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Orioles hoping to welcome back injured players during road trip

Posted on 26 June 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 8:45 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — Embarking on their second trip to the West Coast of the season, the Orioles hope to welcome back a few players from the disabled list in the coming days.

Standout reliever Darren O’Day completed his first full bullpen session on Saturday as he continues to recover from a right hamstring injury that sent him on the DL on June 3. Manager Buck Showalter said O’Day will complete another bullpen session and will pitch two simulated games, which could put him in line to be activated before the conclusion of the nine-game trip.

“He only had one little thing yesterday that he [felt],” Showalter said. “Other than that, it went really well. He’s moving around running, and we have it mapped out if everything went on scheduled when he would be activated. But there are three or four obstacles to cross. If everything went perfectly, he could be activated on this trip.”

O’Day’s absence has put more pressure on the back end of the bullpen as the Orioles have counted more heavily on right-hander Brad Brach in high-leverage situations. Brach and All-Star closer Zach Britton entered Sunday having pitched in three of the last four days.

Baltimore expects to welcome back another member of its bullpen early in the trip as right-hander Vance Worley pitched 1 2/3 innings at Double-A Bowie on Saturday night. The long reliever allowed five hits and one earned run, but his manager didn’t seem too concerned with the results.

“It went well. Physically, he feels good,” Showalter said Sunday morning. “He’s in the locker room. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet.”

Worley hasn’t pitched since June 12 while dealing with a groin strain and is eligible to be activated on Tuesday, but he will instead have one more rehab appearance at Single-A Frederick on that day.

On Monday at Frederick, backup catcher Caleb Joseph is scheduled to catch in a game for the first time since suffering a testicular injury that required surgery on May 30. Jospeh has already been serving as a designated hitter on a rehab assignment and has been catching bullpen sessions for a while now, meaning he could rejoin the club after catching Worley on Tuesday.

Other changes could be coming to the roster with two relievers — Ashur Tolliver and Mychal Givens — potentially going on paternity leave in the near future. Showalter said Tolliver’s wife is due on July 7 and Givens’ wife is due on July 11, but Tolliver told his manager that the baby could come “any day now.”

(Update: Baltimore optioned Tolliver to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday evening.)

The Orioles would be able replace either pitcher using the paternity leave list, but that can always be a tricky proposition when playing so far from home.

NOTES: Chris Davis was serving as the DH on Sunday as Showalter wanted to give him two straight days off from playing in the field. Mark Trumbo was making his second start of the season at first base. … Ubaldo Jimenez is listed as the starter for Tuesday’s game against the Padres. The struggling right-hander allowed two earned runs in six innings against the Padres to earn the victory last Wednesday. … Baltimore entered Sunday leading the majors with 43 home games played and owning the second-best home record (30-13) in baseball. Of course, the Orioles will play 16 of their next 19 games on the road beginning Tuesday.

 

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Back from suspension, Machado thinking about big picture

Posted on 24 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Back from his four-game suspension, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado acknowledged that some time off may not have been the worst thing for him in the big picture.

Despite no longer being the active major-league leader in consecutive games played when his 229-game streak ended on Sunday, Machado hopes to be able to make up for the missed games in October as Baltimore entered the weekend atop the American League East.

“I feel real good. Obviously, the days off really helped — I’m not going to lie,” said Machado, who was batting third in Friday’s series opener against Tampa Bay. “It takes a little pounding on your body, and I haven’t had some days off since the offseason. It was pretty good to just stay off my legs for a little but, but, at the same time, I was working. I was in the weight room and in the batting cages. I want to stay fresh.”

The Orioles went 2-2 in Machado’s absence and return to having a 25-man roster after grinding out several days with a short bench and less roster flexibility. However, Buck Showalter was sure not to overstate the importance of the 23-year-old’s return.

Though Machado has become the Orioles’ best player over the last couple seasons, the manager wasn’t about to express any sense of great relief to have the All-Star infielder back in the lineup. That would be a slight to the role his many teammates have played in getting off to a 41-30 start in 2016.

“If we’re depending on one player, we’re not going to get this done,” Showalter said. “Nobody liked it, and you just don’t dwell on it. I think that happens a lot during the course of a season. I’d like to know how many times we’re going to have the nine guys we thought we’d have actually on the field the whole season. It doesn’t happy very often.”

