Tag Archive | "Bud Norris"

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Norris’ struggles continue at Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 23 May 2015 by Luke Jones

A difficult start to the 2015 season didn’t get any better for Bud Norris in a rehab start at Triple-A Norfolk on Friday.

The Orioles pitcher surrendered nine earned runs and 12 hits in just 2 2/3 innings in an 11-4 loss to Rochester in the first game of a doubleheader. He gave up two home runs to Kennys Vargas, who was recently optioned to Triple A by the Minnesota Twins.

Norris was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Monday after he’d been dealing with a case of bronchitis and hadn’t pitched since May 10. The 30-year-old is eligible to be activated from the DL on Tuesday, but his latest poor outing may force the club to reevaluate what to do with the right-hander, who sports a 9.88 ERA in six starts for the Orioles this year after a poor spring.

Manager Buck Showalter was envisioning Norris as one of his starters for this Thursday’s doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox, but his dramatic struggles with the Tides could signal the need for a longer rehab assignment. Minor-league rehab assignments for pitchers can last up to 30 days.

Norris has been particularly poor against left-handed hitters as they sport an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.174 this season. Right-handers have a .729 OPS against him in 2015.

Scheduled to become a free agent after the 2015 season, Norris is making $8.8 million this season. He went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts last season and was the winning pitcher in Game 3 of the 2014 American League Division Series as the Orioles swept Detroit.

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Cruz on return to Camden Yards: “You have to move on”

Posted on 19 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A year ago at this time, former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz was just a couple weeks away from making his return visit to Arlington where he’d spent the previous eight seasons with the Texas Rangers.

His return to Baltimore may not be accompanied by as many memories, but the current Seattle Mariners outfielder hit 40 home runs last year to help the Orioles win the American League East title for the first time since 1997. The 34-year-old has picked up in Seattle where he left off last year, leading the major leagues with 15 homers in 157 plate appearances after signing a four-year, $57 million contract with the Mariners in early December.

What kind of reaction was he expecting from Orioles fans?

“Love, hopefully, until I do something to piss them off,” said Cruz, flashing a big smile while talking to reporters in the visitor dugout at Camden Yards. “But hopefully love.”

Cruz holds no ill will toward the Orioles, who were unwilling to offer the veteran free agent a fourth year for a player who will turn 38 midway through the 2018 season. Though still possessing plenty of power in ranking sixth in the majors with 44 homers, the Orioles have missed Cruz’s bat in the heart of the order as they have used a collection of corner outfielders with very little success through the first 35 games of the season.

Meanwhile, the Mariners haven’t taken advantage of Cruz’s .340 average, 15 homers, and 30 RBIs thus far, stumbling to a 17-20 record with few others producing in their lineup and their pitching not performing at its 2014 level.

Asked if he thinks he and Nick Markakis would be making a difference for the 16-19 Orioles, Cruz kept his former team’s struggles in perspective, recalling that last year’s club didn’t take off until the summer months.

“Last year around this time, we kind of struggled as a team and we found a way to get it done,” Cruz said. “It’s early, and they still have a pretty good team this year. [Matt] Wieters is probably the only piece they need right now besides [not having] Nick and myself. They still have a pretty good team.”

In his first game against the Rangers last year, Cruz hit a three-run homer to help the Orioles to an 8-3 win over Texas on June 3. Baltimore can only hope that the slugger cools off this week after punishing pitchers through the first six weeks of 2015.

Attending Manny Machado’s charity bowling event since both teams had Monday off, Cruz had an early start getting reacquainted with former teammates, but he planned to use his experience returning to Texas last year to help deal with any emotions he might feel being back in Charm City.

“It was weird like it’s going to be [here],” Cruz said. “Maybe the first at-bat is going to be different, but after that, it’s part of another game. You have to move on.”

NOTES: Starting pitcher Bud Norris (bronchitis) will make a rehab start for Triple-A Norfolk on Friday and is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on May 26. Manager Buck Showalter said the plan is for Norris to return to the Orioles rotation if “all things are equal when he’s ready to come back.” … Wieters (right elbow) will join the Orioles in Miami for their weekend series against the Marlins and is expected to finally begin his minor-league rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie next Tuesday. The three-time All-Star catcher is eligible to be activated from the 60-day DL as early as June 4. … Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman (right shoulder) threw 25 times from 60 feet on Tuesday and will throw from 90 feet on Thursday. He is currently scheduled to throw living batting practice in Miami on Saturday. … Infielder Everth Cabrera (left foot) is continuing his rehab assignment with Norfolk and is eligible to be activated from the 15-day DL on Friday. He is out of minor-league options.

