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Jimenez offers reminder why Orioles wanted him

Posted on 12 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Orioles place left-handed reliever Wright on DL

Posted on 11 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below are Saturday night’s lineups:

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

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

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

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

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A home opener to forget for the Orioles

Posted on 10 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Maybe rain would have been better for the Orioles, after all.

Despite a threatening weather forecast that never came to fruition Friday, a dark cloud in the form of the Toronto Blue Jays ruined Baltimore’s home opener in a 12-5 final before 45,936 fans at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Battering starting pitcher Bud Norris and the bullpen for much of the afternoon, the Blue Jays handed the Orioles their worst defeat in a home opener since 1995. Baltimore hadn’t allowed 12 runs in its first home contest of a season since Milwaukee defeated the hapless 1988 Orioles in a 12-0 final to begin the infamous 21-game losing streak. The run total also matched the season high surrendered in any game by Orioles pitching last year.

At least nobody tripped running down the orange carpet during introductions?

Beyond the magnified nature and overreaction that can accompany the early days of a season, it was a single defeat, but one the Orioles would like to immediately forget.

One poor start for Norris wouldn’t be much cause for concern if it hadn’t followed a spring in which the right-hander posted a 9.26 ERA, allowed five home runs, and walked nine batters in just 11 2/3 innings in Grapefruit League play. Pushing the panic button would be premature, but it would be fair to at least consider Norris a person of interest along with the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez in monitoring the starting rotation in the early stages of the season.

Frequently missing the target provided by catcher Caleb Joseph, Norris allowed four extra-base hits, eight total hits, walked one, and hit a batter before being lifted with no outs in the fourth inning. Blue Jays hitters hit several balls hard and found a hole in the defense on a couple others, a trend that continued against the bullpen as Toronto finished with 16 hits, eight of them doubles.

“You can’t just look at the results,” said Norris, who labeled his day “frustrating” in allowing eight earned runs in front of the home crowd. “You have to look at other things — how you feel and all the rest. I got through the spring healthy, and that was a big one for me. The results were not great on paper, but that is just one side of the story. I’ve been a confident player and I have another opportunity in five days.”

As if a shaky effort from relievers Brad Brach, Jason Garcia, and Wesley Wright behind Norris weren’t enough, it was revealed after the game that Wright is dealing with a sore shoulder and neck and will be reevaluated on Saturday.

The pitching wasn’t alone in the misery as the Orioles lineup squandered two early opportunities to chip away at 4-1 and 5-1 deficits against Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle, who won his 200th career game on Friday. Everth Cabrera lined out to right to after Baltimore had loaded the bases with two outs in the second, and Delmon Young grounded into a double play with runners on the corners to end the third.

Even the Orioles’ offensive star of the game, Adam Jones, was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth with a 10-2 deficit. His first home run of the season and 4-for-4 performance were rare highlights in a disappointing day, but his mistake hurt with the Orioles needing baserunners to mount a huge comeback.

It was just one of those forgettable days for the Orioles, who dropped only their seventh home opener in 24 seasons at Camden Yards and their first since 2010.

Though Norris must stew over his performance in his 2015 debut, the Orioles can turn the page quickly knowing there are 158 games remaining with the next one coming Saturday night.

“I was happy for the fans that [the rain] held off and it wasn’t too uncomfortable for them,” said manager Buck Showalter in describing the atmosphere of the home opener. “Toronto probably made it uncomfortable for them, too.”

No, the predicted storms never came, but the Blue Jays certainly rained on the parade at Camden Yards.

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Showalter makes Orioles best bet in question-filled AL East

Posted on 06 April 2015 by Luke Jones

I’ll admit I don’t love this Orioles roster going into the 2015 season.

While fighting the thought that they may have missed their last best chance to go to the World Series last October, the Orioles lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller this offseason while making no sure-fire additions to replace their production. Yes, the payroll rose to just under $120 million to account for a laundry list of players receiving raises in arbitration, but that still doesn’t erase the feeling of it being an underwhelming winter.

Those factors alone make it easy to pick against the Orioles this year before you take a step back to examine the remaining roster.

