Tag Archive | "Bud Norris"

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Orioles’ trade deadline activity sends mixed signals

Posted on 31 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles are a better club after Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline came and went.

At least I think they are.

The acquisition of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Gerardo Parra in exchange for minor-league pitcher Zach Davies provides an upgrade at the corner outfield positions that have been a wasteland for most of the 2015 season. Even if it’s a stretch to expect the 28-year-old left-handed hitter to sustain his career-high .328 average and gaudy .886 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2015, the organization doesn’t seem overly concerned with giving up Davies, a 22-year-old right-hander who has pitched well over the last couple years but doesn’t project to be more than an eventual No. 4 or No. 5 starter at best in the majors.

Despite lacking the commodities to trade for high-profile names, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette succeeded in adding one of the better outfield bats in the National League this year to replace the struggling Chris Parmelee on the active roster. Time will tell how the two-time Gold Glove outfielder performs over the next two months and whether the Orioles will sign the pending free agent this offseason, but he’s a distinct improvement over the likes of Travis Snider, Nolan Reimold, and David Lough.

However, the second trade of the day that sent veteran relief pitcher Tommy Hunter to the Chicago Cubs for 25-year-old outfielder Junior Lake sent a different message as it relates to the Orioles’ chances in 2015.

Hunter may not have been the Orioles’ best late-inning pitcher and had some rough stretches over the years, but the 29-year-old logged plenty of meaningful innings over the last four seasons and was better than many wanted to admit. In contrast, Lake was no longer regarded as a valuable piece in the Cubs system with a career .663 on-base plus slugging percentage in 642 career plate appearances in the majors and was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk upon being acquired.

The Orioles will point out that they now have two optionable pieces in their bullpen with talented rookie right-handers Mychal Givens and Mike Wright replacing Hunter and the disappointing Bud Norris, moves that create the roster flexibility the organization desires. It’s even possible that Givens or Wright — or both — will net better results than Hunter as both are held in high regard for the future, but neither are proven in the majors, especially in the midst of an anticipated pennant race.

But those reasons distract from the real motivation behind dealing Hunter minutes before the deadline.

It was a salary dump.

Asked whether there were financial reasons for the Hunter trade that followed the addition of Parra, Duquette pointed out that the Orioles added payroll on Friday, which is true. The Orioles will pay the remainder of Parra’s $6.24 million salary — a sum in the neighborhood of $2.25 million — but a sizable portion of that will be offset by the rest of Hunter’s $4.65 million for the 2015 season coming off the books.

Hunter was unlikely to be re-signed after the season and was unlikely to be a major variable in determining whether the Orioles make the playoffs or not, but it’s difficult to accept that the trade improved their chances to make the playoffs in 2015, which was supposed to be the whole point on Friday. Considering Hunter’s popularity in the Baltimore clubhouse, his former teammates are likely thinking the same thing.

It doesn’t help that the move came on the same day that the Orioles designated Norris for assignment, bringing the total amount of money they originally committed to jettisoned players from the first 25-man roster of 2015 to $22.9 million. Ultimately, Hunter became the victim of too many other sunk costs, and you hope the Orioles bullpen doesn’t suffer down the stretch because of it.

While seeing other contending clubs add significant money to their payrolls to improve their chances to contend, it’s disheartening to see the Orioles subtract from its bullpen — the strongest part of the club — in the name of saving a relatively insignificant amount of money to pay Parra. And it leaves another question until someone else proves he’s ready to pick up the slack in Hunter’s spot in the bullpen.

Yes, it appears the Orioles improved themselves on Friday.

I’m just not sure by how much after they completed two very different trades.

 

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Orioles trade Hunter to Cubs for outfielder Junior Lake

Posted on 31 July 2015 by WNST Staff

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It’s time for Orioles to start looking toward future

Posted on 23 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The 2015 season isn’t over, but it’s time for the Orioles to look in the mirror and acknowledge what they’ve seen for almost four months.

A mediocre club.

No, Baltimore isn’t as bad as a 5-12 record in July would indicate, but we can’t be fooled again into thinking a run of 18 wins in 23 games last month is the real indication of who the 2015 club is when the Orioles have just one other winning streak of even three games outside that lone extended stretch of prosperity. They were bound to level off after their hot June in which they briefly climbed atop the American League East, but losing 14 of 19 is an unacceptable way for a streaking club to cool off — if not freeze entirely — if it wants to be taken seriously as a contender.

Trailing the New York Yankees by a season-worst seven games after being swept in the Bronx this week, the Orioles should not be in full-blown fire-sale mode with more than 60 games to go, but trying to be buyers with so few assets in their farm system would be irresponsible at this point. The truth is that with seven notable players set to become free agents this fall, the Orioles need to have more than just an eye toward the future with this year’s outlook not looking promising anymore.