With Machado returning to the lineup and shortstop J.J. Hardy back after a seven-week absence due to a broken foot, the Orioles are moving closer to being at full strength for the first time since early May. They’ll need health and good fortune in their quest to qualify for the postseason for the third time in five years.

Machado spoke about wanting even more than that on Friday afternoon.

“My mindset is to take this team somewhere we’ve never been in a long time,” Machado said. “I’ve got to come back hot. This team is playing well.”

Joseph nearing return

Having already played in six minor-league games as a designated hitter, Caleb Joseph will catch in a game for the first time since May 30 in Frederick on Monday, the final step in his return from a serious testicular injury sustained from taking a foul ball to the crotch.

The 30-year-old said he has already cleared most mental hurdles by catching bullpen sessions and dealing with pitches in the dirt while wearing a new cup model he describes as “virtually indestructible.” One would think the fear of being hit with a foul tip might be another challenge to overcome, but Joseph said it’s impossible to react to such a play to even worry about flinching or not doing what he needs to do behind the plate.

“You cannot defend those; they are freak accidents,” said Joseph, who was not allowed to catch in a game for four weeks after undergoing emergency surgery. “If there was one thing I did or didn’t do that caused the incident, we might be looking at a different situation in terms of getting over it mentally. But it’s part of the game and you know that going into it. When you go back there, there is always a chance, so you need to go back there and be as protected as you can do to your job.”

Odds & ends

Standout reliever Darren O’Day felt good after throwing off a half-mound at Camden Yards on Thursday and will throw off the regular mound on Saturday as he continues to work his way back from a hamstring injury. … Long reliever Vance Worley (groin strain) will pitch in a rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie on Saturday. … Left-hander Brian Duensing underwent successful surgery to have two cartilage chips removed from his left elbow on Friday and will report to Sarasota to begin a rehab that could have him ready to return by early August. … Lefty T.J. McFarland was in the Baltimore clubhouse on Friday and is expected to be activated as the club’s 26th player for Saturday’s doubleheader. … Pitching coach Dave Wallace will be away for the next few days while bullpen coach Dom Chiti takes his place and minor-league infield coordinator Dave Anderson coaches in the bullpen. … The Orioles will travel to San Diego after Sunday’s game in order to benefit from a full day off without travel on Monday.

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Hardy returning Saturday with Machado suspension looming

Posted on 17 June 2016 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Orioles shortstop Hardy increasing baseball activity in Sarasota

Posted on 06 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles appear to be moving closer to restoring their regular left side of the infield with shortstop J.J. Hardy beginning baseball activities in Sarasota.

After playing catch from 90 feet over the weekend, the 33-year-old took 25 ground balls on Monday and is taking swings and hitting off a tee as he continues to work his way back from a fractured left foot suffered on May 1. According to manager Buck Showalter, Hardy will not rejoin the club to continue his rehab until he is participating in full baseball activity in Sarasota.

The hope is that Hardy could still be ready to be activated from the disabled list later this month, but he would need to complete a minor-league rehab assignment after such a lengthy absence.

“It’s more about the player. J.J. knows what it takes to be up here,” said Showalter when asked how long Hardy’s rehab assignment might take. “We’ll trust him with that. I don’t think you’re going to see him go down there and play one game and four at-bats and say, ‘I’m ready.’ He’s going to do some of that in the extended-spring program probably before he goes out [on an assignment].

“But I wouldn’t say it’d be quick. I’d like for it to be quick. We miss him.”

Two-time Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado has filled in admirably playing his natural shortstop position in Hardy’s absence, but the Orioles have struggled to receive production at third base with defensive-minded players Ryan Flaherty and Paul Janish providing below-replacement-level offense and slugger Pedro Alvarez serving as a defensive liability in his six starts at the hot corner.

Though coming off the worst season of his major league career in 2015, Hardy was hitting .244 with two home runs, eight RBIs, and a .701 on-base plus slugging percentage in 86 plate appearances this season.

Last rehab start for Gallardo?

Right-hander Yovani Gallardo will make what the Orioles hope is his final rehab start on Tuesday afternoon at Triple-A Norfolk, putting him in line to potentially return to start the series finale in Toronto on Sunday.