Will the Orioles miss Cruz and Markakis? Absolutely, but will they miss them more than they might have yearned to have the injured Matt Wieters and Manny Machado last season while still managing to win 96 games? Will they ache for Cruz quite as badly if Chris Davis rebounds from a horrific campaign to look more like the slugger he was in 2012 or, better yet, 2013?

And while Miller found a lucrative contract in Yankee pinstripes, the rest of a pitching staff that finished third in the American League in ERA last season remains intact. So does a defense that’s been the best in baseball over the last three years and might be the biggest reason for the Orioles’ success.

If you’re not yet convinced, a look around the rest of the AL East might do it.

Boston? That’s one hell of a scary lineup, but four of their five starting pitchers posted an ERA above 4.00 last year and the bullpen headlined by ailing closer Koji Uehara is shaky at best.

Toronto will again hit the baseball with the additions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, but the bullpen is a major weakness and the loss of Marcus Stroman puts too much stress on veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle and three starters below the age of 25.

The Yankees? That roster would have scared you five years ago, but age and injuries will be their undoing as it was a year ago.

Tampa Bay will have a strong starting rotation if early-season injuries are overcome, but the Rays will struggle to score runs all year and the magic maneuvering of former manager Joe Maddon is now gone.

No, the Orioles won’t run away with the division, but there’s vulnerability anywhere you look. And that’s where the potential tiebreaker comes into play that will push Baltimore over the top.

Taking nothing away from Boston’s John Farrell and New York’s Joe Girardi for having won World Series rings with their respective clubs, but I’ll count on Buck Showalter to get the absolute most from his roster while hiding deficiencies better than any manager in the AL East.

For the last three years, the Orioles have thrived on overcoming adversity while relishing opportunities to prove their doubters wrong. Showalter and his players were already talking about many naysayers picking them to finish in last place weeks ago, even if those slights are more fabrication than reality.

The knee-jerk reaction in assessing the Orioles after an underwhelming offseason is to drop them substantially in the standings, but then you remember they clinched the division in mid-September and won the AL East by a whopping 12 games. That’s a lot of ground that the others in the division needed to make up.

The Red Sox appear to have emerged as the media favorite to win the AL East, but that didn’t stop 30 of ESPN’s experts from picking Baltimore to take the division compared to 36 forecasting Boston. A number of other national outlets are giving the Orioles plenty of respect as well, and even their bigger critics are generally picking them no worse than second or third.

After watching the Orioles average 91 wins per year while outperforming projections over the last three seasons, we should know better at this point. The questions that exist elsewhere in the AL East should only confirm the truth.

You don’t bet against Buck.

And even if I may not like the Orioles as much as last year, they will still be the best that the AL East has to offer in 2015.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what can’t go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2015 after we looked at what factors must go right on Thursday. In an effort to avoid being redundant in the wake of the first piece, I avoided the polar opposites of the factors already discussed.

1. The worm turns on the health of the pitching

In addition to recapturing the success from last season, Orioles pitching would desperately like to extend its run of good fortune in the health department as only four pitchers — Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez –visited the 15-day disabled list in 2014. Of those four, only Jimenez spent more than 18 days on the DL and there was plenty of external debate over the severity of his ankle injury as he was in the midst of a disappointing season.

Injuries are a part of the game and it’d be difficult for the Orioles to expect that same level of health, but you can only hope the baseball gods don’t decide to exact revenge in 2015. Baltimore was one of only 10 teams in the majors last year to have four pitchers make 25 or more starts while only two clubs — Kansas City and Washington — had five pitchers make 25 or more.

The odds are not in the Orioles’ favor to repeat last year’s injury-light run as any given club has a 65 percent likelihood of having two starters ailing at the same time at some point in a season, according to FanGraphs. That reality makes it clear why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was so hesitant to part with any of the club’s top six starters this winter.

While many focused on the misfortune of the injuries suffered by Wieters and Machado last season, the rotation and the bullpen were as healthy as you could have hoped for on the way to 96 wins.

2. Corner outfield spots become a wasteland

It’s been impossible to escape the lamenting over the departure of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason as the Orioles weren’t willing to invest the combined $101 million that the pair received elsewhere in free agency. The veterans accounted for a total of 207 starts at the corner outfield spots that others will need to assume in 2015.

