Tag Archive | "Chris Davis"

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Five questions pondering Yanda, Matusz, others

Posted on 22 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Orioles or Ravens (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or do you still enjoy seeing Marshal Yanda receive league-wide recognition? I’ve made no secret about my disdain for the annual NFL Network top 100 players list over the years, but I did enjoy seeing the four-time Pro Bowl guard appear 79th overall on this year’s version — even if he should be higher. Ozzie Newsome is in a tough spot with Yanda and Kelechi Osemele both scheduled to become free agents after the 2015 season. If you can only sign one — the Ravens believe young linemen John Urschel and Robert Myers could be starters in the near future — conventional wisdom might say to keep the younger Osemele, but would Baltimore really let the best guard in the NFL and one of the better players in franchise history leave? It isn’t an easy call as Yanda turns 31 in September, but his play has shown no signs of slowing down and he’s the leader of an offensive line that was very good in 2014.

2. Is it just me or do you think the Orioles regret not trading Brian Matusz in the spring? It’s been a difficult start for the lefty specialist, who sports a 3.77 ERA that doesn’t tell the story of just how ineffective he’s been. Matusz owns a 5.85 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark, is walking as many hitters per nine innings as he’s striking out (6.3), and has allowed an .864 on-base plus slugging percentage against right-handed hitters, which includes 10 walks in 41 plate appearances. After a two-hour rain delay on Thursday, Matusz entered to face a lineup that sported six left-handed hitters and could have given the Orioles a lift by handling a couple innings. Instead, he labored through a 39-pitch frame by giving up two runs, three hits, and a walk. Meanwhile, right-hander Ryan Webb sports a 1.42 ERA for Cleveland after the Orioles elected to jettison him at the start of the season.

3. Is it just me or are you interested to see how John Harbaugh handles the new extra-point rule? Despite expressing my skepticism over how much the changes will really impact the game, I am intrigued to see how the Ravens coach approaches the new rules from a strategic standpoint considering he hasn’t been afraid to go against the conventional — and ultraconservative — nature of many NFL coaches as we saw with his key decision to go for it on fourth down in his own territory in Miami last season. Speaking to reporters after delivering the commencement address at Stevenson University on Thursday, Harbaugh endorsed the changes and believes they will lead to more two-point conversions, particularly when weather conditions are harsh. Of course, it certainly helps that he has one of the best kickers in the league to handle what will now become 33-yard extra points.

4. Is it just me or does Buck Showalter need to rethink the heart of the order? No, this isn’t a rant about Chris Davis striking out way too much — you don’t need me to tell you that — but it’s a look at Delmon Young, who has hit fourth in nine of the Orioles’ last 13 games. On the surface, Young’s .287 average is respectable, but his .330 slugging percentage is lower than the likes of struggling hitters such as Alejandro De Aza and Steve Pearce. Young’s lack of patience at the plate isn’t helping with only a 2.1 percent walk rate. This isn’t supposed to be a knock on Young as much as it shows how underwhelming the Orioles have been at the corner outfield spots, which has forced him to become an everyday player. Young is a better fit as a part-time player and pinch hitter, but he’s already played more innings in the field in 2015 than he did all last season, something that isn’t helping the Baltimore defense, either.

5. Is it just me or should the Ravens take a suggestion or two from the Uni Watch assessment of their uniforms? I don’t shy away from being a uniform geek as I enjoy using the “#FashionTweets” hashtag on Twitter and I generally like the Ravens’ duds, but the subtle tweaks suggested by Paul Lukas wouldn’t be bad ideas. The black pants that have become a major part of home and away uniform combinations could use a purple and white stripe on the sides similar to what we saw in 1997 (see below) before the black pants disappeared for years. More than that, I’d like to see the Ravens bring back the black and purple striped sock design worn before changing to the current — and boring — solid black ones in 2004. I admire the organization for making few uniform changes since 1999, but a couple tweaks would freshen up the look, especially if they insist on wearing black pants so often.

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BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 28:  Jamal Lewis #31 of the Baltimore Ravens leaves Dewayne Washington #20 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in his wake as he goes 26 yards for a first quarter touchdwon to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead over the Steelers during NFL action on December 28, 2003 at the M and T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

 

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An Orioles performance only a mother could love

Posted on 10 May 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A memorable day we hope never happens again

Posted on 29 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Accompanied by the punchlines and photos on social media was a sadness as a recording of the national anthem played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday afternoon.

