Tag Archive | "Chris Tillman"

Orioles buy time with roster decisions by placing Tillman on DL

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Orioles buy time with roster decisions by placing Tillman on DL

Posted on 28 March 2013 by Luke Jones

Still weighing final decisions for their 25-man roster to begin the 2013 season on Tuesday, the Orioles placed starting pitcher Chris Tillman on the 15-day disabled list on the same day he was named the club’s fifth starter.

The right-hander has dealt with abdominal soreness since being scratched from a Grapefruit League start on March 10 and has only pitched in unofficial spring games recently, making his DL stint retroactive to March 22 and allowing him to return to pitch in the fifth game of the season on April 6 against the Minnesota Twins in Baltimore. Manager Buck Showalter hasn’t named a fourth starter for his Opening Day rotation, but all signs continue to point to right-hander Jake Arrieta with southpaw Brian Matusz beginning the season in the bullpen.

If Arrieta gets the ball on April 5, it would mark the third straight year that the 27-year-old will have started the home opener.

The decision to place Tillman on the DL not only frees up a roster spot for the first four games of the season but more importantly buys time as the Orioles try to figure out what to do with Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland, a talented 23-year-old left-handed pitcher the club desperately would like to keep. For now, Showalter will stash McFarland in the bullpen as the organization tries to either move another reliever such as Luis Ayala or Tommy Hunter in a trade or work out a deal with the Cleveland Indians, McFarland’s former club, that would allow the Orioles to keep McFarland without him taking a spot on the 25-man roster.

The Orioles also announced Thursday that outfielder Trayvon Robinson has been reassigned to minor league camp, leaving the club with 35 active players in its major league camp, which includes five non-roster invitees.

Right-handed pitcher Jair Jurrjens also appears to be OK after leaving Wednesday’s start after being struck in the ribs with a line drive. X-rays taken Thursday morning came back negative and manager Buck Showalter told reporters that Jurrjens could be ready to throw over the weekend.

The former Atlanta starter is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk but rebounded well after a difficult start to the spring.

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Revisiting five questions for Orioles spring training

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Revisiting five questions for Orioles spring training

Posted on 25 March 2013 by Luke Jones

With only a week to go until the start of the 2013 season for the Orioles, it’s time to revisit the five questions that were posed at the start of spring training.

Some questions have been answered while others still hold cloudy solutions as manager Buck Showalter and his club finish up the Grapefruit League before traveling to St. Petersburg to open the season against the Tampa Bay Rays next Tuesday.

Here’s what I was pondering nearly six weeks ago as Baltimore was coming off its first playoff appearance in 15 years:

1. Can Nolan Reimold stay healthy and be the impact bat the Orioles failed to acquire in the offseason?

A sore throwing shoulder limited Reimold to the designated hitter spot for a large portion of the spring, but he returned to the outfield last week and does not appear to be feeling any lingering effects.

In 41 spring at-bats, the 29-year-old is hitting .244 with four home runs and eight runs batted in. Reimold appears to have regained all strength lost in the aftermath of the spinal fusion surgery he underwent last summer and should be in line to begin the season on the 25-man roster and in the starting lineup.

Considering the Orioles didn’t add an impact bat in the offseason and right fielder Nick Markakis is still recovering from a small herniation in his neck, Reimold must stay healthy to give the lineup a boost from a year ago.

This question ultimately won’t be answered until the Orioles head north and begin the season, but the good news is that Reimold has been healthy enough to play in 14 Grapefruit League games, which is only two fewer than the number he played in the entire 2012 season. And he’s shown to be the same power hitter he was prior to the neck injury.

2. What will the starting rotation look like when the Orioles come north to Baltimore?

Nothing has changed dramatically in the makeup of the starting rotation from what was projected at the start of spring training, but there are plenty of question marks based on what we’ve seen in Sarasota.

The good news is Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez are still projected to hold the top three spots in the rotation, but all come with questions. Hammel hasn’t shown any lingering effects from last year’s knee surgery and is in line to be the club’s Opening Day starter, but he’s also appeared in just three Grapefruit League games, allowing five earned runs in nine innings of work and not displaying the same command with the two-seam fastball that he did last year.

Chen was roughed up by the Phillies over the weekend and has allowed seven earned runs in 7 2/3 innings in three big-league outings. Meanwhile, Gonzalez has seen the least amount of action as he’s made just two spring appearances covering four innings (one earned run).

