Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"


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Five biggest Orioles surprises of 2016 first half

Posted on 12 July 2016 by Luke Jones

In the midst of the tightest division race in the majors at the All-Star break, the first-place Orioles have benefited from their fair share of surprise performers in the midst of a 51-36 start.

While there haven’t been any players to seemingly come out of nowhere as we’ve frequently seen in the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era, several have turned in performances few would have predicted at the start of the 2016 season. Their accomplishments are major reasons why Baltimore has been able to exceed expectations in the competitive American League East.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season with the biggest disappointments coming later this week:

Who was the biggest Orioles surprise of the first half?

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Honorable mention: Joey Rickard

5. Jonathan Schoop

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised about the 24-year-old’s first half after he hit .279 with 14 home runs and a .788 on-base plus slugging percentage in 321 plate appearances last season, but to see the second baseman take that production to the next level has been impressive.

In addition to being one of only two Baltimore players to play in all 87 games before the All-Star break — a year removed from a knee injury that cost him almost three months last season — Schoop is hitting .304 with 14 homers, 23 doubles, and 52 RBIs. His .847 OPS ranks third on the club among qualified players, which is quite a leap after he produced a .598 mark as a rookie just two years ago.

Schoop has likely benefited from some good fortune with his .348 batting average on balls in play, but he’s also shown some modest improvement in his free-swinging ways with a 3.8 percent walk rate that remains well below average but represents improvement from his 2.8 percent career mark entering the 2016 season. He hit safely in 20 of his 21 games before the break, posting a .414 average and 1.112 OPS over that stretch.

4. Dylan Bundy

One could argue that Bundy would be pitching in the minor leagues in a perfect world, but perhaps he’d be the ace of the Orioles rotation by now if such a sphere existed. Either way, the 23-year-old has overcome an array of injuries over the last few years to contribute meaningful innings out of the bullpen.

Instead of serving as a pseudo Rule 5 pick who’s only in the majors because he’s out of minor-league options, Bundy is rapidly becoming an intriguing candidate to start in the second half despite the Orioles’ plans of trying to keep him healthy while massaging his development in a relief role. Since Showalter began regularly giving him at least three days of rest between outings, Bundy has pitched to a 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings of work.

Bundy’s 3.08 season ERA is even more impressive when noting how opponents have a .371 BABIP against him, an average likely to normalize in the second half. His velocity has also spiked since receiving more regular rest as his average fastball velocity is 94.6 mph since May 31 and was just 93.2 before that.

It remains to be seen what Bundy’s role will look like in the second half, but his continued health and reemergence as an important part of the club’s future are wonderful developments.

3. Brad Brach

How many would have believed that Darren O’Day would miss nearly six weeks of action and the Orioles would still rank second in the AL and fourth in the majors with a 3.12 bullpen ERA at the break?

With no disrespect intended to phenomenal All-Star closer Zach Britton, Brach is the biggest reason why as he’s built upon his first two good seasons in Baltimore with his own All-Star campaign that includes a microscopic 0.91 ERA and a strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings over 49 1/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed just one of 19 inherited runners to score and has held lefty bats to a .238 average and a .644 OPS, an important feat given the lack of a lefty specialist in the Baltimore bullpen.

Right-handers are batting .080 with a .326 OPS against Brach in 97 plate appearances as he’s provided occasional length as well as serving as a strong replacement for O’Day, who hasn’t pitched since June 1. The 30-year-old ranks third in strikeouts (58) and second in innings pitched among AL relievers.

According to Baseball Reference, Brach ranks third on the club with 2.6 wins above replacement, an illustration of how critical he’s been to the first-place Orioles.

2. Mark Trumbo

Expecting Trumbo to help fill a void in the heart of the order that wasn’t addressed after the post-2014 departure of Nelson Cruz was realistic, but the right-handed slugger has instead been one of the best offensive players in the AL in 2016.

Trumbo leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than he hit in 170 more plate appearances a season ago and only six shy of his career-high 34 in 2013. His 68 RBIs rank fourth in the majors, and his .288 average and .923 OPS would easily be career bests for the 30-year-old outfielder.