As if the sight of an empty ballpark moments before the start of an Orioles game wasn’t strange enough, it had just hit me that we wouldn’t hear the customary “O!” that we’ve come to expect at any major sporting event in Baltimore over the years. Out-of-towners don’t get it and even some within the community don’t care for the practice, but there are few things more “Baltimore” than our own Star-Spangled Banner trademark you’ll even hear when fans follow the Orioles or Ravens on the road.

It was just the latest reminder of how far from ideal the concept of playing a baseball game without fans truly was, but that’s when I heard the faint but audible “O!” from a few dozen fans standing beyond the left-center gate. The sound warmed the heart in a week filled with much tension and sadness in the city of Baltimore, and it suddenly made more sense for the Orioles to be playing a game at home before embarking on what will now be a nine-game road trip.

“Oh, they were heard,” said a smiling Buck Showalter when asked about those fans cheering from afar during an 8-2 win over the Chicago White Sox.

Of course, the Orioles returning to the field is of little consequence compared to the real problems our city is facing and will continue to deal with in the coming hours, days, and weeks. The decision not to allocate the law-enforcement officials required for a regular game was a wise one, but the quiet atmosphere was a reminder of just how important fans are to the product.

As one of the select few able to watch the game in person, I enjoyed the previously-unheard sounds of Jimmy Paredes sliding into third base or first base coach Wayne Kirby calling for Delmon Young to run out a popup, but the atmosphere reminded of a junior varsity baseball game without the pings of aluminum bats. It may have been a day that made major league history, but we can only hope it never happens again as we look ahead to the return of both the Orioles and fans to Camden Yards on May 11.

“It’s something that we hopefully don’t take for granted,” said catcher Caleb Joseph, who jokingly pretended to high-five fans and sign autographs before the game. “Days like today definitely remind you if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have jobs. Hopefully, everything can be resolved as quickly as possible.”

A game being played without any fans wasn’t what anyone truly wanted, but if it represented baby steps toward some normalcy, we’ll take it. After watching so many parts of the city burn on Monday night, just seeing baseball being played at Camden Yards again was movement in the right direction.

For those watching on television or listening on the radio on a weekday afternoon, the surreal game at least provided a temporary distraction.

“They’re always watching. You all know that,” said center fielder Adam Jones, acknowledging more fans viewing on television than those attending any game under regular circumstances. “Cameras are always on. It was good to come out and get six [runs] in the first [and] get a stronghold off a good pitcher.”

The day was helped by the Orioles rolling over starter Jeff Samardzija and the White Sox to win their third consecutive game. While players were quick to note the insignificance of winning a baseball game in the city’s current climate, you still sensed their purpose of wanting to do something positive for fans despite their inability to attend the game.

Of course, the run of baseball-related distractions and sacrifice isn’t over for the Orioles as they’ll now play a “home” series — with home uniforms and all — against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg this weekend. But leaving town on a winning note helps.

“You tried to stay focused on the competition and us trying to get where we want to be at the end of the season,” Showalter said. “But I also talked to [players] about the people who are going to be sitting around our city watching this game. How many things have really gone on normal here in the last few days in our society?”

Yes, the perception of playing in an empty stadium was less than appealing, but it beat the alternative of canceling a third consecutive game at an abandoned Camden Yards. If it served as even a few minutes of leisure from the tension that currently exists in our city, the unorthodox measure was worth it.

There are much bigger issues at work in Baltimore — ones that won’t be solved overnight — but to hear cheers from those fans standing beyond the gates was a reminder of just how important something so unimportant can be. It isn’t a coincidence that we’ve occasionally heard the “Seven Nation Army” chants from protesters over the last couple days, either.

Sports have brought and will continue to bring us together, which is why I look forward to once again seeing a packed Camden Yards — hopefully as early as May 11.

“The last 72 hours I think in this city have been tumultuous, to say the least,” Jones said. “We’ve seen good, we’ve seen bad, we’ve seen ugly. We’ve seen our games canceled, postponed, relocated, a lot of families relocated.

“It’s a city that’s hurting, and a city that needs its heads to stand up, step up, and help the ones that are hurting. It’s not an easy time right now for anybody. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It’s a tough time for the city of Baltimore.”