All have received regular work by pitching in minor-league camp and simulated games, but you do wonder if the top of the Baltimore rotation is adequately prepared to face big-league hitters beginning in a week. Then again, Showalter could simply be hiding his top starters to prevent American League foes from getting a good look at them in Florida.

The rotation becomes foggier after that as Chris Tillman would appear to be ready to take the No. 4 spot in the rotation, but abdominal soreness has limited him to 4 1/3 innings of Grapefruit League action. A four-inning stint at the Orioles’ Twin Lakes facility on Sunday indicates Tillman is ready to begin the season in the starting rotation and not on the disabled list.

Jake Arrieta appears to have the clear edge for the final spot in the rotation as he holds a sparkling 1.56 earned run average in 17 1/3 spring innings covering five appearances. Originally scheduled to start against the Twins on Tuesday, Arrieta was pulled to instead pitch at the Orioles’ minor-league facility, another indicator that he will be the fifth starter when you remember Minnesota visits Camden Yards for the first home series of the season late next week.

Brian Matusz appeared to fall behind Arrieta after struggling in his start on Sunday, but the Orioles must think carefully on what to do with the 26-year-old left-hander. There is clear incentive to shift him to the bullpen role in which he thrived late last season, but this also comes with the understanding that pushing him to a short-relief role means it may be difficult to move him back into the starting rotation from a conditioning and health standpoint later in the season. Moving a starter to the bullpen is one thing, but asking a relief pitcher to suddenly stretch himself out in the middle of the season is begging for an injury to occur.

Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland and Steve Johnson remain in the hunt, but it appears both pitchers would be more likely to earn a bullpen job as a long reliever if they’re to make the club. Because the Orioles don’t want to risk losing the 23-year-old McFarland, they will likely try to stash the lefty sinkerballer in the bullpen for as long as they can, meaning it’s a good possibility that Johnson begins the year at Triple-A Norfolk.

After a rough start to the spring, Jair Jurrjens has rebounded nicely — pitching five shutout innings in his latest outing — and appears he’ll be among the first pitchers on call at Norfolk early in the season. He and Zach Britton will be nice insurance policies at the Triple-A level for now.

3. Who will step up to play second base?

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Handling Matusz interesting case for young, contending Orioles

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Handling Matusz interesting case for young, contending Orioles

Posted on 18 February 2013 by Luke Jones

Last August, the career of Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz appeared to be at a crossroads after the left-hander had been relegated to the minor leagues for the second consecutive season.

His numbers weren’t as bad as a historically-poor 2011 season in which his earned run average ballooned to 10.69, a major league record for a pitcher making at least 10 starts in a season, but the 2008 first-round pick had clearly been left behind by a club fighting to make its first postseason appearance in 15 years. In 16 starts, Matusz went 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA before he was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk shortly before the All-Star break.

That’s where it appeared he would remain for the final stretch of the season — with a token September call-up potentially being thrown in — before lefty relief pitcher Troy Patton suffered a sprained ankle in August. That prompted manager Buck Showalter to view the demoted Matusz in a new light as a left-handed setup man. Described by some as not having a receptive attitude toward coaching, Matusz embraced the new role, in part because he knew it was likely his only ticket back to Baltimore to pitch in a pennant race.

“For me, it was just being able to settle in and learn a lot from the guys and just go out and attack the zone and throw strikes,” Matusz said. “That was the big key for me — get ahead in the count and just have fun.”

Matusz thrived in the new role, pitching to a 1.35 ERA in 18 relief appearances. The southpaw appeared in all six of the Orioles’ playoff games last season, allowing the game-winning home run to Raul Ibanez in Game 3 of the American League Division Series but surrendering only one earned run in 4 2/3 innings.

With left-handed hitters holding a .219 career average against Matusz, Showalter used the former starter against key left-handed bats initially but expanded his role as he continued to thrive as a reliever. Matusz was throwing more strikes as a reliever (73 percent of his pitches compared to just 64 percent as a starter in 2012) and showed electric stuff as batters were swinging and missing on 16 percent of his pitches compared to just seven percent over his 16 starts.

The young pitcher admitted liking the need to prepare to be ready to pitch every day as opposed to the routine of a starter that left him on the bench for four straight days, allowing great spans of time to think about his struggles over the last two years. Last season’s turnaround has left many to wonder whether the Orioles would be wise to move Matusz to the bullpen permanently despite the fact that he enters the spring being stretched out as a starter once again.

