Tag Archive | "Chris Tillman"

Not all 2012 similarities provide feel-good reminder for Orioles

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Not all 2012 similarities provide feel-good reminder for Orioles

Posted on 27 May 2014 by Luke Jones

Nearly two months into the 2014 season, the similarities are there between this year’s Orioles and the 2012 club that broke a streak of 14 straight losing seasons and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Contributions from unexpected heroes, a 5-1 record in extra-inning games, an 11-6 mark in one-run contests, and an ability to overcome a slew of injuries to this point are all themes reminiscent of two years ago. A bullpen that ranks fifth in the American League in earned run average and now appears stabilized — knock on wood — with Zach Britton stepping into the closer role appears to be emerging as a strength for manager Buck Showalter.

But another similarity to 2012 doesn’t make one feel inclined to print the playoff tickets just yet as the Orioles currently rank 11th in the American League in starter earned run average and tied for 13th in innings pitched by starters entering play on Tuesday. Two years ago, the Orioles ranked ninth in starter ERA and starter innings, but that improved ranking only came after substantial improvement in which they had the fifth-best ERA in the AL in the second half.

Of course, it didn’t take a shrewd prognosticator to anticipate struggles with the starting pitching this season, but the current state of the rotation still has an upside-down feel to it. Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez occupied the top two spots in the Opening Day rotation and have been the weakest — or, at least, the most frustrating — links through the first two months of the season. Jimenez’s inconsistency shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s paid close attention to his career and his unorthodox mechanics, but Tillman’s struggles after his first three starts of the season in which he posted a 0.84 ERA have become very alarming.

In his last eight starts, the 2013 All-Star selection has posted a 6.64 ERA, and that’s even including a complete-game shutout against Kansas City on May 16. What initially looked like a stretch of simple inconsistency is quickly becoming a long-term concern with Memorial Day now in the rear-view mirror and many fans wondering if the de facto ace is hiding an injury.

The 26-year-old right-hander has maintained he’s fine physically aside from some minor groin tightness a couple weeks back, but his fastball command has failed him, making it difficult to use his other pitches effectively. He’s walked 24 batters in his last 42 innings after walking only three in his first 21 1/3 innings of work in 2014.

Meanwhile, the trio of Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Wei-Yin Chen have pitched more effectively despite plenty of clamoring for upgrades to replace any combination of the three earlier this spring. Norris has quietly been the club’s best starter with a 3.83 ERA and has averaged more than six innings per outing, the only member of the rotation to do so.

Fans were screaming for Gonzalez to be removed from the rotation after he allowed 10 earned runs in his first two starts, but the right-hander has posted a strong 3.19 ERA since those horrific outings and has turned in three consecutive quality starts. Chen may cause plenty of nerves once he hits the 90-pitch mark in a given outing, but his 4.08 ERA is acceptable in the AL East.

Despite Norris, Gonzalez, and Chen keeping the rotation afloat while Tillman and Jimenez try to rebound from their poor starts, Showalter and the Orioles clearly need more from the starting pitching. It’s a common theme that played out in 2012 — when Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter occupied the top two spots in the Opening Day rotation — before Tillman and Gonzalez provided second-half shots in the arm to a rotation that improved over the course of a 93-win campaign.

Making changes may prove more complicated this time around as Tillman’s track record suggests Showalter will continue running him to the hill every fifth day — and he probably should for the time being. Of course, there are 50 million reasons why you shouldn’t expect Jimenez’s spot to be in any real jeopardy despite a 4.98 ERA, and you simply hope he discovers one of his customary hot stretches at the right time in what’s been a consistently inconsistent career.

But it’d be difficult to convince anyone that the Orioles will make the postseason with the same five starting pitchers in their rotation all year. Reinforcements will be necessary as they are for any team in any season.

At this point, it appears that 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman and veteran reclamation project Johan Santana are the most likely candidates to receive opportunities.

Putting aside an ill-advised call-up to start on three days’ rest earlier this month, Gausman remains the crown jewel of the minor-league system and is still expected to be a contributor for a large portion of the 2014 season. His 2.41 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Norfolk has kept him on the fast track to Baltimore, but it remains to be seen if his slider has developed enough to make him the kind of pitcher that can go through a lineup three times in a given night.

The most intriguing pitcher to watch over the next couple weeks will be Santana, who appeared to be nothing more than a lottery ticket the Orioles purchased in spring training as he was recovering from a second surgery on his left shoulder. His fastball velocity is now in the high 80s — about where it was with the New York Mets — giving him the desired 10-miles-per-hour difference with his famous changeup that the Orioles feel is necessary to be successful.

The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner completed his final extended spring training start on Monday and has an opt-out clause that can be used at the end of the month, but he’s expected to be assigned to a minor-league affiliate with the potential to receive a shot in the Baltimore rotation in the not-too-distant future. Reports and results from Sarasota have been favorable on the 35-year-old, but there’s no way of knowing whether his health or current stuff will hold up at the major league level.