No two individuals will be expected to fill their roles exclusively as some combination of Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Travis Snider, David Lough, and possibly Nolan Reimold will receive early opportunities. Even if you thought Cruz and Markakis were overpaid, the Orioles still need to account for the 116 extra-base hits the two produced last year.

Of course, the club can reasonably expect better offensive returns from the likes of Davis, Machado, Wieters, and J.J. Hardy at their respective positions, but there’s a lot of unknown that Showalter will be facing in trying to pull the right strings with a cast of unproven or flawed characters flanking center fielder Adam Jones.

The Orioles don’t necessarily need the overwhelming success of platoons resembling the best days of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke, but poor production from the corner outfield spots is a recipe for a lineup likely struggling to score runs.

3. Matt Wieters is a shell of his old self defensively

There was a reason why I didn’t include Wieters having a bounce-back year as one of the things that must happen for the Orioles. The truth is they proved they could win without him last season.

Make no mistake, the Orioles would benefit from a better offensive catcher than Caleb Joseph, but a more uncomfortable proposition might be a Wieters behind the plate who is a shell of what he used to be defensively. If Wieters is fully cleared, Showalter will immediately reinstall him as the starter, but that doesn’t guarantee his defense will warrant him being the overwhelming regular, potentially creating an awkward situation.

Last season, Joseph produced 1.5 defensive wins above replacement — a better mark than Wieters in either of his last two full seasons — and the Orioles allowed the eighth-lowest total of stolen bases in the majors. For a club that prides itself in controlling the opponent’s running game, Wieters’ defense is more important than his offense.

Yes, it’s important to have Wieters back, but him returning as a defensive liability while also remembering that his on-base plus slugging percentage steadily declined from 2011 through 2013 would be worrisome. With a small number of catchers having undergone Tommy John surgery at the major league level over the years, it’s impossible to truly know what to expect.

4. Injuries continue to zap J.J. Hardy of his power

A back injury that lingered for much of the 2014 season limited the three-time Gold Glove shortstop to just nine home runs and a .372 slugging percentage, which is what made the news of a shoulder injury last week disheartening for the 32-year-old.

Hardy isn’t expected to miss much time, but the Orioles are counting on him to be part of the equation to fill the power void left behind by Cruz. Before Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract last fall, the organization had to be expecting a return to power numbers similar to what he posted in his first three years in Baltimore.

Back and shoulder issues for a shortstop on the wrong side of 30 are worrisome, especially when you’re counting on Hardy to hit a few more out of the ballpark this season. His defense is his best asset, but the Orioles need more than that while paying him an average of just over $13 million per season over the next three years.

5. The underwhelming offseason and the reality of 11 pending free agents create a tight clubhouse

Several players made no secret about their disappointment in this past offseason in watching the departures of Markakis, Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller while seeing minimal additions for the 2015 season. Duquette has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but it’s human nature for veterans to be disappointed to see a longtime Oriole like Markakis depart.

On top of this, the club has 11 players currently slated to become free agents next offseason including position players such as Davis, Wieters, Pearce, De Aza, and Young and starting pitchers Norris and Wei-Yin Chen. That’s why many are viewing 2015 as the Orioles’ last chance to seriously contend for at least a couple years.

Showalter is as good as any manager in baseball in cultivating a loose clubhouse and strong player leadership remains despite Markakis’ departure, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if players might be too tight this season, especially if the club were to get off to a slow start.

And the memory of a disappointing four-game sweep in last year’s American League Championship Series could creep back into players’ psyche in the process.

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Five things that must go right for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 02 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what cannot go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that must go right for the Orioles in 2015:

1. Starting pitchers continue to outperform their metrics

It’s no secret that many statheads and projections haven’t liked the Orioles over the last three years and for good reason. They haven’t looked the part of other winners in the 21st century as they hit home runs but don’t get on base at a high rate and their pitching doesn’t rely on the strikeout, which is one of the most expensive commodities in the game.

But where the Orioles excelled in 2014 was a starting rotation that took advantage of an exceptional defense behind it. Starters didn’t strike many out (11th in the AL) and walked too many (fourth-most in the AL) — the intense struggles of Ubaldo Jimenez certainly skewed the latter ranking — but pitching coach Dave Wallace preaches to his pitchers to trust their defense, which they did with great success as the season progressed.

