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Aiming high only way to go if Orioles want to add starting pitching

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Aiming high only way to go if Orioles want to add starting pitching

Posted on 16 July 2014 by Luke Jones

You can never have too much starting pitching, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has repeated that sentiment despite the Orioles enjoying a four-game lead in the American League East at the All-Star break.

The Orioles rank fifth in the American League in pitching and 11th in starting pitching, but unlike the last couple seasons in which they were often desperately looking for just a warm body or two to add to the mix, the starting rotation appears to be moving in the right direction. Even with the season-long struggles of the injured Ubaldo Jimenez, the starting pitching has posted a 3.18 ERA over the last 33 games spanning 198 innings, lowering the starting pitching ERA from 4.61 to 4.09 since June 9.

No one will mistake this rotation for the 1971 Orioles, but Duquette should be picky in any quest to add starting pitching between now and the trade deadline at the end of the month. Wondering whether the club has the quality to compete with the front end of other playoff rotations in October is fair, but the upside of Kevin Gausman and even the second-half track record of Jimenez — who has been dominant for stretches of his career when his mechanics are in order — will be worth monitoring down the stretch with an eye toward the postseason.

Even if the Orioles still lack top-half quality, they have more stability in their rotation than they’ve enjoyed in a long time.

Manager Buck Showalter has used just seven starting pitchers all year with one of them — lefty reliever T.J. McFarland — receiving only one start. In 2013, 14 different pitchers made starts and 10 made at least four starts. The year before that, 12 different hurlers made starts with 10 making at least four starts.

Stability — with relatively decent health — has afforded Duquette the luxury of not needing to look for the likes of Scott Feldman, Joe Saunders, Jair Jurrjens, and Freddy Garcia on this year’s market. That’s what made the recent news of the Orioles scouting Colorado lefty Jorge De La Rosa that much more perplexing as he doesn’t represent an apparent upgrade over anyone — including Jimenez — in the current rotation with his 4.56 ERA in 2014 and 4.69 career mark.

The Orioles have also been linked to San Diego’s Ian Kennedy, who has posted a 3.47 ERA in 20 starts, but he’s a career 3.94 ERA pitcher who’s spent most of his career in the National League. The Padres will likely be asking for a lot for the right-hander, and Duquette shouldn’t part ways with the precious few top prospects he has unless he’s positive he’s gaining a substantial upgrade. Kennedy may provide that, but his talent level should only be the baseline at which the Orioles are looking at this point.

More so than even in 2013 or 2012, the Orioles have plenty of quality when it comes to filling out the back of the rotation. They have an abundance of No. 4 and No. 5 starters.

An injury or two could obviously change that tune quickly, but Duquette must aim high if the Orioles are to add starting pitching between now and the end of the July. Jeff Samardzija has already been dealt to Oakland and David Price may not be traded at all — and they probably don’t have the freight to acquire the AL East pitcher, anyway — but those are the types of arms to be examining.

Anything less is just a waste of time and resources.

Standing pat at catcher

Many have asked about the possibility of the Orioles adding another catcher to the mix as Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley have handled the workload since Matt Wieters underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery, but Duquette has said on several occasions that they’re unlikely to make another move in that department.

Boston officially released A.J. Pierzynski on Wednesday, but the Orioles don’t view him as a significant upgrade offensively — the 37-year-old posted just a .633 on-base plus slugging percentage with the Red Sox — to compromise the rapport Joseph and Hundley have built with the pitching staff and the defensive work they’ve displayed over the better part of two months. And that’s not even mentioning Pierzynski’s outspoken personality that could potentially compromise a strong clubhouse.

Hundley has come on lately with the bat, raising his average to a respectable .250, while Joseph has posted a .690 OPS since the beginning of June and had a solid offensive track record in the minor leagues despite his current .187 average. Neither will fool you as quality offensive catchers, but trying to add an impact backstop while bringing him up to speed with the pitching staff will be extremely difficult.

If the Orioles are looking for an offensive boost, they could take another extended look at Steve Clevenger, but Showalter is going to value defensive work behind the plate and the current duo — particularly Joseph — has done an admirable job in that department.

