belfiore
Skinny: If you’re asking who Belfiore is, you’re probably not alone as the left-handed reliever has twice been recalled to the 25-man roster this season but hasn’t appeared in a game. Chances are good he’s near the top of the list of players currently on the 40-man roster who could be designated for assignment should the need for a roster spot arise, but Belfiore does have a 3.67 ERA for Triple-A Norfolk this season.

The Jack Cust Baserunning Award: Alexi Casilla’s ninth-inning blunder against the Red Sox
Skinny: Trying to rally against Boston closer Andrew Bailey on June 15, the Orioles sent the speedy Casilla into the game to run for J.J. Hardy at first base with one out. After Ryan Flaherty lined a ball sharply to right fielder Shane Victorino, Casilla was inexplicably standing on third base as he was doubled off first to end the game. The utility infielder said after the game he knew the number of outs and simply misread the ball off Flaherty’s bat, but the play may have gone down as the Orioles’ worst pinch-running debacle since Manny Alexander was picked off upon running for Cal Ripken in a 1996 game that then went into extra innings.

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Your Monday Reality Check: Don’t listen to those saying Orioles’ pitching bad

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Your Monday Reality Check: Don’t listen to those saying Orioles’ pitching bad

Posted on 15 July 2013 by Glenn Clark

During the course of Major League Baseball’s All-Star break, there will be plenty of stories written and plenty of analysis offered via radio/TV about the first half of the Baltimore Orioles’ season.

As you almost certainly already know, the Birds finished the first “half” of the season 53-43, 4.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East and 1.5 games behind the Texas Rangers in the race for the second AL Wild Card spot. The biggest headlines of the season thus far have surrounded Chris Davis’ 37 home runs, Manny Machado’s 39 doubles and Jim Johnson’s six blown saves.

But if the Baltimore Orioles want to make it a second consecutive trip to the postseason, the headlines in the second half of the season are going to have to be about something that hasn’t gotten much attention through the first 96 games of the season.

Spoiler alert. It’s the starting pitching.

Yes, the same starting pitching that has lead the Orioles to a 4.39 team ERA to this point…good for 28th in Major League Baseball.

It isn’t hard to pick apart why that number isn’t particularly relevant. Allow me the opportunity.

Eliminating pitchers who barely appeared for the Orioles this season (does anyone even remember Alex Burnett), a number of pitchers posted legitimate innings and soaked up miserable ERA’s.

For example, Pedro Strop pitched 22.1 innings for the O’s and posted a 7.25 ERA. He’s gone. Jake Arrieta pitched over 23 innings in Orange and Black this season and posted a 7.23 ERA. For his trouble, Arrieta was dealt with Strop to the Chicago Cubs Kevin Gausman has pitched 33.1 innings at the major league level this season, tallying a 6.21 ERA in the process. He’s currently pitching for the Norfolk Tides. “Sweaty” Freddy Garcia? 5.77 ERA in 53 innings. The veteran is currently riding buses with Gausman in Norfolk himself. Zach Britton managed a 4.76 ERA over 34 IP before returning to the Tides as well.

Of the current Orioles, only one has a miserable ERA in legitimate innings-Jason Hammel with a 5.24 ERA in 111.2. But even taking Hammel’s numbers into consideration-the current group of Orioles pitchers has posted an incredible combined ERA. If you consider a third of an inning to be .333, the current group of twelve pitchers has pitched a combined 658.53 innings this season. In those innings, they’ve allowed a total of 277 combined earned runs. That would be good for a group ERA of 3.78, which would be tenth best in all of baseball. If you were to subtract Hammel’s gaudy numbers, the ERA for the rest of the 11 would be 3.48-which would be best in the American League.

(I hope Mr. Radcliffe will be proud of all of my math.)

Clearly I’m doing a bit of fuzzy math here. Not all 12 pitchers are going to be the exact group of pitchers the Birds use the rest of the way. Gausman in particular is likely to return, with Garcia, Britton and Steve Johnson being likely options to see time in the second half of the season as well. Tsuyoshi Wada may have to be a consideration for GM Dan Duquette again after the All-Star Break. Of the 12 pitchers included in the math, Scott Feldman made just three starts (including an excellent outing Sunday) since being acquired from the Cubs and Jairo Asencio appeared in only one game (one inning) since being called up Friday night.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Hammel not answering call in Orioles rotation

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Hammel not answering call in Orioles rotation

Posted on 13 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter expressed confidence that Jason Hammel’s best games still lie ahead in the second half after Saturday’s 7-3 loss to Toronto.