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Norris placed on 15-day DL, Wilson recalled from Norfolk

Posted on 18 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Trying to recover from a nasty bout of bronchitis, Orioles starting pitcher Bud Norris was officially placed on the 15-day disabled list on Monday night.

Right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take Norris’ place on the 25-man roster. Wilson had been summoned to Baltimore over the weekend in case the pitching staff had a need, but he needed to be placed on the 25-man roster or returned to the Tides by 8 p.m. Monday.

Norris hasn’t pitched since May 10 and has lost 10 pounds, according to manager Buck Showalter. The Orioles’ ability to backdate his trip to the DL made it a logical choice to give him time to recover and rebuild his strength.

With Mike Wright pitching 7 1/3 shutout innings in his major league debut on Sunday, the Orioles could give the rookie an extended audition in the rotation while sending Norris on a minor-league rehab assignment to not only get back into a rhythm but to make some adjustments after a rough start to the 2015 campaign. The 30-year-old has pitched to a 9.88 ERA in six starts spanning 27 1/3 innings this season.

Wilson is expected to work out of the bullpen with right-hander Kevin Gausman on the 15-day DL and expected to join Norfolk’s starting rotation in the near future. The 25-year-old went 2-4 with a 3.43 ERA over seven starts (39 1/3 innings) with the Tides this season. He was named the Orioles’ minor league pitcher of the year last season after leading all Baltimore minor leaguers in wins (14) and strikeouts (157) while finishing seventh in ERA (3.67).

Right-hander Chris Tillman is expected to make Thursday afternoon’s start against the Seattle Mariners after dealing with lower back issues over the weekend. Miguel Gonzalez is slated to pitch on Tuesday night with lefty Wei-Yin Chen starting Game 2 of the Seattle series.

In other injury-related news, pitching prospect Hunter Harvey visited renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Monday and received a platelet rich plasma injection for a right flexor mass strain. Andrews prescribed six weeks of rest, so it remains to be seen whether Harvey will ultimately need to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Of course, skeptics will point to the similar timetables of rest prescribed for Dylan Bundy and Matt Wieters before each ultimately underwent the ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction procedure in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

The Orioles acquired left-handed pitcher Chris Lee from the Houston Astros in exchange for two international signing bonus slots. A fourth-round pick in 2011, Lee hasn’t pitched above the Single-A level and sported a 4.11 ERA in 30 2/3 innings for Quad Cities this season.

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Orioles receive lift from unexpected source

Posted on 18 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles needed a lift in more ways than one on Sunday.

The short-term need of a starting rotation without an ill Bud Norris or an ailing Chris Tillman was apparent as Baltimore begins a brutal stretch of 21 games in 20 days on Tuesday.

On top of that, the Orioles were facing the prospects of being swept at home after falling four games below .500 for the first time in four years on Saturday night. A pick-me-up was in order after a struggling offense had wasted stellar outings from Wei-Yin Chen and Ubaldo Jimenez in the previous two games against the Los Angeles Angels.

A change in karma was required for a club struggling to find its footing through the first six weeks of the 2015 season. Even though their early-season concerns remain, the Orioles needed a new wrinkle to end the series on a positive note and head into their final off-day for three weeks with a good feeling.

And that’s exactly what rookie Mike Wright provided in turning in 7 1/3 shutout innings in a 3-0 win before 41,733 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Displaying impressive poise, Wright became the first pitcher in franchise history to toss a scoreless start without walking a batter in his major league debut as he also added six strikeouts while surrendering just four hits.

Wright’s fastball was on display from the very beginning, recording his first major league strikeout when he blew a 98 mph fastball past 2014 American League MVP Mike Trout in the top of the first. His fastball was still touching 97 mph in the eighth inning as he mixed in his slider, changeup, and curveball throughout the afternoon to keep Angels hitters off balance.

Though rated as only the Orioles’ No. 8 prospect by Baseball American last offseason, the 2011 third-round pick out of East Carolina earned Sunday’s opportunity after steadily working his way up the organizational ladder over the last few seasons. If only for one afternoon, Wright put the hype surrounding the likes of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and Hunter Harvey on the back burner while he enjoyed the limelight, leaving to a standing ovation in the eighth.