After the All-Star break, the Orioles posted a starter ERA of 2.98 after a 4.09 mark in the season’s first half. Their starter strikeout numbers even improved from 6.5 to 7.4 per nine innings pitched.

Many are predicting a market correction for the Orioles pitching after they ranked third in the AL in ERA but only 11th in fielding independent pitching (FIP), which eliminates factors a pitcher can’t control such as his defense. The good news is Baltimore starters figure to once again have Gold Glove-caliber fielders behind them.

The starting pitching continuing to find success is the single-most important factor needed for the Orioles to not only preserve the bullpen for the later months but to contend for another playoff berth.

2. Manny Machado takes a (healthy) step forward

The questions about Wieters’ health will likely linger for much of the season, but the Orioles proved they could win without their All-Star catcher last season and Caleb Joseph has shown an ability to handle himself well from a defensive standpoint. Machado possesses the highest upside of any player in a lineup needing to replace Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

He’s already proven himself to be a Gold Glove defensive player, but his 68 extra-base hits in his first full season in the majors as a 20-year-old suggest the sky is the limit in terms of offensive potential. You have to chalk up 2014 as a lost year considering he was still working his way back from the first knee injury and went down again when he was finally hitting his stride at the plate in the second half.

Unlike Wieters, Machado’s health hasn’t been an issue all spring as he’s running better than ever with two healthy knees and has benefited from his first full spring since 2013. Yes, you have to hold your breath that health won’t again become a concern, but there have been no reservations so far.

Beyond staying in the lineup, Machado taking a step forward with the bat would go a long way in quelling any concerns about Baltimore’s offensive potential. He doesn’t need to put up MVP-caliber numbers, but many facets of his game hint that it’s possible in the future if he can stay healthy.

3. Steve Pearce proves he isn’t a one-year wonder

In watching Cruz and Markakis depart via free agency, the Orioles are clearly counting on the best story of the 2014 season to provide a productive sequel in his first full year as a regular. Many spent the winter trying to explain Pearce’s breakthrough at age 31, with explanations ranging from better health and finally receiving an extended opportunity to improved swing mechanics and an uncanny ability to hammer pitches up in the zone.

Expecting a repeat of his .930 on-base plus slugging percentage from a year ago would be asking too much, but his patience alone makes him a good candidate to once again be productive and help fill in the gaps left behind by Cruz and Markakis. His versatility in being able to play good defense at first base as well as at the corner outfield spots is extremely valuable for Showalter over the course of a season.

You should never look into spring training stats too much, but five homers and a .951 OPS in the Grapefruit League indicate the former journeyman isn’t resting on the laurels of 2014.

4. Chris Davis looks more like the hitter he was in 2012 and 2013 than last year

No one expects Davis to hit 53 homers like he did two seasons ago, but the Orioles need much more than the .196 average and .704 OPS he provided last season.

The question has been asked over and over about how Baltimore will replace Cruz’s 40 homers from a year ago, and the truth is that Cruz himself was highly unlikely to do that again in 2015. Still, the Orioles need to make up that production with Davis having the opportunity to contribute a great deal to that puzzle.

The increased use of the shift isn’t going away, which won’t do any favors for his batting average moving forward, but Davis insists that the oblique injury he suffered last April hindered his power all season. The 29-year-old has talked about bunting on occasion to offset the shift, but his power returning to at least his 2012 level (33 homers and a .501 slugging percentage) is more valuable than obsessing too much over his batting average.

With free agency looming, will the real Davis emerge? The Orioles would benefit greatly if the guy from a couple years ago resurfaces.

5. Another diamond in the rough emerges this season

In 2012, it was Miguel Gonzalez and Nate McLouth. Last year, Pearce and Joseph provided contributions that no one would have predicted.

If the Orioles are to return to the postseason for the third time in four years, they will inevitably need an individual or two to come out of nowhere to pay dividends. It’s the reason why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette brings in so many minor-league free agents, journeymen, and players who make you say, “Who?” on a yearly basis.

Could it be former first-round pick Travis Snider building on a hot second half with Pittsburgh last year?

Is the returning Nolan Reimold finally going to stay healthy enough to contribute at some point this season?

Will Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia make the club and use his lively arm to become a better-than-expected contributor in the bullpen?