“I have the opportunity to be a starter at the start of spring,” Matusz said. “That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, and ultimately, that’s what I’d like to do. I have the opportunity, so I’m going to roll with it and just go out and pitch my game and have fun.”

You can understand the organization’s preference to keep Matusz in a starting role after investing the No. 4 overall pick and a $3.2 million signing bonus in the pitcher in 2008, and it’s not as though the Orioles’ starting rotation is set in stone with established big-league starters manning every spot. Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman are the favorites to grab the first four jobs in the rotation, but the fifth starter spot is wide open as Matusz will compete with Jair Jurrjens, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter, and Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland.

If 2013 is anything like last season, the Orioles are bound to see changes in their starting rotation, due to injury or ineffectiveness, so the confidence boost Matusz received after success in the final two months could go a long way in the lefty establishing himself as a viable starting pitcher. Even if Matusz were to start the year in Norfolk, the Orioles may need to turn to him as they did with Tillman and Gonzalez last season before the two right-handers became key contributors in the second half of the season.

Critics doubting Matusz’s ability to finally figure it out as a starter need only look at the revitalization of Tillman last season as evidence that the light could come on for the University of San Diego product, but perhaps the most interesting question will be how the Orioles handle the left-hander should he not emerge as one of the best five starters during spring training. Matusz has an option remaining, meaning he could be sent to Norfolk to continue working as a starter, but would Showalter and the Orioles leave his arm in the minors when they know how deadly he can be as a reliever against left-handed bats?

The manager has never been one to obsess over playing matchups, preferring pitchers who are effective against hitters from either side of the plate, but it’s difficult to ignore Matusz’s overwhelming success against left-handed hitters in his career. Patton is also the only left-hander projected to be part of the Baltimore bullpen to begin the season, making it an appropriate fit for Matusz to land there once again.

If the Orioles elect to move Matusz back to the bullpen early on, it would likely mean he’d remain there for the rest of the season as it’s a dangerous line to walk with a pitcher’s health when moving back and forth between starting and relief roles — particularly when attempting to stretch out a reliever without the benefit of an offseason to prepare. At this stage of Matusz’s major league career, the Orioles would have to wonder whether it’s time to simply keep him in the bullpen if it means a third straight year of lukewarm results as a starter.

Regardless of the arguments some have made about Matusz having too much value in the Baltimore bullpen, there’s no disputing that it’s easier to find a left-handed setup man than it is to find an effective southpaw starter. A good starting pitcher is a far more valuable asset to a club than a bullpen arm, but Matusz needs to prove he can do the job over six or seven innings consistently and time is running out for that debate.

The Orioles are making the right move in at least stretching out Matusz in preparing him to start, but it will be interesting to see how quickly Showalter pulls the plug if he’s ineffective and moves the lefty to the bullpen with the memory of last year’s success in the manager’s mind. It’s the kind of problem the Orioles wouldn’t have had in the past when a pennant race was never on the radar and young pitchers could develop with little else on the line.

If it comes down to pitching in a pennant race again or riding buses in the International League, it’s likely Matusz won’t balk at a relief role again, even with his state — and understandable — preference to start.

“Obviously, at the end of last year, we were on a good roll with making the playoff push,” Matusz said. “Things were clicking at the right time and it was a lot of fun.”

A lot of fun, indeed, but you wonder if it was only a temporary detour in his career as a starter or a sign of what’s to come for a pitcher with plenty of unfulfilled promise entering his fifth season in the majors.

The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction discussed Brian Matusz in Monday’s Spring Training Spotlight. You can listen to the segment HERE.

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Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

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Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

Posted on 13 February 2013 by Luke Jones

The Orioles held their first workouts for pitchers and catchers to officially kick off spring training in Sarasota on Wednesday.

Trying to build on a 93-win campaign that included their first trip to the playoffs in 15 years, the Orioles have several questions marks after a quiet offseason void of significant moves.

Here are five questions to ponder as Baltimore begins preparations for the 2013 season:

1. Can Nolan Reimold stay healthy and be the impact bat the Orioles failed to acquire in the offseason?

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette failed in his quest to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat, but a healthy Reimold would go a long way in providing the extra offense the Orioles are looking for after they finished ninth in runs scored and 11th in on-base percentage in the American League last season. Of course, expecting Reimold to stay injury-free has only resulted in frustration over the years as the left fielder missed most of last season after undergoing spinal fusion surgery.

