Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Hardy day to day after undergoing MRI for left oblique issue

Posted on 02 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Missing from the Orioles lineup for a second straight night, J.J. Hardy underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam for a left oblique issue and is considered day to day.

Manager Buck Showalter said after Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to the Houston Astros that the results of the MRI were encouraging and Hardy would be reevaluated on Wednesday. The shortstop missed Monday’s game with what was described as left side soreness, but he acknowledged to reporters that he was concerned that it might be something that could sideline him for longer than a day or two.

Hardy missed 27 games due to a left oblique strain in his first season with the Orioles in 2011.

A frustrating season continues for Hardy after he missed the first 25 games due to a left shoulder injury suffered late in spring training. Lower back stiffness forced Hardy from a game on May 25, but the veteran infielder returned to the starting lineup the following night.

Needless to say, an injury-riddled start to 2015 is not what the Orioles envisioned when they signed Hardy to a three-year, $40 million contract extension last October. Only time will tell whether Baltimore was wise to give a 32-year-old shortstop with a history of having a cranky back a three-year contract.

Hardy is hitting .190 with two home runs and six RBIs in 87 plate appearances this season.

In other injury-related news, Adam Jones (left ankle) was back in center field for the Orioles on Tuesday after serving as the designated hitter on Monday. Jones missed two games with a mild sprain.

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Thoughts on Tillman’s struggles, Pearce, Jones

Posted on 01 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Even as Orioles pitching took a step forward with the second-best team ERA in the American League in the month of May, staff ace Chris Tillman has been unable to shake his early-season woes.

The 27-year-old allowed six runs (five earned) in 4 2/3 innings in Sunday’s 9-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, dropping his record to 2-7 with a 5.94 ERA after he went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA a year ago. Many have wondered if Tillman’s back spasms last month have continued to linger — he’s no stranger to needing to manage his cranky back over the last few years — but the 6-foot-5 hurler insisted again Sunday that he’s fine from a health standpoint.

If Tillman isn’t dealing with a physical issue, then what’s been different for the right-hander in 2015?

It’s important to note that early-season struggles plagued Tillman a year ago before he posted a 2.38 ERA over his final 21 regular-season starts of 2014. In his first 13 starts of the season, he pitched to a 5.20 ERA and had two different starts that lasted just one inning apiece before an impressive stretch of 20 consecutive starts in which he allowed three or fewer earned runs.

There’s plenty of time for a pitcher who’s posted 200-plus innings in consecutive seasons to turn it around, meaning the Orioles must remain patient for the time being.

Another factor that’s clearly been a concern in the first two months is Tillman’s rate of 4.8 walks per nine innings, his worst since averaging 5.2 free passes per nine in 2011. Both innings in which Tampa Bay scored multiple runs against Tillman on Sunday involved a critical two-out walk, one to .077 hitter Nick Franklin in the second inning and another to slugger Evan Longoria after the starter had struck out the first two hitters of the fifth.

Tillman walked only 2.9 batters per nine innings last year and 3.0 in 2013 when he was named to his first All-Star team.

Perhaps the most interesting change from 2014 to now is the absence of veteran catcher Nick Hundley, who departed via free agency in the offseason. Hundley caught 18 of Tillman’s career-high 34 starts last season with the pitcher posting a 2.78 ERA in those outings. In contrast, Tillman had an inflated 5.29 mark in the seven starts in which Caleb Joseph caught.

It’s neither an excuse for Tillman nor an indictment of Joseph — who’s more than proven his defensive capabilities behind the plate in the last two seasons — but could there simply be some chemistry issues between the two? That’s not to suggest a personal rift by any means, but many of us have experienced times in life when we haven’t necessarily worked best with certain individuals for whatever reason.

In fairness to Joseph, Tillman sports a 4.19 ERA with him behind the plate this season while the starter gave up 15 earned runs in three starts when now ex-Oriole Ryan Lavarnway was catching.

Asked late last season about the frequent pairing of Tillman and Hundley, manager Buck Showalter made it clear he was uneasy about pitchers having personal catchers because it can act as a crutch. Even if Tillman isn’t as comfortable with Joseph behind the plate as he was with Hundley, he’s not one to make excuses and needs to be able to adjust to someone who’s had plenty of success with the rest of the pitching staff.

The idea of certain pitchers having personal catchers is nothing new as Dennis Martinez famously preferred Dave Skaggs over Rick Dempsey years ago. In 1997, backup Lenny Webster caught 30 of Scott Erickson’s 34 starts when the sinkerballer enjoyed his best season in Baltimore.

