Tag Archive | "Dan Duquette"


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Orioles part ways with veteran outfielder Young

Posted on 01 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — No longer able to endure a well-documented roster crunch, the Orioles designated outfielder Delmon Young for assignment prior to Wednesday’s game against Texas.

Baltimore needed a fresh arm in the bullpen and recalled right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson to take Young’s spot on the 25-man roster. With the recent promotions of Chris Parmelee and Nolan Reimold, the 29-year-old Young’s playing time had dwindled with just 17 plate appearances since June 13.

“They’re all difficult,” said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette about the decision to part ways with the veteran. “We wrestle with these decisions and hash them out and go back and forth, and we try to develop more options for the team to keep all the players in the organization. We couldn’t come up with a solution to this roster move because we didn’t have the flexibility on our roster that we’ve had in the past.”

Young provided arguably the most exciting moment in the history of Orioles Park at Camden Yards last fall with a three-run double in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series, sparking his club to a 7-6 victory and eventual sweep of the Detroit Tigers. However, the outfielder struggled with more extensive playing time this season, hitting .270 with just two home runs and a .628 on-base plus slugging percentage in 180 plate appearances.

With the Orioles employing a number of outfielders serving in part-time roles, Young didn’t offer as much versatility with declining power and limited defensive ability. The emergence of Jimmy Paredes this season has taken away a large number of at-bats at the designated hitter spot that the Orioles projected Young to receive at the beginning of the season.

The roster pains aren’t over for the Orioles as they must make room for right-hander Kevin Gausman to make Thursday’s start and second baseman Jonathan Schoop will finish his rehab assignment over the next few days. Manager Buck Showalter said outfielder Nolan Reimold will go on paternity leave next week, which would temporarily open a a roster spot.

“There’s not a right decision there. Nobody is trying to present it as such,” said Showalter of Young’s departure. “We’ve got good quality people, and you reach a point where you can’t keep them all. Unfortunately, we’re probably not done. It tugs at your chest.”

After being signed to a minor-league deal two offseasons ago, Young thrived in a part-time role in 2014, hitting .302 with seven homers and a .779 OPS. The first overall pick of the 2003 amateur draft was Baltimore’s best pinch hitter, going 10-for-20 in the regular season before delivering his pinch-hit two-bagger off Detroit right-hander Joakim Soria in the ALDS.

The offseason departure of slugger Nelson Cruz figured to create more opportunities for Young, who signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal over the winter to remain with the Orioles.

Duquette will now have 10 days to try to work out a trade for Young, a realistic chore considering he was able to deal Alejandro De Aza to the Boston Red Sox last month. Duquette told reporters prior to Wednesday’s game that he had already engaged in trade discussions with other clubs about Young but hadn’t gotten close to making a deal prior to Wednesday’s designation.

“Delmon is a qualified major league hitter,” Duquette said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a [landing] spot for him in a few days.”

Many fans will remember Young fondly for his heroics last October, but he isn’t the first Oriole to be let go shortly after a pinnacle playoff moment. Outfielder Tito Landrum hit the game-winning homer in Game 4 of the 1983 AL Championship Series before being traded the following spring.


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MLB upholds eight-game ban for Orioles lefty Matusz

Posted on 05 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite Milwaukee relief pitcher Will Smith seeing his eight-game suspension reduced earlier in the day, Orioles left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz saw his ban upheld by Major League Baseball on Friday.

Matusz began serving his eight-game suspension for having a foreign substances on his right forearm in a May 23 game in Miami. His appeal hearing took place in Houston on Wednesday with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter in attendance.

He will be eligible to return on June 14 in a game against the New York Yankees.

The Orioles will now play a player down on their 25-man roster as Matusz sits for the next eight games. Showalter told reporters in Cleveland that the lefty pitcher will likely go to Sarasota to stay in shape over the next week.