The good news is Reimold is already taking live batting practice and appears to be 100 percent for spring training as he will compete with Nate McLouth for the starting job in left field. McLouth is the superior fielder and has more speed, but few would argue Reimold’s ability at the plate as he hit .313 with five home runs in 67 at-bats last season.

The club could elect to use Reimold as the designated hitter more frequently to keep him healthy, and he would be an ideal fit in the No. 2 spot because of his plate discipline (a career .338 on-base percentage in 916 plate appearances in the majors) or in the fifth or sixth spot because of his power. At 29, Reimold appears to be running out of time as a viable option on which the Orioles can depend moving forward, but the club signed him for $1 million in the offseason and maintains control of him through the 2015 season.

Duquette didn’t acquire an established veteran bat and also parted ways with slugger Mark Reynolds, so this spring will be critical for Reimold to prove he can provide extra punch to the lineup. If he’s again unhealthy, the Orioles will be forced to lean more heavily on McLouth, who carries his own baggage despite a 2012 renaissance in Baltimore.

2. What will the starting rotation look like when the Orioles come north to Baltimore?

The starting rotation would appear to have a more definitive outline than it did as this time last year as Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman all put forth career seasons in 2012, but none of those four come without questions this spring. Concerns over Hammel’s knee were eased with his ability to pitch effectively in the postseason, but the Orioles hope he can replicate his first half last season when he looked like an ace and was included in the fan vote for the final spot on the AL All-Star team.

Chen and Gonzalez will need to prove their rookie campaigns weren’t flukes as the rest of the league will be more familiar with each and the latter’s 170-pound frame will always cause some to question his durability over a full season. Adjustments made to Tillman’s mechanics by director of pitching development Rick Peterson paid major dividends last year, but the 24-year-old will need to replicate that success over an entire season in the big leagues.

Even if those four pick up right where they left off, manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair must sift through a number of other candidates to replace the fifth spot in the rotation left behind by veteran left Joe Saunders, who signed with Seattle last week. Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson, Zach Britton, and Tommy Hunter will all be in the mix, but each comes with their limitations and concerns.

The Orioles continue to point to strength in numbers as it pertains to the starting rotation as 12 pitchers made starts for Baltimore last season. And to offer some perspective on how quickly things can change due to injury or ineffectiveness, three-fifths of the rotation that began the 2012 season landed in the minor leagues by the All-Star break.

The top four will have the inside track for rotation spots entering the spring, but Showalter won’t hesitate to make changes quickly if anyone isn’t up to the task.

3. Who will step up to play second base?

Yes, Brian Roberts is still with the Orioles as he enters the final season of a four-year contract that’s seen him play 115 games combined in the last three years. The 35-year-old infielder appears to be recovered from hip surgery and an offseason surgery to correct a sports hernia, but viewing Roberts as a viable option feels more like you’re being polite than at all realistic.

The Orioles acquired the slick-fielding Alexi Casilla off waivers from the Minnesota Twins after the switch-hitting second baseman played in a career-high 106 games last season. The 28-year-old is a career .250 hitter and provides good speed (21 stolen bases in 2012), but it remains to be seen whether he can handle full-time duties at the plate or he’ll be exposed over a bigger sample of at-bats.

The most intriguing option from an offensive perspective would be Ryan Flaherty, who split duties at second base with the departed Robert Andino at the end of last season. Thought limited defensively, Flaherty hit six home runs in 153 at-bats as a Rule 5 player who stuck on the 25-man roster all season.

Because of Showalter’s preference for strong defense up the middle, Casilla would appear to be the favorite to handle the bulk of the duties at second base due to Roberts’ frailty and Flaherty’s limitations in the field. However, this will remain a very fluid position to watch as the spring progresses.

4. How will Showalter handle the designated hitter spot in the order?

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Hammel to start potential Game 5 and other Game 4 pre-game notes

Posted on 10 October 2012 by Luke Jones

(Update: Joe Saunders was named the Game 4 starter following the 3-2 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday night.)

NEW YORK — As the Orioles prepared to play Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees on Wednesday night, their starting pitcher for Game 4 remained a mystery.

Manager Buck Showalter will wait until after Game 3 to decide between left-hander Joe Saunders and right-hander Chris Tillman to make Thursday’s start at Yankee Stadium. Saunders would be working on five days’ rest while Tillman hasn’t pitched since last Wednesday against Tampa Bay in the final game of the regular season.

“We were kind of hoping you would tell us,” said Saunders, drawing laughter from the media gathered prior to Game 3. “Because we don’t know yet. Whoever it is, me or Chris, we’re going to go out there and do our job.”