Have the woes of the current starting rotation altered how the Orioles evaluate Gallardo’s readiness to return from right shoulder tendinitis?

“You mean all he’s got to do is show up and be breathing and he’s in it?” said Showalter, cracking a smile. “I’m just being frank. No, it shouldn’t and I’d like to think it doesn’t. Are you going to base it on performance or how he feels? You hope you get both.

“Yovani wants to get back. He’s champing at the bit. If I had a choice between [him] being productive and being healthy tomorrow, I’ll take the healthy part.”

Waiting game for Joseph

A week after Caleb Joseph suffered a testicular injury that required surgery from a foul ball to the groin area, Showalter confirmed the backup catcher would not be ready to return after the minimum 15 days for a DL stint.

Joseph will not to resume catching until the four-week mark from when the injury took place on May 30. Showalter said the 29-year-old should be able to take part in all other baseball activities before then, but there understandably will be an adjustment period for Joseph to once again take work behind the plate after sustaining such a gruesome injury.

Fortunately for the Orioles, recently-promoted backup Francisco Pena has collected multi-hit games in each of his first two starts since Joseph was placed on the DL.

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Wieters, Orioles in better position to endure Joseph’s absence

Posted on 31 May 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There’s never good timing for the kind of injury Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph suffered as we collectively cringed watching him take a foul ball to the groin area during Monday’s game.

But with the defensive-minded backup undergoing surgery for a testicular injury and being placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Orioles are in better position to endure his absence than they’ve been in a long time. With three-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters playing more frequently in May being nearly two full years removed from Tommy John surgery, the Orioles can feel more comfortable with the recalled Francisco Pena serving as his backup for at least the next couple weeks.

Wieters rarely caught on consecutive days upon returning to action last season, creating more of a timeshare behind the plate.

“It doesn’t change anything about Matt,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We’re not going to start pushing up his load and jeopardize something down the road. He may feel differently, but we’ll take it day to day. It shouldn’t change anything about that, but we’ll see.”

Wieters may never again start 135 or more games at catcher in a season like he did earlier in his career, but he caught on three straight days last week for the first time since having elbow surgery and has caught on back-to-back days five other times since the end of April, taking on more of a conventional workload for a starting catcher in recent weeks. Including Tuesday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, Wieters has served as the starting catcher in 14 of the Orioles’ last 21 games.

That is good news for the Orioles, who will now depend on a backup catcher with all of nine career games in the majors. Acquired from the Kansas City Royals in December, Pena at least had the opportunity to work with many of the club’s pitchers during spring training and had thrown out 11 of 23 runners attempting to steal while catching for Triple-A Norfolk this year.

However, the 26-year-old was hitting .200 with a .491 on-base plus slugging percentage in 87 plate appearances for the Tides. Joseph was off to a poor start at the plate this season with a .182 average, but the 29-year-old hit .234 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs last season.

From an offensive standpoint, the Orioles hope Wieters can continue what he’s been able to do while receiving more regular at-bats in May. After hitting .214 in the first month of the season, Wieters entered Tuesday hitting .354 with three homers and a .933 OPS in May.

Just having him behind the plate more regularly is more of a relief for the Orioles while Joseph recovers.

“I feel good, but I also feel like Frankie’s a guy who can go back there and catch, too,” Wieters said. “I think that’s one thing we’ve always preached. We’ve got to be able to have guys at Double A and Triple A who can step in and play in a big-league game. We’re not going to call anybody up we don’t feel can go out there and catch in a game.

“Whatever needs to happen for the team to win games, I’m all for. But I have complete confidence in Frankie getting back there and catching a big-league game and getting wins.”

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machado

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Minnesota

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins to complete a three-game sweep on Thursday night?

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

1stUbaldo Jimenez didn’t look like he would complete seven strong innings early on, but he induced a 1-4-3 double play from Trevor Plouffe to escape a jam in the third inning and turned his outing around from there. The right-hander retired 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced, striking out eight over that stretch. Minnesota hitters were on his fastball early, but Jimenez mixed in his secondary pitches more effectively the second and third times through the order and his split-finger fastball was particularly sharp. Known for his occasional control issues, Jimenez didn’t walk a batter while striking out nine and scattering eight hits. His outing not only allowed the Orioles to remain within striking distance, but he saved a bullpen that had worked 11 innings over the first two games of the series.