Yes, the day belonged to the 6-foot-6 right-hander and the Orioles reaped the benefits as their lineup once again struggled through a nondescript afternoon — albeit against the talented Garrett Richards — before Adam Jones provided some much-needed insurance with a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth.

There’s no telling what’s next for Wright as manager Buck Showalter will weigh his immediate options in the starting rotation, but the 25-year-old certainly earned another opportunity after shutting down an Angels club that had won five straight games. He became the first Orioles pitcher to post a scoreless start in his major league debut since Chris Waters did it against the Angels in 2008 and the first to do it at home since Anthony Telford shut down Oakland at Memorial Stadium in 1990.

The Orioles hope Wright makes many more meaningful contributions, but the aforementioned names serve as a reminder that you can’t take too much away from what we witnessed on Sunday.

You hope there’s more to come, but Wright provided a shot in the arm that the Orioles needed to feel better about the weekend and themselves.

Even if it was only for one afternoon.

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Orioles rotation in flux with rough stretch looming

Posted on 16 May 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 11:05 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — The Orioles are facing uncertainty in their starting rotation at the wrong time with a stretch of 21 games in 20 days beginning Tuesday.

With Bud Norris still recovering from bronchitis and Chris Tillman experiencing some lower back stiffness, manager Buck Showalter was not ready to name a starter for the series finale against the Los Angeles Angels until after Saturday’s loss when he revealed rookie Mike Wright would take the ball on Sunday. Norris has lost some weight as a result of the illness, but the Orioles hope he will be able to start Tuesday’s series opener against Seattle and might be available out of the bullpen Sunday if necessary.

Norris’ fever has subsided, which allowed him to return to the ballpark on Saturday since he’s no longer contagious.

It’s no secret that Tillman has managed lower back issues from time to time over the last few years, so Showalter didn’t want to make too much of the stiffness, expressing cautious optimism that the tall right-hander would be ready to pitch in the Mariners series. The Baltimore skipper said Tillman was feeling better on Saturday after his back issue flared up during his workday on Friday.

“We’ve managed through it two or three seasons now when it’s there,” Showalter said. “Just like all pitchers, the things that aren’t always public that guys deal with every outing, workdays are adjusted constantly based on what somebody’s feeling or not feeling. The thing that we’re challenged with is after Monday, we’ve got to have everybody on board for a long period of time.

“I’m going to take every precaution that our guys can present themselves healthy for that stretch.”

The Orioles were considering several other options for Sunday’s start, including T.J. McFarland or even another pitcher from Triple-A Norfolk. Wright was recalled earlier this week and will be making his major league debut after posting a 3-0 record with a 2.64 ERA in six starts for the Tides.

In other health-related news, Jonathan Schoop (right knee) began baseball-related activities on Saturday, a good sign after the second baseman was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 18. The 23-year-old hit off a tee, played catch from 90 feet, and completed some agility drills in Sarasota.

“That went well,” Showalter said. “I was trying to get Manny [Machado] to talk to him to see if he could get something out of him that he wouldn’t give the trainers. That was encouraging to see.”

Schoop will begin taking grounders on Monday.

Right-handed pitching prospect Hunter Harvey will visit renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Monday for a second opinion on his right elbow. The Orioles doctors have recommended rest for the 20-year-old, but this is the second time in 10 months that he’s been shut down with a flexor mass strain.

Catcher Matt Wieters (right elbow) caught seven innings in an extended spring training game. The club decided to pull Wieters from the game due to the Florida heat and a number of struggling pitchers prolonging the game.

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An Orioles performance only a mother could love

Posted on 10 May 2015 by Luke Jones

There was something ironic about the Orioles turning in a performance only a mother could love in a 6-2 loss to the New York Yankees on the holiday Sunday.

In their fifth loss in six games, the Orioles struck out a club-record 18 times as Michael Pineda turned in the first 16-strikeout performance without a walk in the majors since Johan Santana did it in 2007. To be clear, the Yankees starter deserves plenty of credit as he lowered his season ERA to 2.72, but Baltimore’s frustration was evident throughout the afternoon, perhaps captured best in the fifth inning when Manny Machado slammed his bat in frustration after striking out.

Despite Sunday’s dubious achievement, the strikeout hasn’t been a universal problem for the Orioles — they entered the day ranked 15th in the majors — but Chris Davis struck out twice more on Sunday to give him a league-leading 48 in 116 plate appearances. Davis has managed to produce an .805 on-base plus slugging percentage with a club-leading seven home runs, but his contact rate of 61.9 percent entering Sunday was even lower than last season’s 63.6 percent, which doesn’t bode well for future performance.