One day at a time.

As unusual and less than perfect Wednesday’s game was, it was comforting to have a diversion.

It was good to hear that familiar “O!” in the distance.

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Jones not missing his pitch in hot start for Orioles

Posted on 20 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Even after an 0-for-2 showing in Monday’s 7-1 loss that snapped a nine-game hitting streak, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is off to one of the best starts of his career through the first two weeks of the 2015 campaign.

The numbers resemble something from a video game as Jones is hitting .438 with five home runs, 16 RBIs, and a 1.294 on-base plus slugging percentage, but the most encouraging stat that could make room for Jones to sustain improvement in 2015 is his impressively-low number of strikeouts. Entering Monday with a career 19.3 percent strikeout rate, Jones has gone down on strikes just five times in 54 plate appearances this season.

Jones has only walked three times, but he’s making more contact on pitches in or out of the strike zone. Of course, we’re dealing with a small sample size, but even a reasonable improvement from his career 73.5 percent contract rate — Jones entered Monday making contact on 78 percent of his swings — could make an already-dangerous hitter even better.

Manager Buck Showalter has also noted that several of Jones’ big hits early in the season have come on pitches well outside the zone, which should serve as a reminder for those who like to harp on his lack of plate discipline and inability to draw walks. You take the good with the bad with Jones, and there’s been much more of the former in his eight years with the Orioles.

** The final numbers showed that all five runs that Wei-Yin Chen surrendered on Monday were unearned, but anyone who watched his performance knows nearly all of the damage was self-inflicted for the Taiwanese lefty.

Committing an error and walking four batters in the third — he walked no more than three in any of his 31 starts last season — Chen struggled to shake off the fielding miscue and allowed it to affect his performance on the mound. Of course, the error committed by Manny Machado with the bases loaded led to two more runs and a 5-1 deficit.

The defensive gaffe and the control problems are uncharacteristic for Chen, who is regarded as an exceptional fielder and walked only 1.7 hitters per nine innings last year. For now, you chalk it up as one of those days even though he’s now walked eight batters in 14 2/3 innings in 2015.

** With another strikeout on Monday, Chris Davis has now gone down on strikes 21 times in 50 plate appearances to begin the year.

It isn’t news that Davis strikes out a lot as he fanned 199 times in his 53-homer season in 2013, but the left-handed slugger striking out in 42 percent of his plate appearances is alarming even for his standards. Despite this, Davis has still managed to produce with two home runs, seven RBIs, and a .457 slugging percentage.

What might be more concerning than the strikeout rate is the fact that Davis has only drawn two walks this season. Despite his nightmarish 2014 season that included a .196 average, Davis still drew 60 walks in 525 plate appearances to at least salvage a .300 on-base percentage.

With the increased use of the shift against him, Davis will do himself no favors if he doesn’t have patient at-bats. Of course, pitchers may not feel the need to pitch him as carefully this season, which could also impact his ability to earn free passes.

** Once J.J. Hardy returns, many assume Everth Cabrera will become the primary second baseman in place of the injured Jonathan Schoop, but I’m not convinced.

Cabrera has just 12 games of major league experience at the position while Ryan Flaherty has proven he can play above-average defense at second. The former has also shown little at the plate with a .244 slugging percentage this season after posting a .572 OPS in his final season in San Diego last year.

Flaherty is a polarizing figure among Orioles fans, but he’s off to a strong start in 2015 with a .333 average and two homers in 24 at-bats. If you view him in his proper context as a utility player who can play six different positions well, it’s easier to see why manager Buck Showalter likes him so much.

Because of Flaherty’s power potential and his ability to play good defense at second, I’d be inclined to give him an extended look at the position before automatically handing the job over to Cabrera when Hardy is back at shortstop.

** The silver lining in Monday’s rain-shortened game was the Orioles bullpen receiving a breather aside from Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia, who pitched for the first time since April 10.

Orioles relievers pitched 12 1/3 innings in the first three games at Fenway and will now travel to Toronto to take on a potent Blue Jays lineup that entered Monday ranking first in the majors in runs scored. On top of that, Baltimore will not have another day off until April 30.