To say the least, it’s curious that Smith saw his suspension reduced to six games while Matusz still received eight games from MLB. Showalter had expressed optimism earlier in the week that his pitcher’s discipline would be lessened.

In 18 1/3 innings in 2015, Matusz has posted a 1-2 record with a 3.44 ERA, but he has walked 11 batters compared to 14 strikeouts. The southpaw has allowed four of eight inherited runners to score this season.

The Orioles promoted relief pitcher Cesar Cabral from Triple-A Norfolk to give themselves another left-hander in the bullpen.

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Fruitless use of resources costing Orioles dearly so far in 2015

Posted on 02 June 2015 by Luke Jones

This isn’t about the three names who’ve been discussed over and over and over in assessing the Orioles’ offseason and disappointing start to the 2015 campaign.

Frankly, it’s not my place to say the organization should have invested more than $34 million in those three players for the 2015 season, which doesn’t include the $102.75 million that departing trio will command from their new clubs in future years. At the same time, I won’t applaud the Orioles for showing the restraint to allow them to walk away, either, when it was clear what value they provided to the 2014 club.

What we do know is it would have been naive to expect the franchise to increase its payroll by tens of millions of dollars, meaning executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette had difficult decisions to make. In fact, lost in the handwringing over a disappointing offseason is that the payroll is actually higher than it was a year ago.

And that’s where we come to the real problem plaguing manager Buck Showalter’s club as it continues to hover below the .500 mark in early June. For all of the discussion about who the Orioles didn’t keep, not enough attention has been paid to the ones they did choose to retain who haven’t provided a return in 2015.

Because of the timing, we often forget the big-name free agent that the Orioles did retain when they re-signed J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40 million contract on the eve of the American League Championship Series last October. Injuries have limited the Gold Glove shortstop to just 23 games as he’s batted only .190 when he has been in the lineup.

Time will tell whether the Orioles made the right decision in extending the 32-year-old shortstop, but there’s no way to sugarcoat the biggest indictment of the offseason:

It’s the overwhelming portion of the $57.51 million paid to arbitration-eligible players this winter that looks like a sunk investment in early June. The Orioles invested just under $38 million in Chris Tillman ($4.32 million), Bud Norris ($8.8 million), Tommy Hunter ($4.65 million), Brian Matusz ($3.2 million), Steve Pearce ($3.7 million), Alejandro De Aza ($5 million), and the injured Matt Wieters ($8.3 million), and what exactly have they gotten in return?

Of course, that’s not to say the Orioles shouldn’t have tendered any of the aforementioned players as no one would have predicted Tillman or Norris struggling as dramatically as they have thus far and Pearce still looked like a huge bargain after leading the 2014 Orioles in on-base plus slugging percentage. There was cautious optimism that Wieters might be ready by Opening Day, but the club knew it was possible that he’d need a couple more months to rehab as has turned out to be the case.

But what about the others?

Designated for assignment last week, De Aza’s name was mentioned by many as a candidate to be non-tendered over the winter, but the Orioles were fooled into thinking what they saw last September and in the postseason was what they would get this year. His struggles over the last few years with the Chicago White Sox spelled out why he was available last August, but the organization forked over $5 million for him anyway.

It’s understandable that the Orioles didn’t want to invest a long-term contract in a relief pitcher, but was it wise to pay a total of $7.85 million to two middling relievers like Hunter and Matusz? Was it a good use of resources to tender Matusz and sign left-hander Wesley Wright for an additional $1.7 million?

Non-tendering De Aza and Matusz and passing on the Everth Cabrera signing — which has been another $2.4 million investment providing no return — would have created an additional $10.6 million to spend on other players if they’d kept the same payroll. Think of the possibilities of what could have been done with that money with just a hint of creativity.