2ndManny Machado was moved out of the leadoff spot for the Orioles on Thursday, but he still served as the catalyst for a lineup that was scuffling against Minnesota starter Phil Hughes for much of the evening. His home run to left with two outs in the bottom of the sixth reminded the rest of the order that a 2-0 deficit was far from insurmountable and the Orioles responded with three more runs over the next couple innings to surge ahead. The first-pitch homer came after Machado was locked in during his previous at-bat, a nine-pitch battle in the fourth that resulted in a line-drive single.

3rd Darren O’Day did have a two-run lead and has proven to be more than capable of handling the closer duties in the past, but he was very impressive in striking out the side to complete the 4-2 victory. The right-hander was also making his third appearance in four days, a heavy workload for this early stage of the season. O’Day recorded six strikeouts in three scoreless innings in the series.

HomeJoey Rickard continued his storybook start to the 2016 season with his first major league homer in the bottom of the eighth. The Rule 5 pick received a curtain call for his efforts as the crowd chanted his name repeatedly. … Jonathan Schoop knocked in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh with a single to center. … Dylan Bundy made his first major league appearance since Sept. 25, 2012 and pitched a scoreless eighth inning after he had warmed up at several other times during the series. … Caleb Joseph threw out two runners attempting to steal, one of them being Danny Santana right before Joe Mauer homered off Jimenez in the first inning. … After throwing only 22 pitches because of a rain delay on Opening Day, Chris Tillman returns to the hill on Friday where he’ll be opposed by Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer to begin a three-game set.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 01 April 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule filled with twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2016 after looking at the factors that must go right. In an effort to not be too redundant in the wake of the first piece, I tried to avoid discussing the previous points needing to go well.

1. The starting pitching collapses

Yes, we touched on the starting pitching in the previous piece, but what else could possibly top this list — the entire starting lineup adopting Marty Cordova’s tanning bed strategy for the season?

In the AL in 2015, the Baltimore starting pitchers finished 14th in in ERA, 10th in strikeouts, sixth worst in walks, and second worst in home runs allowed. On top of that, the club’s most dependable starter, Wei-Yin Chen, signed with the Miami Marlins in the offseason.

Veteran newcomer Yovani Gallardo was tabbed as the man to replace him and carries a 3.66 ERA for his career, but his strikeout rate and velocity have plummeted over the last few seasons and the Orioles renegotiated his original three-year contract because of concerns with his right shoulder. The hope is that an impressive ground-ball rate keeps the 30-year-old effective pitching at Camden Yards.

Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman provide the most upside, but the former dealt with a hip issue early in camp and is coming off his worst season since 2011. Meanwhile, Gausman will begin the season on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis and the Orioles have already pushed back his projected return date from April 10 to April 19, making you wonder if the ailment is more serious than they first indicated.

You never know what you’re going to get from Ubaldo Jimenez, but he’s been more bad than good in his first two seasons with the Orioles. And now with the Orioles having severed ties with Miguel Gonzalez, they’ll be counting on the likes of Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and veteran newcomer Vance Worley to fill out the last spot in the rotation with Wright getting the first shot.

If this group can bring middle-of-the-pack quality — probably the most upside you could reasonably hope for — the Orioles are strong enough elsewhere to be in contention. A repeat of 2015 or worse could lead to a long summer in Baltimore.

And then you’d fear how dramatic struggles from the rotation could wear out a strong bullpen, no matter how effectively it’s managed.

2. Corner outfield wasteland repeats

The Orioles failed in their plan to use a committee of fringe veterans to handle the spots flanking center fielder Adam Jones a year ago, but questions remain for a second straight season.

Projected to be the primary starter in right field, Mark Trumbo should be an upgrade with the bat, but his limitations in the outfield are no secret and negative defensive value would wipe away much of what he brings at the plate. Fortunately, there isn’t a ton of ground to cover in right at Camden Yards, so the test will be how quickly Trumbo can get used to playing balls off the out-of-town scoreboard.