Hoping to build on back-to-back quality starts, Bud Norris reverted to the pitcher we saw throughout spring training and most of April when he allowed four earned runs before being chased in the fourth inning. It would be unfair to ignore his last two outings in which he posted a 3.95 ERA over 13 2/3 innings, but the leash is shrinking rapidly as we approach Memorial Day.

Of course, the question of who would replace Norris was complicated with Kevin Gausman being placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis on Friday. Injuries are a cruel reality of the game, but it’s impossible not to wonder what role irregular work might have played in the most talented pitcher in the organization developing a cranky shoulder. It was one of the biggest concerns mentioned as a reason why some wanted Gausman to be working on a regular schedule in the starting rotation at Triple-A Norfolk if not pitching every fifth day in Baltimore.

The day also brought the latest cringe-worthy outing from Rule 5 pitcher Jason Garcia, who walked four batters and allowed an earned run in 2 1/3 innings. His performance mattered little to the final score, but the 22-year-old has now walked 11 batters in 13 2/3 innings and once again was sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, a far cry from the electric stuff club officials raved about as enough reason to try to carry him on the 25-man roster.

There are simply too many pitchers — Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Steve Johnson, just to name a few — performing well at Norfolk to justify continuing the Garcia experiment if he can’t even pitch in mop-up situations. And his diminished velocity makes you wonder if the long-term payoff of keeping him in the organization is even worth it.

The corner outfield spots continue to create cause for concern as right fielder Delmon Young threw to the wrong base to allow a run to score in the fourth inning and left fielder Alejandro De Aza got a bad read on Jacoby Ellsbury’s two-run double. Even with a proper break, De Aza likely wouldn’t have caught the deep liner, but Orioles pitching simply doesn’t strike out enough hitters to survive with the spottier-than-usual defense we’ve continued to see over the first five weeks of the 2015 campaign.

Even the 2013 Gold Glove winner Machado has struggled to find his usual consistency in the field with a club-leading seven errors this season.

On top of his shaky defense, De Aza struck out twice more to drop his average to .211 with a .632 OPS. He has the second-worst strikeout rate on the club behind Davis, but he hasn’t provided near the production to justify much playing time.

De Aza and Steve Pearce (.556 OPS) were counted on to be consistent contributors in 2015, but both have struggled to even stay in the lineup with such disappointing numbers. Their struggles have provided plenty of ammunition to criticize an offseason in which Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis departed via free agency and only Travis Snider was added to the outfield.

The Orioles return home 13-16 and 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees in the American League East. Panic and hopelessness are still premature, but it’s fair to be concerned with Baltimore having already suffered separate losing streaks of five and four games in the season’s first five weeks.

As manager Buck Showalter would say, blaming the underwhelming start solely on the losses of Cruz, Markakis, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller — who still has a 0.00 ERA in New York — would be a convenient excuse to overlook other problems. The Orioles have received poor pitching performances from Norris and No. 1 starter Chris Tillman and not nearly enough offense from the likes of De Aza and Pearce as well as former All-Star shorstop Everth Cabrera prior to the recent return of J.J. Hardy.

There’s no such thing as must-win games in mid-May, but the Orioles now play 17 of their next 20 games at Camden Yards. To quell concerns and keep pace as the geriatric Yankees continue to play strong baseball, the Orioles would serve themselves well to take advantage of the home cooking after a brutal stretch on the road.

They can start by putting an ugly Mother’s Day behind them as quickly as possible.

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Orioles feeling better after regrouping against Boston

Posted on 26 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — You often hope a dramatic moment like David Lough’s walk-off homer against Boston on Saturday night will be the sign of better fortunes to come.

It helped the Orioles snap a five-game losing streak and sent fans home happy after a tense day in downtown Baltimore, but “magical” occurrences like this can be found in virtually any season with most being of little consequence in the scope of a 162-game schedule. That’s what made Sunday’s demolition of the Red Sox that much more encouraging.

Manager Buck Showalter often quotes the late Earl Weaver’s philosophy of momentum being as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, and Bud Norris delivered with 6 2/3 strong innings despite his nightmarish beginning to the 2015 season. Of course, he received plenty of support as the Orioles lineup matched its highest run total since April 19, 2006.