The Orioles showed little interest this winter in outfielder Nori Aoki, who is essentially a present-day Nick Markakis clone and signed a one-year, $4 million contract with San Francisco that includes a $5.5 million option for 2016. He alone wouldn’t fix the current offense, but he’d sure look good hitting in the leadoff spot for Baltimore right now and hadn’t shown the same inconsistency of De Aza in Chicago the last couple years. A signing like that still would have left Duquette more money with which to work.

That’s only one simple example, of course.

As much as critics have labeled it a “cheap” offseason for the Orioles, it was an unimaginative one more than anything else. Even if the departures of Nelson Cruz, Markakis, and Miller were unavoidable from a financial standpoint, the Orioles still had plenty of resources to tinker and try to improve the club while continuing to remind everyone that Wieters, Manny Machado, and Chris Davis would be rejoining what remained of a playoff roster.

Instead, the Orioles lost significant pieces and paid too much of the money they did have to role players to fill in the cracks. To borrow a line from “Jurassic Park” uttered by Dr. Ian Malcolm, the Orioles were “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should” pay all of their arbitration-eligible players.

Fans can only wonder how much the flirtation between Duquette and the Toronto Blue Jays might have contributed to an inactive offseason in which the most significant additions were Travis Snider, Wright, and Cabrera.

Meanwhile, the Orioles continue to wait and hope for the players in which they did invest this winter to finally provide a positive return.

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Orioles musings on the opening week of the season

Posted on 13 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Based on how they performed over the first week of the season, the Orioles are right where they belong sitting at the .500 mark while allowing one more run (32) than they’ve scored (31) through the season’s first six games.

The fact that a number of fans are concerned about a 3-3 record shows just how far the Orioles have come over the last three years under manager Buck Showalter in that they’re now expected to win. For anyone concerned about the first week of the season, keep in mind that the Orioles began last season with a 1-4 mark and were still sitting at .500 at the beginning of June before playing .639 baseball the rest of the way.

For context, the Orioles are roughly at the same point in their season now as the Ravens were when Joe Flacco tossed an interception in the third quarter of the 2014 season opener against Cincinnati last September.

Beyond Bud Norris being a “person of interest” with a poor start in the home opener that followed his concerning spring and Ubaldo Jimenez reinforcing his strong finish in the Grapefruit League with a brilliant performance Saturday night, I haven’t seen much of anything that changes my overall attitude or outlook on the 2015 campaign. The Orioles obviously need to pitch better than they did in the first week, and I think they will based on the track record of many of these hurlers over the last few seasons.

* The Orioles have given up 10 or more runs in a game twice already after doing it just five times all last season, which brings two thoughts to mind.

One, it shows how consistent the staff was in 2014 despite not having the kind of starting rotation that inflicts fear like Detroit’s last year or the current Washington group. In 2013, the Orioles allowed 10 or more runs nine times and surrendered at least that many in a game 10 times in 2012.

It also speaks to how impressive the Toronto lineup was in scoring 23 runs in a three-game series in which the Blue Jays were nearly shut out in the second contest. The Blue Jays weren’t exactly struggling to score runs anyway before the offseason arrivals of an MVP-caliber player like third baseman Josh Donaldson and veteran catcher Russell Martin, who posted a .402 on-base percentage with Pittsburgh last year.

I still have my doubts about how quickly their young pitching will come together in both the rotation and the bullpen, but the Blue Jays will hit the ball as well as anyone in the majors.

* Third baseman Manny Machado’s 0-for-15 streak to begin the 2015 season ended Sunday, but his .053 average isn’t anything to be concerned about just yet as he’s hit several balls hard and has shown improved patience at the plate in drawing three walks in 23 plate appearances. He’s only struck out three times over that span, which suggests making contact isn’t a concern.

What has been an encouraging sign that his surgically-repaired knees are not an issue is the number of “Machadian” plays — yes, I’ve coined a new adjective to describe his impeccable defense — he’s already made in the field.

Considering he won’t be 23 until July, it’s amazing to think how many highlight plays he’s already offered up in his major league career. You just hope the problems with his knees are finally behind him, so we can enjoy watching this kid play a full season.