Of course, Hundley isn’t walking through that Orioles clubhouse after signing a two-year, $6.5 million contract with Colorado in early January. But perhaps the return of Matt Wieters will help Tillman regroup as he pitched to a 3.41 ERA in 28 starts with the veteran catcher behind the plate for him in 2013.

As it stands now, Wieters is slated to catch his first game with the Orioles in Cleveland on Friday night.

That also happens to be the next date for Tillman’s regular turn in the rotation.

First-pitch Pearce

Arguably the most frustrating moment of Sunday’s loss came in the bottom of the fifth when Steve Pearce grounded out to shortstop with the bases loaded and the Orioles trailing 6-2 to the Rays.

What made it worse was that Pearce swung at the first pitch — a split-fingered fastball from Jake Odorizzi — after the previous two hitters had walked on a total of nine pitches. It continues a surprising trend for Pearce, who is hitting just .189 but has been known for being a patient hitter throughout his career.

The 32-year-old is swinging at the first pitch in 33.1 percent of his 2015 plate appearances despite a career 22.5 percent mark and only swinging at the first pitch 24.5 percent of the time in his career 2014 campaign. This has contributed to his walk rate falling from 10.4 percent last year to just 7.3 percent this season, which is below the major league average.

He does have two key home runs when swinging at the first pitch in recent weeks, but his .222 average when connecting on the first pitch — that’s not including the number of times in which he’s falling behind in the count when not putting the ball in play — makes you wonder if he needs to return to a more patient approach. This and a .195 batting average on balls put in play (his career mark in that department is .286) explain why Pearce hasn’t come close to matching his career-best .930 on-base plus slugging percentage from a year ago.

Showalter and the Orioles love Pearce’s work ethic and versatility and are trying to remain patient that his fortunes will turn around, but they need him to start producing soon as he was a key cog on which they were counting after a largely-inactive offseason.

As Jones goes, so do Orioles

It’s unfair to attribute the successes or struggles of any club to one player, but it’s difficult to completely ignore how the Baltimore offense has aligned with center fielder Adam Jones so far in 2015.

In April, Jones posted a remarkable .400 average and 1.147 OPS with five homers and 19 RBIs while the Orioles ranked first in the American League in team OPS and were tied for first in home runs.

However, the four-time All-Star selection hit just one home run while posting a .239 average and .556 OPS in the month of May. Jones wasn’t alone in his struggles, of course, as the Orioles ranked last in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in May while scoring fewer runs than every club in the league except Boston.

Jones was bound to cool off from his absurd April production, but the Orioles obviously need his bat to turn around once he returns from a mild ankle sprain. It’s never as simple as one player being responsible for prosperity or shortcomings, but the club needs its best player and leader to get going for the summer months.

Road “w-O’s” must end

There was obvious disappointment that the Orioles didn’t take advantage of a stretch of 17 of 20 games played at home — going just 10-10 over that time — and now they will play 15 of their next 23 on the road.

Baltimore tied for the second-best away mark (46-35) in the AL last year, but an 8-14 road record this season is a major reason why the Orioles have hovered below .500 for much of the first two months. Of those eight road victories, four have come at Tropicana Field, which included two in a series moved from Camden Yards to St. Petersburg in which the Orioles acted as the home team and batted last.

Even if Showalter’s club simply wants to remain within striking distance of first place and the .500 mark, the road failures need to be reversed starting this week against Houston and Cleveland.

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Orioles failed to get well despite May home cooking

Posted on 31 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Having limped home after a 1-5 trip in New York in early May, the Orioles envisioned getting well entering their most inviting portion of the 2015 regular-season schedule.

Despite owning a 13-16 record through the first five weeks of 2015, the Orioles were playing 17 of their next 20 games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, an opportunity to not only climb back above the .500 mark but to seize first place in the underwhelming American League East. Instead of taking advantage of the home cooking, however, manager Buck Showalter’s club continued to take one step forward and the next one back with a 10-10 record.

It was far from a disaster as the Orioles incredibly moved 3 1/2 games closer to first place over those 20 games, but that’s more an indictment of a mediocre division than progress as we now turn the calendar to June. And it doesn’t reflect anyone feeling much better about the Orioles’ fortunes than we did three weeks ago as inconsistency has been the theme of the 2015 season through 49 games, just over 30 percent of the way through the 162-game marathon.