Left field was supposed to be handled by Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim, but his poor spring has his future in limbo. Putting aside the scouting failure of signing a player who isn’t able to catch up to fastballs and is poor defensively to a $7 million contract, the Orioles haven’t exactly treated Kim in the most hospitable way by benching him and then speaking at length to the media about his shortcomings as they’re trying to get him to accept a minor-league assignment, something he’s under no contractual obligation to do.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard is the wild card here after he posted a 1.029 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, but are the Orioles putting too many eggs in this basket? What did Tampa Bay not like about Rickard that the Orioles could be missing?

Veteran Nolan Reimold will factor into the mix as well, but he is better suited to be a fourth outfielder at this stage of his career. The minor-league options include Dariel Alvarez, Xavier Avery, Henry Urrutia, and converted first baseman Christian Walker, who is intriguing if he proves himself defensively.

3. Chris Davis reverts to his 2014 form

You can’t expect Davis to be any better just because he signed the richest contract in franchise history in the offseason, and it will be difficult for the 30-year-old first baseman to match what he did last season with his 47 homers.

That said, few events would be more deflating than to see Davis have a season more closely resembling what he was in 2014 when he hit .196 with just 26 home runs. If the Orioles are to contend, they’re going to need to hit a ton of home runs and Davis needs to again lead the way in that department.

His ever-increasing pull rate is something to monitor and could cause him to age poorly, but the Orioles hope Davis will continue being a great power hitter for the next three to four years before crossing their fingers that the final few years of the contract aren’t as painful as some fear they will be.

4. Buck Showalter leans too heavily on J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters

I touched on these topics at length in the offseason, but the Orioles would be wise to better manage Hardy’s health after two injury-plagued seasons and shouldn’t overlook defense when it comes to the catching pair of Wieters and backup Caleb Joseph.

Hardy has stayed healthy and slugged .521 with three home runs this spring, drastic improvement from his .564 OPS while playing the entire 2015 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The 33-year-old shortstop would likely benefit from more routine days off and should no longer be treated as the guy who missed only seven games combined in 2012 and 2013. Keeping Hardy fresh would presumably go a long way in keeping him healthy and productive at the plate and in the field.

The spring scare with Wieters’ right elbow could be a sign that he isn’t yet ready to be the guy who regularly caught 135-plus games per season prior to Tommy John surgery. Even if he is, the tools Joseph brings behind the plate shouldn’t be ignored despite Wieters being the better offensive player. If Wieters isn’t tearing the cover off the ball, the Orioles shouldn’t hesitate to use Joseph more often because of his ability to frame pitches and handle a pitching staff, especially since the former is only under contract through this season.

5. The Orioles are unable to block out the noise

It was a weird offseason a year after executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette flirted with the Toronto Blue Jays’ job promotion, and questions continue about whether members of the organization are on the same page.

The Orioles enter 2016 with a franchise-record payroll, but negotiations didn’t exactly go smoothly with Davis and the early-spring drama with both Gallardo’s physical and the twists and turns with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler were nothing short of bizarre.

The decision to release Gonzalez this week may have been the correct one from baseball and business standpoints, but it’s no secret that the well-liked pitcher’s departure didn’t sit well with his teammates. Yes, they’re professionals and will move on, but these are human beings with emotions, as Showalter often likes to remind us.

The Kim situation threatens to linger if the Orioles choose not to eat $7 million and instead carry him on the 25-man roster after saying he wasn’t good enough to make the club. Such a scenario wouldn’t exactly send a great message to the rest of the clubhouse, either.

On top of all that, the Orioles spent a great amount of money to essentially maintain a similar roster to the group that needed a five-game winning streak just to finish .500 last season. And few experts are giving the Orioles much of a chance to make the playoffs for the third time in five years after they failed to make any significant improvements to the starting rotation.

Over the past few years, the Orioles have often thrived under such circumstances, which should give fans hope.

None of this is quantifiable, of course, but with a higher payroll come greater expectations and this is a club with a window of just three seasons before All-Star pillars Manny Machado and Adam Jones hit free agency. And the minor-league well is quite dry when it comes to reinforcements to help address deficiencies.

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2016 Orioles preview: Caleb Joseph

Posted on 22 March 2016 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than two weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2016 Orioles every day as they try to return to the playoffs for the third time in five years this season.