* Right-hander Kevin Gausman is off to a rocky start in the bullpen, allowing three earned runs and four walks in 3 2/3 innings.

While I’ve made no secret about my disagreement with his handling, it’s worth noting that he’s begun throwing a curveball — seemingly abandoning his slider that was still a work in progress — for the first time since college. In talking to Gausman late last week, you got the sense that he’s trying to emulate Chris Tillman a little more by adopting the curve to change hitters’ eye levels and throwing more high fastballs, which will certainly get him in trouble if he doesn’t locate and pick his spots carefully.

You wonder if these fundamental adjustments along with some natural disappointment over not being in the rotation have led to his early-season struggles, but there’s too much talent there for him not to right himself sooner rather than later.

* I’m guessing not many would have predicted knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa as the first minor-league pitcher to be recalled by the Orioles this season, but it further illustrates how timing and flexibility have more to do with promotions than anything.

More heralded arms such as Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson had already pitched in the previous two days and the Orioles preferred to give T.J. McFarland his scheduled start with Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, paving the way for the 30-year-old Gamboa to receive his first promotion to the majors. Of course, he was only going to pitch in an extreme situation such as an injury or two taking place or the score being totally out of hand, but it once again shows how manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will utilize resources at Norfolk and even Double-A Bowie however they see fit.

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Webb reportedly clears waivers, Paredes likely heading to DL

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles needing to finalize their 25-man roster for the start of the 2015 season by Sunday, two more outcomes became evident on Friday afternoon.

According to The Sun, right-handed relief pitcher Ryan Webb has passed through waivers, which will likely lead to his departure from the organization. Meanwhile, the red-hot Jimmy Paredes is expected to be placed on the 15-day disabled list after injuring his lower back while lifting weights earlier this week.

Out of minor-league options and owed $2.75 million, Webb cannot be sent to Triple-A Norfolk without his consent and is still guaranteed his salary if he refuses to go to the minors. This means the Orioles will likely need to decide to either make room for him on the 25-man roster or to part ways with the 29-year-old while still paying him his money.

Asked about the matter on MASN Friday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would not expand on Webb’s future with the organization.

“Waivers are [supposed to be] confidential,” Duquette said. “Ryan Webb is still on our roster.”

Signed to a two-year, $4.5 million contract two offseasons ago, Webb pitched to a 3.83 ERA last season before he became the odd man out when the Orioles acquired lefty reliever Andrew Miller in late July. Webb hasn’t helped his cause this spring by pitching to a 6.75 ERA in 6 2/3 innings.

News of Paredes’ injury is disappointing after the switch-hitting infielder batted .364 with 10 extra-base hits, 12 RBIs, and a 1.005 on-base plus slugging percentage this spring. With shortstop J.J. Hardy and outfielder David Lough also expected to begin the season on the DL, Paredes was expected to make the roster out of spring training.

The Paredes injury may open the door for outfielder Nolan Reimold to make the club after being a non-roster invitee. The 31-year-old has hit two home runs and posted a .928 OPS this spring.

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Five things that must go right for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 02 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Starting pitchers continue to outperform their metrics

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

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

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

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

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

2. Manny Machado takes a (healthy) step forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Another diamond in the rough emerges this season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taking stock of Orioles starting rotation

Posted on 25 March 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have a problem with their starting rotation less than two weeks away from Opening Day.

It’s far from the worst dilemma as many clubs don’t have two or three quality arms, let alone enjoy the luxury of choosing among six starters for five spots. It’s a good problem to have quite frankly, even if you roll your eyes thinking about the possibility of Ubaldo Jimenez taking the ball every fifth day.

Fans and critics will understandably remain skeptical, but the steady improvement of Jimenez this spring has the veteran right-hander in position to be in the rotation to begin the season. After averaging 5.5 walks per nine innings last season, Jimenez has walked just one batter in his last three outings spanning 13 innings. A new windup and a quieter delivery have led to better results for the 31-year-old with a career 4.00 ERA in nine major league seasons.