Even with all the feel-good comparisons to the 2012 Orioles tossed about by media and fans alike, this year’s club knows it needs better starting pitching to stay afloat in what’s been a mediocre AL East this season. Their best hopes are with Tillman or Jimenez — preferably both — to reverse their early-season struggles, but the Orioles will inevitably need to lean on reinforcements because of injuries or ineffectiveness at some point.

Those reinforcements worked in 2012, but it remains to be seen if that’s another trend that will resurface for the Orioles.

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O’s pitchers failing to go deep into games in 2013

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O’s pitchers failing to go deep into games in 2013

Posted on 22 August 2013 by Max Buchdahl

Ever since taking two of three in San Francisco against the Giants, the Orioles have lost six of their last nine games. During that fateful stretch, Orioles pitchers finished at least seven innings in a start just twice. One of those came in a loss, the other in a win. Due to this unfortunate statistic, the Orioles bullpen has become overworked, as we’ve seen with the demise of the previously feared Jim Johnson.

To try and nail down exactly how ineffective Orioles starters have been in giving the bullpen a break, I turned to the stats. I compared the Orioles to other contending AL teams to see how many times their starting pitchers have gone at least seven innings. I used the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, and Athletics as comparisons to the Orioles.

Of that total of eight teams (including the Orioles), the Orioles have had the fewest 7-inning starts, with 24. Chris Tillman leads the way with seven, while Wei-Yin Chen has six. The next worst team in 7-inning starts is the Red Sox, who have 31, still significantly more than the Orioles.

The Tigers have the most 7-inning starts of the eight teams with 61, more than double the number the Orioles have. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander each have sixteen 7-inning starts, making the two tied for the most on this list.

The Orioles have received 676.2 innings from their starting pitchers this season, also the fewest of of the group of eight teams. Given that the O’s have played a total of 1,154 innings coming into tonight’s game against the A’s, starting pitchers have pitched 59% of the team’s total innings. That is the lowest percentage of the eight teams, with the Tigers leading the way at 68% and 805.2 innings thrown by their starters.

If you want to point to something specific to blame for the Orioles struggles, and at the same time have the stats to back it up, it would be the inability of the starters to limit their pitch counts and work later into ballgames. The Orioles bullpen, nearly flawless last year, hasn’t been as effective here in 2013. One possible justification could be the number of innings they have had to throw.  Jim Johnson’s 48 save opportunities thus far this season is by far the most of any closer in baseball. Johnson had 54 save opportunities last year. If he keeps closing games this year, he’ll likely surpass that number by the end of this year.

Last year, Orioles fans learned the importance of a lockdown bullpen. This year, the starting pitching isn’t doing their part of the bargain. If in these final six weeks of the regular season the Orioles rotation can start putting together more 7-inning starts, the bullpen would gain some rest. Then, the bullpen could be more effective and we could be looking at more October baseball here in the Charm City.

The following numbers are the innings thrown by each starting pitcher for the eight teams I’ve talked about. The percentage number is the percentage of innings that starting pitchers have thrown for the respective teams.

Red Sox: 773      65%

Lester-165

Dempster-145.1

Doubront-134

Lackey-139.2

Bucholz-84.1

Aceves-30.1

Workman-18.1

Webster-26.1

Peavy-23.2

Morales-5

Wright-1

Orioles: 676.2         59%

Tillman-152

Gonzalez-134.2

Hammel-123

Chen-101.2

Garcia-52

Feldman-48.1

McFarland-2.2

Britton-34

Gausman-24.2

Arrieta-23.2

Norris-23

Johnson-4

Stinson-5.2

Jurrjens-5

 

Rays: 754   66%

Hellickson-151

Hernandez-136.2

Price-131.1

Moore-121.1

Cobb-94.2

Archer-88.1

Odorizzi-14.2

Colome-16

Yankees: 767.2     66%

Sabathia-171.1

Kuroda-160.1

Pettitte-137.1

Hughes-131

Nova-82

Phelps-65.2

Warren-3

Nuno-17

 

Tigers: 805.2        68%

Verlander-173.2

Scherzer-172.1

Fister-161.1

Sanchez-139.2

Porcello-133.1

Alvarez-25.1

 

Indians: 733.1        63%

Masterson-182.1

Jimenez-128.1

Kluber-117

Kazmir-119

McAllister-97.2

Salazar-23

Bauer-17

Carrasco-33

Myers-16

 

Rangers: 761    65%

Holland-174

Darvish-161

Grimm-89

Tepesch-85.1

Ogando-80.1

Perez-75

Garza-41.2

Blackley-4

Harrison-10.2

Wolf-13

Lindblom-27

A’s: 769.1   66%

Griffin-164

Parker-155.1

Colon-154.1

Milone-138

Straily-113

Anderson-23.2

Gray-21

 

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Opening post-break weekend reminder of Orioles’ tough road ahead

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Opening post-break weekend reminder of Orioles’ tough road ahead

Posted on 22 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

The Orioles couldn’t have asked for a better weekend in Arlington.