For fans remembering the dark days of 14 consecutive losing seasons, this situation shouldn’t resemble the purge of 2000 that netted only Melvin Mora and what amounted to several bags of cheap fertilizer for the likes of B.J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, Will Clark, and Mike Timlin in a series of lousy trades. Baseball’s new qualifying offer system makes it clear that the Orioles shouldn’t trade Matt Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen, or Chris Davis for anything short of a return markedly exceeding the value of the draft pick they would receive for any of their departures as free agents.

In other words, this isn’t an endorsement to sell just because of frustration and a desire for change.

But executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should look to move pending free agents for returns that could help position the Orioles nicely as early as next year. With a core of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton in place and secured beyond next season, the Orioles aren’t in a position where they need to completely rebuild, especially when remembering how much money will come off the payroll in the offseason.

Some forward thinking would help that cause, however, and the Orioles cannot have a repeat of the unimaginative and poor offseason that included problems beyond the obvious free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller last winter.

If a club is desperate for an All-Star reliever like Darren O’Day and is willing to part with major league talent or prospects close to being ready for the big leagues — remember what the Orioles gave up for Andrew Miller last July? — Duquette should pull the trigger, especially if he isn’t willing to re-sign him after the season.

A contender willing to put together an impressive package for Chen, Wieters, or Davis should be heard and negotiated with. If you can somehow move what remains of the salaries of Bud Norris or Tommy Hunter, you do it without giving the compensation much thought.

The Orioles shouldn’t feel an intense need to dump all of these players, but trading at least a couple could provide some nice pieces for the near future and may not even completely destroy whatever chance the current team still has to make a run at a wild card. If Buck Showalter’s club is going to rebound from a 46-48 start, the substantial improvement is going to come from within more than anything Duquette might be able to add as a buyer at this point.

Maybe adding a couple young players to the mix is what the Orioles need.

Why not take a look at what 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez has to offer? He really couldn’t be much worse that what the Orioles have received from the corner outfield spots so far this season.

If you sell high on Chen, reward 22-year-old pitcher Zach Davies with an audition in the rotation after his strong season at Triple-A Norfolk. Or do the same for Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright.

Over the last couple months, we’ve continued to remember last season as justification for why this year’s Orioles could still turn it around.

But after a disastrous July got even worse in three days of frustration at Yankee Stadium, it might be time to make a few moves to brighten the future instead of continuing to look back at a past further dimming in the rear-view mirror.

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Five biggest Orioles disappointments of first half

Posted on 15 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Standing at 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have faced their share of disappointments as they look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

Though just four games behind the first-place New York Yankees and sporting the fifth-best run differential (plus-39) in the league, the Orioles and their fans could certainly point to the uncertain future of executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and a disappointing offseason as the biggest factors contributing to an underwhelming first half. It’s easy to point to the decisions not to re-sign any of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller, but the problems have run deeper than that.

On Wednesday, left-handed reliever Wesley Wright was designated for assignment, becoming the fifth veteran — joining Ryan Webb, Alejandro De Aza, Everth Cabrera, and Delmon Young — scheduled to make at least $1.6 million this year to be designated since the start of the season. Not only did the Orioles fail to keep their top free agents, but they spent a lot of money poorly elsewhere.

Below are my five biggest individual disappointments of the first half of the season:

Dishonorable mention: Everth Cabrera, Wesley Wright, Travis Snider

5. Alejandro De Aza/Delmon Young

It’s appropriate to lump these two together after they were both designated for assignment in the first half of the season. At the beginning of the year, manager Buck Showalter envisioned De Aza as his leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching while Young was expected to handle a larger role after the free-agent departures of Cruz and Markakis in the outfield.

Instead, De Aza hit just .214 with a .636 on-base plus slugging percentage and further saw his playing time diminish due to lapses on the bases and in the field. After being traded to Boston in early June, De Aza has provided a spark for the last-place Red Sox with a .323 average, making Orioles fans wonder where that production was earlier in the season.

Young’s .270 average may not have looked bad on the surface, but he offered little else as he homered only twice and posted an anemic .628 OPS in 180 plate appearances. Because of a crowded outfield situation and his limited versatility, Young was designated and eventually released last week.

While neither De Aza nor Young were necessarily projected to be everyday players, both were obvious disappointments after the Orioles committed to paying them a combined $7.25 million to contribute in 2015.