The reality is that short of a disastrous spring, Jimenez — who’s owed more than $38 million over the next three years — was always likely to at least receive a chance in the rotation to start the year. Whether he remains in the rotation for long will be the question.

Assuming Jimenez doesn’t implode over his final couple spring outings — far from a given, of course — manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will have interesting decisions to make in how to proceed with the rest of the rotation.

If Ubaldo Jimenez makes the starting rotation, who is the odd man out and where does he end up??

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The possibility of Duquette trading one of his starting pitchers has been discussed since the start of the offseason, but the chances of needing only five starters all season is extremely remote, making that a dicey plan of attack unless the return in the trade provides a major boost elsewhere.

Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen are obviously safe and both have pitched well this spring.

Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman each have a remaining minor-league option and have been discussed as the two likeliest candidates to be the odd man out to make room for Jimenez, but neither has had a poor spring.

Gonzalez has posted a 4.26 ERA and has yet to walk a batter in 12 2/3 innings of Grapefruit League action. The right-hander could be used in long relief, but you run the risk of him not being stretched out enough to rejoin the rotation if he’s in the bullpen for too long.

The Orioles have handled Gausman differently than the other starters this spring as he comes off the biggest workload of his professional career a year ago. Brought along more slowly, Gausman has pitched primarily in minor-league spring games and has logged only three Grapefruit League innings. Perhaps it’s a sign that the Orioles envision the 24-year-old beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk despite the fact that he was one of the club’s best starters last season. It wouldn’t make sense to relegate Gausman to a bullpen role early in the year where he either wouldn’t pitch regularly or would be shortened up and used too frequently to safely return him to a starting role at some point later in the season.

Optioning Gonzalez or Gausman to the minors would give the Orioles more flexibility to potentially stash one of their two Rule 5 picks — Logan Verrett or Jason Garcia — in the bullpen, but it’s difficult to argue that being the best possible 25-man roster for a club trying to defend the American League East title.

Bud Norris might be the most interesting case of any of the Baltimore starting pitchers at the moment. The 30-year-old is out of options and is coming off arguably the best season of his career, but he has dealt with back stiffness this spring while posting a 9.26 ERA, which includes nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.

It would be crass to draw a strong conclusion from such a small sample size, but Norris’ struggles might indicate his back is a bigger problem than he’s leading on. Either way, the Orioles need to see better results from the right-hander in his final outings before the start of the season or they may need to look at his health with more scrutiny. The bullpen would also be a possibility for Norris should his woes continue over the next couple weeks and into the regular season.

So, how should the Orioles proceed if we’re to assume Jimenez begins the season with a shot in the rotation?

It isn’t the worst problem to have, but there’s no easy answer for Showalter with the season rapidly approaching. And whatever decision he makes will come while holding his breath that Jimenez’s improvement isn’t just a brief aberration.



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More comfortable Gausman primed for breakout season

Posted on 03 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Two years ago, the thought of starting the exhibition home opener might have created butterflies for Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman.

But after starting Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium last September and pitching to a 1.13 ERA out of the bullpen in the 2014 postseason, you’ll forgive the 24-year-old if he’s unmoved by what’s expected to be a one-inning stint at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on Wednesday. Now, familiarity is on Gausman’s side as he’s in the midst of his third spring training with the Orioles.

“I don’t know if I feel like I have less to prove, but I just feel more comfortable being around the guys,” Gausman said. “It’s just kind of knowing everybody. When you have that type of relationship where you can just go up and talk to anybody, obviously you feel more comfortable.”

Of course, Gausman hasn’t surprised anyone to this point as he was immediately labeled one of baseball’s best prospects upon being selected fourth overall out of Louisiana State in the 2012 amateur draft. After spending most of his major league time in the bullpen in his rookie season two years ago, Gausman blossomed into a dependable member of a rotation in 2014 that finished fifth in the American League with a 3.61 starter ERA.