** The Orioles Hall of Fame has come under criticism in recent years with a number of players being inducted who were viewed as unworthy, but Melvin Mora shouldn’t be mentioned in that group after it was announced that he and former platoon partners John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke will be enshrined this August.

Mora, a two-time All-Star selection, is 13th in all-time wins above replacement in club history and ranks in the top 10 in a number of categories including doubles, RBIs, home runs, runs, and total bases. That sounds like a player deserving of inclusion, regardless of whether you think the overall standard has dropped.

His 2004 campaign in particular goes down as one of the most underrated seasons in franchise history and Mora was one of the lone bright spots in a very dark time period for the Orioles.

In the same way that we don’t attach the stench of 1988 to Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, Mora shouldn’t be classified as an unworthy inductee for the Orioles Hall of Fame because of the terrible teams on which he played.

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Early thoughts on Orioles lineup

Posted on 16 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Providing the ever-popular caveat that “it’s still early” in making any observations, below are some thoughts on each regular member of the Orioles lineup — with an additional nod to Delmon Young coming off the bench — through the first nine games of the 2015 season.

While many are understandably pining for former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz with him homering in five straight games, Baltimore leads the majors in home runs and has had few problems scoring runs so far.

Each player’s slash line, which includes batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, is noted in parentheses.

1. Alejandro De Aza (.314/.333/.571)

The left fielder’s .905 on-base plus slugging percentage is impressive, but he’s walked only once and has struck out 13 times, second on the club to only Chris Davis. He is the most experienced option that Buck Showalter has for the leadoff spot and he’s seen 4.28 pitches per plate appearance so far this season (the major league average is 3.81), making you think he’ll begin to draw more free passes as the year goes on. The high volume of strikeouts (36.1 percent of plate appearances) sticks out, but De Aza’s 21.2 percent career strikeout rate makes you believe this is more an early-season aberration.

2. Steve Pearce (.161/.278/.355)

Drawing starts at four different spots already (first base, left field, right field, and designated hitter), Pearce looked like he was picking up where he left off in 2014 by hitting a home run in each of the first two games. Since then, however, it’s been a struggle as he’s been mired in a 2-for-26 slump with eight strikeouts over that time. Showalter gave Pearce the night off Wednesday, so hopefully that coupled with Thursday’s off-day will allow the 32-year-old to clear his head. The Orioles don’t expect him to repeat his .930 OPS from a year ago, but they are counting on him to provide above-average offense.

3. Chris Davis (.226/.273/.387)

The cries have already started for Davis to be lowered in the order as he’s struck out in 45.5 percent of his 2015 plate appearances, which is alarming even for the first baseman’s standards. That said, he’s still found a way to contribute offensively, including three RBIs in Wednesday night’s win. It’s difficult to know what to expect from Davis at this point, but Showalter will — and should — keep writing his name in the lineup. You can happily live with him striking out 30 percent of the time like he did in 2012 and 2013 if he hits 35 home runs, but his contact rate continues to trend in the wrong direction.

4. Adam Jones (.406/.459/.844)

The Orioles may need to drag Jones onto the plane to Boston as he just finished one of the best homestands of his career by going 12-for-21 with four home runs and nine RBIs while hitting safely in all six games. As Showalter noted, several of those big hits came on pitches outside the zone as Jones was completely locked in. We know the drill as Jones will go through stretches where he’s not producing and many will complain about him failing to draw walks and expanding the zone. You take the good with the bad, and Jones has certainly provided much more of the former with a 1.303 OPS.

5. Travis Snider (.333/.467/.500)

We haven’t seen Snider in the outfield since a critical three-run error against Toronto on Sunday, but he leads the club with six walks and a stout .467 on-base percentage so far. He won’t continue to draw walks in 20 percent of his plate appearances, but Snider does give the Orioles more patience in the lineup, which is something they’ve obviously lacked over the last few years. Even with the rough defensive day against the Blue Jays, the left-handed hitter has given the Orioles everything they could have asked for so far and should continue to see regular at-bats.

6. Manny Machado (.161/.250/.290)

A .161 average would suggest we should be asking what’s wrong with the young third baseman, but he’s hit a number of balls hard for which he didn’t receive a return. Machado connected on his first homer of the season in Wednesday’s win, but the part of his offensive approach that’s been most impressive has been the willingness to take pitches. Machado walked in just 4.1 percent of his 2013 plate appearances, increased that rate to 5.7 percent last year, and has drawn free passes in 11.1 percent of his trips to the plate in 2015. It’s only a matter of time before good at-bats produce good results.