4. J.J. Hardy

It’s often forgotten that Hardy was the one big-name free agent the Orioles were able to keep last fall with a three-year, $40 million extension, making the first half of his 2015 season that much more frustrating after other veterans departed.

A left shoulder injury cost Hardy more than a month, but he hasn’t been able to gain his bearings at the plate beyond a few clutch hits here and there. His defensive ability remains a clear strength, but Hardy’s .226 average and .584 OPS must improve in the second half as the Orioles try to advance to the postseason for the third time in four years.

The fact that Hardy hit only nine homers last year while dealing with a lingering back issue was concerning enough, but a second straight season of diminished power (five homers in 225 plate appearances) creates doubt whether the 32-year-old will ever again approach the power numbers he posted in his first three years in Baltimore. Even if that’s the case, the Orioles need more offensive production in terms of average and at least a few more doubles from the veteran infielder.

You never want to discredit Hardy’s value in the field, but he’d be the first to tell you much more is needed with the bat.

3. Steve Pearce

Even his biggest supporters wouldn’t have predicted Pearce to duplicate his magical 2014 campaign in which he hit 21 homers, posted a team-leading .930 OPS, and was worth 5.9 wins above replacement, but the numbers were so strong that you could reasonably hope the journeyman had finally established himself as a solid everyday player.

That hasn’t been the case as Pearce hit .176 in his first 74 at-bats of 2015 and has largely been relegated to part-time duties against left-handed pitching. An .812 OPS since May 16 shows that Pearce has done a better job over the last two months, but most of that has come against left-handed pitching as he’s hitting just .207 against right-handers and .228 overall this year.

In addition to not matching the same power he found a year ago, Pearce’s walk rate has dropped considerably, a part of his game that was solid even before the 2014 season. What has likely saved the 32-year-old’s roster spot has been his versatility as he’s able to play four or five different positions, including second base for the first time earlier this season.

It will be interesting to see if Showalter will give Pearce more opportunities against right-handed pitching with Chris Parmelee struggling immensely of late, but it’s difficult foreseeing a return to the success from a year ago as Pearce is scheduled to hit free agency at the end of the season.

2. Chris Tillman

Predicting a down season for Tillman after he posted no worse than a 3.71 ERA in three straight seasons might not have been out of the question, but a 5.40 ERA and 3.8 walks per nine innings are numbers that would have landed him in the minors if not for the fact that he’s out of options.

The 27-year-old has been better since a nightmarish start in Toronto last month that elevated his ERA to 6.22, but his struggles are a major reason why the Orioles currently rank 10th in the AL with a 4.20 starter ERA. If you eliminate his 15.00 ERA in four starts against the Blue Jays, Tillman owns a very solid 3.48 mark against the rest of the league, but you can’t dismiss that part of the picture when Toronto is one of the clubs the Orioles are competing with in a tight division race.

His strikeout numbers are fairly similar to the last few seasons, but his walk rate is his highest since 2010 and the lack of fastball command has gotten him in trouble too often in 2015. Opponents have sported a .331 batting average on balls in play against Tillman, indicating he’s run into bad luck that’s made him pay even more for the control issues.

You hope the worst is behind Tillman as he pitched too well from 2012-2014 to continue languishing in the second half, but the Orioles wouldn’t figure to have much of a chance to be playing in October if the tall right-hander doesn’t start resembling the guy who had back-to-back 200-inning seasons in 2013 and 2014.

1. Bud Norris

A look at his track record told you Norris was unlikely to win 15 games or match the 3.65 ERA he posted a year ago, but few have had a more dreadful season entering free agency in recent memory than Norris, who was demoted to the bullpen before the All-Star break.

Sporting a 6.86 ERA and being paid $8.8 million this season, Norris has been helpless against left-handed hitters who have posted a 1.005 OPS and hit nine homers against him, prompting opposing managers to stack their lineups with lefties in his starts. The changeup that worked so well against lefty hitters last year hasn’t been much of a factor in 2015, leaving Norris much too reliant on his fastball and slider.

With Kevin Gausman stepping into the rotation, Norris has the stuff to profile as a decent reliever, but the move now leaves Showalter without the “swinging-door” bullpen spot he likes to have to summon a fresh arm from the minors when necessary.

At this point, it doesn’t look like Norris will get another chance in the rotation unless someone else falters or is injured, but he’ll need to be able to pitch effectively out of the bullpen to keep his roster spot as he is out of options. Duquette will undoubtedly try to find a trade partner, but Norris would be difficult to give away at this point with a high salary attached to him.

Very few would have expected Norris to be Baltimore’s best starter in 2015, but the most disastrous season of his career couldn’t have come at a worse time for him or the Orioles.