A three-game sweep in which they outplayed the Texas Rangers in every facet of the game lifted the Orioles to a season-best 13 games above .500 and seven victories in their last eight games.

Watching Ron Washington’s club repeatedly kick the ball around the field and run itself out of innings provided a new appreciation of how fundamentally sound the Orioles have been throughout the 2013 season. Three quality outings from Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman reminded how the top three-fifths of the Baltimore rotation can compete with just about anyone in the American League.

But as the dust cleared and the Orioles landed in Kansas City to begin a four-game series on Monday night, a look at the AL East standings showed just how difficult the final two months of the season will be.

Possibly their most impressive series of the season moved the Orioles only one game closer in their chase of the division-leading Red Sox after Boston took two of three from the Yankees at Fenway Park. And Baltimore moved no closer to the white-hot Tampa Bay Rays, who swept the Blue Jays in Toronto to give them 13 wins in their last 14 contests as the hottest team in baseball.

Those realities aren’t meant to bring fans down from their weekend high, but they offer a snapshot of how incredibly small the margin for error will be over the final 63 games of the regular season in the Orioles’ bid to advance to the postseason for the second straight year. Of those remaining games, 35 will come against teams with winning marks and only 28 against clubs sporting records below the .500 mark entering Monday’s action.

The old adage of needing to beat the clubs you’re supposed to beat while holding your own against top competition might not be enough to prevail in a division that sports four teams with winning records in the final week of July. Even the underachieving Blue Jays have been a thorn in the Orioles’ side this year, winning seven of the 13 games the clubs have played this season.

The Orioles are a remarkable 33-22 against teams currently owning a winning record while going just 23-21 against clubs who sit below .500 on July 22. Of course, that deviates from the aforementioned mantra for success and speaks well for the Orioles’ ability to rise to the challenge of playing the top teams this season, evident by their combined 9-4 record against Texas and Detroit, the two teams who’ve won the last three AL pennants.

But the Orioles do need to take better advantage of their opportunities against sub-.500 clubs down the stretch and that will start with the Royals in Kansas City this week. To say they need to at least take three out of four would be an overstatement — Tampa Bay and Boston face off in a four-game set of their own beginning Monday — but anything less just makes the climb that much taller in September. With the season-long performance of the Red Sox and the play of the Rays over the last month, there is no time for a breather or to go into cruise control against the lesser competitors in the league.

The eyeball test suggests the Orioles are a better team than the 93-69 outfit from a year ago as they certainly hit better and play better defense than the 2012 club. Their starting pitching appears to be coming together in a similar manner to the way it did in the second half last year, which will help a bullpen that hasn’t been as dominating starting with closer Jim Johnson and his six blown saves.

But the division is better than it was a year ago from top to bottom and Buck Showalter’s club hasn’t been as fortunate, going just 13-14 in one-run games after last year’s historic 29-9 mark. That was to be expected and shouldn’t be misconstrued as a knock on what the Orioles have accomplished this year, but there is no consolation or handicap for the smaller amount of good fortune, either.

An impressive three-game sweep over the Rangers was the perfect way to start the proverbial second half for the Orioles, but the weekend showed how steep the climb will be to win their first division title since 1997. The Orioles will have their opportunities against Boston and Tampa Bay — they have 12 games remaining with the Red Sox and seven with the Rays — and those clubs will experience slow spells at some point, but the challenge will be to capitalize while minimizing their own pitfalls in the process.

As well as the Orioles have played entering their 100th game of the season Monday night, they haven’t been quite good enough in the AL East. The standings say as much, though they would be the second wild card if the season ended today, putting them in the unenviable position of being the road team in a one-game playoff like they were last year.

But the Orioles are fully within striking distance, meaning it’s time to steamroll the clubs who don’t own such a luxury.

Because they’re not going to be able to count on very much help in their quest.

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Tillman Shines In Sweep, Orioles Head to Kansas City

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Tillman Shines In Sweep, Orioles Head to Kansas City

Posted on 22 July 2013 by brianbower

Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman shined bright on Sunday evening as the Orioles swept the three game series against the Texas Rangers.

Tillman, perhaps turned in the best Orioles pitching performance this season and kept the Rangers hitters guessing all night.

The Rangers’ two-through-five hitters were 2 for 14 with four strikeouts against Tillman. As a team, Texas was 3 for 22 with runners in scoring position with 25 runners left on base in the series.

Tillman (12-3) recorded his ninth win in his past 10 decisions, holding the Rangers to two runs on six hits over eight innings, striking out seven and walking three. His 12 wins this season match last year’s club high accomplished by left-hander Wei-Yin Chen.