7. Jonathan Schoop (.292/.346/.708)

Jones has been the Orioles’ best offensive player, but Schoop has taken the largest step forward so far as he’s second on the club in home runs (three) and RBIs (seven). He’s only drawn one walk, but his power has been impressive as four of his seven hits have gone for extra bases. Showalter complimented Schoop’s approach in his final at-bat Wednesday that followed his home run to jump-start the five-run sixth inning. He didn’t get a hit, but Schoop drove a ball hard to right-center that was flagged down by Jacoby Ellsbury. The second baseman has a long way to go, but he has scary potential at age 23.

8. Everth Cabrera (.269/.310/.269)

Cabrera has filled in nicely for Gold Glove shortstop J.J. Hardy by playing strong defense and offering a few singles here and there at the plate. The interesting question will be what the Orioles decide to do with Cabrera and utility player Ryan Flaherty once Hardy is ready to return to his starting role. Cabrera has been solid at shortstop and provides speed, but he hasn’t played any other positions and we know Flaherty can play good defense at more than one spot. Of course, both players have options, making this a good problem to have once Hardy is ready to be activated from the disabled list.

9. Caleb Joseph (.375/.444/.542)

It remains unknown when Matt Wieters will be ready to return, but Joseph has held his own in the three-time All-Star catcher’s absence and even picked up the Orioles’ first triple of the season. He is 0-for-4 throwing out runners trying to steal, but his 40 percent success rate from last season proved he can do the job defensively. The offense has been a nice development after Joseph posted a .618 OPS as a rookie. Showalter reminded reporters this week that the 28-year-old had a career .753 OPS in the minors, suggesting the Orioles might be able to expect a little more from him with the bat this year.

PH – Delmon Young (.333/.375/.333)

Young hasn’t played as much as some might have expected so far, but he recaptured his 2014 magic coming off the bench with a pinch-hit RBI single in the Orioles’ comeback win over the Yankees on Wednesday night. The 29-year-old will receive plenty of opportunities as the DH against left-handed pitching and the occasional start in the outfield, but Showalter loves having his bat as a weapon off the bench. The likes of De Aza, Snider, and Pearce producing in regular roles for this club will allow that to continue to happen.

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Numbers behind Orioles’ 6-5 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 08 April 2015 by Luke Jones

A 6-0 lead through two innings typically leads to a relaxing night of baseball, but it was anything but that for the Orioles Tuesday as they held on for dear life in an eventual 6-5 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Despite being staked to the early lead, starter Wei-Yin Chen struggled his way through 4 1/3 innings as his fastball velocity was down and he lacked his normal crispness with his off-speed pitches. Kevin Gausman worked 2 1/3 innings in relief to earn the victory, but the right-hander allowed a two-run shot off the bat of Kevin Kiermaier in the sixth to make it a one-run game.

Instead of a night in cruise control for the Orioles, the pitching staff consistently found deep counts and needed a whopping 176 pitches to secure the victory, including a combined 42 from Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. With O’Day (24 combined pitches) and Britton (42 total pitches) having pitched in each of the first two games and potentially unavailable for the series finale, the Orioles will need a strong outing from No. 3 starter Miguel Gonzalez.

Fortunately, Baltimore will receive a day off to rest up before the home opener at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday afternoon.

* One of the biggest questions facing Steve Pearce in his quest to prove his 2014 campaign wasn’t a fluke will be whether he can sustain the success against right-handed pitching that he found a year ago.

The soon-to-be 32-year-old owns an underwhelming career .700 on-base slugging percentage against right-handers, but that’s including his .856 mark in 272 plate appearances last year. Pearce has always hit southpaw pitching well (a career .878 OPS), which is the main reason why major league clubs continued to give him opportunities despite a reputation as a “Quad-A” player over his first eight major league seasons.

The all-too-early verdict in 2015 has been encouraging to say the least as Pearce has clubbed two homers against right-handed pitching in two games.

It’s remarkable to think how important Pearce has become to this club after he was designated for assignment less than 12 months ago.

* When he acquired outfielder Travis Snider from Pittsburgh in late January, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette cited his strong second half in 2014 as a sign that the former first-round pick had finally begun realizing his potential.