After averaging a robust 5.6 runs per game in April, the Baltimore lineup managed just 3.3 per contest in the second month of the season, not the only but certainly the biggest reason why the Orioles finished 13-16 in May. Showalter and players have cited opponents continuing to pitch backwards against Baltimore hitters by offering a steady diet of off-speed pitches, but the adjustments haven’t been made as the Orioles ranked last in the AL in batting average (.231), on-base percentage (.287), and slugging percentage (.358) in May. They can only hope two home runs each from Manny Machado and Delmon Young in Sunday’s 9-5 loss to Tampa Bay are a sign of better things to come in June.

It couldn’t get much worse at the plate than it was in May.

“We are just out there playing baseball,” said Machado when asked to pinpoint the offensive struggles. “We don’t care about how many runs we score. We [just] want to get the win at the end of the day. We’ll just going to go out there and score as many as we can and win a ballgame.

“We’ve got to keep swinging the bats. There are days you swing the bat well and pitchers are going to be dealing. You have to tip your cap off to them, [because] they have a job to keep as well. We’ve just got to keep swinging the bats and at the end of the day, it’s all about the [win].”

A number of hitters have underperformed, particularly at the corner outfield spots where the Orioles have already designated veteran Alejandro De Aza for assignment. You’d figure more changes could be coming if the organization was willing to part ways with De Aza despite currently being on the hook for what remains of his $5 million salary in 2015.

The Orioles hope the imminent return of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters will provide a lift, but it’s impossible to know what they’ll get from the veteran who hasn’t played in a major league game in nearly 13 months. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop continues to rehab a right knee injury, but the club is being deliberate with his recovery in fear of a setback that could require season-ending surgery.

In fairness, there’s still too much talent in the Baltimore lineup to be as poor as it was in May, but that doesn’t mean they’ll score enough runs moving forward, either.

Overlooked because of the struggling offense, spottier-than-normal defense, and a losing record, the Orioles have pitched exceptionally well in recent weeks, finishing second in the AL in staff ERA (3.38) in May. It’s easily the most encouraging development of the month and the biggest reason why the club shouldn’t panic. The Orioles did this despite Opening Day starter Chris Tillman sporting a 5.94 ERA, the talented right-hander Kevin Gausman on the disabled list, and 2014 15-game winner Bud Norris an absolute mess.

This pitching prosperity followed a 4.78 ERA in April that ranked 13th in the AL.

Processing the first two months of the season, it’s no wonder Orioles fans are ready to pull out their hair.

It would be cavalier to assume the offense won’t continue to be a concern given the chasms — offensively and defensively — flanking center fielder Adam Jones that have yet to be filled, but there’s evidence to support the pitching can continue to succeed given the talent that hasn’t been much of a factor so far. There’s no sugarcoating how much Tillman has scuffled, but many were similarly concerned about the tall right-hander at this time last year before he finished as one of the best pitchers in the league over the final four months of 2014.

“I’ve had my ups and downs, but I feel like we’re heading in the right direction,” said Tillman, who allowed all six runs in Sunday’s outing with two outs. “I saw a lot of positives today. The negatives kind of overwhelm, but I think we are getting somewhere. I just have to make that last big step, and I think we’ll be all right.”

After playing .500 over the home-heavy last 20 games, the Orioles will now play 15 of their next 23 on the road after beginning the season 8-14 in away games. Showalter’s club will need to reverse that trend if they even want to continue hovering close to the .500 mark.

In the end, the Orioles may still be all right in what could be the worst division in baseball, but there are no guarantees. The AL East is begging for someone — anyone — to get hot at this point with New York and Tampa Bay occupying first place with just 26-25 records.

But you can’t help but feel the Orioles squandered a great chance to get well over these last few weeks that they might look back on with regret once September rolls around.

 

 

 

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Jones remains sidelined with mild ankle sprain

Posted on 30 May 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Sunday 11:45 a.m.)

BALTIMORE — Adam Jones was out of the lineup for a second straight day as the Orioles prepared to play the series finale against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

The center fielder turned his left ankle sliding into home plate in Game 2 of Thursday’s doubleheader with the Chicago White Sox. Jones did not leave that game and went 0-for-4 in Friday’s win over Tampa Bay, but Buck Showalter gave the 29-year-old his first day off of the 2015 season on Saturday afternoon.

The manager revealed that an X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed only a mild sprain of Jones’ ankle, adding that he’s considered “day to day.” Jones was missing from the lineup for a second straight day on Sunday — the first time he hadn’t started consecutive games since September 2011 — but Showalter said the ankle was improving and the Orioles are not considering the 15-day disabled list as a possibility at this time.

“He woke up this morning sore [with] a little swelling. I kind of take it out of his hands,” Showalter said on Saturday. “I’m not saying he couldn’t ‘Kirk Gibson’ sometime today, but I’ve been looking for a spot to give him a day anyway. He’s one of those guys that you just don’t ask. You just have to do it, so today’s the day.”