And it’s a good thing too, because the struggling starting pitcher didn’t sound like he had much in himself after allowing six earned runs in six-plus innings to the Blue Jays. After plunking No. 9 hitter Emilio Bonifacio and walking Jose Reyes to begin the seventh inning, Hammel was lifted by Showalter to watch those runners eventually score, raising his earned run average to 5.24 on the season.

“I hate seeing him come out every time in the seventh inning when we’ve had a lead and I’ve given it back,” said Hammel, referring to the 3-2 lead he relinquished an inning earlier by giving up four straight singles with two outs. “I’ve got to hand the ball over to him and today was no different. I was very frustrated, actually kind of spiked it into his hand. I was a little [ticked] off. It’s frustrating.”

Winless since May 27 and unable to build on three straight quality starts from Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman heading into Saturday, Hammel appears to be the weakest link in the rotation despite receiving the Opening Day start less than four months ago. He fell to 7-6 on the season and now has a 6.65 ERA in eight home starts (46 innings) this season. Only two of those have been quality starts as his frustration boiled over following Saturday’s loss.

His 2012 first half in which he was an American League finalist for the All-Star Game’s final fan vote must feel like a distant memory for the 30-year-old right-hander, who’s status in the starting rotation has to be in question for the second half. The heavy-hitting Blue Jays were all over him early, evident by Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run homer in the first inning. To Hammel’s credit, he rebounded to throw four straight scoreless frames before once again running into trouble at the end of the day.

“Unacceptable. Far too many baserunners, getting behind hitters,” Hammel said. “[That's a] fastball-hitting club that I’m feeding fastballs. It’s easy to hit when you know what is coming. I’m not throwing sliders for strikes, not throwing curveballs where I want them. Changeup is nonexistent. I’m beating myself right now.”

The biggest downfall for Hammel in 2013 has been his inability to duplicate the success he enjoyed with his two-seam fastball a year ago when he was able to frequently induce grounders and mix in his breaking stuff to overpower hitters. In 20 starts in 2012 — Hammel missed most of the second half after undergoing right knee surgery in July — he went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA and posted career bests with 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.24 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).

Those numbers prompted Showalter to give Hammel the ball in Game 1 of the American League Division Series despite the fact that he made only three regular-season starts after the All-Star break. Showalter hoped Hammel would be their de facto ace in 2013 by awarding him the start on Opening Day, but he hasn’t looked the part sans a handful of outings this season.

Without the two-seamer being a consistent factor this year, Hammel’s pitches have been consistently up in the zone as he’s allowed 19 home runs in his 19 starts this season, just two shy of his career-worst total of 21 in 2011.

“He’s pitched some good games. You can go back through that,” Showalter said. “There are some things that didn’t work out. But I think it bodes well for the rest of the season because he’s capable of better and I think his best games are ahead of him.”

As much as the Orioles hoped last season was a renaissance for Hammel after underwhelming runs with Tampa Bay and Colorado, his numbers this season are more reflective of his pre-2012 statistics when he occasionally bounced back and forth between the starting rotation and bullpen with his former clubs. His current ERA and home run totals are higher than his career numbers (4.80 ERA and 1.5 homers per nine innings entering Saturday), but his current WHIP (1.44) and strikeouts per nine innings (6.3) are nearly identical to his career numbers (1.43 and 6.6).

Much to the organization’s chagrin after failing to acquire a veteran starting pitcher in the offseason, it appears Hammel’s 2012 season was the outlier and his performance this season is simply returning to the norm. That revelation makes it no easier for any of the involved parties, however, in the midst of a pennant race.

“This first half, honestly, is unacceptable for me,” said Hammel, who plans to get away from baseball over the All-Star break to clear his mind and believes he’s been trying too hard to make adjustments between starts. “I’m better than this and it’s on my shoulders. It’s on nobody else. It’s fixable. It’s just I’ve got to get out of my own way.”