After the All-Star break last year, the former Pirate posted an .880 OPS with nine homers and 24 RBIs. Small sample size alert aside, Snider has reached base in seven of eight trips to the plate and already has three RBIs in two games.

The Orioles hope Snider is just hitting his stride at age 27 and can give them good production this season for a fraction of what Nick Markakis commanded in free agency.

So far, so good.

* You think Chris Davis was eager to make his 2015 debut and play in his first real game since Sept. 10, 2014?

Serving as the designated hitter on Tuesday, Davis swung at six of the first seven pitches he saw in his first two at-bats and appeared too anxious early in the game. However, his best at-bat came in the eighth when he flied to deep right after a nine-pitch encounter with Rays right-hander Kevin Jepsen.

Davis finished 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning.

It goes without saying how critical a bounce-back season from Davis would be in replacing the power production left behind by Nelson Cruz. And it’s even more critical for the 29-year-old’s future as he’s set to become a free agent this coming offseason.

* The Orioles collected six runs and five hits over the first two innings against Tampa Bay starter Nathan Karns, but Everth Cabrera had their only hit the rest of the way as he collected a single in the top of the seventh.

Yes, the pitching staff should have been better in minimizing stress after an early six-run lead, but the offense essentially checked out after Pearce’s two-run homer in the second.

 

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Orioles designate Webb for assignment, promote Lavarnway

Posted on 06 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles wasted no time in altering their first 25-man roster of the 2015 season by designating right-handed pitcher Ryan Webb for assignment and promoting catcher Ryan Lavarnway hours before their season opener on Monday.

It was clear the Orioles would need to make a change after initially keeping 14 pitchers on their roster Sunday, but they have been unable to find a trade partner for Webb, who is guaranteed a $2.75 million and has already refused an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk as a player with more than five years of major league service time. The 29-year-old cleared waivers last week, making it all but guaranteed that the Orioles will now need to eat his salary.

Baltimore selected Lavarnway’s contract after initially reassigning him to minor-league camp on Sunday. The move signals that manager Buck Showalter likely envisions the former Boston Red Sox product as the club’s backup behind Caleb Joseph while three-time All-Star selection Matt Wieters continues to rehab his surgically-repaired elbow.

Needing to activate first baseman Chris Davis from the suspended list on Tuesday, the Orioles appear likely to send catcher Steve Clevenger to Triple-A Norfolk since he has a remaining minor-league option if Showalter wants to keep 13 pitchers for the time being.

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Five things that must go right for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 02 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what cannot go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that must go right for the Orioles in 2015:

1. Starting pitchers continue to outperform their metrics

It’s no secret that many statheads and projections haven’t liked the Orioles over the last three years and for good reason. They haven’t looked the part of other winners in the 21st century as they hit home runs but don’t get on base at a high rate and their pitching doesn’t rely on the strikeout, which is one of the most expensive commodities in the game.

But where the Orioles excelled in 2014 was a starting rotation that took advantage of an exceptional defense behind it. Starters didn’t strike many out (11th in the AL) and walked too many (fourth-most in the AL) — the intense struggles of Ubaldo Jimenez certainly skewed the latter ranking — but pitching coach Dave Wallace preaches to his pitchers to trust their defense, which they did with great success as the season progressed.

After the All-Star break, the Orioles posted a starter ERA of 2.98 after a 4.09 mark in the season’s first half. Their starter strikeout numbers even improved from 6.5 to 7.4 per nine innings pitched.

Many are predicting a market correction for the Orioles pitching after they ranked third in the AL in ERA but only 11th in fielding independent pitching (FIP), which eliminates factors a pitcher can’t control such as his defense. The good news is Baltimore starters figure to once again have Gold Glove-caliber fielders behind them.

The starting pitching continuing to find success is the single-most important factor needed for the Orioles to not only preserve the bullpen for the later months but to contend for another playoff berth.

2. Manny Machado takes a (healthy) step forward

The questions about Wieters’ health will likely linger for much of the season, but the Orioles proved they could win without their All-Star catcher last season and Caleb Joseph has shown an ability to handle himself well from a defensive standpoint. Machado possesses the highest upside of any player in a lineup needing to replace Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

He’s already proven himself to be a Gold Glove defensive player, but his 68 extra-base hits in his first full season in the majors as a 20-year-old suggest the sky is the limit in terms of offensive potential. You have to chalk up 2014 as a lost year considering he was still working his way back from the first knee injury and went down again when he was finally hitting his stride at the plate in the second half.