In 20 starts, Gausman went 7-7 with a 3.57 ERA, but his 3.41 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark that measures only the factors a pitcher fully controls — strikeouts, walks, home runs, and hit batsmen — was the best among the Orioles’ six regular starters. His success last season at the age of 23 as well as a high-90s fastball and devastating split-changeup are reasons why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was repeatedly predicting a breakout 2015 campaign for Gausman this winter.

Counting the postseason and his minor-league work, Gausman pitched 166 2/3 innings last year and is aiming to approach the 200-inning mark this season. The overwhelming sentiment shared by teammates and coaches alike is that it’s only a matter of Gausman gaining experience and being himself to realize his full potential that many believe is becoming a top-of-the-rotation starter one day.

“He’s got a great head on his shoulders and he’s got the arm,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “It’s just a matter of trusting the process and letting it all play out. I think we get in trouble when we try and force things and then some anxiety sets in. As long as you keep letting the process play out and trust what you’re doing, he’s going to have a good chance to succeed.”

Gausman acknowledges not yet being a finished product as he’d like to improve a slider that’s been little more than a “show-me” pitch in his first two major league seasons. Often picking the brains of teammates about how they throw their own versions of the pitch, Gausman is sticking with the same grip he used last season and feels he’s had some success with it when working in relief the last two years.

Primarily relying on throwing his power fastball down in the zone while mixing in a wicked split-change, Gausman threw his slider just 7.2 percent of the time last season. Some also believe the right-hander needs to mix in more high fastballs to induce more swinging strikes — his 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings rate in 2014 was rather ordinary for a pitcher with his impressive stuff — but Gausman allowed only seven home runs in 113 1/3 innings, an improvement from the eight he allowed in 47 2/3 innings in 2013.

The continued development of a third pitch — either the slider or a circle changeup he mixed in 3.7 percent of the time last season — would go a long way in not only cementing Gausman’s place in the Baltimore rotation but establishing him as one of the better pitchers in the AL.

“One thing that nobody realizes is I don’t throw [the slider] very much, so I don’t get those reps as much as I should,” Gausman said. “That’s one thing I wanted to focus on this [spring] is throwing it a little bit more and kind of get that feedback from hitters. This is when you get your work in and your bullpens. You get to work on stuff that normally during the season you’re not going to work on. Just refining those things and making sure that I’m as ready as can be for Opening Day and beyond that.”

Gausman hopes he’s landed in the major leagues for good — his performance in 2014 supports that argument — but a crowded starting rotation that includes Ubaldo Jimenez and the three years that remain of his $50 million contract could complicate matters. No stranger to the Baltimore-to-Norfolk express over the last two years, Gausman and fellow starter Miguel Gonzalez both have a minor-league option remaining, which means either could land in Triple A depending on how manager Buck Showalter elects to handle his pitching staff.

Either pitcher could also land in the bullpen to begin the season while the Orioles try to maximize their return on Jimenez, who lost his rotation spot in the second half of 2014 despite making $11.25 million in his first season in Baltimore.

Even if Gausman heads north as a member of the staff in April, he knows there’s a good chance he’ll find himself optioned to Norfolk at some point during the season. It’s just the way Showalter and the Orioles operate in trying to keep their bullpen healthy for a 162-game marathon even though the young pitcher credits being able to get into a regular routine of pitching every fifth day as a major reason for his success in the second half last season.

“It’s just a part of it. Talking with other guys – [Chris] Tillman, [Brian] Matusz, guys like that – they’ve all gone through it,” Gausman said. “I don’t take it personally at all. At first, I kind of used to, but then I realized it’s a business and it’s all about winning and protecting those guys out of the bullpen. If we have everybody throw in one game and go into extras and we need to option somebody to bring up a healthy arm, it’s probably going to be me. That’s just something I’ve come to realize. The more you kind of just deal with it yourself, you don’t have to deal with it when it comes up.”