Left-handed bat still needed

The emergence of Steve Pearce has been one of the great stories of the 2014 season, but the Orioles shouldn’t assume the 31-year-old will continue to perform at a rate that warrants everyday playing time with no questions asked.

His .316 average, 11 home runs, and 31 runs batted in are a major reason why Baltimore currently sits in first place, but it’s still a stretch to expect his current .300 average and .846 OPS against right-handed pitching to continue. For his career, Pearce is hitting just .237 with a .667 OPS against right-handers and that’s including his amazing numbers this season.

In other words, a left-handed hitting outfielder that feasts against right-handed pitching should be a priority to add for the stretch as the only left-handed bats to make real contributions this season are Nick Markakis and the struggling Chris Davis. The speedy Lough has been a major disappointment at the plate, and the Orioles must anticipate the possibility of needing to platoon Pearce if he reverts to his career form.

Even if Pearce continues to thrive as an everyday player, the Orioles would benefit from a left-handed version of Delmon Young to come off the bench in the late innings as Lough and utility player Ryan Flaherty just don’t provide formidable options at the plate. The Orioles had looked into the services of Padres outfielder Seth Smith, who feasts against right-handed pitching, before he signed a two-year extension with San Diego earlier this month.

A player of that ilk would make perfect sense for the roster.

Pondering futures of Cruz and Davis

It’s incredible to think how much can change in a year as Orioles fans were clamoring for the organization to sign Davis to a long-term contract as he entered the All-Star break with 37 home runs last year and would go on to hit a franchise record 53 in 2013. Meanwhile, Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz was a couple weeks away from beginning a 50-game suspension stemming from his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.

A year later, Davis sits with a lowly .199 average at the break while Cruz has parlayed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles into what looks like a pending lucrative payday as he’s second in the majors with 28 home runs and has often carried the Baltimore offense this year while Davis and others have struggled.

It’s interesting to see so many fans crushing Davis for his poor first half — that’s not to say criticism hasn’t been warranted — while screaming for the Orioles to sign the 34-year-old Cruz to a long-term contract when many of those same fans wanted to give Davis the keys to the city last offseason.

The Orioles will certainly make Cruz a qualifying offer after the season to at least recover a draft pick and should see if he’s willing to sign a short-term extension at a higher annual cost per year, but giving him more than two or three years at the most would be a mistake for an aging player coming off what looks to be his career year.

Davis’ future will be more interesting to figure out as he tries to rebound from a miserable first half and remains under team control through next season.

 

 

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Orioles hoping for best, bracing for worst with Wieters’ follow-up appointment

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Orioles hoping for best, bracing for worst with Wieters’ follow-up appointment

Posted on 13 June 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Matt Wieters is scheduled to make his follow-up visit to Dr. James Andrews on Monday while the Orioles hope for the best and prepare for the worst regarding their injured catcher.

On the 15-day disabled list with right elbow soreness since May 11, Wieters hasn’t progressed as well as he’d hoped since beginning a throwing program two weeks ago and faces the prospects of needing season-ending surgery to correct the problem. The Orioles have laid out July 1 as the deadline for Wieters to go under the knife without missing any time at the start of the 2015 season with a normal rehabilitation scheduled.

Manager Buck Showalter wasn’t about to reveal his gut feeling about how Wieters’ appointment will go with the renowned orthopedic surgeon but didn’t paint a rosy picture about the two-time All-Star catcher’s status for the rest of the 2014 season.

“It’s another one of those where I know a little more than I’m going to talk about,” Showalter said. “I don’t want to say something that’s not honest. He’s still got a chance. I think we’re all curious to see what Dr. Andrews is going to say. We’ve got it set up both ways. He’ll [either] be returning to us and get right back into his program or we can proceed with the other option, which I have trouble saying out loud. There’s only really two options here.”

In Wieters’ absence, the Orioles have used the trio of Nick Hundley, Caleb Joseph, and Steve Clevenger behind the plate. Acquired from the San Diego Padres on May 24, Hundley initially looked like he’d be the starting catcher for the foreseeable future, but Joseph made his fourth start in the club’s last five games on Friday night.