Unlike Wieters, Machado’s health hasn’t been an issue all spring as he’s running better than ever with two healthy knees and has benefited from his first full spring since 2013. Yes, you have to hold your breath that health won’t again become a concern, but there have been no reservations so far.

Beyond staying in the lineup, Machado taking a step forward with the bat would go a long way in quelling any concerns about Baltimore’s offensive potential. He doesn’t need to put up MVP-caliber numbers, but many facets of his game hint that it’s possible in the future if he can stay healthy.

3. Steve Pearce proves he isn’t a one-year wonder

In watching Cruz and Markakis depart via free agency, the Orioles are clearly counting on the best story of the 2014 season to provide a productive sequel in his first full year as a regular. Many spent the winter trying to explain Pearce’s breakthrough at age 31, with explanations ranging from better health and finally receiving an extended opportunity to improved swing mechanics and an uncanny ability to hammer pitches up in the zone.

Expecting a repeat of his .930 on-base plus slugging percentage from a year ago would be asking too much, but his patience alone makes him a good candidate to once again be productive and help fill in the gaps left behind by Cruz and Markakis. His versatility in being able to play good defense at first base as well as at the corner outfield spots is extremely valuable for Showalter over the course of a season.

You should never look into spring training stats too much, but five homers and a .951 OPS in the Grapefruit League indicate the former journeyman isn’t resting on the laurels of 2014.

4. Chris Davis looks more like the hitter he was in 2012 and 2013 than last year

No one expects Davis to hit 53 homers like he did two seasons ago, but the Orioles need much more than the .196 average and .704 OPS he provided last season.

The question has been asked over and over about how Baltimore will replace Cruz’s 40 homers from a year ago, and the truth is that Cruz himself was highly unlikely to do that again in 2015. Still, the Orioles need to make up that production with Davis having the opportunity to contribute a great deal to that puzzle.

The increased use of the shift isn’t going away, which won’t do any favors for his batting average moving forward, but Davis insists that the oblique injury he suffered last April hindered his power all season. The 29-year-old has talked about bunting on occasion to offset the shift, but his power returning to at least his 2012 level (33 homers and a .501 slugging percentage) is more valuable than obsessing too much over his batting average.

With free agency looming, will the real Davis emerge? The Orioles would benefit greatly if the guy from a couple years ago resurfaces.

5. Another diamond in the rough emerges this season

In 2012, it was Miguel Gonzalez and Nate McLouth. Last year, Pearce and Joseph provided contributions that no one would have predicted.

If the Orioles are to return to the postseason for the third time in four years, they will inevitably need an individual or two to come out of nowhere to pay dividends. It’s the reason why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette brings in so many minor-league free agents, journeymen, and players who make you say, “Who?” on a yearly basis.

Could it be former first-round pick Travis Snider building on a hot second half with Pittsburgh last year?

Is the returning Nolan Reimold finally going to stay healthy enough to contribute at some point this season?

Will Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia make the club and use his lively arm to become a better-than-expected contributor in the bullpen?

Does a strong finish to last season and a terrific spring carry over for Jimmy Paredes?

Or are we likely speculating about someone who isn’t yet with the organization?

It’s easy to laugh now at the aforementioned possibilities, but stranger things have already happened over the last few years.

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2015 Orioles preview: Chris Davis

Posted on 13 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just over three weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton

1B Chris Davis

Opening Day age: 29

Contract status: Becomes a free agent after the 2015 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: .196/.300/.404, 26 HR, 72 RBI, 65 R, 2 SB, 525 PA

Why to be impressed: Despite an awful campaign in which he hit only .196, Davis remained a patient hitter, drawing walks in 11.8 percent of his plate appearances compared to 10.7 percent a year earlier. His 26 homers still ranked third on the club despite Davis only playing 127 games.