Does a strong finish to last season and a terrific spring carry over for Jimmy Paredes?

Or are we likely speculating about someone who isn’t yet with the organization?

It’s easy to laugh now at the aforementioned possibilities, but stranger things have already happened over the last few years.

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Orioles officially tab Tillman as Opening Day starter

Posted on 31 March 2015 by Luke Jones

What was a foregone conclusion all winter became official Tuesday with the Orioles naming right-handed pitcher Chris Tillman as their Opening Day starter.

The 26-year-old will take the ball against the Tampa Bay Rays next Monday to become the first Orioles pitcher to start consecutive openers since Jeremy Guthrie in 2008 and 2009. Tillman went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts spanning 207 1/3 innings last season to further solidify his standing as the staff ace.

His strong work also prompted manager Buck Showalter to start the 2013 All-Star selection in the opening game of the American League Division Series as well as Game 1 of the AL Championship Series last October. Tillman is just one of 12 pitchers in club history to start more than one season opener for the Orioles.

Showalter has already said that lefty Wei-Yin Chen and right-hander Miguel Gonzalez will receive starts in the opening series against the Rays.

Tillman will be opposed by Tampa Bay right-hander Chris Archer, who is replacing the injured Alex Cobb. Archer will be the first pitcher besides David Price or James Shields to start an opener for Tampa Bay since 2007.

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Hardy likely to begin season on 15-day disabled list

Posted on 30 March 2015 by Luke Jones

It appears the Orioles will be without a second former All-Star selection for Opening Day as shortstop J.J. Hardy is likely to go to the 15-day disabled list with a left shoulder injury.

A magnetic resonance angiogram Monday showed a subscapularis strain that is expected to keep the 32-year-old sidelined from baseball activities for 10 days, according to manager Buck Showalter. However, the injury is not expected to keep the three-time Gold Glove winner out for long as he could return shortly after his first day of eligibility on April 11.

The veteran infielder injured his left shoulder diving for a ground ball on Friday, but told reporters Monday morning that he was feeling much better and hoped to be ready for the season opener.

Hardy is the second starting position player who won’t be ready for the start of the year as it remains unclear when catcher Matt Wieters will be ready to return to action after he was shut down with right elbow tendinitis on March 18.

With Hardy unavailable for the start of the season, the Orioles will likely keep both Ryan Flaherty and Everth Cabrera on the 25-man roster as either would be an option to fill in at shortstop. It was previously believed that only one would have a spot on the roster to begin the season.

In 30 at-bats this spring, Hardy was hitting .233 with two doubles and three runs batted in.

 

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Projecting the 2015 Orioles roster to begin the season

Posted on 30 March 2015 by Luke Jones

(Edited: 8:30 a.m. Tuesday)

Only a couple 25-man roster spots remain up for grabs as the Orioles are a week away from Opening Day and the start of the 2015 season.

Manager Buck Showalter frequently warns against being fooled by a player’s performance in March, but a few individuals have made strong statements to help Baltimore defend its 2014 American League East title. As we’ve learned throughout the Showalter era, roster flexibility is a must, so it’s critical to remember which players have minor-league options that could impact their standing on the big-league roster at any given time.

Below is my final projection for how the 25-man roster comes together this week. The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number projected on the roster at that given position.

PITCHERS (12 with starting pitchers underlined)
IN: Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Wei-Yin Chen, Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Tommy Hunter, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bud Norris, Darren O’Day, Chris Tillman, Logan Verrett (Rule 5 pick), Wesley Wright
TRADED: Brian Matusz
DESIGNATED FOR ASSIGNMENT/OUTRIGHTED: Ryan Webb
OPTIONED: T.J. McFarland
SENT BACK TO ORIGINAL CLUB: Jason Garcia (Rule 5 pick)
Skinny: Since Showalter hinted at Gausman being used in relief last week, I’ll predict the Orioles send him to the bullpen, which is risky if you want him to be stretched out enough to move into the rotation if another starter falters. With Gausman in the pen, Webb will be designated for assignment and likely clear waivers because of his $2.75 million salary for 2015. Though they shouldn’t expect a big return, I’ll predict the Orioles finally pull the trigger on trading Matusz to clear payroll and to open another spot in the bullpen. As Rule 5 picks, Verrett and Garcia have created tough decisions as both have pitched well this spring. With Verrett being older and more polished, my guess is the Orioles will attempt to use him out of the bullpen if they can’t work out a trade with the New York Mets to keep him in the organization. However, it will be very difficult trying to carry him all year if the Orioles hope to use their trademark roster flexibility.