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Orioles hear Gausman’s statement loud and clear

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles lost 2-0 to the Texas Rangers on Thursday to drop their first series in a month, but that wasn’t the biggest story as it relates to the remainder of the 2015 season.

Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman staked an emphatic claim to a spot in the rotation with 6 1/3 scoreless innings, and the Orioles appear ready to accommodate after the continued struggles of Bud Norris in the first half. After Gausman allowed only four hits and matched a career high with seven strikeouts, Buck Showalter said the right-hander will accompany the club to Chicago instead of being optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk as many anticipated.

The Orioles manager didn’t confirm that Gausman would receive another start, but he did announce that Miguel Gonzalez would pitch on Sunday, presumably leaving Norris as the long man in the bullpen for at least the near future. Despite those criticizing the patience he’s shown with Norris — a 15-game winner in 2014 — Showalter saw what we all witnessed from Gausman on Thursday.

“Good, real good,” Showalter said. “He was using both depths with his fastball. Pitching down all the time isn’t always [good]. Good hitters get their arms extended, but he changed eye levels a lot with his fastball, which I thought was really good. It’s something he and [pitching coach Dave Wallace] have been working on. He was really good.”

Of course, Gausman made a strong case for a spot in the starting rotation long before Thursday’s performance against the Rangers. Showalter has pointed to Norris’ track record as evidence to stick with him throughout the first half, but you can only overlook a 6.79 ERA so long while acknowledging Gausman pitched to a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts last season, many of them coming in the second half in the midst of a pennant race.

Even if you didn’t like it, you could understand the organization deferring to the five veterans in the rotation to begin the season — especially with the 2015 money tied into Norris and the long-term commitment made to the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez — but the Orioles were shortsighted in sending Gausman to the bullpen in April. The decision likely played a part in the 2012 first-round pick developing right shoulder tendinitis and missing more than a month of action.

Now, there are no more excuses to hold Gausman back as he’s healthy and once again stretched out as a starter after a few outings in the minors and a solid start in Toronto last month. Pitching on three days’ rest, he turned in a performance on Thursday that was superior to any of Norris’ work during the 2015 season.

“I don’t know if I was making a statement, but I just wanted to pitch well,” said Gausman, who quipped that he packed a bag for Baltimore’s road trip in case he wouldn’t be optioned back to the minors. “That’s all I want to do is pitch, whether it’s here or in Triple A. I just want to pitch and throw a lot of innings. Going on the DL was something I didn’t plan. I wanted this to be the year I would get close to 200 innings, but it’s just not going to happen.

“Right now, I’m just focusing on getting more innings and going out there and competing and helping the team win.”

If the Orioles want to have their best chance to advance to the postseason for the third time in four years, Gausman should be in the starting rotation until he proves he’s not one of their best five starters.

Watching him pitch on Thursday, you were reminded of what he possesses that other pitchers simply do not. Seemingly every time he got to two strikes on a hitter, a fastball sitting comfortably around 94 mph in other counts would explode to 96 or 97 on the radar gun. Gausman also had his best split-changeup of the season, a pitch that’s devastating to left-handed hitters when he’s able to command it.

The development of a breaking pitch — a curveball he began throwing this year for the first time since college — is ongoing, but Gausman’s fastball and split were so strong on Thursday that he didn’t need to throw anything else, including his circle changeup. He may not be a finished product and it hasn’t been the easiest year for him, but Gausman is more than deserving of a spot in the major league rotation.

The time is now.

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Orioles thoughts on Young, Paredes, starting rotation

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles made a tough decision, but the right one on Wednesday.

Delmon Young should never have to pay for a meal in Baltimore again after his three-run double in Game 2 of the 2014 American League Division Series last October, but the 29-year-old was caught up in the numbers game this year. And when the roster consists of several platoon outfielders, it boils down to versatility and how many different ways you can help your club win.

Beyond a decent .270 average, the offensive numbers weren’t pretty for Young as his 2.2 percent walk rate was the worst on the club and his .339 slugging percentage was lower than even the likes of Ryan Flaherty (.400) and David Lough (.340). Despite collecting eight outfield assists, his defensive limitations made Young the most vulnerable of the fringe players on the roster.

In contrast, Steve Pearce can fill a similar role against left-handed pitching while being able to play multiple positions at a higher level. Though his health is always a question, Nolan Reimold has power, solid defensive ability, and better speed. And even the maligned David Lough fills a bigger need — for now — as the backup center fielder until Adam Jones proves his right shoulder injury is completely in the rear-view mirror.