Jones is hitting .304 with six home runs, 26 RBIs, and an .800 on-base plus slugging percentage, but the right-hander has struggled in the month of May, batting .239 with one homer and a .556 OPS. The four-time All-Star selection is just 7-for-41 with no extra-base hits over his last 10 games.

David Lough has started in center field in Jones’ place.

For good reason, the Orioles are optimistic that Jones will not be out of the lineup for long since he only missed a total of five games over the previous three seasons. Appearing in 159 games last year, Jones did not sit out any contests until September when the club was already assured of its first American League East championship since 1997. The last game that Jones missed for the Orioles fell on Sept. 26 in Toronto.

Just because Showalter appreciates Jones’ durability doesn’t mean the Baltimore skipper wasn’t assuming that he’d be ready to play after only one day off.

“I’m not going to be that assured of it [or] cavalier about it,” Showalter said. “We’ll see what [Sunday] brings. Short turnaround today. Anytime Adam even admits to a little soreness, you can probably multiply it times two. Adam plays a very physical game, which lends more credence to how remarkable his availability is. You get to know players and if he even brings something up, you know it’s something you should pay attention to.”

NOTES: Still on the 15-day disabled list after a bout of bronchitis, right-hander Bud Norris will make a final rehab start at Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday. Showalter said again on Saturday that the plan is for Norris to rejoin the starting rotation when he’s activated, but “things change from day-to-day according to the needs of our club.” Baltimore will not use a six-man rotation to accommodate both Norris and rookie Mike Wright as starters. … Showalter said Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia is progressing well from right shoulder tendinitis as he continues to work out in Sarasota. The right-handed relief pitcher was placed on the DL retroactive to May 11. … With Friday’s win over the Rays, Showalter passed Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog for sole possession of 35th place on the all-time managerial wins list with 1,282. The 2-1 walk-off victory was also Showalter’s 400th as manager of the Orioles. … After refusing an outright to Triple-A Norfolk and electing free agency, catcher Ryan Lavarnway has signed a minor-league deal with the Atlanta Braves.

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Davis flashes why Orioles can’t give up on him yet

Posted on 28 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — You can’t take too much away from Chris Davis’ two-homer performance in a 5-4 win over Houston on Wednesday night.

The Orioles hope it’s the start of a turnaround from a start that’s too closely resembled the first baseman’s nightmarish 2014 campaign. But it was just over a year ago — May 20, 2014 to be exact — that Davis hit three home runs in a win over Pittsburgh before then going 7-for-43 with one long ball and 19 strikeouts in his next 11 games.

For now, manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles will cross their fingers that it’s the start of a run similar to those we witnessed in 2012 and 2013 when Davis was capable of carrying the offense for days — sometimes weeks — at a time. A breakout now would certainly help an offense struggling to score runs as the Orioles try to move back to the .500 mark.

 

“The reason why we talk about that — or you talk about it — is because of what he’s done in the past and what his track record shows,” Showalter said. “You look at some of the ERAs of their bullpen and to do it off [Houston lefty Tony] Sipp, that’s pretty hard to do.”

As critical as Davis’ home run to the right-center bleachers was to give the Orioles a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth, it merely offers a reminder of what the left-handed slugger is capable of, with no guarantees of what lies next. But it’s the reason why recent calls for Davis to be benched are based more on frustration and less in reality.

To be clear, a .216 batting average and 64 strikeouts in 174 plate appearances aren’t good enough. A 36.8 percent strikeout rate and 9.2 percent walk rate are numbers trending in the wrong direction from previous seasons, especially considering Davis is on pace to strike out a major league record 236 times.

But who do you really want to see in his place? Backup first baseman Steve Pearce is hitting .190. Prospect Christian Walker has only two home runs and sports a .656 on-base plus slugging percentage at Triple-A Norfolk this season. Former Minnesota Twins prospect Chris Parmelee has posted a strong .833 OPS for the Tides, but do you really think he’s the cure to the Orioles’ offensive woes or brings enough upside to justify starting him over a guy who hit 53 home runs two years ago?

With Davis struggling as much as he has in the month of May — along with most of the lineup — it’s perfectly reasonable to give the scuffling first baseman a day or two off, especially against a tough left-handed pitcher. It’s what Showalter did on Monday with Houston’s Dallas Keuchel on the mind. Coincidence or not, Davis has driven in four runs in his two games since then.