Hammel doesn’t appear to be in immediate danger of losing his spot in the rotation, but beyond the top three of Gonzalez, Chen, and Tillman, the Orioles must find more consistency from the back end of the rotation, which includes the newly-acquired Scott Feldman. Otherwise, Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette will have no choice but to revisit the possibility of rookie Kevin Gausman or another option such as Steve Johnson receiving another shot while continuing to explore the possibility of another trade.

The timing of Hammel’s struggles couldn’t be worse for him personally as he is scheduled to become a free agent after the season. While some encouraged the Orioles to sign Hammel to an extension last winter, his future with the organization beyond the next few months now appears in doubt due to his performance this season.

For now, the Orioles continue to express confidence in Hammel, who threw first-pitch strikes to just 13 of the 28 hitters he faced in Saturday’s loss. But that confidence can only go so far in the second half in a very tight AL East race.

“I think it’s just you’ve got to get ahead of guys,” said first baseman Chris Davis, who clubbed his major league-leading 36th home run of the year Saturday. “I think Ham is obviously a guy who has really good stuff if he can go out there and get ahead of guys. If you put the [count in his favor], I think he’s successful.”

The Orioles keep waiting — perhaps only hoping at this point? — for last year’s Hammel to suddenly appear. But after 19 starts of results more closely mirroring the rest of his career, you wonder how much longer they can wait before looking elsewhere.

Even Hammel acknowledged as much on Saturday.

“I know these guys are pulling for me,” Hammel said. “I do believe the best days are ahead, but it’s got to happen fast if we want to make this a championship season. I’m a big part of it and I have to get it right.”

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Orioles taking look at Norfolk closer Asencio for bullpen

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Orioles taking look at Norfolk closer Asencio for bullpen

Posted on 12 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — With the need for additional long reliever Josh Stinson passing, the Orioles decided it was time to take a look at Triple-A Norfolk closer Jairo Asencio to see if he can be a piece in the second-half bullpen.

After optioning Stinson to the Tides following Thursday’s 3-1 win, the Orioles selected the right-hander’s contract and designated right-handed pitcher Jair Jurrjens for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. Asencio is no stranger to the big leagues after appearing in 39 games split among Atlanta (2009, 2011), Cleveland (2012), and the Chicago Cubs (2012), posting a 1-2 record with a 5.23 earned run average in 53 1/3 innings.

The 30-year-old Asencio was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in late March and assigned to the Tides where he’s saved 20 games to lead the International League to go along with his 4-0 mark and 2.15 ERA in 34 appearances (37 2/3 innings). He was named to the league’s All-Star Game and has struck out 41, walked seven, and made 27 scoreless appearances among the 34 games in which he’s pitched. He’s also held Triple-A hitters to a .174 average in the process.

“Asencio has been pitching well all year down there and we want to get a look at him and get a feel for what we have there before the end of the month,” said manager Buck Showalter, referring to the July 31 trade deadline. “Let’s make sure there’s something we’re going to need there that he can’t provide from within.”

The journeyman reliever features four-seam and two-seam fastballs that sit in the low 90s, a changeup that he uses frequently, and a slider.

It’s likely that the organization would like to see if he can fill the bullpen spot vacated by Pedro Strop, who was traded to the Cubs earlier in the month. Asencio acknowledged that while he’s pitched well at the Triple-A level, it doesn’t mean it will automatically translate to success in the majors, evident by his underwhelming results with three different clubs in the majors.

“I like the way [Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and pitching coach Mike Griffin] describe what he’s doing and the repertoire that has the potential to play up here,” Showalter said. “We’ll see. We’ve got some people here who know him from before.”

Jurrjens odd man out

After much effort to work out a minor-league deal in the winter and optimism that he’d regain his 2011 National League All-Star form, the Orioles designated Jurrjens for assignment, a move that may lead to his departure from the organization.

In two stints in Baltimore this year, Jurrjens made one start and one relief appearance, posting a 4.91 ERA in 7 1/3 innings of work. The 27-year-old has had an up-and-down season with Norfolk, going 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA in 16 starts while his velocity hasn’t improved to the level at which he had so much success in Atlanta.