While his strikeout and walk rates are in line with his career marks, Trumbo has swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and has shown more consistency than his streaky track record preceding his time in Baltimore. It would be unfair to expect him to hit 50 home runs, but Trumbo has done more than his expected share for one of the best lineups in baseball.

And his offseason acquisition is arguably the best trade pulled off by Duquette during his time in Baltimore.

1. Hyun Soo Kim

Just over three months ago, the Orioles were convinced that Kim wasn’t worthy of being in the big leagues, a reminder that we shouldn’t take spring training performance as gospel.

Whether the organization was foolishly mistaken, he simply improved and adjusted to the majors, or it was a combination of both, the 28-year-old South Korean outfielder took advantage of sparse opportunities early and eventually earned a regular role against right-handed starters by late May. His .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead the club among those with at least 170 plate appearances.

Kim has provided a steady ability to get on base in a lineup known for its power and free-swinging ways. His 12.7 percent strikeout rate is the lowest on the club among regulars, and his 10.4 percent walk rate has been a helpful addition in the No. 2 spot in the order ahead of the likes of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Trumbo.

His .370 BABIP suggests Kim will have a difficult time sustaining his current level of production, but he’s done more than enough to suggest he’s worthy of being a major leaguer and that the thoughts of sending him back to the Korean Baseball Organization in the spring were grossly premature.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2016 first half

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ first half of 2016 that has resulted in a 51-36 start and a first-place standing in the American League East at the All-Star break?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the first 87 games of the 2016 season.

1st Manny Machado broke out as one of the game’s best all-around players last year, but many wondered throughout the winter if he could soar even higher in 2016. The 24-year-old has done exactly that, hitting .318 with 19 home runs, 29 doubles, 53 RBIs, and a .944 on-base plus slugging percentage as the club’s best offensive player. Already a two-time Glove Glove winner at third base, Machado filled in admirably at shortstop in place of the injured J.J. Hardy for seven weeks and has been worth a combined eight defensive runs saved and 1.2 defensive wins above replacement so far this season. His 4.2 WAR (Baseball Reference) at the All-Star break ranks fifth in the AL and is easily tops on the Orioles. After serving in the leadoff role out of necessity last season, Machado has now settled into the No. 3 spot in the order and is the first Oriole to bat third in the AL All-Star starting lineup since Roberto Alomar in 1996. 

2ndMark Trumbo was expected to be a solid power addition to the Baltimore lineup after being acquired from Seattle in exchange for reserve catcher Steve Clevenger in December, but the 30-year-old has instead put on a great 2014 Nelson Cruz impression. The right-handed slugger leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than the total he had last year in 170 fewer plate appearances and just six shy of his career high. His .288 average, .923 OPS, and 68 RBIs reflect his consistency, which was even more important with lineup mainstays such as Adam Jones and Chris Davis struggling early on. His defense in the outfield isn’t pretty, but Trumbo has played a major part in turning a good lineup into a great one.

3rdChris Tillman has been the shining star in a starting rotation that ranks 14th in the AL and 28th in the majors in ERA for a first-place club. The Opening Day starter not only leads the rotation with a 3.41 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, 98 strikeouts, and 12 wins, but he has a chance to become Baltimore’s first 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker in 1984. His strikeout rate of 7.8 per nine innings is his best since 2013, and he can largely credit an improved slider for his career-best swinging-strike percentage. According to Baseball Reference, Tillman’s 3.2 WAR is second only to Machado on the 2016 Orioles.

HomeBrad Brach and Zach Britton both earned All-Star Game invitations with ERAs below 1.00 and combining for an impressive 4.7 WAR pitching out of the bullpen. Brach has been outstanding filling in for the injured Darren O’Day and leading all Baltimore relievers with 49 1/3 innings pitched while Britton has set a club record by going 27-for-27 in save opportunities to begin the season. … The Orioles’ 137 home runs lead the majors and are the club’s most ever at the All-Star break, surpassing the 134 hit in 1996. … Jonathan Schoop is rapidly emerging as one of the Orioles’ best players, ranking second behind Machado with 23 doubles and fifth in home runs. … Hyun Soo Kim began the season as a player the Orioles were convinced they didn’t want on the major league roster, but the South Korean outfielder’s .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead Baltimore hitters with at least 170 plate appearances. … Despite making a combined $22 million in 2016, Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo have combined to post a 6.84 ERA in 125 innings this season. … Adam Jones wasn’t a conventional choice as a leadoff hitter, but he’s batted .308 with 12 homers and a .345 OBP since being moved to the top spot by manager Buck Showalter on May 27. … Baltimore’s 33 home victories and .702 home winning percentage lead the major leagues. The Orioles have three seven-game winning streaks in 2016 after posting none that long from 2006-2015.