Baltimore has received seven quality starts in the past eight games, with all of those quality starts producing wins. Over the three games in Texas, Orioles starters are 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA.

The Orioles bats were as hot as the Texas sun over the last three games. Matt Wieters had two hits and scored twice to help the Orioles (56-43) move a season-high 13 games over .500 with their seventh victory in eight games. Wieters is hitting .438 with a home run, two RBIs and four runs in the past four games.

Baltimore will  head to Kansas City to take on the Royals for a four game series which begins Monday night. Kansas City (45-50) heads into this series having dropped six of eight but nearly swept AL Central-leading Detroit to open the second half.

 

 

 

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Your Monday Reality Check: Don’t listen to those saying Orioles’ pitching bad

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Your Monday Reality Check: Don’t listen to those saying Orioles’ pitching bad

Posted on 15 July 2013 by Glenn Clark

During the course of Major League Baseball’s All-Star break, there will be plenty of stories written and plenty of analysis offered via radio/TV about the first half of the Baltimore Orioles’ season.

As you almost certainly already know, the Birds finished the first “half” of the season 53-43, 4.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East and 1.5 games behind the Texas Rangers in the race for the second AL Wild Card spot. The biggest headlines of the season thus far have surrounded Chris Davis’ 37 home runs, Manny Machado’s 39 doubles and Jim Johnson’s six blown saves.

But if the Baltimore Orioles want to make it a second consecutive trip to the postseason, the headlines in the second half of the season are going to have to be about something that hasn’t gotten much attention through the first 96 games of the season.

Spoiler alert. It’s the starting pitching.

Yes, the same starting pitching that has lead the Orioles to a 4.39 team ERA to this point…good for 28th in Major League Baseball.

It isn’t hard to pick apart why that number isn’t particularly relevant. Allow me the opportunity.

Eliminating pitchers who barely appeared for the Orioles this season (does anyone even remember Alex Burnett), a number of pitchers posted legitimate innings and soaked up miserable ERA’s.

For example, Pedro Strop pitched 22.1 innings for the O’s and posted a 7.25 ERA. He’s gone. Jake Arrieta pitched over 23 innings in Orange and Black this season and posted a 7.23 ERA. For his trouble, Arrieta was dealt with Strop to the Chicago Cubs Kevin Gausman has pitched 33.1 innings at the major league level this season, tallying a 6.21 ERA in the process. He’s currently pitching for the Norfolk Tides. “Sweaty” Freddy Garcia? 5.77 ERA in 53 innings. The veteran is currently riding buses with Gausman in Norfolk himself. Zach Britton managed a 4.76 ERA over 34 IP before returning to the Tides as well.

Of the current Orioles, only one has a miserable ERA in legitimate innings-Jason Hammel with a 5.24 ERA in 111.2. But even taking Hammel’s numbers into consideration-the current group of Orioles pitchers has posted an incredible combined ERA. If you consider a third of an inning to be .333, the current group of twelve pitchers has pitched a combined 658.53 innings this season. In those innings, they’ve allowed a total of 277 combined earned runs. That would be good for a group ERA of 3.78, which would be tenth best in all of baseball. If you were to subtract Hammel’s gaudy numbers, the ERA for the rest of the 11 would be 3.48-which would be best in the American League.

(I hope Mr. Radcliffe will be proud of all of my math.)

Clearly I’m doing a bit of fuzzy math here. Not all 12 pitchers are going to be the exact group of pitchers the Birds use the rest of the way. Gausman in particular is likely to return, with Garcia, Britton and Steve Johnson being likely options to see time in the second half of the season as well. Tsuyoshi Wada may have to be a consideration for GM Dan Duquette again after the All-Star Break. Of the 12 pitchers included in the math, Scott Feldman made just three starts (including an excellent outing Sunday) since being acquired from the Cubs and Jairo Asencio appeared in only one game (one inning) since being called up Friday night.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Orioles pitcher Tillman added to AL All-Star team

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Orioles pitcher Tillman added to AL All-Star team

Posted on 14 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — In a surprise that arrived as the Orioles were recognizing their 2013 All-Star selections on the field prior to Sunday’s game, starting pitcher Chris Tillman was named to take part in Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic at Citi Field in New York.

Taking the place of Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander who pitched on Sunday, Tillman becomes the fifth Orioles player to be named to the American League All-Star team and the only pitcher. He is 11-3 with a 3.95 earned run average in 19 starts while serving as one of the club’s most consistent starting pitchers in the first half.

“It’s an honor,” Tillman said after Sunday’s 7-4 win over Toronto. “It was kind of a surprise to find out last minute. It’s special for the city and for me to go with my teammates.”