Last season, Young was in the perfect role in making just 56 starts — most of them against left-handed pitching — with the Orioles having a fixture in Nick Markakis in right field. However, Showalter being forced to mix and match at both corner outfield spots this year — with disappointing results — eventually led to the additions of Nolan Reimold and Chris Parmelee to the 25-man roster last month and a reduction in Young’s playing time.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would be wise in attempting to deal Young to a National League contender looking for a right-handed bat off the bench. Given his reputation in the postseason, you’d hate to see the Orioles potentially cross paths with Young this October — or sooner — if he were to end up with an AL club.

With the Orioles still wanting to activate second baseman Jonathan Schoop sooner rather than later, Duquette and manager Buck Showalter will face another difficult decision with so many outfielders remaining on the roster.

However, let’s not forget that these outfielders are all complementary pieces at the end of the day. The Orioles may not consider these as easy decisions, but parting ways with Young — or whoever else they might have chosen — was never going to make or break the season in the long run.

** Another reason why the Orioles felt they were able to part ways with Young was the emergence of Jimmy Paredes, who has been the most pleasant surprise of the 2015 season with a .319 average, 10 home runs, and an .867 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Thursday.

Paredes serving extensively as the designated hitter further diminished the need for Young, and the former’s most recent hot streak likely provided the final confirmation that the Orioles needed.

After hitting a remarkable .353 in his first 143 plate appearances this year, Paredes’ good fortune had appeared to run out when he went through a nightmarish two-week stretch from May 28-June 10 that saw his average plummet 59 points. It appeared that opponents had finally figured out how to pitch the switch hitter during a 4-for-41 drought that included 20 strikeouts.

However, Paredes has rebounded dramatically since then, hitting .404 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last 56 plate appearances. In recent weeks, he’s shown a little more discipline in laying off pitches outside the strike zone and even drew three walks during Sunday’s doubleheader.

It may be a tall order for Paredes to hit .319 the rest of the way, but he’s certainly shown enough over 242 plate appearances this season to make you think that Showalter and the Orioles have found a nugget with an intriguing future at just 26 years of age.

** Though we shouldn’t read too much into the projected starters for this weekend’s series in Chicago, it was interesting to note that Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined.

For what it’s worth, that is supposed to be Bud Norris’ next turn in the starting rotation, but Showalter revealed that the struggling right-hander will be available in relief on Thursday since Tyler Wilson was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for starter Kevin Gausman on the 25-man roster, once again leaving the Orioles with a six-man bullpen.

What happens after Thursday will be interesting with the Orioles counting down to the All-Star break, a time when they’ve gotten creative with the use of their roster over the last few years. Not only does the four-day break begin on July 13, but the Orioles also have an off-day next Thursday, which could prompt them to option a starter — maybe even two — to the minor leagues before the season’s intermission begins.

Should Gausman pitch well against Texas on Thursday, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for the Orioles to keep him around and elect to give the ball to Miguel Gonzalez on four days’ rest on Sunday, meaning they would skip Norris and use him as a long reliever for the time being. They could then option Gonzalez to the minors on Monday to give them an extra roster spot as they would only need four starters for the remainder of the first half with a day off on July 9.

This could be a desirable scenario if they would prefer Gonzalez to pitch over the break as he’s not far removed from a stint on the disabled list and has been out of sync since returning.

It’s only spit-balling and the Orioles could just as easily option Gausman to the minors immediately after Thursday’s game, but Showalter certainly left the door open to pondering the alternatives by not immediately listing Norris as his starter for the series finale against the White Sox.

 

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Orioles continue rolling despite June rotation struggles

Posted on 25 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have played their best baseball of the season over the last three weeks.

Having won 15 of their last 20, Baltimore returns home Friday with a 38-34 record, one game better than the club was through 72 games last year. After a nightmarish May, the Orioles lineup has averaged 5.9 runs per game and outscored opponents by a 118-69 margin in the last 20 games.

The bullpen continues to excel with a 2.08 ERA in 164 2/3 innings dating back to April 29, but Thursday’s 8-6 win over Boston offered a tiny glimpse into what has to be a lingering concern in manager Buck Showalter’s mind despite his club’s recent success.

Returning from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, Miguel Gonzalez lasted just five innings and allowed four earned runs and eight hits while laboring to hold the comfortable 6-1 lead he was presented in the fourth inning. It would have been unfair to expect too much from the right-hander in his first start for the Orioles since June 9, but it was the 14th time in the last 20 games in which a starting pitcher has failed to complete six innings. The Orioles have received only one start of seven or more innings over that time, which was Wei-Yin Chen’s eight shutout innings against Philadelphia on June 15.