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Kim goes into All-Star break with hamstring injury

Posted on 10 July 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles hit the All-Star break with a two-game lead in the American League East, but they will now keep their fingers crossed regarding the health of an important member of their lineup.

Left fielder Hyun Soo Kim exited Sunday’s game after straining his right hamstring running out a grounder in the first inning of the 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels. Having emerged as the regular No. 2 hitter against right-handed pitching, Kim is hitting .329 with a club-leading .410 on-base percentage in 173 plate appearances.

Further testing will determine the severity of the injury on Monday.

Joey Rickard took over in left field on Sunday and could potentially share duties with veteran Nolan Reimold if Kim were to miss time when the Orioles resume action at Tampa Bay on Friday night. Kim described experiencing “a stinging pain” and told manager Buck Showalter that he sustained a similar injury right before the All-Star break while playing in Korea and was ready to return after only a couple days.

Despite his well-documented struggles in spring training that resulted in the Orioles trying to send him to the minors, Kim became a regular in late May after receiving just 33 plate appearances over the first 43 games of the season. In his 140 plate appearances beginning on May 25, Kim batted .317 with three home runs, nine doubles, 15 runs, 14 walks, and a .400 OBP.

Last December, the Orioles signed the left-handed hitter to a two-year, $7 million contract that included a provision requiring his approval to be sent to the minors.

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Unorthodox as they might be, Orioles won’t apologize for success

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to warn against overlooking an orchid when in search of a rose.

A mantra repeated often over the last several years in Baltimore, perhaps it’s never been more appropriate than now as the Orioles take a 45-30 record and a multi-game division lead out west for a nine-game road trip.

We know the starting pitching is a substantial weakness. Everyone beyond the Oriole Bird and his mom will remind you of that. It’s become the required caveat to attach when trying to compliment a club that began the 2016 season with seven straight wins and has rarely stumbled, remaining in first or second place in the AL East all season.

Perhaps our not-so-lofty preseason expectations — from media and many fans alike — have conditioned us to dwell on the negative while anticipating the fall that simply hasn’t happened despite a 4.96 starter ERA that ranked 12th in the AL entering Monday. But that mindset shouldn’t diminish the many ways in which the imperfect Orioles have been special this season.

Unorthodox as it might be, it’s working.

The Orioles have followed a blueprint echoed in every team sport by thriving at home and trying to hold their own on the road. Their 31-13 record at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is sensational, but they now begin a stretch of 16 of their next 19 on the road where they have been an underwhelming — but hardly disastrous — 14-17.

Having already stacked 45 wins in their first 75 games, merely playing .500 ball on the road is an acceptable outcome in terms of playoff aspirations. Going just three games above .500 overall the rest of the way is the simple formula for 90 wins, which puts into perspective how good the Orioles have been to this point despite their starting pitching.

Baltimore begins the week ranked second in the AL in runs, first in home runs, second in doubles, fourth in hits, third in batting average, and first in slugging percentage.

Impressive for sure, but what about that on-base percentage for all these free-swinging sluggers who lack plate discipline?

The Orioles rank second in the AL with a .332 OBP and are a respectable seventh in walks, significant improvement from each of the last three years when they ranked 13th or 14th in the AL in free passes. The additions of a few more patient hitters such as Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard, and Pedro Alvarez have certainly helped, but the movement goes beyond that.

Unconventional leadoff hitter Adam Jones has already drawn 20 walks, four shy of his total from last year and more than he drew in all of 2014 when the Orioles ran away with the division. Jonathan Schoop, more of a free swinger than Jones, has two more walks than he had last year in 29 fewer plate appearances. Incremental improvement is still improvement.

That’s fine, but they still don’t play “small ball” and are too homer-happy, aren’t they?