Tillman entered Sunday fourth in the league in wins and 23rd in ERA — a number that will prompt many to say he isn’t deserving of the honor — and owns a 20-6 record since June 25, 2012. He has the second-highest winning percentage among AL starters over that span, trailing only Detroit’s Max Scherzer.

Acquired along with fellow All-Star representative Adam Jones from the Seattle Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade prior to the 2008 season, Tillman is now the fourth of the Orioles’ five All-Star representatives this year who was originally acquired via trade. Third baseman Manny Machado was drafted with the third overall pick of the 2010 draft while Jones, Tillman, shortstop J.J. Hardy, and first baseman Chris Davis were trade acquisitions of former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail.

“He’s not a secret around the league,” said manager Buck Showalter, who found out a couple days earlier that Tillman might be added to the All-Star roster. “He wasn’t drafted here. He got here in a trade. Somebody else is real smart. Not me, but somebody was smart getting him here. We’re lucky to have him, and he’s got an interesting future.”

This year’s All-Star Game will mark the first time the Orioles have had five or more representatives since the 1997 game when third baseman Cal Ripken, second baseman Roberto Alomar, center fielder Brady Anderson, starting pitchers Mike Mussina and Jimmy Key, and closer Randy Myers were all selected to participate.

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Tillman continues to thrive on road with another victory

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Tillman continues to thrive on road with another victory

Posted on 19 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman wasn’t carrying his good stuff during his start on Wednesday, but a familiar pattern developed in his five innings of work before Baltimore blew the game wide open in a 13-3 win in Detroit.

As has been the case several times this season, Tillman struggled early as he threw 47 pitches through the first two innings before settling in to pitch more effectively. The 25-year-old told reporters after the game in Detroit that he lacked any feel for his pitches for most of the afternoon as he was pulled in the sixth inning after giving up a leadoff single and a walk to start the inning.

T.J. McFarland came on and allowed a two-run double — with both runs being charged to the starting pitcher — but it didn’t spoil the fact that Tillman once again gave the Orioles a great chance to win despite not being on top of his game. Tillman allowed three earned runs and seven hits in his five innings while walking three and striking out one.

In 15 starts this season, Tillman is 8-2 with a 3.71 earned run average and has struck out 69 while walking 32 in 87 1/3 innings. He’s allowed 83 hits and 16 home runs, the latter ironically being a career-high total.

It’s a stark contrast from a couple years ago when it seemed Tillman was only capable of being successful on the mound when all of his pitches were clicking for him. At that point in his career, Tillman appeared to lack the ability to cope and regroup when things weren’t going his way and he’s credited his maturity as well as a few adjustments made to his delivery last year for the career turnaround.

Tillman appeared to be trying to largely get by with his fastball against the Tigers, but there have also been plenty of times when he’s used his cutter effectively when his fastball wasn’t going where he needed it to. It’s been a nice development for a pitcher often criticized earlier in his career for throwing a four-seamer that didn’t have enough movement.

He improved to 6-0 on the road and has allowed only 13 earned runs in 42 1/3 innings (2.76 ERA) away from Oriole Park at Camden Yards this season. The right-hander is 2-2 with a 4.60 ERA in eight starts spanning 45 innings at home.

Dating back to July 4 of last year, Tillman is 17-5 with a 3.32 ERA in 173 1/3 innings covering 30 starts. He’s arguably become the club’s most reliable member of the Orioles rotation and will consistently provide a solid-to-good outing just about every trip to the mound.

It’s remarkable to think that Tillman was barely on the club’s radar at this time a year ago, but he’s now become a pitcher you generally feel good every time he goes to the mound.

Gausman roughed up in Triple-A debut

Manager Buck Showalter warned last week that the return of right-hander Kevin Gausman immediately after the 10-day waiting period wasn’t guaranteed and the 22-year-old’s Triple-A debut didn’t exactly make a statement on Wednesday that his return should be imminent.

Pitching in the opener of a doubleheader for the Tides, Gausman allowed seven earned runs and 10 hits in six innings as he took the loss in an 8-1 loss to Indianapolis. He struck out four and walked one while throwing 90 pitches, 59 of them strikes.

Gausman allowed a three-run homer in the sixth inning and also uncorked a wild pitch in the disappointing outing.

While acknowledging that Gausman was optioned to Triple A out of necessity after a 13-inning win over Boston in which the Orioles wore out their bullpen, Showalter acknowledged that the demotion would also give Gausman a chance to take a deep breath and make a few mechanical adjustments with Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin.

“I didn’t tell him, promise him [he'd be brought back immediately],” Showalter said last Friday. “I made sure he understood he could conceivably stay there the rest of the year. It’s all in his hands. We have other people we like, too.”

Gausman would be eligible to be recalled to Baltimore as early as Monday after the 10-day waiting period expires, but left-hander Zach Britton made his own statement for remaining in the rotation after a solid outing against the Tigers on Tuesday. Britton allowed one earned run in 5 1/3 innings to earn his first win of the season.