Jurrjens has dealt with several physical ailments over the last couple years, including a knee injury that delayed his signing this past offseason.

“He could end up back with us,” said Showalter, referring the possibility of Jurrjens not being traded and clearing waivers. “I think we’ve got seven starters down there now. At his young age, I still wouldn’t close the door. I think Jair still has a chance to pitch competitively up here. He’s shown periods down there. It’s just been inconsistent.”

The Orioles will now have 10 days to either trade Jurrjens or see whether he would pass through waivers, allowing the club to outright him to Norfolk while keeping him off the 40-man roster.

Roberts leading off

A night after hitting his first home run at Camden Yards since 2011, second baseman Brian Roberts found himself back in his longtime leadoff spot for the first time since July 1 of last season.

Facing Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle, Roberts was moved to the top spot in the order in part due to his strong numbers against the veteran pitcher. In 43 career at-bats, Roberts is hitting .302 with one home run and three RBIs. The move allowed Showalter to keep right fielder Nick Markakis in the No. 3 spot — where he typically only bats against right-handers — where the club might be able to take better advantage of his .419 career average that includes two homers and five RBIs off Buehrle.

The fact that Toronto also features four left-handers and four right-handers in their bullpen also factored into the decision, according to Showalter. However, the Orioles manager isn’t committing to it being a permanent change against left-handed starters.

“[Bench coach] John Russell and I came down to a couple [lineups], like we do every day, and that one had the best feel to it,” Showalter said. “And he’s done it before. It’s not some new territory for him. It’s a better fit for us tonight. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Dickerson continuing to feel better

Reserve outfielder Chris Dickerson continues to improve after suffering a strained left shoulder in batting practice on Wednesday and planned to throw and swing the bat in the cage on Friday.

The Orioles do not expect a trip to the disabled list for the 31-year-old, especially with the four-day All-Star break arriving at the end of the weekend.

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Red-hot Urrutia continues to impress at Triple-A Norfolk

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Red-hot Urrutia continues to impress at Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 11 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — With Dylan Bundy recently undergoing Tommy John surgery and Kevin Gausman just optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, there isn’t a player in the Orioles system garnering more attention than Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia at the moment.

So it came as no surprise when Orioles outfielder Chris Dickerson was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup with a strained left shoulder that many began wondering if the 26-year-old Urrutia could be on his way to Baltimore. The veteran Dickerson was feeling better on Thursday, decreasing the likelihood of a trip to the 15-day disabled list, but it’s appearing more like a question of when and not if Urrutia will make his major league debut this season.

Even manager Buck Showalter jokingly asked prior to Thursday’s game what was wrong with the left-handed hitter after collecting only one hit in the Tides’ loss to Gwinnett earlier in the day. Urrutia was 5-for-5 on Wednesday and is now hitting .357 in 56 at-bats for Norfolk after hitting .365 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs in 200 at-bats for Double-A Bowie prior to his late-June promotion.

With the Orioles unable to find any consistent production at the designated hitter spot through the first half of the season, Urrutia would appear to be moving closer to consideration for an opportunity in Baltimore. At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, he remains awkward in the outfield despite his improvement, but his bat is what has many salivating over.

Urrutia will play for the World Team in Sunday’s Futures Game at Citi Field as part of next week’s All-Star Game festivities in New York.

“I think he’s getting closer to being an option. He’s certainly done his part,” Showalter said. “The thing that I’ve been happy to hear about is his defensive play has been good. He’s one of those type of guys that takes up a lot of the batter’s box when he puts his body in it. [Norfolk manager Ron Johnson] said he’s kind of one of those guys you expect to get a hit.”

Urrutia defected from Cuba to Haiti in 2011 before being signed by the Orioles last year to a contract that included a $778,500 bonus. He finally obtained a work visa late in spring training before eventually reporting to Bowie in April and he’s been hitting ever since.

His performance has been even more impressive when you consider the long layoff he experienced from competitive baseball due to his struggles in escaping his home country. Urrutia’s initial attempt to defect from Cuba was unsuccessful, which drew him a suspension for their 2011 season before he was finally able to exit the country later that year.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and Showalter weren’t exactly sure what kind of condition Urrutia would be in when he reported to Sarasota earlier this year, but they knew they had a major-league caliber talent on their hands upon finally seeing him.