Showalter told reporters following Thursday’s game that he needed to rest Darren O’Day, Chaz Roe, and Brad Brach, leaving him to use T.J. McFarland and Tommy Hunter to bridge the gap to Zach Britton. It worked out for the Orioles as they won their sixth consecutive series, but not before the left-handed closer was working in his fourth game in six days to pick up his 21st save of the season.

The bullpen continues to be terrific, but the starting rotation must get deeper into games if Showalter wants to keep his relievers fresh for the second half. In 23 June games, starters have posted a 4.58 ERA and are averaging just 5.22 innings per outing while the bullpen has posted a miniscule 1.80 ERA.

In 2014, the starting rotation pitched to a mediocre 4.49 ERA in April and May before taking off in June with a 3.47 mark and posting an exceptional 2.98 ERA in the second half of the season.

Gonzalez, Chen, and Ubaldo Jimenez have performed well enough this season to feel confident in the trio moving forward, but Chris Tillman is having the worst season of his career thus far and Bud Norris still can’t avoid the big inning as we witnessed again in Wednesday’s loss to the Red Sox. Every time either of the two struggles, there is a growing temptation to turn to Kevin Gausman, who pitched to a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts last season and is the most talented hurler in the organization.

For now, the Orioles continue to benefit from a swinging-door spot in the bullpen that’s been filled by the likes of McFarland, Tyler Wilson, Oliver Drake, and Mychal Givens at various points to give their most reliable arms a breather when possible. But such a luxury would disappear if they’re forced to move either Norris or Tillman to a long relief role since neither pitcher has a minor-league option.

The results of the last three weeks remind us of last year when the Orioles took off in the second half of the season to win their first American League East championship in 17 years. Their offense has come alive, the defense has been excellent, and the bullpen has dominated for two months now.

If the starting rotation can step up like it did right around this time a year ago — at least closer to that  2014 level — the Orioles will not only take off, but they’ll become the clear favorite in the AL East.

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Even after huge win, Orioles facing tough dilemma with Tillman

Posted on 21 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles had much to be happy about following their 13-9 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday to earn their biggest series victory of the season.

Despite blowing an early 7-0 lead, the Orioles secured their fifth consecutive series win and moved back to three games above .500. Not only did they snap the Blue Jays’ eight-game winning streak at Rogers Centre on Saturday, but the Orioles have now won two straight series against their American League East foe after a 1-5 start against the highest run-producing lineup in the majors.

You could argue their wins on Saturday and Sunday were the biggest of the season so far as the Orioles outscored the Blue Jays by an 8-1 margin in the final three innings of both games.

But the impressive resiliency reminiscent of last year doesn’t erase a major problem staring manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles squarely in the face.

Once again, Chris Tillman was bad on Sunday.

Really bad.

After the Orioles scored seven runs off Scott Copeland in the top of the second, their best starter over the previous three seasons could only record one out in the bottom half of the inning before giving way to the bullpen. Everything he threw was up in the strike zone and over the heart of the plate, once again making you wonder if his lower back issues continue to linger and are impacting his ability to fully extend with his delivery.

You don’t go from being so good for three seasons to this poor without wondering if there’s something wrong physically. Tillman threw first-pitch strikes to only two of the 10 Blue Jays hitters he faced and allowed six runs, six hits, and two home runs in just 1 1/3 innings on Sunday.

“Chris has just got to get back into attack mode,” Showalter told MASN after Sunday’s win. “You trust the pedigree and the background, but he’s capable of better than that. We need to get that from him.”

How poorly has Tillman fared in four starts against Toronto this year? The right-hander has a 15.00 ERA in 15 innings against the Blue Jays. Against everyone else, Tillman has a respectable 3.92 mark.

Of course, the Blue Jays have hung a slew of crooked numbers on the scoreboard this season, but Sunday’s outing elevated Tillman’s season ERA to 6.22, which dwarfs Ubaldo Jimenez’s 4.63 mark at this point last season that led to the latter being sent to the disabled list and, eventually, the bullpen. Even with numbers skewed by Toronto, you just can’t forgive Tillman’s poor 2015 performance because he’s frequently faced the Blue Jays as they’re a major league opponent just like every other lineup he’s faced.

At least the Orioles don’t face Toronto again until early September.

A few weeks ago, we pointed to Tillman’s difficult first two months a year ago as good reason for remaining confident as he rebounded from a 5.20 ERA in his first 13 starts of 2014 to allow three or fewer earned runs in his next 20 outings to ultimately finish the regular season with a 3.34 ERA. But we’re less than two weeks away from the Fourth of July and last year’s early struggles pale in comparison to what we’ve seen so far in 2015 as he’s registered just five quality starts in 14 outings and is averaging 4.5 walks per nine innings.