As for the rotation plans in Toronto this weekend, Jason Hammel will make his return to the hill on Friday, which will be his first start since last Wednesday after he dealt with the effects of a nasty stomach bug over the last week. A returning Miguel Gonzalez will start on Saturday and is expected back with the Orioles on Thursday night after his wife gave birth to their daughter Monday night.

Showalter hasn’t announced a starter for the series finale on Sunday, but he mentioned Britton and Freddy Garcia as the primed candidates. Garcia pitched a scoreless inning in relief on Wednesday afternoon.

Better pitching of late

Despite scoring a season-high 13 runs in Wednesday’s win over the Tigers to take two out of three and complete the season series against Detroit with a 4-2 record, the Orioles received another solid pitching performance against one of the most formidable lineups in the league.

It continued a recent trend in which the Orioles have received improved starting pitching and the bullpen has continued to thrive in the late innings. Baltimore has allowed 3.6 runs per game over their last 10 contests against the Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox, and Detroit, going 7-3 over that stretch against three potent offenses.

The Orioles also made a major statement over the last week in taking three of four against Boston and winning the three-game series over the Tigers. This season, Baltimore is 12-5 against Boston, Detroit, and Oakland, the three first-place clubs in the American League right now.

As Nuke LaLoosh of “Bull Durham” would say, that’s what you call announcing your presence with authority.

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Orioles have no choice but to circle back patiently with starting options

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Orioles have no choice but to circle back patiently with starting options

Posted on 19 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

It’s never a good idea to definitively assess any team in the midst of its worst stretch of the season in the same way that you shouldn’t ignore weaknesses while enjoying the prosperous times.

With the Orioles suffering their first four-game losing streak of the season and surrendering a staggering 30 runs and 45 hits over their last three games, it’s easy to panic over such an ugly stretch of baseball. Early questions over starting pitching have transformed into serious concerns as the club has endured the losses of Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez to the disabled list and the recent struggles of Opening Day starter Jason Hammel while attempting to piece together the back end of the rotation.

The poor starting pitching has placed even more reliance on the bullpen as the Orioles have seen All-Star closer Jim Johnson blow consecutive saves this week. Showalter insists the bullpen hasn’t been overworked and is very meticulous with everything from innings pitched down to the number of times a reliever even gets up to throw during games, but that won’t remain the case if the poor performance of the starting pitching continues into the summer.

Chen is sidelined indefinitely with the always-unpredictable strained oblique injury, meaning Chris Tillman is the only starter on which manager Buck Showalter can currently rely as Orioles starting pitching has allowed 32 earned runs in 39 1/3 innings — a 7.32 earned run average — over the last eight games. The club hopes the 2012 version of Gonzalez will surface beginning with his scheduled return on Tuesday and that Hammel will find the proper release point to improve his fastball command after a miserable recent stretch.

Beyond those concerns, the picture becomes even more frightening with the final two spots in the rotation. Yes, it’s easy to look back at the offseason and criticize executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette for not acquiring any impact starters — I shared that very sentiment at the start of spring training and again at the beginning of the season — but Duquette and Showalter also expressed great faith in their internal options.

Now, one time through a lineup of “second-tier” starters that includes Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Freddy Garcia, Jair Jurrjens, and Josh Stinson, only Arrieta and Garcia have received more than one start to this point. Arrieta doesn’t really fall into the same category as the others after beginning the season as the fifth starter, and a strong debut in Anaheim bought the 36-year-old Garcia two more starts that have been underwhelming at best.

Understanding that even the brightest pitchers in the game will have a handful of less-than-stellar outings over the course of a season, is a one-start audition really the best way to determine if a pitcher can be an asset for the major league rotation?

Make no mistake, gone are the days when a young prospect such as Brian Matusz will be afforded the opportunity to accumulate a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts as he did over two different stints in the 2011 season. Higher expectations are here to stay and competition is paramount with Duquette and Showalter as they look beyond the 25-man roster while viewing Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie as essential partners in fielding a competitive club in the American League East.

However, the problem with higher expectations is the emphasis it places on smaller sample sizes when trying to evaluate. And you wonder if the possibility of such a short audition for the likes of Britton and Johnson creates too much of a mindset of looking over your shoulder and trying to be too perfect. It also devalues their minor-league performances that earn them their chance in the first place.

Showalter acknowledged this weekend most of these immediate demotions couldn’t have been avoided due to the strain placed on the bullpen as a direct result of the short outings. There is plenty of merit to that explanation, but at some point, the Orioles need to find the proper balance between having higher expectations and exercising the faith expressed this offseason in their internal options by showing just a bit more — brace yourself for that all-too-familiar word — patience.