To the surprise of nearly everyone outside the organization, Saunders pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Texas Rangers in the AL Wild Card game last Friday to help land the Orioles in the Division Series. Saunders made one start against the Yankees in the regular season, allowing two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings of work at Camden Yards on Sept. 8.

In six career starts against New York, the 31-year-old Saunders is 3-1 with a 5.82 earned run average in 34 innings.

Along with Game 3 starter Miguel Gonzalez, Tillman was one of the biggest surprises of the second half and finished the regular season with a 9-3 record and a 2.93 ERA.

In two starts against the Yankees this season, Tillman was 1-0 with a 6.75 ERA in eight innings of work. His start at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 2 was cut short after three innings due to elbow stiffness.

Most consider Tillman to be the favorite to receive the ball as long as neither pitcher is required to pitch in relief behind Gonzalez on Wednesday night. However, the challenge of facing lefties such as Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson make the lefty Saunders a more appealing option despite his overall numbers being inferior to Tillman’s this season.

“I think you’ve just got to treat it like any other start,” Tillman said. “You can’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s not fair to yourself [and] not fair to the team.”

In other news, Jason Hammel will receive the ball for Game 5 against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia if necessary on Friday. The two faced off in Game 1, which resulted in a 7-2 win for New York.

Showalter was asked about the decision in August to move left-hander Brian Matusz to the bullpen, who provided a major lift in the absence of then-injured southpaw Troy Patton and with the struggles of power arm Pedro Strop. The Baltimore manager revealed Matusz will likely return to a starting role upon reporting to spring training in Sarasota next February.

“Compared to the options we had and the trade market and some other things, we thought Brian could do as well if not better than some of the others coming in,” Showalter said about the decision. “Brian will more than likely go into the spring as a starter and then we think he can go back and do this [if needed] but he needs to get his innings. It was also a carrot for him to come back to the big leagues, so there was a lot of want-to there.”

NOTES: The Orioles were 6-3 in the Bronx this season, outscoring the Yankees by a 49-32 margin. … Their six wins in New York were their highest season total since winning eight in 1976. Baltimore won all three series in Yankee Stadium in the same year for the first time since 1976. … Making their third appearance in the ALDS, the Orioles are 3-1 on the road with two of those wins coming in Seattle in 1997 and one in Cleveland in 1996. The Orioles won each of those series. … Center fielder Adam Jones was announced as a candidate for the 2012 Hank Aaron Award on Wednesday afternoon. It recognizes the top offensive performers in each league. Fan voting opened at MLB.com Wednesday and runs through Oct. 16. Winners will be announced during the World Series.

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One year later, Orioles have real reason to celebrate

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One year later, Orioles have real reason to celebrate

Posted on 29 September 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — If you’re caught up in the hysteria of the Orioles’ impossible run to the postseason looking more and more like reality, you may not have noticed Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the 2011 season finale.

Of course, the final day of last season may go down as the most exciting in the history of major league baseball with division races coming down to the final inning of the year. Tampa Bay completed an improbable comeback win over the New York Yankees while the 93-loss Orioles knocked Boston out of the playoffs with a dramatic 4-3 walk-off win that ended with a Robert Andino hit to score Nolan Reimold in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The famed “Curse of the Andino” had been born as the Orioles celebrated like they had won the World Series. Yes, it was a fun moment in a make-believe sort of way and players were entitled to a night of celebration after the grind of a 162-game schedule, but the celebration was artificial — no matter how good it may have felt to eliminate the Red Sox from the postseason — knowing the Orioles had just completed their sixth straight season of 90 or more losses.

A year later, the roles are the opposite of what we’ve come to expect over the years as the Red Sox limped to town with a lame-duck manager and a gutted roster on the cusp of 90 losses. In contrast, the Orioles won their 90th game of the season in a 9-1 series-opening win over Boston and reduced their wild card magic number to three to clinch their first postseason berth since 1997.

Not one to gush over individual moments or buy into media concoctions, manager Buck Showalter was asked prior to Friday’s game whether the 2011 finale was the catalyst for the unexpected prosperity the Orioles found this season. His answer was surprising, even if it was delivered in Showalter’s unassuming way.

“I can’t say it didn’t help. It does,” Showalter said. “You create your own intensity and this is a self-starter group. I think once again, we fed off the emotions of our fans, too.”

