Tag Archive | "Bud Norris"

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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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Orioles go with short bench to activate Norris from DL

Posted on 07 June 2015 by Luke Jones

With Bud Norris being activated to make his first start since May 10, the Orioles optioned infielder Rey Navarro to Triple-A Norfolk prior to Sunday’s game in Cleveland.

Since left-handed reliever Brian Matusz is in the midst of serving an eight-game suspension, the Orioles are playing a man short until next Sunday and will use a short bench as a result. Infielders J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty are feeling better after recent health issues, so the Orioles could use Steve Pearce at second base with Flaherty backing up Hardy at shortstop.

The Orioles could shuffle their roster some more over the next week since left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland possesses minor-league options in the bullpen.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman made the first start of his rehab assignment on Saturday, pitching four scoreless innings while allowing one hit, striking out four, and walking none. He threw 40 pitches, 32 of them strikes.

His next rehab start will come Thursday for Double-A Bowie where he’s expected to pitch four or five innings. Gausman could become an option for the Baltimore starting rotation at any point after that outing or he could continue to pitch in the minor leagues.

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Orioles make series of roster moves for Cleveland series

Posted on 05 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The long-awaited return of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters headlined a series of roster moves for the Orioles prior to the start of a three-game series in Cleveland this weekend.

In addition to the activation of Wieters from the 60-day disabled list, the Orioles recalled infielder Rey Navarro and selected the contract of left-handed relief pitcher Cesar Cabral from Triple-A Norfolk. To make room on the 25-man roster for those three, Baltimore optioned right-handed pitcher Mike Wright and catcher Steve Clevenger to Norfolk and designated veteran infielder Everth Cabrera for assignment.

In the Orioles lineup for the first time since May 10, 2014, Wieters was catching and batting fifth on Friday night. The 29-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery last June 17 and is expected to catch every other day for the time being, sharing starting duties with Caleb Joseph.

The promotion of Cabral was in response to left-handed reliever Brian Matusz beginning his eight-game suspension that was upheld after Wednesday’s appeal hearing. Baltimore will now play a man down during his ban, but the 26-year-old Cabral hasn’t allowed a run this season in 21 2/3 innings split between Norfolk and Double-A Bowie.

The 25-year-old Navarro is beginning his third stint with the Orioles this season. He is 8-for-29 with a home run and three RBIs with Baltimore in 2015.

The decision to demote Wright is a clear indication that manager Buck Showalter will give the ball to right-handed pitcher Bud Norris for Sunday’s finale in Cleveland. Norris is currently on the 15-day disabled list after coming down with bronchitis last month and sports a 9.88 ERA in 2015, leading many to wonder if this will be his final chance in the starting rotation despite him winning 15 games a year ago.

Wright would figure to be called upon by the Orioles again at some point after pitching extremely well in his first two starts and posting a 2.96 ERA in four outings. It’s clear that the 25-year-old needs to continue working on his secondary pitches, but he could be a real factor as a bullpen arm if not asked to return to the Orioles rotation later this season.

Cabrera becomes the second veteran player to be designated for assignment in the last two weeks after outfielder Alejandro De Aza was designated and eventually dealt to Boston earlier this week. Signed to a one-year, $2.4 million contract in late February, Cabrera batted only .208 with a .479 on-base plus slugging percentage. In 29 games while primarily filling in for the injured J.J. Hardy in April, Cabrera posted minus-0.7 wins above replacement, according to BaseballReference.com.

In addition to Wieters, Hardy made his return to the Orioles lineup on Friday after a four-game absence, batting eighth and playing shortstop.

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Orioles send De Aza to Boston for minor-league pitcher, cash

Posted on 03 June 2015 by Luke Jones

After designating Alejandro De Aza for assignment last week, the Orioles announced Wednesday that they had traded the veteran outfielder to the Boston Red Sox.

Baltimore received minor-league pitcher Joe Gunkel and cash considerations in return as Boston is dealing with outfielder concerns of its own so far in 2015. De Aza was hitting .214 with three home runs and seven RBIs this season and carries a $5 million salary for the 2015 season.

The 23-year-old Gunkel is from nearby Hershey, Pa. and was an 18th-round selection in the 2013 draft. He carries a 12-7 career record with a 3.05 ERA in 54 appearances — 20 of them starts — over three professional seasons while fanning 178 over 165 innings.

In 2015, Gunkel is a combined 3-2 with a 2.90 ERA split between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. He will be assigned to Double-A Bowie in Baltimore’s farm system.

In other news, right-handed pitcher Bud Norris completed his final rehab start pitching for Triple-A Norfolk, completing four hitless innings and retiring 12 of the 13 hitters he faced. He could be activated from the 15-day disabled list to make Sunday’s start in Cleveland, but it remains to be seen whether he will pitch effectively enough to stay in the starting rotation after a nightmarish beginning to the 2015 campaign.

Sunday would be rookie Mike Wright’s turn in the rotation.

Catcher Matt Wieters went 3-for-5 with a homer, two singles, a walk, and one RBI for the Tides in the final two games of his minor-league rehab assignment as he caught the opener and served as the designated hitter in the nightcap of Norfolk’s doubleheader. He is expected to be activated from the 60-day DL on Friday to play in his first game for the Orioles since May 10, 2014.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz had his appeal hearing for his eight-game suspension on Wednesday afternoon with manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette in attendance. It remains unclear when a decision will be rendered on whether he will serve the full suspension for having a foreign substance on his right forearm while pitching in a game at Miami on May 23.

To prepare for Matusz’ absence and to give themselves extra length in the bullpen, the Orioles recalled left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland from Norfolk and optioned right-hander Oliver Drake to the Tides. Baltimore will be forced to play a man short on the active roster during the suspension.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy was out of the lineup for the third straight game Wednesday night as he deals with a left oblique issue. The Orioles hope he can avoid the 15-day DL, but it remains unclear when he will return to the lineup.

 

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Wieters could be activated Thursday in Houston

Posted on 01 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Originally slated to make his return to the Orioles in Cleveland on Friday, catcher Matt Wieters could be back a day sooner than expected.

Following Sunday’s 9-5 loss to Tampa Bay, manager Buck Showalter confirmed the Orioles had adjusted their plans with Wieters, who is eligible to be activated from the 60-day disabled list on Thursday. Previously scheduled to catch at Single-A Frederick on Monday and at Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday, Wieters will instead catch for Norfolk on Tuesday, the same day Bud Norris will make his final rehab start.

“He’s ready to go, at-bats and everything,” Showalter said. “He needs all the time, but looking forward to getting him on [Thursday] if everything goes well Tuesday. Or [Friday].”

The revamped timing would allow Wieters to join the Orioles in Houston and to serve as the designated hitter in Thursday’s series finale, according to Showalter. It appears to be no coincidence that the club would like to have Wieters work with Norris, whose 2015 woes have carried over into his minor-league rehab assignment where he’s allowed 13 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings. Norris was placed on the 15-day disabled list last month after a nasty bout of bronchitis.

Showalter has said repeatedly that the plan is for Norris to rejoin the starting rotation upon being activated, but rookie Mike Wright has pitched to a 1.40 ERA in his first three major league starts. k

Wieters last played Saturday at Double-A Bowie and appeared in three games for the Baysox, going 2-for-11 with two RBIs and a walk and throwing out the only runner who attempted to steal a base.

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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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