Why to be concerned: Davis admitted this winter that the oblique injury he suffered last April lingered all year, but no player in baseball was a bigger victim of the shift as Davis saw it in 95.2 percent of his plate appearances and sported a .121 average on grounders and short liners against the shift compared to a .333 mark with no shift, per The Bill James Handbook. Davis was abysmal against off-speed pitching in 2014, but it’s fair to wonder if that was a byproduct of the injury and trying to cheat against fastballs after he feasted on off-speed pitching in 2013 and handled it adequately in 2012.

2015 outlook: His .242 batting average on balls in play from a year ago suggests he experienced plenty of bad luck as he owns a career .320 BAbip, but the shift isn’t going away and Davis has worked on his bunting down the third baseline this winter as a result. In the same way that his career 2013 season was an outlier, Davis shouldn’t be defined by his nightmarish 2014 that included a 25-game suspension for Adderall. A return to his 2012 numbers seems reasonable if he’s healthy, but it’d be very tough for him to match that .270 average with the shift becoming a fixture in baseball for the foreseeable future. If his power to the opposite field returns with his health, Davis should be able to approach the 35-homer mark.

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Who should lead off for Orioles in 2015?

Posted on 03 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With spring training only a couple weeks away, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has a number of issues to sort out as it relates to his everyday lineup.

Most attention has centered around replacing outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz — Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, David Lough, Delmon Young, and the newly-acquired Travis Snider are among the candidates — but identifying who will lead off in the Baltimore lineup is anyone’s guess at this point. However, it’s not a question over which the skipper is panicking in early February.

“Somebody’s going to lead off Opening Day, I bet you,” quipped Showalter, adding that he’s more concerned with having a strong bottom of the order than with who’s hitting first. “Our guys don’t talk about it a lot. I’ve told you many times, [you could] just take your best hitter and hit him first to get more at-bats.”

It’s that very mindset that led to Markakis first becoming a regular leadoff hitter during the 2012 season even though he stole only six bases over his final three seasons with the Orioles. No one would confuse the Orioles with a track team after they stole a league-worst 44 bases in 2014, so speed isn’t a prerequisite for replacing Markakis at the top of the order.

Among their current candidates, who should lead off for the Orioles in 2015?

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Of the possible options currently on the roster, De Aza carries the most experience hitting in the leadoff position with 296 career starts there, but Showalter said Saturday it would be wrong to simply assume it’s his job to lose this spring. His career .334 on-base percentage in the top spot of the order is just a touch higher than his career .330 OBP overall, but De Aza told reporters he feels comfortable leading off if that’s what the Orioles want him to do.

His production in 2014 spiked when he was traded to the Orioles at the end of August, but De Aza is eager to rebound from a campaign he called the worst of his career as he hit only .252 with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in, and a .700 on-base plus slugging percentage combined with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore. He would also represent one of the Orioles’ speedier options as he stole 17 bases last season.

“I can’t just go there and tell them that I want to be leadoff or they’re just going to give me the leadoff spot,” said De Aza, who added that Showalter hasn’t talked to him about the job to this point. “I’m just going to work hard, and they’re going to make the best [decision] for the team.”

Showalter acknowledged he’s had some “radical” thoughts about his lineup throughout the offseason, mentioning Lough, Pearce, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and even Chris Davis as potential candidates to be the leadoff hitter, but nothing is set in stone. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates last week, Snider carried a .356 on-base percentage in the second half of 2014, and the Orioles hope that’s a sign of better things to come for the former first-round pick who’s struggled to realize his potential at the major-league level.

But if the Orioles are looking for a unconventional option who might also be the best one, Pearce led the club with a .373 OBP and worked the count as well as any hitter in the lineup a year ago. Even if the 31-year-old won’t match his lofty power figures of 21 homers and a .556 slugging percentage in 383 plate appearances in 2014, he has a career .335 OBP in parts of eight major league seasons as well as a .371 career OBP in the minor leagues.

Like Markakis, Pearce won’t offer much in terms of speed, but Showalter acknowledged the traditional leadoff hitter appears to be an endangered species in today’s game. In all likelihood, the Orioles will use a committee approach in Grapefruit League action until one or two hitters settle into the role depending on the opposing starter on a given night.

“They know things are going to change a little bit from time to time depending on who we’re facing,” Showalter said. “The conventional leadoff hitter like Brian [Roberts] was for a long time and like Rickey Henderson was for a long time, how many of them are there [today]?. How many guys can stay in the lineup against left-handed and right-handed pitching and be there every night?”

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