No one is endorsing that Britton or Johnson or whichever pitcher sitting at the top of the totem pole for the next chance automatically receives six weeks’ worth of starts in the big leagues, but a reasonable opportunity of three or four starts might be more conducive to the potentially fragile psyche of a young pitcher. Fringe pitchers such as these certainly need to feel urgency playing for a contending club, but trying to be too perfect in fear of being sent down isn’t setting them up with the mindset for success, either.

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Orioles’ success mirrors their anchor in ninth inning

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Orioles’ success mirrors their anchor in ninth inning

Posted on 11 May 2013 by Luke Jones

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There was a time not long ago when many doubted that Jim Johnson held the right mindset or ability for the Orioles’ closer role.

The 29-year-old right-hander certainly doesn’t fit the description of most ninth-inning men. Not only does Johnson strike out fewer batters than the typical closer but he fanned fewer hitters per nine innings (5.4) than any regular member of the Baltimore bullpen last season.

But that didn’t stop Johnson from collecting a club-record and major league-leading 51 saves and being named to his first All-Star team in 2012 as the Orioles advanced to the postseason for the first time in 15 years. His heavy sinker that induces ground ball after ground ball has allowed him to convert 35 consecutive save opportunities, breaking Randy Myers’ franchise record in Friday night’s remarkable 9-6 comeback victory in 10 innings.

In many ways, Johnson’s success mirrors the Orioles’ prosperity as it was late in the 2011 season when he took over the closer role for good after mixed results in brief stints prior to that. The club finished that season going 14-8 in what’s now viewed as a precursor to the remarkable 2012 season. Since Sept. 7, 2011, Johnson’s 72 saves are the most in baseball and the Orioles have gone 129-91. Many have struggled to explain the success both have found, but that’s just fine with Johnson.

“I think it is more about knowing what kind of pitcher you are,” Johnson said. “I do it differently than other people. When I first started, I tried to be something I wasn’t. I tried to be a typical closer and strike guys out all the time and that is not who I am. Then, I reverted back to pitching how I normally do and good results followed.”

Johnson’s journey to become arguably the best closer in baseball hasn’t been a smooth one as it was only in 2010 when his career appeared to be at a crossroads. Struggling out of the gate with a 6.52 ERA in 10 appearances, Johnson was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk before it was discovered that he was dealing with right elbow inflammation.

It was during a rehabilitation stint in August of that season when Johnson first met new Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who had traveled to Bowie to see how the reliever was progressing. In one of his favorite stories to tell about his closer, Showalter explained how he saw Johnson give up a home run on a changeup that was clocked at 88 miles per hour.

Upon seeing his new manager when getting back to the dugout, Johnson asked Showalter what he thought. The manager quipped that he needed to work on that pitch, fully understanding the right-hander was working on his array of pitches during the outing against Double-A hitters who were otherwise overmatched. Even then as Johnson was just working his way back to form, Showalter knew he had something special to work with out of the bullpen.

“It was the first time I saw him,” Showalter said. “But that’s what [the good ones] look like.”

For years, the debate continued whether Johnson would be better suited to start or relieve as even Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer believed his four-pitch repertoire — the sinker, a nasty curveball, an underrated changeup, and a four-seam fastball — would make him a successful starter. Coming up through the Orioles system as a starter, Johnson was named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year as well as the Carolina League pitcher of the year for the 2005 season.

Showalter can’t help but draw comparisons between Johnson and future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, whom he managed at the end of his tenure as Yankees manager. Rivera followed a similar progression in beginning his career as a starter before moving to middle relief and eventually closing out victories for a winning club. Before briefly reconsidering Johnson’s role two years ago, Showalter decided the ninth inning would be the perfect place for him.

“Jimmy’s been through all those same processes,” said Showalter in comparing him to Rivera. “I thought it was the best for him to stay healthy with a lot of the things that go on with pitchers. The biggest thing is his ability as a pitcher. He has multiple ways to get you out.”

The Orioles saw their faith in Johnson rewarded in 2012 as he saved 51 of 54 opportunities to become the first Baltimore closer since George Sherrill to make the All-Star team. He began his current streak of 35 straight save conversions on July 30 of last season, but it was his postseason failure that stung the most for Orioles fans after Johnson had been so outstanding all year.

In Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Johnson entered in the ninth inning with the game tied 2-2 before allowing the go-ahead home run to Yankees catcher Russell Martin and five runs total in the inning as the Orioles fell 7-2. Game 3 brought an even more painful result as Johnson came on in the ninth inning with the Orioles holding a 2-1 lead at Yankee Stadium and gave up the game-tying home run to Raul Ibanez. Baltimore lost the game in extra innings as it was the only time since Aug. 8, 2011 that the Orioles have lost a game in which they held a lead at the end of seven innings.

Johnson took full responsibility for the postseason struggles by waiting at his locker for reporters after both losses. Instead of dwelling on those failures and allowing the disappointment to linger into the 2013 season, the closer has converted all 14 save opportunities and entered Saturday tied for the major-league lead in saves.