“I don’t want them to apologize for being strong,” Showalter said. “It’s the product of a good approach and a good swing and a good process that that’s the endgame — that [the ball] goes a little further than maybe some of them do. I love how some guy scratches out a walk and maybe they bunt him over and he gets over to third and some guy hits a sac fly and it’s 1-0. Then, the [opponent’s] first two guys strike out, a guy walks, and a big hairy guy hits it in the bleachers and it’s 2-1. Boy, you worked real hard for that one run. That’s good.

“But there’s a time and place. We try to play to our team’s strength.”

The home run is unquestionably a strength as the Orioles have four hitters — Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Jones — on pace for 30 or more home runs. Schoop is currently on track for 28 and two others — Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez — aren’t far off the pace to hit 20.

With three games remaining in June, the Orioles are seven shy of the major league record for homers in a single month — the 1987 Orioles and the 1999 Seattle Mariners each hit 58 in May — and are on pace to hit 259 this season, only five shy of the major league record held by the 1997 Mariners.

But the explanation for the prosperity goes beyond the powerful offense as the Orioles displayed over the weekend by turning double plays and making sparkling defensive plays throughout the four-game sweep over Tampa Bay. A superb infield defense can go a long way in helping your questionable-at-best starting pitching to survive just long enough to turn the ball over to the bullpen.

The Orioles rank second in the majors with a 2.91 bullpen ERA, and they’ve done that without Darren O’Day for almost a month. Closer Zach Britton is 23-for-23 in save opportunities and sports a 0.83 ERA while setup man Brad Brach owns a 1.05 ERA that should also draw All-Star consideration.

The bullpen’s 253 1/3 innings rank 10th in the majors, but Showalter is better at handling a bullpen than any manager in baseball and will do whatever he can to preserve his best arms, even if that means living to fight another day during the occasional close games in which his best relievers need rest.

Kansas City won the World Series last year despite sporting a starting rotation that pitched fewer innings than any other AL club in the regular season. It’s not that great starting pitching is any less valuable these days, but teams are finding success using a collection of high-impact bullpen arms in lieu of pushing the envelope with non-elite starters going through a lineup a third or fourth time in a game. Of course, there’s a critical balance between game strategy on any given night and maintenance of your pitching health over a 162-game schedule that Showalter seems to understand better than anyone.

To be clear, the Royals’ reliance on their bullpen is not a blueprint to proudly follow as much as it’s proof that you can survive — even thrive — without having strong starting pitching.

You just have to be exceptional in other areas of the game.

And the Orioles are doing that.

Yes, they’d really like to improve their rotation and should try to over the next several weeks leading up to the trade deadline, but the Orioles have been so good in other ways that it’s becoming more difficult to doubt their ability to remain in contention, especially with their divisional rivals having their own flaws.

It may go against conventional wisdom, but the Orioles won’t apologize as they keep winning.

The starting pitching may not be a rose, but the rest is blooming like an orchid as we approach the halfway point of the season.

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Short in bullpen, Orioles recall right-hander Oliver Drake on Tuesday

Posted on 21 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Already playing with a 24-man roster in the midst of Manny Machado’s suspension, the Orioles couldn’t afford to be a man short in the bullpen with lefty Brian Duensing dealing with an elbow problem.

As a result, Baltimore recalled right-handed relief pitcher Oliver Drake from Triple-A Norfolk prior to Tuesday’s series opener with the San Diego Padres. To make room on the active roster, veteran infielder Paul Janish was outrighted to Norfolk and will decide over the next few days whether to accept the assignment or to refuse and become a free agent.

The move opens a spot on the 40-man roster, an interesting development with manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles still weighing their options for Wednesday’s start.

Showalter said Duensing was having his elbow examined Tuesday afternoon after the Orioles were made aware of the issue early in Monday night’s makeup game against Texas. His absence would leave the Orioles without a left-hander beyond closer Zach Britton in the bullpen, but Showalter noted that both Drake and right-hander Brad Brach are effective against lefty bats.

Named the International League Pitcher of the Week on Monday, Drake has performed very well for the Tides, posting a 2.02 ERA with 10 saves over 27 games this season. The 29-year-old hadn’t surrendered an earned run over his last 14 innings, totaling 25 strikeouts over that stretch.