Forget about the longtime debate over whether Tillman is really an ace as the 27-year-old isn’t currently performing like someone worthy of remaining in a major league rotation, but herein lies the problem. The right-hander is out of minor-league options and the Orioles obviously aren’t releasing him — he’s under club control through the 2017 season — but you wonder how many more chances Showalter can give his Opening Day starter of the last two seasons before he has little choice but to send him to the bullpen.

To be fair, fellow starter Bud Norris sports an ERA (7.57) more than a run higher than Tillman’s, but his 3.78 ERA in three starts since returning from the DL at least provides some optimism that he’s made some adjustments after a month-long absence.

Both need to be on notice at this point as it relates to their spots in the rotation.

With Kevin Gausman healthy and back in a starting routine after being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday, the Orioles have a starter waiting in the wings who posted a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts for a division-winning club last year. Time is running out for Tillman to reverse a nightmarish start to the 2015 campaign.

As Showalter pointed out, the 6-foot-5 hurler is a major reason why the Orioles completed three straight winning seasons and twice made the postseason over that time, but the starting pitcher would be the first to tell you he’s been a weak link in 2015.

You just wonder how much longer the Orioles can wait as they find themselves in the midst of another tight division race while their de facto ace entering the season continues going nowhere fast.

 

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Regardless of where, Gausman needs to pitch every fifth day

Posted on 20 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Darren O’Day’s escape act and clutch hitting from Caleb Joseph and Manny Machado provided the Orioles their biggest win of the season on Saturday, but a familiar question was being asked after the game.

What’s next for 24-year-old pitcher Kevin Gausman?

Activated from the 15-day disabled list to make his first start of the season, Gausman was far from Walter Johnson against Toronto, but it was good seeing the right-hander on the hill once again. Struggling to command his pitches through five innings, Gausman was fortunate that several balls squared up by Blue Jays batters were hit right at his fielders, but his ability to keep the Orioles in the game eventually led to their first win at Rogers Centre in five tries this season.

Despite throwing first-pitch strikes to only 11 of the 21 hitters he faced and inducing only seven swinging strikes, Gausman allowed two earned runs and four hits while walking one and striking out one while facing the top run-producing offense in the majors.

With Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez both expected to return this coming week, it appears Gausman will again be squeezed out of the starting rotation for the time being. Many have clamored for Bud Norris to be sent to the bullpen, but it’s unlikely to happen right now with the right-hander posting a solid 3.78 ERA in his three starts since returning from the DL. Chris Tillman has been the other starter in question with a 5.58 ERA entering Sunday, but his track record over the previous three seasons likely gives the Opening Day starter a little longer leash.

What shouldn’t happen with Gausman is a return to the Orioles bullpen where he developed shoulder tendinitis after receiving sporadic work to begin the season. The idea of a shortened-up Gausman is fine at the end of the season like we witnessed last October, but it’s shortsighted with more than three months to go in the regular season and two question marks in the current rotation.

It wouldn’t be the worst idea to have Gausman on call at Norfolk with Tillman and Norris being put on notice in the meantime. And the best thing they could do from a health standpoint would be to allow the 2012 first-round pick to remain in a starting routine.

To be clear, Gausman isn’t a finished product as anyone who has watched him closely agrees he needs to improve his secondary stuff. His split-changeup is a devastating pitch when he commands it — he couldn’t against the Blue Jays on Saturday — but he must continue to work on his curveball, a pitch he began throwing this spring for the first time since college.

The good news is his curve looked better against Toronto than his slider ever did in his first two seasons, but the breaking pitch remains a work in progress. And it’s something he should harness as a starter with the Tides if he isn’t taking the ball every fifth day for Buck Showalter.

As talented as Gausman is, the Orioles certainly haven’t made things easy on him as he’s ping-ponged between Triple A and the majors since May 2013. Even Saturday’s start in which he threw 91 pitches came on short rest and after he had only thrown a maximum of 61 pitches in any of his three rehab outings earlier this month.

You’d like to see what the kid could do if he’s simply left alone to pitch every five days, but we know how Dan Duquette and Showalter look for every possible edge in micromanaging the 25-man roster.

Though far from his best day, it was good seeing Gausman in a starting role on Saturday.

It needs to stay that way, even if that means his latest trip down to Norfolk.

 

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Orioles thoughts on pitching and outfield situation

Posted on 15 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Sunday was a forgettable day for Orioles rookie Mike Wright, but manager Buck Showalter was correct in pointing out the starting pitcher experienced some tough luck, especially early in the game.