“He’s had a lot thrown at him this year that’s new in his life,” Showalter said. “Starting from getting out of Haiti to getting here and getting acclimated to America and a lot of different things we take for granted. It’s been a long, patient road for him.”

Though not projected to have the same home-run power of other recent Cuban defectors such as Yoenis Cespedes or Yasiel Puig, Urrutia displayed good gap power with the Baysox, collecting 16 doubles to go along with his seven homers. In his brief time with Norfolk, Urrutia has four doubles and a triple but has yet to connect for his first Triple-A home run.

If he can even come close to replicating his production between the two levels at the big-league level, the Orioles may have a solution to their season-long problem at the DH spot sooner rather than later.

“He hits a lot of sharp, topspin groundballs kind of skidding the other way too,” Showalter said. “He’s swinging [the bat] well. I’m proud of him.”

NOTES: Dickerson was examined by team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens prior to Thursday’s game and received an injection in his left shoulder, but Showalter anticipated the reserve outfielder being available to contribute over the weekend. … Right-handed pitcher Steve Johnson threw live batting practice in Sarasota on Thursday and could next pitch in a sim game in his recovery from a strained left oblique that’s kept him on the DL since June 6. … Infield prospect Jonathan Schoop played in his first minor-league rehab game with the Gulf Coast League Orioles on Thursday, going 0-for-2 with a walk before being lifted in the seventh inning. He is expected to play rehab games there for the next week or so before rejoining Norfolk’s roster. … Zach Britton will start on Sunday for the Tides with Kevin Gausman scheduled to pitch in relief after him. The two were optioned to Norfolk following Tuesday’s loss to the Rangers. … Asked how rare it was to have three All-Star starters (Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and J.J. Hardy) who were acquired via trades, Showalter offered the line of the day in acknowledging the club’s fourth All-Star representative Manny Machado: “Manny was kind of a trade too. We traded our season the year before to be able to draft him.” Of course, the 2009 Orioles went 64-98, putting the organization in position to draft Machado with the third overall pick of the 2010 draft.

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Chen to make long-awaited return on Wednesday

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Chen to make long-awaited return on Wednesday

Posted on 08 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — After nearly a two-month absence, left-handed pitcher Wei-Yin Chen is scheduled to make his much-awaited return to the Orioles on Wednesday.

Prior to the start of this week’s four-game series with the Texas Rangers, manager Buck Showalter confirmed that the Taiwanese southpaw will make his first start since May 12 after a pair of minor-league rehab starts with Double-A Bowie. Chen threw seven shutout innings against Harrisburgh on July 4, meaning he could have returned on normal rest for Tuesday’s game.

Instead, Showalter has elected to give lefty Zach Britton the start on Tuesday, essentially meaning the Orioles will use a six-man rotation until the All-Star break.

“Trying to give everybody a little extra rest,” Showalter said. “We can make some adjustments depending on what we do with our bullpen. We don’t want guys to get too far away but not get the benefit. Because of the four days, it allows us to do whatever we want to do post-break. Everybody will have had enough rest to put them in the mix.”

The Orioles could elect to option Britton to Triple-A Norfolk following his Tuesday start to make room for Chen on the 25-man roster. Such a move would allow Britton to stay on regular rest over the All-Star break as the Orioles did with Chris Tillman last season. However, last week’s trade for Scott Feldman and Chen’s return likely mean Britton will be the odd man out when it comes to the current rotation.

Rookie right-hander Kevin Gausman may be another candidate for such a minor-league stint over the break as he’s currently pitching out of the bullpen. The 2012 first-round pick has essentially taken over the spot previously occupied by Pedro Strop, but you have to wonder whether the 22-year-old pitching infrequently in long relief is the best way to develop his skills.

For now, Showalter is taking advantage of the opportunity to give his starters an extra day of rest with the second half and the dog days of summer looming.

“That’s not going to be there shortly,” Showalter said. “Obviously, we’re not going to be able to carry six starters in the second half — if that’s what we’re calling the post-All-Star break. We can talk about for an hour the different factors that figured into it, but when it was all said and done, we thought it was pretty clear-cut.”