CATCHERS (2)
IN: Caleb Joseph, Ryan Lavarnway
DISABLED LIST: Matt Wieters
OPTIONED: Steve Clevenger (on roster for Opening Day only)
Skinny: Joseph will enter the season as the starting catcher with Wieters still on the mend from last year’s Tommy John surgery, but the battle for the backup job is down to Lavarnway and Clevenger after J.P. Arencibia was reassigned to minor-league camp on Monday. Clevenger would make more sense on the surface since he’s already on the 40-man roster, but my gut says the Orioles prefer Lavarnway’s defense and they’ll add him to the roster to back up Joseph until Wieters is ready to return.

INFIELDERS (6)
IN: Everth Cabrera, Chris Davis (suspended for Opening Day), Ryan Flaherty, Manny Machado, Jimmy Paredes, Jonathan Schoop
DISABLED LIST: J.J. Hardy
Skinny: The Orioles have mentioned on a number of occasions that the veteran Cabrera has a remaining option as they’ve attempted to make him a super utility player this spring, even putting him in the outfield. Before Hardy’s injury to his left shoulder, it would have made sense to give Cabrera a few weeks to play all over the diamond at Triple-A Norfolk to get more comfortable defensively after spending most of his career at shortstop. Either way, Flaherty’s status as the primary utility man appears to be in jeopardy with Cabrera bringing some much-needed speed to the table. Entering Monday with a 1.069 on-base plus slugging percentage, Paredes has hit his way onto the roster despite his defensive limitations.

(Editor’s note: Hardy’s test results Monday revealed he would begin the season on the disabled list, which moved Cabrera to the 25-man roster in his place.)

OUTFIELDERS (5)
IN: Alejandro De Aza, Adam Jones, Steve Pearce, Travis Snider, Delmon Young
DISABLED LIST: David Lough
SENT TO TRIPLE-A NORFOLK: Nolan Reimold
Skinny: With Lough’s hamstring and back issues continuing to linger and the speedy outfielder on shaky roster footing anyway, it only makes sense for the Orioles to put him on the 15-day disabled list to begin the season as De Aza would be back up center field in a pinch. Entering Monday with a .413 on-base percentage this spring, Reimold has put himself back on the radar as a possible option in the outfield and will be one to watch closely at Norfolk in the coming weeks.

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Wieters remaining in Florida once season begins

Posted on 26 March 2015 by Luke Jones

It became clear last week that Matt Wieters wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day, but we learned Thursday that the Orioles catcher will remain in Florida once the regular season begins.

Speaking to reporters prior to Thursday’s spring game against the Detroit Tigers, manager Buck Showalter revealed that Wieters will return to Sarasota for extended spring training following Baltimore’s season-opening series against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. Wieters was shut down with elbow tendinitis a day after playing his first Grapefruit League game behind the plate on March 17.

Wieters continues to build strength in his right elbow after undergoing Tommy John surgery last June 17 and will be placed on the 15-day disabled list before the season begins. The Orioles had hoped that the 28-year-old would be ready for the opener, but they knew it would take perfect circumstances in order to happen.

Showalter said Wieters will play in extended spring games when he’s ready before eventually going on a rehab assignment with the combination of Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, which would allow the catcher to be based out of the Orioles clubhouse in Baltimore each day. It remains unclear when that will happen or when he is targeting a season debut.

Though different injuries and timetables, Wieters’ situation is reminiscent of how the Orioles handled third baseman Manny Machado coming back from his first knee surgery last spring when they pointed to Opening Day as a possibility for his return before backing off over the last couple weeks of spring training. Machado eventually made his 2014 season debut on May 1.

Wieters is expected to resume throwing on Saturday and could play in a minor-league spring game next week, according to Showalter.

The three-time All-Star catcher was hitless in 23 Grapefruit League at-bats while primarily serving as a designated hitter earlier this month.

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