“As a player, I don’t think you ever want a day off,” Davis said. “You want to be in there every day, but sometimes you need it. Sometimes it’s better for them just to tell you to take a day as opposed to asking you. I think it was good. I definitely could have used the rest. It was good for me to sit back and watch the game and take a day off mentally.”

An occasional day off or a lowering in the batting order is one thing, but the Orioles need Davis’ upside in the lineup on a regular basis. It has nothing to do with his future as it appears more and more likely that Baltimore will rightly allow the frustrating slugger to depart via free agency after this season.

But the Orioles need his power potential in the lineup, because it will pay off — at least from time to time — like it did on Wednesday. Say what you want about the batting average and the strikeouts, but the 29-year-old leads the club in home runs and RBIs and is on pace to hit 37 bombs on the season.

In the same way that the Orioles did with Mark Reynolds a few years ago, you take the good with the bad. A .757 OPS is less than ideal for a first baseman and a middle-of-the-order hitter, but Davis represents the most upside that the club currently has from a power standpoint, especially after the offseason departure of Nelson Cruz.

For as long as he’s an Oriole, Davis needs to remain in the lineup. Wednesday brought a much-needed — and overdue — reminder of that.

“Any time you see that swing and he makes contact and the ball hit to right field, you know it’s going to the bleachers,” said winning pitcher Brad Brach of Davis’ two home runs that helped the Orioles hand the Astros their first road series loss of the season. “You just want to see how far it goes. That’s awesome for him. He works hard every day, and I’m glad to see it’s paying off.”

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Wieters feeling good after first game of rehab assignment

Posted on 27 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After appearing in his first game at Double-A Bowie since 2008, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters felt good a day after beginning his much-awaited minor-league rehab assignment.

Eligible to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on June 4, Wieters went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and threw out a runner trying to steal second base in his first professional regular-season game since May 10, 2014. With the 29-year-old still only catching every other day, the Orioles hoped Wieters would feel good the morning after beginning his rehab stint.

“I felt good. I thought yesterday went well,” Wieters said. “I felt good when I woke up this morning. That’s the big thing. Hopefully, keep feeling like we did yesterday and we should be good to go.”

Wieters will once again catch for the Baysox on Thursday and Saturday before the Orioles then decide where he will continue his rehab assignment. Manager Buck Showalter said it was possible that Wieters could serve as the designated hitter at Bowie on days he wasn’t scheduled to catch, but the veteran suggested that he feels pretty good at the plate and took batting practice at Camden Yards before Wednesday’s game against Houston.

Barring any setbacks, Wieters is expected to be activated by the latter half of next week despite the fact that it will be a while before he’s ready to catch on consecutive days. With Caleb Joseph sporting a .274 average with four home runs and 18 RBIs entering Wednesday, the Orioles can live with the idea of Wieters not being ready to handle his normal workload.

With Wieters not even throwing on non-catching days yet, the Orioles may need to give stronger consideration to keeping a third catcher than most would have thought. That would figure to be Steve Clevenger, who would give the Orioles another left-handed bat off the bench and is capable of playing some infield in a pinch.

For now, Wieters can see the light at the end of the tunnel while acknowledging his return to the Orioles won’t be the end of his long recovery from Tommy John surgery.

“It’s all feel, and it’s going to be a slow process with it,” Wieters said. “I’ve sort of come to terms with that. It’s not going to come just like that — catching four, five days in a row. It’s all by feel. The ‘every other day’ thing feels good now, and as soon as that little bit of soreness that we do have in between [is gone], we’ll start by picking up a ball on the day after I catch and go from there.

“Every other day is better than not playing at all for me right now.”

Bundy MRI confirms tendinitis

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said a magnetic resonance imaging exam on pitching prospect Dylan Bundy’s right shoulder confirmed the initial diagnosis of tendinitis.

Fortunately, there was no structural damage to the shoulder despite the MRI showing some inflammation. Duquette said Bundy has been prescribed rest as well as anti-inflammatory medication before the Orioles reevaluate when he’ll begin throwing again.

Bundy last pitched on May 21, a four-inning start that was his longest outing of the season as the organization was monitoring his innings in the early portion of the season. He is 0-3 with a 3.68 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 22 innings of work at Bowie.

Cuban left-hander Miranda signed

The Orioles officially announced the signing of Cuban left-handed pitcher Ariel Miranda on Wednesday.

The 25-year-old Miranda went 22-25 with a 3.78 ERA in seven seasons in the Cuban National Series. The plan is for him to report to Sarasota to get into better baseball shape before the organization assigns him to Bowie or Single-A Frederick, according to Duquette.