In other pitching-related news, the Orioles received a favorable report on Steve Johnson on Monday. The right-hander threw 35 pitches from a mound in Sarasota and appears to be inching closer to a rehab assignment.

Johnson would become another option for the bullpen when he’s able to return after the All-Star break.

Top infield prospect Jonathan Schoop is scheduled to begin his minor-league rehab assignment with short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Thursday. The 21-year-old hasn’t played since May 12 while recovering from a stress fracture in his lower back.

With the highlight of third baseman Manny Machado’s latest defensive gem on Sunday making the rounds via social media, Showalter was asked to recall his favorite defensive play of the many the 21-year-old has provided in less than a full season in the big leagues.

Showalter did describe one play that Machado made in spring training two years ago when he was still at shortstop but provided the ultimate quote that will excite Orioles fans while also tipping his cap to Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson and his superb defensive work in the 1970 World Series.

“I hope it’s yet to come,” said Showalter of Machado’s finest fielding moment. “I hope it’s that one where he catches the last out in the World Series. That’s the one I’m looking for. Kind of like another third baseman that was real good over there.”

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Your Monday Reality Check: “I hope his pants get caught and a bloodbath ensues!”

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Your Monday Reality Check: “I hope his pants get caught and a bloodbath ensues!”

Posted on 08 July 2013 by Glenn Clark

Coming off what I’m sure you all will agree was a well-earned week of vacation, I thought quite a bit about writing a lengthy piece about Jim Johnson and the Orioles’ closer situation. Despite Johnson’s 1-2-3 ninth inning in Baltimore’s 2-1 win Sunday over the New York Yankees, the situation remains quite fluid and will be followed closely in the coming weeks.

Although I will point this out from an appearance I made Sunday morning on the SiriusXM Fantasy Sports channel…

That happened at 8am Sunday. Call me “Glennstradamus”?

But I’m NOT writing about that. No…because while I was sitting at Chase Field in Phoenix Friday night watching the Arizona Diamondbacks play the Colorado Rockies I had a thought cross my mind. The thought was furthered during that appearance I made on the SXM Fantasy Channel Sunday morning.

That thought has everything in the world to do with the movie Mallrats. Or at least kinda.

Stick with me.

If you listen to “The Reality Check” (and since I’ve seen the ratings-I KNOW you do), you’ve probably heard me discuss the fact that in a previous life, I was obsessed with director Kevin Smith and his films. I embarrassingly admitted just a few weeks ago to Allen McCallum that I went to see the movie “Jersey Girl” in theaters THRICE with different young ladies. I’m not even remotely proud.

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Mallrats” (and if not, go ahead and take the rest of the day off to view it. In fact, I’m broadcasting at Ryleigh’s in Federal Hill Monday afternoon courtesy of Pinnacle Vodka. Just bring your laptop and I’ll bring a copy of the flick you can watch before you head over to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.), you’ll probably remember Jason Lee’s character Brodie and his sincere respect for all things related to his local shopping mall. One particular issue he has is with a small child who sits down on the escalator, ignoring the dangers of getting caught.

A few escalator rides in, Brodie’s fears play out as the child gets caught and is hurt. If you don’t mind a tiny bit of foul language, here’s a clip…

The take away phrase in that clip would be “that kid is back on the escalator again!”

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Orioles Ahead of 2012 Pace, In Position to Make Run after beating Rivera, Yankees

Posted on 07 July 2013 by danciarrocchi

The Orioles committed a rare feat on Sunday when Adam Jones hit the eventual game-winning home run off of Mariano Rivera to avoid a sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees. The big blast ended a streak of 41 straight saves at home for Rivera, and was just the second of 31 opportunities that the 43-year-old failed to convert this season.

It was a win that the Orioles earned by the skin of their teeth, and it was one they very much needed to have.

Though the Orioles improved to 49-40, the win came after dropping two of three from both the White Sox and Yankees over the past week. Had they dropped this one, they would have fallen to fourth place in the AL East despite a torrid start to the season.