Clevenger has hit .455 in 44 at-bats since being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, but his less-than-stellar defense was a deciding factor behind his demotion.

Showalter was amused when asked by a reporter if he was satisfied with his current options behind the plate should Wieters’ appointment bring bad news from Gulf Breeze, Fla. on Monday.

“What am I supposed to say, no?” Showalter said. “‘By God, Dan [Duquette] better go get an All-Star catcher right away just like Matt.’ I am [comfortable]. I think they’ve done a good job all things considered. We’ve tried real hard to create some depth here catching.

“We’ve got some things to pick from. That’s really been a challenge for us in the last few years. We always said, ‘What if Matt [gets hurt]? What are we going to do?’ Well, here we are. I hope that we get some good news on Monday, but you better prepare like you’re not.”

Machado appeal date not imminent

Showalter and the Orioles know the date that third baseman Manny Machado’s appeal will be heard on a five-game suspension stemming from the bat-throwing incident against the Oakland Athletics, but the organization is not commenting.

The manager only said that it isn’t imminent and that the 21-year-old will be available for the remainder of the weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Many have speculated that Machado’s appeal could be heard when the Orioles arrive in the Bronx to take on the New York Yankees next weekend, but that’s not a guarantee.

The club will need to add a backup infielder to the mix when Machado’s suspension begins with the assumption that Ryan Flaherty will handle third-base duties. This means Showalter will only have 11 pitchers at his disposal with Machado still counting against the 25-man roster while he serves his penalty.

“It’s not like you can pick the date and take the suspension,” Showalter said. “‘OK, he’s suspended and we’ll take it in September.’ You can’t do that. That’s not the way it’s designed. Once they render a decision, it’s right away. If you look at the precedent for situations like this, we feel like and Manny feels like [five games is a] little strong.”

Rotation still not set for Tampa Bay series

Lefty Wei-Yin Chen will pitch the series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, but Showalter wasn’t prepared to name his starters for Games 2 and 3 on Friday afternoon.

“I think after [Friday night], I’ll be able to give you [scheduled starters for] Tuesday and Wednesday,” said Showalter. “No, probably [Saturday].”

Many are clamoring for both Kevin Gausman and Miguel Gonzalez — who is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Sunday — to remain in the rotation while questioning the status of Ubaldo Jimenez, who entered his Friday start with a 5.01 ERA in 13 outings this season. Of course, the $50 million investment the Orioles made in him this offseason provides a longer leash, but a club aiming to win now may want to consider a temporary shift to the bullpen or a trip to the disabled list for the struggling right-hander if his fortunes don’t improve quickly.

Tough day for knuckleballers

Norfolk knuckleball pitcher Eddie Gamboa was suspended for 50 games on Friday for testing positive for exogenous testosterone. His suspension begins immediately after he began the season 4-5 with a 4.06 ERA in 14 games (12 starts).

“I know some people are going to make comments about a knuckleball guy and the connection with whatever,” Showalter said. “They’re missing the point on why. Obviously, I know a lot more about why and looking into it. He was on the radar here, so it’s unfortunate.”

Another converted knuckleball pitcher in the organization received bad news on Friday as UMBC product Zach Clark was released.

 

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Orioles option Clevenger to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for returning Davis

Posted on 27 May 2014 by Luke Jones

As expected, the Orioles activated first baseman Chris Davis from the paternity leave list prior to Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

What wasn’t expected was the decision to option catcher Steve Clevenger to Triple-A Norfolk in order to make room. The Orioles figured to option one of their three catchers on the 25-man roster following the Saturday acquisition of veteran Nick Hundley, but many assumed rookie Caleb Joseph would be sent back to the Tides.

Clevenger had been serving as the starting catcher with Matt Wieters on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow discomfort, but it appears that the 30-year-Hundley will now step into the primary starting role. Hundley is a career .238 hitter and provided the game-winning hit in the top of the 10th inning of Monday’s 7-6 win over Milwaukee.

Joseph is just 1-for-23 with the Orioles since being promoted earlier this month, but the 27-year-old is 4-for-10 throwing out runners attempting to steal. Never known as a strong defensive catcher in the minor leagues, Joseph has impressed manager Buck Showalter with his work behind the plate.