Wilson, Wright to start Thursday’s doubleheader

Showalter announced that right-hander Tyler Wilson will be called up as the Orioles’ 26th player for Thursday’s doubleheader and will start Game 1 against the Chicago White Sox.

Fellow rookie right-hander Mike Wright will start the nightcap of the single-admission twin bill beginning at 1:05 p.m.

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Orioles shake up roster by designating De Aza for assignment

Posted on 27 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Struggling offensively and needing to make room for the returning Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles shook up their roster Wednesday by designating outfielder Alejandro De Aza for assignment.

The 31-year-old began the season as Baltimore’s leadoff hitter, but he struggled immensely at the plate, batting just .214 with 34 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances as he eventually lost his regular starting role. Acquired from the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 30, 2014, De Aza provided a spark down the stretch for the American League East champions, but lapses in the field and on the bases in addition to his hitting woes this season clearly led to him falling out of favor with the organization.

“In the long run, it’s going to work out better for him,” said manager Buck Showalter, who also cited a crowded outfield situation. “He’s going to end up in a better situation. I feel good for him in the long run. I think he’ll understand that as he gets away from it. We know he’s capable of better, and he’ll probably be able to do that somewhere else.”

De Aza posted a .636 on-base plus slugging percentage with three home runs and seven RBIs while seeing time in both left and right field. The 32-year-old was cited as an internal option the Orioles had to justify the decision to allow right fielder Nick Markakis to depart via free agency last December.

Even with De Aza’s struggles, the move came as a surprise as most expected the Orioles to designate infielder Everth Cabrera for assignment since Flaherty was being activated from the 15-day disabled list. However, Showalter prefers keeping Cabrera as short-term insurance with Flaherty and shortstop J.J. Hardy both dealing with recent ailments, but the veteran infielder remains on tenuous footing with a .469 OPS.

The Orioles will attempt to trade De Aza to another club, but such a move is unlikely with a hefty portion of his $5 million salary still owed for the remainder of the 2015 season. Baltimore would remain on the hook for the rest of his salary unless he’s potentially traded or claimed on waivers by another club. Some questioned in the offseason whether it was worth tendering De Aza a contract because of his previous decline with the White Sox, but the veteran posted an .877 OPS in 89 regular-season plate appearances for the Orioles last season and hit .333 in the postseason.

“What he did for us the last third of the [2014] season was indicative of what he’s capable of and probably will do this year at some point for somebody else,” Showalter said. “But that somebody else is not in the situation we’re in as a team, and each case is different. Obviously, we wish him well. A good teammate, professional guy, worked hard at it, and it bothered him that he couldn’t get to what he was capable of.”

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Orioles lineup continues firing blanks in month of May

Posted on 27 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Buck Showalter rarely dwells on the negatives after a loss.

It’s just not his style — at least publicly anyway — as he prefers focusing on the positive after any given contest over a 162-game schedule. But his reaction to Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros was a little different.

While recognizing the strong performance of starter Chris Tillman that was spoiled by a few suspect pitches in the seventh inning and the failures of reliever Brian Matusz an inning later, Showalter continued coming back to the same theme that has plagued the Orioles throughout the month of May.

“We obviously haven’t been giving our pitchers much margin for error,” Showalter said, “but [Tillman] gave us a real good chance to win tonight. Probably even a little bit better than that.

“Once again, we can sit here and talk about [other factors] and rightfully so, but until we start getting some things going offensively, it really makes for a tough atmosphere to pitch in.”

The Orioles have scored just seven runs over their last 40 innings.

They’ve produced three or fewer runs in 13 of their 23 games this month and two or fewer in 11 of those.

Tuesday night’s cleanup man (Chris Davis) sports a .208 average and the No. 5 hitter (Steve Pearce) is batting .188. Delmon Young — who’s spent plenty of time in the heart of the order — is slugging a paltry .333 despite a respectable .287 average.

Beyond the white-hot Jimmy Paredes, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Caleb Joseph, the Orioles haven’t gotten nearly enough production from the rest of the lineup. And with Jones struggling recently — he was 0-for-3 Tuesday and has just three hits in his last 25 at-bats — the run shortage has been even more magnified.

“I just think we’ve got to slow the game down,” said Davis, who struck out two more times and hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth for the only Baltimore run on Tuesday. “When you’re not scoring a lot of runs, you’re not swinging the bats like you know you can, the tendency is to press and try to overdo it. I think you’ve seen that in the last few games, just guys getting out of their approach, out of their rhythm and trying to do too much with pitches that aren’t good pitches to hit.”

The Orioles were counting on Davis to look more like the force he was in 2013 — or at least in 2012. Instead, he’s looked just like the frustrated hitter we saw a season ago and has struck out 64 times in 170 plate appearances, registering the highest strikeout rate of his career by a substantial margin.