Panic is obviously too strong a word to use, but there’s been some uneasiness in Baltimore in wake of quieted bats and bullpen woes. The bullpen has seen its share of issues late in games, and it had left fans calling for the head of closer Jim Johnson, though Johnson certainly bought himself a reprieve after getting ahead of Yankees hitters and shutting them down in one-two-three fashion in the ninth.

“That’s why you keep plugging,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said in an interview with MASN. “It’s a challenge. Things aren’t going well for you so you just keep grinding.”

Sunday’s win in dramatic fashion is encouraging, but the fact remains that the Orioles have cooled down. And if any of this sounds familiar, it should, but it’s not such a bad thing.

They’ve been here before.

In 2012, things didn’t look so different from today. Through the first 89 games, the Orioles were behind this year’s pace, sitting at 46-43 and with downward momentum. The team that had 13 previous losing seasons appeared to be regressing to the level of play that so many penned them in for once again.

But when the dog days of summer hit, so did the team. They began playing their best baseball at the point when the season starts taking its toll across the league. But the Orioles finished the year winning nearly two out of every three games after July 18.

And in 2013, they could do something similar. They have a power-packed lineup that can break out of a slump at any given moment, as well as a pitching staff that isn’t great, but good enough. They acquired pitcher Scott Feldman from the Cubs, who is an instant upgrade over Freddy Garcia, and it was a move that also jettisoned the struggling Pedro Strop out of Baltimore. Starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen was instrumental in the team’s previous success, and it appears he will be ready to rejoin the rotation next week.

Make no mistake, the AL East is far more competitive this year than a season ago with the Red Sox back in contention, Tampa Bay on the mend and the Yankees continuing to surprise the baseball world by winning despite injuries and droves of no-name players.  If the Orioles want to punch their ticket into the postseason again, they will likely need another run similar to what they pulled off in the dog days from a season ago.

“We were fortunate, and in some sticky conditions,” Showalter said. “I told them that these are the dog days, from now until the middle of August. And it’s going to be a challenge for everybody.”

And with gritty wins like Sunday’s, they showed no reason to assume they couldn’t do that again.

Baltimore’s Next Sports Media Superstar contestant Dan Ciarrocchi is an editor of Hogs Haven, an SB Nation website. He also contributes to the fantasy football section of Pro Football Focus and covered Towson University baseball for two years at The Towerlight.

Follow @PFF_Dan

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Nate McLouth

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Replacing Roberts: A Closer Look at the Combination of McLouth/Markakis at the Lead-off Spot

Posted on 06 July 2013 by benheck

It’s no secret that the lead-off man is one of the most important pieces to a baseball lineup, outside of the clean-up hitter. The lead-off man’s job is to get on base as often as possible, putting himself in position to score when the heart of the lineup comes to the plate. It’s also vital that the lead-off man possesses sufficient speed and base-running abilities.

The Baltimore Orioles have had a top-tier lead-off man in second baseman Brian Roberts for eight seasons before the now-35 year old’s career began to unravel due to injury.

Though he’s back in the line-up as designated hitter now, Roberts will never be what he once was for the Orioles. In his prime, Roberts would hit .300, score 100 runs, drive in 50 additional runs while stealing 40-50 bags and post a .370 on-base percentage. The two-time All-Star had a great glove at second to add on to his accomplishments with the cellar-dwelling Orioles in the mid-2000s.

Now that the Orioles are in playoff contention, Brian has struggled to consistently stay on the field and in the lineup. Thanks to a multitude of health issues over the past few seasons––including concussions and back problems––Roberts has played in a combined 123 games since the 2010 season.

Because of his health issues, the Orioles have struggled to find a viable replacement at the top of the batting order. Over the last four seasons, Baltimore has experimented with numerous different lead-off men, including but not limited to: Corey Patterson, Lou Montanez, Felix Pie, Adam Jones, Robert Andino, J.J. Hardy, Matt Angle, Nolan Reimold, Endy Chavez, Xavier Avery, Nick Markakis and Nate McLouth.

It wasn’t until last July 13 that the Orioles finally stuck with one player consistently in Roberts’ absence. Right fielder Nick Markakis, primarily a No. 3 hitter over his eight-year Major League Baseball career. At the top spot in the order for 54 consecutive games from July to the beginning of September, Baltimore posted a 33-21 record with Markakis posting a .335 average and .390 on-base percentage. In 246 plate appearances, Markakis scored 34 runs, drove in 28 more and posted a 20/14 BB-K ratio. Markakis didn’t steal any bases from the lead-off position, but did his job by getting on base and putting Baltimore in position to put runs on the board.