The 25-year-old gave up a number of hits that weren’t exactly tattooed by the Yankees, but the biggest problem for Wright has been his inability to put hitters away — New York fouled off 13 pitches with two strikes in his four-plus innings of work — which often leads to a pitcher making a mistake. This not only drives up the pitch count, but it puts more pressure on the pitcher as Wright crumbled in the top of the fifth walking three straight hitters to conclude his afternoon.

His mid-90s fastball certainly plays at the major league level, but Wright’s slider and changeup haven’t been impressive, making you wonder if he’ll have the stuff to make it as a starting pitcher in the long run. I’m not ready to give up on the idea of Wright as a major league starter, but I do think his fastball could be very tough to handle in a late-inning relief role in which he’s only working an inning or so at a time. It wouldn’t be difficult seeing Wright eventually stepping into the role occupied by Tommy Hunter, who is a free agent at the end of the 2015 season.

Either way, Wright has work to do to improve his secondary stuff.

* I have no idea how long outfielder Nolan Reimold can continue this, but he’s provided a nice lift in his first week back with the Orioles.

I never doubted the 31-year-old’s ability early in his career, but you had to wonder whether the talent would still be there after two serious neck injuries in 2012 and 2013. Acknowledging it’s only been a handful of games, we’ve seen the combination of power, speed, and defensive ability that had the Orioles and their fans salivating about his potential years ago.

You can only cross your fingers that a guy who’s had terrible luck with injuries can stay healthy and the Orioles shouldn’t assume that he can stay on the field for the long haul, but Showalter should pencil his name into the starting lineup every day until there’s a reason not to.

* Speaking of outfielders, you probably wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d told you in February that Travis Snider would be hitting .252 in his first 150 plate appearances for the Orioles, but his lack of power has been startling.

After hitting nine home runs and slugging .524 in the second half for Pittsburgh last year, the Orioles hoped they were getting a 27-year-old and former first-round pick who was finally blooming at the plate after years of struggles, but Snider is slugging a career-low .326 with just one homer and seven extra-base hits and rarely makes sharp contact or shows the ability to drive the ball. In contrast, ex-Oriole Nick Markakis has a higher slugging percentage at .367 — still a poor mark — despite not yet hitting a home run for Atlanta this season.

You have to wonder if Snider is running out of chances as the Orioles desperately need an effective lefty-hitting outfielder and Chris Parmelee is producing at Triple-A Norfolk.

* The Orioles hope to see Bud Norris improve enough to finish out the season in the starting rotation, but I wouldn’t be keen on the idea of re-signing him this winter.

A club will likely overpay for the right-hander based on his 2014 season, but Norris hasn’t been able to duplicate his success against left-handed hitters this season. Relying on an effective changeup to hold lefties to a .255 average and .753 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014, Norris has been lit up by lefty bats this season to the tune of a 1.035 OPS as he’s been unable to command the off-speed pitch as effectively.

Norris has always handled right-handed hitters, but his problems against lefties have plagued him for most of his career, which is the biggest reason why he’s been nothing more than an average starting pitcher other than last season. In reality, he’d probably be better suited for the bullpen on a competitive club, but Norris would hardly embrace such a role in a contract year.

* You get the sense that Showalter is beginning to use Delmon Young more and more like he did last season, which isn’t a bad thing for the Orioles.

Young has shown little power (a .358 slugging percentage), but he does sport a .327 average against left-handed pitching, making him an obvious start against southpaws. It was interesting to see David Lough hit for Young against right-hander Sergio Santos on Saturday night — Showalter said he wanted to give the young outfielder an at-bat even though the Orioles only led by three runs at the time — and then Matt Wieters was sent to the plate in Young’s place to face Dellin Betances in the ninth inning on Sunday.

It would be helpful if Dan Duquette could at least find an effective platoon partner for Young for the rest of the season.

* With southpaws Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland both struggling to throw strikes this season, the Orioles are hoping that Wesley Wright can settle into the lefty specialist role upon completing his minor-league rehab assignment.

On the disabled list since the first week of the season with a left trapezius strain, Wright is expected to join an affiliate any day now and could make Matusz expendable if he proves he’s healthy and can throw strikes.

* Adam Jones is a four-time Gold Glove center fielder and certainly doesn’t need validation, but there have been a couple points in his career when he was probably a little overrated as a defender.

But strictly going off the eyeball test — his fielding metrics have been good, for what it’s worth — Jones has never played better defense than what we’ve seen from him this year. The 29-year-old has not only been steady and consistent, but he’s made countless sensational plays — just ask the Boston Red Sox about last week’s series — running down balls in the gap or making exceptional throws to gun down runners trying to take an extra base.

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