March 1 – Adam Jones
March 2 – Chris Tillman
March 3 – Jonathan Schoop
March 4 – Brad Brach
March 5 – Nolan Reimold
March 6 – Yovani Gallardo
March 7 – Matt Wieters
March 8 – T.J. McFarland
March 9 – Dariel Alvarez
March 10 – Brian Matusz
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Mychal Givens
March 13 – Ryan Flaherty
March 14 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 15 – Mark Trumbo
March 16 – Darren O’Day
March 18 – Pedro Alvarez
March 19 – Oliver Drake
March 20 – Mike Wright
March 21 – Zach Britton

C Caleb Joseph

Age: 29

Contract status: Under club control through the 2020 season

2015 stats: .234/.299/.394, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 38 R, 0 SB, 355 PA

Why to be impressed: Known as an offensive-minded catcher in the minors, Joseph was again impressive behind the plate, throwing out 33 percent of runners trying to steal and finishing in the top 10 in the majors in pitch-framing statistics. He also improved offensively in his second season, finishing fifth in on-base plus slugging percentage among AL catchers with at least 350 plate appearances in 2015.

Why to be concerned: For the second straight year, Joseph’s production at the plate plummeted in September as he posted a .386 OPS, the kind of slump that ruined what was an otherwise strong season at the plate for a catcher. It’s reasonable to project Joseph as the starter in 2017, but this tendency coupled with a slight 180-pound frame makes you wonder if he can hold up as the full-time guy.

2016 outlook: I’ve made no secret about my affinity for Joseph as a catcher and believe he brings better all-around value than Wieters when considering the latter’s $15.8 million salary. Because of Joseph’s defensive prowess and ability to handle the staff, manager Buck Showalter shouldn’t hesitate to give him two or three starts per week to keep his starting catcher healthy and fresh for the entire season.

2016 not-so-scientific projections: .244/.311/.403, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 31 R, 0 SB, 290 PA

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Gonzalez’s struggles, Wieters’ elbow more concerning than spring record

Posted on 14 March 2016 by Luke Jones

The question is being asked over and over about the Orioles’ poor start in the Grapefruit League.

Are you concerned?

My short answer is no, at least as it relates to a 1-11-2 record entering Monday’s game against Philadelphia. A simple look at each box score illustrates how many outcomes have been impacted by many players who are unlikely to be real factors for the Orioles this year. If you need historical perspective to feel better, the 2012 Washington Nationals began spring training with an 0-10-1 record before winning 98 games in the regular season.

But dismissing the Orioles’ spring training record doesn’t mean there aren’t other reasons to be concerned as Miguel Gonzalez was crushed for the second time in his first three starts on Sunday. The right-hander allowed six earned runs, seven hits, three walks, and a home run in 1 2/3 innings against Minnesota, elevating his spring ERA to 22.24 in three outings covering just 5 2/3 innings.

His nightmarish start has brought memories of Bud Norris last spring, but the ex-Oriole only had an 11.74 ERA through his first three spring starts in 2015, reinforcing how dramatic Gonzalez’s struggles have been. It also doesn’t help that his poor spring performance comes after he pitched to a 6.53 ERA over his final 14 starts of 2015 upon returning from the disabled list in late June.

It’s true that spring training is the time for pitchers to work on different parts of their craft with the goal of being ready for early April, but giving up 18 hits and 14 earned runs in less than six innings of work takes that notion to an absurd level. The veteran right-hander spoke about his mechanics being off against the Twins on Sunday, but even his best outing of the spring saw him giving up three hits, a walk, and a home run in 2 2/3 innings.

To be clear, Gonzalez deserves some benefit of the doubt after serving as one of the Orioles’ best starting pitchers from 2012-2014 and posting an ERA of 3.78 or better in each of those seasons. He even had a 3.33 ERA in his first 12 starts last year before going to the DL with a groin strain, making you wonder if poor health was the biggest reason for his struggles the rest of the way. Gonzalez also spent most of September on the DL after concerns rose about his shoulder and elbow.

Gonzalez will be 32 in late May and never had dominating stuff even when he was at his best, making you wonder if he’s going to get back to being the pitcher he was prior to last year. Manager Buck Showalter will certainly give him more opportunities to figure it out based on his track record, but those chances shouldn’t continue too long if progress isn’t being made over his next three or four starts.