Thanks in large part to his effective splitter, left-handed hitters were batting just .133 against Drake this season.

Drake made his major league debut for Baltimore last May and posted a 2.87 ERA in 13 appearances as a rookie. Right-handers posted a .324 average against him while lefty bats sported a .167 clip in 29 plate appearances.

The 33-year-old Janish went 6-for-31 with a double and three runs scored in 14 games with the Orioles this season. Norfolk infielder Sharlon Schoop, the older brother of Jonathan Schoop, remains on the “taxi squad” in case the Orioles need an infielder for Wednesday’s game.

NOTES: In the latest American League All-Star game voting update, Machado continues to lead the way among third basemen. Mark Trumbo is fourth among outfielders, Matt Wieters second among catchers, and Chris Davis third among first basemen. Adam Jones is 13th in the AL outfielder voting. … Showalter said there are as many as five candidates in play to make Wednesday’s start. The in-house options would presumably be relievers Odrisamer Despaigne and Ubaldo Jimenez, but their availability was dependent on how Tuesday’s game played out. … The Baltimore bullpen entered Tuesday ranked second in the majors with a 3.00 ERA and is tied for 10th in the majors in innings pitched.

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Orioles option McFarland in addition to Wright before Saturday’s game

Posted on 18 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Needing to create roster room to activate both starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and shortstop J.J. Hardy from the disabled list on Saturday, the Orioles optioned two pitchers to Triple-A Norfolk.

After struggling starting pitcher Mike Wright was optioned to Norfolk late Friday night, Baltimore sent down left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland, who pitched two scoreless innings and threw 25 pitches in the 13-3 loss to Toronto. The move leaves the Orioles with a seven-man bullpen after Ubaldo Jimenez was demoted to a relief role earlier in the week.

With Manny Machado’s four-game suspension about to begin, manager Buck Showalter prefers keeping both Ryan Flaherty and Paul Janish on the roster — Baltimore will play with 24 players while Machado is out — but the state of the bullpen will go a long way in determining how feasible that is. The Blue Jays entered Saturday having scored 10 or more runs in five of their last seven games with three of those contests coming against the Orioles.

With Wright demoted and now set to start for the Tides, the Orioles will need a starter for Wednesday’s game against San Diego. Odrisamer Despaigne and Jimenez would appear to be the in-house candidates to take the ball on that day, but their usage over the next few days will be a major factor. The struggling Jimenez clearly wouldn’t be received as a popular option as he threw 62 pitches and allowed five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings on Friday to raise his season ERA to 7.34.

The Orioles entered Saturday with a 4.93 starter ERA, ranking 13th out of 15 American League clubs.

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Orioles make latest change to sinking rotation

Posted on 18 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles starter Mike Wright had few answers after his latest outing went horribly wrong in a 13-3 loss to Toronto on Friday night.

After allowing a career-high eight earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings, Wright saw his season ERA climb to an unseemly 6.12. To little surprise, the 26-year-old was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after the game, signaling Baltimore’s second rotation change this week with disappointing veteran Ubaldo Jimenez already being sent to the bullpen.

In his last two starts covering 8 2/3 innings — both against the Blue Jays — Wright allowed 12 earned runs.

“I threw some good pitches, I threw some bad pitches. They hit them both,” said Wright shortly before his demotion was announced. “I’m working harder than ever. When you’re working harder than ever and you get those results, it’s tough.”

Despite being optioned to Norfolk following his June 1 start against Boston that lasted only 2 2/3 innings, Wright was recalled on June 3 when reliever Darren O’Day was placed on the 15-day disabled list. The young pitcher initially took advantage of the “do-over” by tossing seven strong innings against a depleted Kansas City lineup, but his last two starts only reaffirmed the struggles with his command and with the quality of his secondary pitches.

On Saturday, the Orioles will activate veteran starter Yovani Gallardo from the DL, a move they hope will serve as a shot in the arm for a starting rotation sporting a 4.93 ERA through the first 67 games of the 2016 season. However, Gallardo is only taking Jimenez’s spot in the rotation, making it unclear who will replace Wright when his turn next comes around on Wednesday.