No one should buy too much stock into the final game of the 2011 regular season being the main reason why the Orioles stand only a game behind the Yankees in the American League East entering Saturday. Just take a look at the roster and you’ll see too many different faces to believe what happened last Sept. 28 was a franchise-altering moment.

But it might have offered just enough of a taste of motivation to the holdovers from 2011 to push through the tough times while also remembering how difficult it was for the Red Sox to complete their postseason mission despite being in excellent position only weeks before the 2011 finale.

With a plethora of unlikely heroes contributing on any given night, the Orioles turned to second baseman Ryan Flaherty and starting pitcher Chris Tillman on Friday night to begin the most crucial series of the season — to this point, anyway — against Boston. Flaherty’s grand slam in the first put the game out of reach as the Rule 5 selection collected a career-high five runs batted in after languishing on the bench for most of the season.

A year ago when the Orioles were knocking the Red Sox out of the playoffs, Flaherty was stuck in the Cubs’ minor league system, uncertain where his future might take him. Now he finds himself in a platoon with Andino, receiving regular starts against right-handed pitching.

“It seems like every night it’s someone new, whether it’s a pitcher, hitter, a play in the field, something,” Flaherty said. “Just keep on riding it and, tomorrow, nine more innings.”

Not even invited to join the club last September despite being on the 40-man roster, Tillman began the 2012 season in Triple-A Norfolk as a virtual afterthought behind the other tabbed members of the cavalry in Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, and Zach Britton. Just over five months later, he’s the only one of the four in the starting rotation as Tillman looks to be a virtual lock for the potential postseason rotation.

He took Friday’s crucial start in stride as he didn’t allow a hit after Scott Podsednik led off the game with a bunt single and retired the final 14 batters he faced in eight stellar innings of work to improve his record to 9-2.

“There is not one game bigger than the other,” Tillman said. “I always try to go out there, go deep in the game and give my team the best chance to win. We are getting to the nitty-gritty here, but we have to focus on tomorrow’s game and not look ahead.”

Showalter’s best accomplishment among many this season has been his ability to balance out his players’ emotions on a daily basis. They’re never too high when they win or too low in defeat. And they’re never caught up in how big a certain game might be, an attitude that will serve them well over the season’s final week and into October.

These days, the Orioles clubhouse is anything but celebratory after wins as an outsider wouldn’t have a clue in figuring out whether the team had won or loss that night.

It’s a stark contrast from the on-field dog pile of a year ago over something that just wasn’t all that meaningful in the long run.

Or, so we thought.

No matter how you view the “Curse of the Andino” and what it meant to this club heading into the 2012 season, the Orioles have a real reason to celebrate this time around.

It’s no longer about playing the role of a spoiler or basking in the glow of a make-believe celebration because there’s nothing better to look forward to. The Orioles are for real and their slaughtering of the down-and-out Red Sox on Friday night was just the latest example in proving that.

Instead of deferring to the heavyweight and hoping to get lucky, they’ve become the team delivering the knockout blow.

Boy, how can things change in only a year.

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If the season ended today, how much better off would the Orioles be for the future?

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If the season ended today, how much better off would the Orioles be for the future?

Posted on 22 July 2012 by Luke Jones

With Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Indians, the Orioles ended the weekend tied for the American League wild-card lead on the heels of a five-game winning streak in Minnesota and Cleveland.

As I’ve written many times over the last few months, the 2012 season has been a fun and romantic ride for Orioles fans stricken with suffering through listless summers toward losing season after losing season. The late-inning comebacks and unlikely heroes have left nearly everyone scratching their heads in disbelief as the numbers suggest they shouldn’t be nearly as prosperous as they’ve been.

Left for dead less than a week ago after falling to only two games above .500 for the first time since April, the resilient Orioles suddenly have a pulse again with an impressive turn through the current starting rotation that started with Tommy Hunter on Wednesday and ended Sunday with Zach Britton, who tossed six shutout innings to earn his first victory of the season.

The winning streak will inevitably turn up the volume on trade deadline discussion and the Orioles’ wild-card chances, but a much louder question has sounded in my head over the last month as we’ve watched the offense struggle and Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Hunter be demoted to Triple-A Norfolk.

If the season were to end today, how much better off would the Orioles be for the future than they were at the start of the 2012 campaign?

My answer — at least entering the final week of July — sounds like the ultimate wet blanket, especially when you remember where the Orioles currently sit in the standings after 95 games.