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Starting rotation performance headlines Orioles’ uneven start

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Starting rotation performance headlines Orioles’ uneven start

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Luke Jones

Before anyone goes off the deep end over the Orioles’ 3-4 start to the 2013 season, consider this your much-needed reminder that it’s early.

It’s very early, in fact, as Baltimore has completed just over four percent of the 162-game schedule. That’s the equivalent of the Ravens approaching the end of the third quarter of their season-opening game if you needed a football comparison to put it in the proper context.

But issues have already begun to arise, specifically with the injuries to Wilson Betemit, Nolan Reimold, and Brian Roberts that have left designated hitter and second base as early albatrosses in the lineup. Ryan Flaherty is 0-for-14 to begin the season and Steve Pearce has yet to collect a hit in his first 10 at-bats after securing the final spot on the 25-man roster at the end of spring training.

Fortunately in Reimold’s case, the Orioles are hoping the 29-year-old outfielder will be ready to return to the lineup as early as Wednesday after leaving Sunday’s game with a tight hamstring.

The bullpen experienced a hiccup against Tampa Bay and a Chris Davis error contributed to Jim Johnson taking the loss in Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, but there’s little other evidence to suggest the group won’t be up to the task this season. It just might not be as dominating as it was a year ago with a plethora of relievers pitching at their absolute best for the better portion of six months.

After going 29-9 in one-run games last year, the Orioles have dropped their first three contests decided by one run, but no one could have reasonably expected the club to repeat that type of a historically-efficient performance.

The biggest concern – again, based on a week’s worth of games – has been the starting pitching with both the numbers and, more importantly, the eyeball test. Though Wei-Yin Chen pitched well in a 3-1 loss to the Red Sox on Monday, the Orioles entered Tuesday ranked last in the American League in starters earned run average at 5.45.

Of the seven outings turned in by the starting five, only three have been quality starts (if you subscribe to the minimum requirements of six innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed being anything special). The numbers don’t mean much when you’re not even through the rotation a second time, but the eyeball test raises bigger concerns.

De facto ace Jason Hammel is struggling to command both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a deadly combination that baffled opposing hitters prior to the knee injury that largely derailed his 2012 season. He hasn’t looked like the dominating pitcher he was in the first half last season and his lower strikeout numbers (five in 12 2/3 innings pitched) confirm that.

The Orioles need Hammel to be the veteran standing at the front of the rotation and not just another pitcher in the starting mix.

Chen’s 3.75 ERA is perfectly acceptable, but the same issue of running out of gas right around the 85-to-90 pitch range that we saw last year has resurfaced in his first two starts. Entering the seventh inning having thrown 87 pitches on Monday, Chen gave up a three-run homer to Daniel Nava before departing with one out.

Many will criticize Buck Showalter for not pulling the Taiwanese lefty sooner, but the manager likely wants to see if Chen can add another gear for the late innings or whether this is as good as it gets for the 27-year-old. Entering Monday, Chen had pitched to a 7.42 ERA after the sixth inning in his major league career. If that’s the best the club can expect when the lefty approaches 90 pitches and beyond, it’s difficult to view Chen as anything better than a fourth starter for the long haul.

Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez appeared the best of any starter the first turn through the rotation, but Showalter has elected to push the 28-year-old’s next start back to the Yankees series, citing a desire to give him a few extra days of rest. That action sounds prudent in August and September, but it raises a red flag this early in the season despite the manager insisting there are no health concerns with Gonzalez.

If making a start every fifth day is a challenge already, you have to wonder how much the Orioles can expect from Gonzalez over an entire season.

Jake Arrieta? He looked very much like the same Arrieta we’ve seen in past seasons on Friday, pitching well in spurts but allowing a four-run fourth inning to derail his overall outing. It’s the same inconsistency that landed him out of the rotation and in the minor leagues midway through last season.

The 27-year-old power arm figures to have the shortest leash of any of the current starters.

Coming off the 15-day disabled list to make his first start against Minnesota on Saturday, Chris Tillman was all over the place and looked nothing like the successful pitcher we saw in the second half of last season in allowing five earned runs and walking four in 3 2/3 innings. It was one start, but it won’t quiet those who question whether the 24-year-old’s 2012 campaign was more fluke than transformation.

It’s a very small sample size — just like this piece is one of many that will examine the various stages of the season – but these seven games will count as much as any seven-game stretch over the course of the year. It’s not a definitive indictment or a final verdict by any stretch of the imagination but rather an honest assessment of what we’ve seen so far.

The injuries and shortcomings in the lineup and questions of how closely the bullpen can match its 2012 performance are all manageable concerns if the starting rotation rises to the occasion like it did for the final two months last season. Showalter said countless times this spring that the Orioles will only go as far as their starting pitching will take them.

And with the club sporting a 3-4 record in the first week of the season, the very early return in that department has been underwhelming.

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