“It was one we kind of needed,” said right fielder Delmon Young, who drove in five runs in Sunday’s 18-7 final. “We’ve been playing sloppy baseball for about a week or so. Good to get out of the rut. We had been swinging the bats well, [but] just hadn’t been playing on the defensive side well. And Bud pitched a strong game.”

The Orioles played sound defense — something that shouldn’t be taken for granted of late — and Norris quieted questions about his status in the starting rotation for the time being by holding the Red Sox scoreless until surrendering a three-run home run to Pablo Sandoval with two outs in the seventh inning. Norris lowered his ERA from 17.42 to 12.18 in his first four starts covering 17 innings.

It was his outing that was the most encouraging development of the afternoon despite the Orioles collecting 20 hits in a game for the first time in over a year.

“Bud, without a doubt,” said Showalter when asked if he placed more importance on the performance of his starting pitcher or the offense. “That’s the Bud that pitched well for us last year. This guy won 15 games last year, and he was in attack mode today. He got a little tired there at the end. Threw a lot of strike ones. He was around the zone the whole day. Bud was good.”

Norris showed improved fastball command in allowing seven hits and three earned runs while walking three and striking out two to help the Orioles win their third series of the season. His six clean innings were more than his total number of clean frames (five) in his first three outings combined.

After completing six innings just four times in their first 16 games, Orioles starters are on a mini-roll with Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Norris each turning in six or more innings over the weekend. But Norris needed a good outing more than any pitcher on the roster after a rough spring and two of the worst starts of his major league career coming in his first three outings of 2015.

“It feels really good, to be honest, just to prove to these guys that I’m here to help out again,” Norris said. “These guys know who I am. We’re trying to find our stride. We have a good group in this clubhouse, and we’re excited with the year to go.”

Yes, the Orioles regrouped nicely this weekend to calm some nerves after a 7-10 start and their ugly five-game slide. Still dealing with injuries, they need to see their pitching step up and the defense to stabilize with some new pieces until the likes of J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters are able to return.

The offense is certainly doing its part, entering Sunday ranking sixth in the majors in runs scored and taking over the major-league lead with its highest run total in almost a decade.

Fans will hope Lough’s walk-off homer and a drubbing of the Red Sox on Sunday are the catalysts for a hot streak to even out the early struggles, but the next indicator comes against the Chicago White Sox with Ubaldo Jimenez taking the hill against Hector Noesi on Monday night.

“Momentum stops once you go to sleep,” Young said. “It’s a new pitcher, a new day.”

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Orioles still trying to recapture starter success from last year

Posted on 23 April 2015 by Luke Jones

You don’t have to look far to figure out why the Orioles are off to a 7-8 start to begin the 2015 season.

They’ve been sloppy in other areas of the game, but Orioles starting pitching entered Thursday ranking last in the majors in innings pitched (4.87 innings per start) and 27th in ERA (5.30). In looking at the first 15 games of the season solely through that lens, Baltimore might be fortunate to be just a game below .500. The bullpen hasn’t been much better with a 4.55 ERA, but relievers have already been overworked because of the starters’ failures.

Bud Norris’ struggles have garnered plenty of attention as the right-hander currently sports a 17.42 ERA, but No. 1 starter Chris Tillman entered Thursday’s start with a 5.52 ERA through three starts. Meanwhile, Wei-Yin Chen can thank his shoddy defense in Boston on Monday — one of the errors were committed by the lefty starter — for a 3.07 ERA that doesn’t accurately reflect how shaky his performance has been thus far. Chen sports a 1.70 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and a 6.49 FIP (fielding independent pitching mark), which paint a better picture of how he’s pitched.

The poor performance of the rotation has left many to wonder why the talented Kevin Gausman isn’t starting, but the 24-year-old is trying to rebound from a rough beginning of his own in the bullpen and owns a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings of work. The 2012 first-round pick finished 2014 with a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts.

The rocky start has been a stark contrast from the second half of 2014 when the pitching became one of the Orioles’ biggest strengths, finishing fifth in the American League in starter ERA (3.61). Baltimore went 53-27 over the final three months of the season, a clip that translates to a 107-win season over the course of a full year. Aside from Ubaldo Jimenez, who made only five starts in the final three months of 2014, every member of the rotation finished with an ERA of 3.65 or better.

Though many continued to criticize Orioles starters for failing to go seven innings consistently last year, the more realistic standard in today’s game has become six innings as Cincinnati led the majors last year in averaging 6.32 innings per start. Over those final 80 games when the Orioles ran away from the rest of the AL East, starters completed at least six innings 49 times and seven or more innings 23 times.