This all came just after returning from his first disabled list stint in his MLB career following surgery to remove part of the hamate bone in his right wrist. Unfortunately Baltimore was forced to switch lead-off batters once again when Markakis was lost for the season with a fractured thumb on September 8.

Manager Buck Showalter turned to another veteran to fill Markakis’ void in the lead-off slot, left fielder Nate McLouth.

Signed to a Minor League deal just a few months prior, McLouth was looking for one last chance at proving he still belongs in the majors. Buck didn’t hesitate to throw McLouth in there at lead-off following Markakis’ second injury, and it didn’t take long for him to get acclimated at the lead-off spot for the playoff-bound O’s. He started 22 of the final 23 games at left field, leading off, as the O’s posted a 15-8 record over that span.

Though his numbers didn’t quite compare to Markakis’ in 2012 as the lead-off man, McLouth’s bat and base-running down the stretch became a vital part in the postseason run. In six postseason games, McLouth hit .321 and stole three bases.

Heading into 2013, Showalter had a big decision to make: Markakis or McLouth? Who should get the coveted spot at the lead-off position? Being one of the most important spots in the line-up, right behind the clean-up spot, the decision could impact the team in the long run.

Instead of making a decision and sticking with it, Showalter has taken a bit of a different stance on the issue: sharing the lead-off spot between the two of them. Through July 5, Markakis has started 22 of his 85 games at lead-off (the rest of the time he hits third in the lineup) with McLouth hitting lead-off in 64 of his 76 games.

Though it’s not a 50/50 split, you’d still think it would be tough to switch up the line-up so often, rather than consistently sticking with one guy over the 162-game season. It could take away from the team chemistry in and around the clubhouse, and possibly effect the play of the two players.

Or so you’d think.

Instead, McLouth has become an even bigger piece to the 48-39 Baltimore squad, putting up a .289/.363/.411 line with a career-high 24 stolen bases. Overall this season, McLouth’s on-base percentage currently sits at .361, which is higher than he’s ever posted over his nine-year career with Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Baltimore.

Markakis is in the middle of a heated battle with Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista in the American League All-Star voting. Whether Markakis gets to take a trip to his first-career All-Star game this season or not will not take away from the success he’s had in 2013. After a rough season injury-wise in 2012, Markakis appears to be as healthy as ever over his 85 games. The left-handed 29-year old is hitting .291 with 52 runs and 43 runs batted in. Though his on-base percentage is rather low compared to the rest of his career (.339; his career OBP is .363), he’s elevated his game in the lead-off spot in the line-up.

Over his 22 starts and 102 plate appearances at the No. 1 spot in the Baltimore lineup, Markakis is hitting .351 with 12 runs and a .373 on-base percentage, which is well-above his career OBP. He hasn’t been stealing bases––in fact he hasn’t stolen a single one all season––but that’s the good thing about the lead-off spot: you don’t need to steal bases. Clearly Roberts did over his Baltimore career, including 50 in a single-season, but stolen bases from your lead-off man is just a bonus. What you need from the first batter is the ability to get on-base, run the bases cleanly and score runs.

That’s why McLouth has been such a commodity this season––he gets on-base, runs the bases superbly, including stealing 24 bags, and puts runs across the plate. Though it’s not what Roberts was in his prime, the combination of Markakis and McLouth at the No. 1 spot in the order has been refreshing and very effective for Buck’s Birds.

McLouth provides the walks and the speed on the base paths while Markakis provides Baltimore with the average and runs batted in. It can be a deadly combination, for teams to be forced to face two different lead-off men in the same series, especially given their different strengths.

It may not be quite the same as Roberts’ 2007 season in which he batted in 57, scored 103 runs, hit 42 two-baggers, stole 50 bases all while hitting .290 over his 156 games. But the McLouth/Markakis duo at the lead-off position is working for Baltimore, and has kept them alive in the hunt for the AL East division in 2012 and 2013 thus far.

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