But truthfully, I’m not sure the club is markedly improved in terms of being able to compete long-term.

Yes, we can discuss the potential psychological breakthrough of ending a spell of 14 straight losing seasons and the effect it might have on potential free agents viewing Baltimore as a more viable destination, but that only matters if majority owner Peter Angelos and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette make the financial commitment to capitalize in the offseason.

The bullpen has been outstanding with Jim Johnson leading the way to eliminate any doubts that may have lingered last offseason about his ability to close out victories. However, the collective performance of a bullpen from season to season is as dependable as the stock market, meaning the likelihood of getting the same outstanding performances from each Orioles reliever next year and beyond is highly unlikely.

Offensively speaking, center fielder Adam Jones is enjoying a career year and received a six-year contract to keep him in Baltimore, but his production since early June has leveled off, suggesting 2012 is a year of steady improvement for the 26-year-old rather than a quantum leap to MVP candidacy on an annual basis. Catcher Matt Wieters is having another good season in becoming one of the best catchers in baseball, but his offense hasn’t taken a step forward from his first All-Star campaign a year ago. Of course, that’s not a knock on either player as they’re the Orioles’ two most dependable run producers, but we already knew that entering the season.

Aside from the surprisingly versatile Chris Davis looking like a solid — but unspectacular — everyday player, some combination of injury, ineffectiveness, and poor defense has hamstrung every other regular in the Baltimore lineup. The club needs to address multiple positions in the offseason, with the corner infield positions, second base, and left field all included.

And that brings us to the starting pitching, the area in which the Orioles have been most disappointing beyond the surprising performances of newcomer Jason Hammel and Taiwanese rookie Wei-Yin Chen. The regression of Matusz and Arrieta has been discouraging at best and devastating at worst when considering the high expectations for each pitcher.

As encouraging as this last turn through the rotation as been, I’m not ready to sign off on Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, or Britton as mainstays of the rotation a month from now let alone a year from now.

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Pitcher Steve Johnson optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after MLB debut

Posted on 15 July 2012 by WNST Staff

The Orioles announced after today’s game that they have optioned RHP STEVE JOHNSON to Triple-A Norfolk.

Johnson made his major league debut in this afternoon’s game against Detroit, allowing one earned run on a solo home run, walking two and striking out two. He is 3-6 with a 3.11 ERA (66.2IP, 23ER) in 15 games (10 starts) for the Tides. He was acquired by the Orioles with INF JOSH BELL on July 30, 2009 in exchange for LHP GEORGE SHERRILL.

Steve, and his father, Dave, who pitched for the Orioles from 1989-91, became the sixth father-son duo to play for the Orioles, joining Bob and Terry Kennedy, Don and Damon Buford, John O’Donoghue Sr. and John O’Donoghue Jr., Dave and Derrick May, and Tim Raines Sr. and Tim Raines Jr.

Though the Orioles didn’t announce a corresponding roster move following the game, pitcher Chris Tillman will be recalled to make Monday’s start against the Minnesota Twins.

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Hammel leaning toward knee surgery to have loose cartilage removed

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Hammel leaning toward knee surgery to have loose cartilage removed

Posted on 14 July 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After undergoing an MRI that revealed the loose cartilage in his right knee has moved to a more uncomfortable place, Orioles pitcher Jason Hammel appears to be leaning toward having surgery.

No decision will be made until Sunday, but all signs point to the 29-year-old being placed on the 15-day disabled list. Hammel could elect to rest the knee in hopes that the loose cartilage will move away from the joint, which is causing him more pain than where the cartilage rested before. The MRI did not reveal any new structural damage from what he’s already been dealing with throughout the season.

“At this point, it’s kind of like a thing where you’re done dealing with it,” Hammel said. “I don’t know yet.”

Manager Buck Showalter estimated a surgical procedure would leave Hammel with a projected return in early September. His loss will further decimate a starting rotation that’s seen three of its Opening Day members sent to Triple-A Norfolk in the last two weeks.

Hammel said the knee had felt much better in recent weeks, especially after coming back from the All-Star break for a team workout on Thursday. However, he felt the cartilage move delivering a 1-2 pitch to Brennan Boesch in the top of the fourth inning of Friday night’s loss.

“It’s got to be soon because I don’t want to miss too much time,” Hammel said. “It’s a pretty simple procedure to go in there — it’d just be a regular scope. I could let it rest and I’d miss a little bit of time that way, but I think it’d be better to kind of just get it taken care of.”