So far in 2015, starting pitchers have gone six innings just four times in 15 games. And only Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez have completed seven innings in one start each.

It’s easy to point to the offseason departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller as reasons why the Orioles might fail to repeat as AL East champions, but the shortcomings of the starting pitching have told the bigger story in the early stages of 2015.

One of their biggest strengths of last season has been the weakest link of Buck Showalter’s club in April.

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Orioles musings on the opening week of the season

Posted on 13 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Based on how they performed over the first week of the season, the Orioles are right where they belong sitting at the .500 mark while allowing one more run (32) than they’ve scored (31) through the season’s first six games.

The fact that a number of fans are concerned about a 3-3 record shows just how far the Orioles have come over the last three years under manager Buck Showalter in that they’re now expected to win. For anyone concerned about the first week of the season, keep in mind that the Orioles began last season with a 1-4 mark and were still sitting at .500 at the beginning of June before playing .639 baseball the rest of the way.

For context, the Orioles are roughly at the same point in their season now as the Ravens were when Joe Flacco tossed an interception in the third quarter of the 2014 season opener against Cincinnati last September.

Beyond Bud Norris being a “person of interest” with a poor start in the home opener that followed his concerning spring and Ubaldo Jimenez reinforcing his strong finish in the Grapefruit League with a brilliant performance Saturday night, I haven’t seen much of anything that changes my overall attitude or outlook on the 2015 campaign. The Orioles obviously need to pitch better than they did in the first week, and I think they will based on the track record of many of these hurlers over the last few seasons.

* The Orioles have given up 10 or more runs in a game twice already after doing it just five times all last season, which brings two thoughts to mind.

One, it shows how consistent the staff was in 2014 despite not having the kind of starting rotation that inflicts fear like Detroit’s last year or the current Washington group. In 2013, the Orioles allowed 10 or more runs nine times and surrendered at least that many in a game 10 times in 2012.

It also speaks to how impressive the Toronto lineup was in scoring 23 runs in a three-game series in which the Blue Jays were nearly shut out in the second contest. The Blue Jays weren’t exactly struggling to score runs anyway before the offseason arrivals of an MVP-caliber player like third baseman Josh Donaldson and veteran catcher Russell Martin, who posted a .402 on-base percentage with Pittsburgh last year.

I still have my doubts about how quickly their young pitching will come together in both the rotation and the bullpen, but the Blue Jays will hit the ball as well as anyone in the majors.

* Third baseman Manny Machado’s 0-for-15 streak to begin the 2015 season ended Sunday, but his .053 average isn’t anything to be concerned about just yet as he’s hit several balls hard and has shown improved patience at the plate in drawing three walks in 23 plate appearances. He’s only struck out three times over that span, which suggests making contact isn’t a concern.

What has been an encouraging sign that his surgically-repaired knees are not an issue is the number of “Machadian” plays — yes, I’ve coined a new adjective to describe his impeccable defense — he’s already made in the field.

Considering he won’t be 23 until July, it’s amazing to think how many highlight plays he’s already offered up in his major league career. You just hope the problems with his knees are finally behind him, so we can enjoy watching this kid play a full season.

* Right-hander Kevin Gausman is off to a rocky start in the bullpen, allowing three earned runs and four walks in 3 2/3 innings.

While I’ve made no secret about my disagreement with his handling, it’s worth noting that he’s begun throwing a curveball — seemingly abandoning his slider that was still a work in progress — for the first time since college. In talking to Gausman late last week, you got the sense that he’s trying to emulate Chris Tillman a little more by adopting the curve to change hitters’ eye levels and throwing more high fastballs, which will certainly get him in trouble if he doesn’t locate and pick his spots carefully.

You wonder if these fundamental adjustments along with some natural disappointment over not being in the rotation have led to his early-season struggles, but there’s too much talent there for him not to right himself sooner rather than later.

* I’m guessing not many would have predicted knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa as the first minor-league pitcher to be recalled by the Orioles this season, but it further illustrates how timing and flexibility have more to do with promotions than anything.

More heralded arms such as Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson had already pitched in the previous two days and the Orioles preferred to give T.J. McFarland his scheduled start with Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, paving the way for the 30-year-old Gamboa to receive his first promotion to the majors. Of course, he was only going to pitch in an extreme situation such as an injury or two taking place or the score being totally out of hand, but it once again shows how manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will utilize resources at Norfolk and even Double-A Bowie however they see fit.

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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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