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Hardy returning Saturday with Machado suspension looming

Posted on 17 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With All-Star infielder Manny Machado expected to begin serving his suspension next week, the Orioles welcomed veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy back to Camden Yards on Friday.

The 33-year-old was not activated for the series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, but he will return to the Baltimore lineup on Saturday. Buck Showalter had left open the possibility of Hardy playing another minor-league game at Single-A Frederick after he went 4-for-11 with a walk in three games at Double-A Bowie earlier in the week week, but the manager confirmed after Friday’s 13-3 loss to Toronto that Hardy would be reinstated from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday.

Hardy has been on the DL since breaking his left foot on May 1.

“We’re leaning on J.J. on this. He knows he’s real close. I know there’s one little thing he wants to feel good about,” said Showalter on Friday afternoon. “He’s moving around well defensively. Plus-plus speed has not been his forte, so we’re not looking [for that]. I do know he wants to be able to score from second on a single and [from] first on a double and do the things he needs to do, but we’re looking forward to getting him back. It’s been a long road.”

Hardy’s return is an encouraging development with Machado slated to miss up to four games for charging the mound against Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura in a June 7 brawl. The 23-year-old has appealed his four-game suspension, but the Orioles are not overly optimistic about the chances of the ban being reduced, which could lead to Machado potentially dropping his case ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled hearing.

Such a decision could allow Machado to begin serving his suspension on Monday when the Orioles play a makeup game against Texas in Arlington and would then mean he’d miss only the opener of next weekend’s four-game set with Tampa Bay. The fear is that Machado’s hearing could delay the start of his suspension and prevent him from playing in the bulk of that series against an AL East opponent.

Though miffed that Ventura will likely only miss one start with his nine-game suspension compared to Machado missing multiple games, Showalter is trying to put a positive spin on the situation.

“I think Manny could use a few days [off]. He won’t ever admit it,” said Showalter about the young infielder who was playing in his major-league-leading 228th consecutive game on Friday. “I think we’ll be glad to get it behind us.”

It remains unclear how the Orioles will make room for Hardy on the 25-man roster, but infielder Paul Janish being designated for assignment or utility man Ryan Flaherty being optioned to the minors would appear to be the most likely of the possible moves. Baltimore must also make roster space for the returning Yovani Gallardo, who will make Saturday’s start against the Blue Jays.

Machado has played very well at shortstop in Hardy’s absence, but Showalter made it clear there would be no controversy with the former returning to his regular position at third base where he’s won two Gold Gloves. Hardy is a three-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop and is considered the leader of the defense.

“Manny’s got a lot of respect for J.J. and so does Jon Schoop,” Showalter said. “I was talking to [Machado] a little bit the other day and he’s really looking forward to [Hardy] coming back because it makes us a better team.”

In 86 plate appearances this season, Hardy is hitting .244 with two home runs, eight RBIs, and a .701 on-base plus slugging percentage.

NOTES: On Friday, the Orioles agreed to terms with first-round pitcher Cody Sedlock at the reported slot bonus value of just under $2.1 million. The right-hander from the University of Illinois will begin his professional career at short-season Single-A Aberdeen after completing some bullpen sessions in Sarasota. … Though he won’t be cleared to catch in games until June 27, backup catcher Caleb Joseph (testicular surgery) began his rehab assignment Friday serving as the designated hitter for Single-A Frederick. He is now allowed to catch bullpen sessions, but the possibility of a foul ball to the groin area as he continues to fully heal from surgery is the reason why he won’t catch in games for 10 more days. … Despite his slow recovery from a hamstring injury, All-Star reliever Darren O’Day “had a good day” on Friday, according to Showalter. He is eligible to be activated from the DL as early as Saturday, but it remains unclear when he will able to return. … Right-hander Vance Worley continues to feel the effects of the groin injury that landed him on the DL earlier this week, but Showalter still thinks he’ll be ready to return after the minimum 15 days.

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Orioles finally send struggling Jimenez to bullpen

Posted on 15 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Sporting the worst ERA among qualified pitchers in the major leagues, Orioles pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez is finally moving to the bullpen.