You keep waiting for veterans like of J.J. Hardy and Alejandro De Aza to start swinging the bat like they have in the past and for Young to start showing a little bit of power. Aside from a couple key home runs in the last week, Pearce hasn’t come close to approaching his 2014 production. Travis Snider hasn’t been the young replacement for the declining Nick Markakis that the Orioles envisioned.

The many clamoring for some change are justified, but Triple-A Norfolk doesn’t have many appealing options to even try at the moment. Former Minnesota Twins first-round pick Chris Parmelee has an .818 on-base plus slugging percentage and Nolan Reimold has begun heating up recently, but that’s about it.

Perhaps a returning Matt Wieters provides a spark as early as next week, but can you realistically expect him to offer much more offense than Joseph after not playing in the majors in more than a year?

The Orioles hope Jonathan Schoop can return sometime next month, but there’s no guarantee how soon that will be.

For now, Showalter has little choice but to ride out the storm — or the drought — by continuing to mix and match in hopes of finding some semblance of consistent production beyond the top three spots in the order. And executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette needs to be exploring what might be out there on the trade market over the next two months.

At 20-23, the Orioles still find themselves in the thick of the American League East and are just one game out in the loss column behind first-place New York. There are 119 games remaining in the 2015 regular season for Baltimore.

But much more is needed from the offense than it’s provided all month if the Orioles want to remain within striking distance.

 

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Counting down to Wieters return, Orioles add Clevenger to mix

Posted on 26 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same day Matt Wieters began a rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie, the Orioles recalled Pigtown native Steve Clevenger from Triple-A Norfolk and designated catcher Ryan Lavarnway for assignment.

Looking for more offense as well as some versatility off the bench, the Orioles elected to bring up Clevenger, who has played first base, second base, and third base in addition to catching in his minor-league career and was hitting an impressive .352 with an .864 on-base plus slugging percentage in 91 at-bats for the Tides. Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Lavarnway was just 3-for-28 in sporadic playing time behind starter Caleb Joseph this season.

In Sunday’s loss to Miami, Lavarnway went 0-for-4 and left seven runners on base in his final three plate appearances.

The Orioles have challenged Clevenger to improve his defense, and manager Buck Showalter said the 29-year-old has done that, throwing out 32 percent of runners attempting to steal in the International League this season. Clevenger appeared in 35 games for the Orioles last season before being demoted in favor of Joseph and Nick Hundley when Wieters was lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery.

“I went down there on a mission,” Clevenger said. “Coming into spring training this year, I wanted to focus more on my catching and I tried to do that. I went down [to Norfolk] and played very well and just tried to concentrate on my catching and helping the pitchers do what they can do best and not worry about anything else. I was playing solid defense down there.”

The initial plan for Wieters is to have him catch every other day at Bowie — he could serve as the designated hitter on the non-catching days — with the goal of activating him when he becomes eligible on June 4. His return would likely push Clevenger back to Norfolk, but Showalter didn’t rule out the possibility of the club keeping three catchers since Clevenger does provide a left-handed bat off the bench with the ability to play other infield positions in a pinch.

The Orioles would like to keep Lavarnway in the organization, but they will gauge interest from other clubs before trying to pass him through waivers and outright him to Norfolk. The former Boston Red Sox product may decline a minor-league assignment and become a free agent, however.

Showalter acknowledged that Clevenger is probably better equipped to handle infrequent playing time, but the Norfolk coaching staff provided favorable reports about his defensive progress this season.

“I try to be blunt to a fault about what they need to do while they’re there,” Showalter said. “I talked about continuing to be engaged with the pitcher and catching and throwing. I said, ‘You’re going to be out of options next year, you’re going to control all this. Try to present yourself for us and everybody else in the game as good as possible. Go down there and lead the league in hitting.'”

Clevenger didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify, but his average ranked second in the International League batting race at the time of his promotion.

Hardy returns to lineup

A day after being removed in the eighth inning of the series opener against Houston due to back stiffness, shortstop J.J. Hardy returned to the Orioles lineup Tuesday night.

The 32-year-old said he was feeling better and likely benefited from sleeping in his own bed after hypothesizing that a soft hotel mattress in Miami caused the problem over the weekend. Hardy spent the entire offseason focusing on strengthening his core in hopes of avoiding the nagging back spasms that limited him to just 141 games and nine home runs in 2014.