Ubaldo Jimenez also had a horrendous spring debut (six earned runs in 1/3 inning), but he’s bounced back over his last two starts and has allowed just one run over his last 6 1/3 frames despite a spring ERA that still sits at 9.45. Gonzalez needs to start showing a similar progression.

Unlike last year when Norris was struggling, the Orioles don’t have a slam-dunk replacement for Gonzalez waiting in the wings like the talented Kevin Gausman, who is already part of the starting rotation in 2016. Vance Worley, Odrisamer Despaigne, Tyler Wilson, and Mike Wright would all figure to be in the mix to be the fifth starter, but those options don’t provide much hope that they could be what Gonzalez was for the Orioles prior to last year.

It’s only mid-March and Gonzalez still has time to figure it out, but his three spring starts become magnified after his final three months of 2015.

Wieters worry

The Orioles and Matt Wieters are trying to downplay the right elbow soreness that forced him out of Saturday’s game in the first inning, but you can’t help but be concerned until he’s back behind the plate.

Arm soreness at this time in the spring isn’t uncommon for pitchers, catchers, or other position players, but Wieters is just 21 months removed from Tommy John surgery and only caught on consecutive days a total of five times last season. It’s also worth noting that Wieters caught consecutive games for the first time in the spring last week, making you wonder if the issue was related to that.

Even if he returns in the next few days, you wonder if this is a sign that Wieters isn’t yet ready to be the guy he was prior to surgery when he would catch 135 games or more per year. Based on the limited number of major league catchers to have the procedure over the years and the unknown that remains, it’s possible that Wieters will never be that guy again.

It wouldn’t be the worst scenario for Wieters and Caleb Joseph to more evenly share the workload despite the $15.8 million salary the former is making in 2016 after he accepted the Orioles’ qualifying offer. In fact, you can make a sound argument that Joseph is the superior defensive option at this point, which could bring more value to a questionable starting rotation.

Either way, you hope that Wieters’ elbow issue isn’t anything serious with what he’s already endured over the last two years and what the Orioles are paying him in 2016.

Kim’s rough start

An 0-for-23 start isn’t what Hyun Soo Kim or the Orioles envisioned in his first spring training, but going 3-for-6 since then has eased some concerns for now.

Showalter didn’t sugarcoat his assessment of the South Korean outfielder’s performance last week, making you wonder if Kim will be the club’s starting left fielder on Opening Day as many anticipated. Of course, the Orioles are already facing the likelihood of playing Mark Trumbo in right field, so Kim’s slow start just creates more doubt in the corner outfield spots for the second straight year.

Perhaps the 2015 spring performance of South Korean infielder Jung Ho Kang provides some encouragement as he went 3-for-27 to begin his first spring with Pittsburgh before ultimately posting an impressive .816 on-base plus slugging percentage in the regular season. The quality of competition in the Korean Baseball Organization is generally viewed as similar to the Single-A or Double-A level of the minor leagues, making for a difficult adjustment to succeed in the majors.

That doesn’t mean that Kim is destined to figure it out, either, but you hope his last few games are a sign of better things to come for the 28-year-old.

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Wieters leaves Saturday’s game due to elbow soreness

Posted on 12 March 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles won their first game of the spring on Saturday, but with the victory came concerning news about their starting catcher.

Just 21 months removed from Tommy John surgery, Matt Wieters left the 8-1 win over Minnesota with what the club described as right elbow soreness. The 29-year-old felt discomfort attempting to throw out Eduardo Nunez trying to steal in the top of the first and was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the inning.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Sarasota that X-rays did not reveal any concerns, and Wieters will be reevaluated over the next couple days.

“Doctors examined him and everything, and we’ll see,” Showalter said. “I think everybody gets alarmed because of, rightfully so, with the surgery there. Hopefully, it’ll manage and be OK.”

For now, the Orioles remain hopeful that Wieters is merely experiencing soreness that many catchers do at this point in spring training. However, it’s worth noting that Wieters caught consecutive games for the first time this spring earlier in the week, and the three-time All-Star selection caught on consecutive days just five times last season after returning to action in early June.

Though he was set to become a free agent last November, Wieters accepted the Orioles’ $15.8 million qualifying offer for the 2016 season.

Backup catcher Caleb Joseph was already scheduled to start on Sunday after missing a few days due to illness. He would serve as the starter should Wieters miss extensive action.

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