Manager Buck Showalter announced the change ahead of Tuesday’s series-opening win in Boston as veteran Yovani Gallardo will be activated from the disabled list on Saturday to take Jimenez’s place in the starting rotation. After giving up five runs and retiring only one batter in Sunday’s loss to Toronto, Jimenez will now pitch in relief as he tries to work out his issues that have led to a 6.89 ERA and 1.98 WHIP in 13 starts covering 62 2/3 innings.

Over his last 28 starts dating back to last July 17, the 32-year-old has posted a 6.17 ERA in 147 1/3 innings. Still owing Jimenez just over $21 million through next season, the Orioles hope the right-hander can work out his issues in the bullpen to eventually return to a starting rotation that entered Tuesday ranked 12th in the American League in ERA.

This marks the second time in his three seasons with Baltimore that Jimenez has been moved to the bullpen because of ineffectiveness.

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Jimenez leaves Orioles no choice but to make change

Posted on 12 June 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have no other choice after Ubaldo Jimenez allowed five runs and retired just one batter before being removed from Sunday’s game in Toronto.

It’s time to make a change.

Whether that means a trip to the bullpen or the Orioles making the bold and difficult decision to designate him for assignment, Jimenez shouldn’t remain in the starting rotation. How hard a worker the 32-year-old might be or even how much money he’s still owed through next season can’t justify him making his next start for a team entering a much-needed off-day still tied for first place in the AL East and 10 games over .500 in mid-June.

Inconsistency is one thing — it’s defined his career, after all — but not giving your club a chance while repeatedly compromising the bullpen is another. The good — or even decent — version of Jimenez has been missing for well over a month now with his best performance over that time being an outing in which he allowed nine hits and three walks in five innings against an undermanned Kansas City lineup last week.

In his last seven starts, Jimenez has pitched to a 10.00 ERA in 27 innings of work. Over that time, he’s twice failed to complete two innings, hasn’t once finished six innings, and has surrendered five or more runs in all but one of those outings.

His season ERA now sits at 6.89 and his WHIP — walks and hits per inning pitched — is an appalling 1.98. As Ravens coach John Harbaugh would say, that’s below the line.

Asked multiple times over the last few weeks about Jimenez’s spot in the rotation, manager Buck Showalter has often replied, “As opposed to whom?” It’s his subtle and mostly-innocuous way of challenging a reporter asking a critical question but also a commentary on the organization’s lack of viable starting pitching depth.

It’s no longer a fitting retort, however. No matter how limited the alternatives might be, you cannot maintain the status quo if you’re trying to be fair to the rest of the players on a contending club, especially after the Orioles decided to jettison the popular Miguel Gonzalez — who is pitching pretty well again in Chicago, mind you — after a difficult second half to 2015 and a poor spring.

It’s unfortunate because Jimenez is a well-liked teammate and desperately wants to do well, but the answer to Showalter’s rhetorical question has become “anybody else” at this point. That’s not to say that Yovani Gallardo or Vance Worley or T.J. McFarland or Odrisamer Despaigne or anyone Dan Duquette might find off the scrapheap will provide the solution the Orioles seek, but all options need to be on the table when you’re talking about replacing a starter with an ERA a smidgen under 7.00.

With Gallardo scheduled to make a final rehab start for Triple-A Norfolk on Monday, he’s poised to return to the rotation this weekend. The Orioles can only pray that he will have more to offer than he did in April when he had a 7.00 ERA in four starts before going to the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis.

We know Jimenez isn’t the only starter struggling as Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson both pitched poorly in Toronto, but that shouldn’t be an argument to justify continuing to go down this path with the veteran right-hander.

One problem at a time.

The frustrating thing is that the Orioles don’t need terrific starting pitching to contend when they have such a powerful offense, a terrific bullpen, and strong infield defense. Mediocrity from its rotation would probably be enough, but Jimenez hasn’t been able to provide even that much despite being in the third season of a four-year, $50 million contract.

Even if you believe Jimenez can get himself straightened out with some side sessions and low-leverage appearances out of the bullpen before giving him another shot in the rotation in a few weeks, there’s no competitive reason to continue sending him to the mound every fifth day for a contending club right now. He needs a break mentally and emotionally as much as he does physically to try to figure out how to fix this — if he can.

The Orioles have been more than patient, but Showalter’s first-inning hook on Sunday said it all.

It’s time to throw in the towel.

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