The right-handed-hitting Hundley is only a .199 career hitter against left-handed pitching, making it likely that Joseph will receive regular work against southpaw starters. This alignment would make more sense than Clevenger remaining with the Orioles since he doesn’t hit left-handed pitching well (a .128 career average).

Clevenger was hitting .243 with eight runs batted in and appeared to have the higher offensive upside, but Tuesday’s move appears to be the latest example of manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette going with the stronger defensive option in Joseph. However, it’s a tough sell convincing critics that Joseph’s edge in defense is greater than the discrepancy in offensive production between Clevenger and Joseph in Baltimore this season.

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Orioles option Adams, reassign Joseph to minor league camp

Posted on 23 March 2014 by WNST Staff

The Orioles today announced that they have optioned infielder David Adams to Triple-A Norfolk and reassigned catcher Caleb Joseph to minor league camp.

With the moves, the Orioles now have 41 players at major league spring training, including seven non-roster invitees.

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Looking at the Orioles’ non-roster invitees in Sarasota

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Looking at the Orioles’ non-roster invitees in Sarasota

Posted on 14 February 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles officially began spring training with their first official workout on Friday as they look for a number of answers over the next six weeks leading up to Opening Day on March 31.

After examining the players on the 40-man roster earlier in the week, it’s time to take a look at the 19 non-roster invitees who will join the club in Sarasota and try to leave the kind of impression with manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette that warrants a spot on the major league roster.

Few likely have a real chance of migrating to Baltimore in late March, but many will be looking for a spot in the minor-league system in hopes of getting the call to join the Orioles at some point this season.

PITCHERS (8)

RHP Alfredo Aceves
Opening Day age: 31
Musing: His experience pitching for both the Yankees and Red Sox over the last six years gives him a better chance than most non-roster arms to crack the Baltimore bullpen, but his personality clashes in Boston and a 1.73 WHIP last season are red flags that contrast his 3.69 career earned run average in the big leagues.

LHP Nick Additon
Opening Day age: 26
Musing: The southpaw spent the last seven years as a starter in the St. Louis Cardinals organization but has never pitched in the majors and signed as a minor-league free agent after posting a 4.10 ERA in 131 2/3 innings in Triple-A Memphis last season.

RHP Tim Alderson
Opening Day age: 25
Musing: A former first-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2007, Alderson was acquired from Pittsburgh in exchange for Russ Canzler last July and went 1-2 with a 6.27 ERA in 33 innings with Triple-A Norfolk to finish the 2013 season, primarily pitching in relief.

RHP Fabio Castillo
Opening Day age: 25
Musing: The Dominican minor-league free agent posted a 5.34 ERA in 89 1/3 innings starting and relieving for the Giants’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates last season and will be entering his ninth season of professional baseball.

RHP Eddie Gamboa
Opening Day age: 29
Musing: After five previous seasons pitching in the Orioles system, he became a knuckleball hurler last year and was re-signed to a minor-league contract after going 6-11 with a 4.43 ERA in 25 starts split between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk.

RHP Brock Huntzinger
Opening Day age: 25
Musing: A 2007 third-round pick of the Red Sox, Huntzinger spent the last seven seasons pitching in the Boston organization and went 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA in 49 relief appearances split between the Double-A and Triple-A levels last year before signing with Baltimore as a minor-league free agent.

LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
Opening Day age: 20
Musing: The Venezuelan product is one of the top prospects in the Baltimore system and went an impressive 10-7 with a 3.41 ERA split between Single-A Frederick and Bowie last season, which has made him a target of other organizations in trade talks but a piece the Orioles don’t want to give up.

RHP Mike Wright
Opening Day age: 24
Musing: Named the Orioles’ minor league pitcher of the year last season, the 2011 third-round pick went 11-3 with a 3.11 ERA primarily with Bowie before a late-season promotion to Norfolk and has a reasonable chance to arrive in Baltimore at some point before the 2014 season comes to an end.

Continue to non-roster position players >>>>>

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