“It is definitely experience,” said Hardy about past problems giving him a good indicator. “When I first went through back issues, I didn’t know what to do, and now I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it. I think Buck definitely made the right decision, but I still wanted to stay in there [Monday].”

Bundy’s shoulder OK

After being scratched from Tuesday’s start at Bowie, pitching prospect Dylan Bundy’s shoulder examination went well with Showalter saying there were no structural concerns.

However, the 22-year-old told reporters in Bowie he planned to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on his right shoulder on Wednesday just to be on the safe side. He was prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine for a mild case of shoulder tendinitis.

The 2011 first-round pick is 0-3 with a 3.68 ERA in eight starts (22 innings) for the Baysox this season.

Flaherty returning

Infielder Ryan Flaherty was leading off and playing second base for Norfolk on Tuesday as he continues his minor-league rehab assignment.

Serving two different stints on the 15-day disabled list for a lingering groin injury, Flaherty could rejoin the Orioles as early as Wednesday, according to Showalter. His return would leave the organization with an interesting roster decision as veteran Everth Cabrera is out of options and hitting just .205 this season.

Odds & ends

Rookie Mike Wright will start one game of Thursday’s doubleheader with the other starter being either Tyler Wilson or T.J. McFarland. Both had abbreviated outings for Norfolk this week with the possiblility of Thursday in mind.

No Orioles players were leading their positions in the first All-Star Game voting update released Tuesday, but Jones ranked fourth among American League outfielders. Manny Machado ranked fourth among AL third baseman while Joseph was fifth among AL catchers.

Former Orioles first baseman Calvin Pickering has been hired as the hitting coach for short-season Single-A Aberdeen.

Baltimore ranks first in the majors in outfield assists with 12. Delmon Young is tied for third in the American League with five while Adam Jones has three.

 

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After slow start, bullpen becoming steadying force for Orioles

Posted on 26 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Monday brought an even bigger surprise than the Orioles’ ability to hand Houston starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel his first loss of the 2015 season.

After Steve Pearce had clubbed a two-run home run to right-center to give the Orioles a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, you figured manager Buck Showalter would turn to Darren O’Day or Tommy Hunter to pitch the eighth. O’Day hadn’t pitched since Saturday and Hunter hadn’t worked since Friday, but Showalter instead called upon rookie Oliver Drake, who had pitched three scoreless innings in the 1-0 loss to Miami in 13 innings on Saturday night.

The move raised a few eyebrows, but Drake came through once again, pitching a perfect inning with two strikeouts in his second major league appearance. Showalter cited Drake’s ability to retire hitters from both sides of the plate as his rationale for going to the Naval Academy product — two left-handed hitters were due up in the inning and Brian Matusz wasn’t available — but it’s no secret that the 27-year-old right-hander has already impressed with his nasty split-fingered fastball.

“It all works off his fastball command. He has a way to make you look between velocities,” Showalter said. “Even if you’re right on one of the velocities, you might not get there. You saw it on the fastball to [Colby] Rasmus. He doesn’t have to throw 95 [mph] to get a reaction. When you have to defend the other-speed pitch, that 90 looks 100.”

Monday’s win featured three scoreless innings from Brad Brach and Drake before closer Zach Britton slammed the door on the Astros in the ninth, continuing an impressive run for Orioles relievers after a rocky April. Dating back to April 29, the Baltimore bullpen has posted a 2.23 ERA in its last 65 2/3 innings.

The group has been even better of late by allowing just six earned runs in its last 30 1/3 innings. The success has improved the club’s bullpen ERA to 3.32, which ranks sixth in the American League. It’s helped that the Orioles rank only 12th in the AL in relief innings, a reflection of starters working deeper into games than they did in April.

It’s a pleasant change after the bullpen posted a 4.35 ERA in the opening month of the season.

With the bullpen being the backbone of their success over the previous three seasons, the Orioles figured to lean heavily on Britton, O’Day, and Hunter this year, but the emergence of Brach since the second half of last season has been an encouraging development. The 29-year-old right-hander leads the club with 22 2/3 relief innings this season and has lowered his ERA to 3.57 after a difficult start. Since being scored upon in his first four outings of 2015, Brach has pitched to a 2.00 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18 innings of work.

Despite an uneven beginning to the season for the 20-22 Orioles, seeing the likes of Brach and Drake pick up the slack in some meaningful situations bodes well now and for the long haul.

“That helps with us later on in the season,” Brach said. “You don’t have to throw the same guys out there every single time. You see some of the teams that kind of have the same guys they go to every time. It kind of keeps us on our toes. On the same token, any situation could be any guy and everybody’s got to be ready to go, so it keeps us ready to go and sharp during the game.”

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