With Hammel likely going to the disabled list on Sunday, the Orioles could elect to call up another bullpen arm after the entire bullpen sans Luis Ayala — who pitched 1 1/3 innings on Friday — worked in the 13-inning win over the Tigers on Saturday night.

The right-hander has been the club’s best starter in his first season in Baltimore, going 8-6 with a 3.54 earned run average in 18 starts. Hammel was one of five finalists for the American League’s “Final Vote” spot for the 2012 All-Star Game.

The latest development with Hammel will force the Orioles to continue making roster moves as Chris Tillman is scheduled to be recalled to pitch in Minnesota on Monday. The club will also need starting pitchers for Tuesday and Wednesday, with Zach Britton and Brian Matuz the likely candidates for those assignments.

“We’re going to have to make room for Tillman on Monday,” Showalter said. “The options are dwindling because [Jason] Berken pitched for [Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday].”

Reliever Steve Johnson is on the 40-man roster and hasn’t pitched since July 8, making him a strong candidate to be recalled temporarily to take Hammel’s spot on Sunday and give the Orioles an extra arm in the bullpen.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear more from Jason Hammel about his right knee injury right here.

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Chris Tillman Flirts with a One-Hit Shutout but Settles for a Win

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Chris Tillman Flirts with a One-Hit Shutout but Settles for a Win

Posted on 04 July 2012 by hopebirchfield

On this Independence Day, Orioles fans can be grateful for freedom and the fact that the Orioles are again showing signs of life. In a 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners, the Orioles bats seem to be coming alive in the final stretch before the All-Star Break as the Orioles scored four runs on seven hits. As it turned out though, it would not take four runs to secure a win. In fact, through much of the game, it looked as though the Orioles could have taken the win with just one run.

A lot of Orioles fans were concerned when it was announced Chris Tillman was the starting pitcher against the Mariners. Fans remembered his lackluster performances in previous seasons and begrudgingly dismissed the “Orioles prospect” that wasn’t. Out of the gate strong, Tillman flirted with the no-hitter going into the 4th when Michael Saunders hit a clean single to put the first hit for the Mariners on the board. Not letting the pressure of a base runner get to him (as it has in years passed), Tillman went scoreless going into the bottom of the 9th. Showalter, clearing showing confidence in the new and improved Chris Tillman, allowed him the chance at the complete game shutout. With no outs, Andino bobbled the ball out of his glove and allowed Saunders to reach first on an error. As if a beast was awoken, the Mariners tried to muster some momentum as Jaso launched a ball to the gap in right-center. Tillman went 8 1/3 innings giving up 2 hits on 2 runs (both unearned) while fanning seven. While the shutout was spoiled with Jim Johnson giving up 2 runs in his relief performance, Tillman pitched an impressive first game back to secure a W.

Are we sure this wasn’t a cyborg version of Tillman?

No, his mechanics and his pitching have simply evolved. When he first made his debut in 2009, Tillman was a raw, young pitcher. His rapid advancement through the farm development system did not allow Tillman the opportunity to perfect his game. When he threw the first inning today, Twitter was buzzing with people re-jumping on the #TeamTillman bandwagon. Anyone who had witnessed Tillman pitch in the past immediately noticed something different. Having good command of the ball throughout the game, Tillman was clocking anywhere from 94-97 mph fastballs even in the late innings. His curveball has also evolved into a dangerous pitch with his off-speed pitches clocking a good 20 mph under his fastball. For the most part, it seemed as though people were catching Tillman Mania again. Sure, there were some that showed concern due to the Mariners weak lineup but I interject this, “They seemed to be judging Jason Hammel quite well and he’s an All-Star nominated pitcher.” It seems quite simple – If Tillman pitches like he did today, a lot of lineups would have trouble hitting his stuff. Like a man on a mission, Chris Tillman knows that he may be on borrowed time and he is trying his best to prove that he is part of the future of the club.

What have we learned from all of this in developing young pitchers?

Tillman is one of the primary reasons why Dylan Bundy is being moved cautiously through the farm system. In something I have dubbed the “Tillman Theory,” it states “If you send a kid to pitch, you’ll get a kid pitching.” Essentially, the evolution from a high school arm to a college arm to a professional ballplayer arm is a process that cannot be rushed. Hopefully, fans can take Tillman as a lesson (as long as he performs and excels as he did today) and stop pressuring Bundy to be rapidly promoted. We all know he’s going to be good but you can’t rush perfection.

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