As many pundits have pointed to the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and top reliever Andrew Miller as reasons why the Orioles won’t succeed in defending their AL East title, Gausman and others have taken exception to the way the pitching staff has been overlooked after finishing third in the AL in team ERA last season.

The Orioles remind doubters that they already had one of the best bullpens in the league and were in first place before they acquired Miller at the end of July.

But Gausman blossoming into a top starting pitcher this season would go a long way in improving Baltimore’s chances of advancing to the playoffs for the third time in four years.

“People forget how good we were before Miller got here,” Gausman said. “Our bullpen was one of the best in baseball before we even had him. We’re very confident in that. Us starting pitchers, we had a great season last year.

“I think we kind of finally put ourselves on the map — maybe put a little bit of a target on our back now. But that’s just something you deal with when you have success.”

Based on the success he’s already had in his young career, Gausman will be perfectly fine with that target.

You can listen to my entire chat with Gausman from Sarasota HERE.

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Jones defends Markakis’ strong words about Orioles departure

Posted on 26 February 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 12:00 p.m.)

SARASOTA, Fla. — The biggest headline stemming from Thursday’s workout in Sarasota involved a player who’s no longer with the Orioles.

More than two months after signing a four-year, $44 million with the Atlanta Braves, Nick Markakis fired a shot at the way the Orioles and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette handled negotiations. The 31-year-old underwent neck surgery Dec. 17 for a herniated disc he’s dealt with for two years, and the Orioles were concerned with the latest magnetic resonance imaging exam, prompting them to lower their initial offer of four years to three.

“Don’t believe a word they say,” Markakis said to USA TODAY on Wednesday. “It was all because of my neck. They can say what they want to make them look good. It’s all B.S.”

Center fielder Adam Jones was asked about his former teammate’s comments and expressed satisfaction that the normally-quiet Markakis spoke his mind.

Told Duquette had confirmed that the neck was a concern from the Orioles’ perspective, Jones still took exception to the timing of the comments after Markakis had already departed. The center fielder credited Markakis for playing through the neck issues over the last couple years, citing that nearly every player in baseball deals with various ailments over the course of a season.

“Now you want to say it two months later,” said Jones of Duquette. “Let’s say it when everybody is wanting to know right then and now. But it always comes out later. That’s just how this game is.”

Truthfully, Duquette acknowledged in early December that the Orioles had “concern that made the terms an issue” as it was reported at the time that the neck was a clear holdup. Markakis may have legitimate gripes about the way negotiations were handled behind closed doors, but Duquette going public about the health issues could have easily hurt the right fielder’s value in free agency with any team vying for his services.

In that regard, the Orioles might have actually been doing Markakis a favor.

It’s also worth noting that the Braves sold off a number of players this offseason after signing Markakis, making it likely he’ll be playing for a club with little chance of winning in 2015. Maybe some underlying frustration exists after he took Atlanta’s offer? Markakis hopes to be ready for Opening Day, but that isn’t a certainty, according to reports from Braves camp.

Meanwhile, the Orioles will try to turn to page without Markakis or 2014 home run king Nelson Cruz, who signed with Seattle in the offseason. Jones admits he’ll have to get used to someone different manning right field after spending the last seven years with the same guy.

“It’s going to be different looking to my left not having Markakis there just like it’s going to be different for Orioles fans knowing that 21’s not in right,” Jones said. “He’s been there for nine years, but it’s baseball. Cal [Ripken] retired, and somebody had to fill in. The game is going to continue. 2015 Opening Day’s not going to be halted because we don’t have Markakis. It’s just an adjustment we’re going to have to make. I think we’re going to be fine.”

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Cabrera offers different skill set to second base mix

Posted on 25 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — After several days of anticipation as he finally resolved a lingering legal issue, infielder Everth Cabrera has officially joined the Orioles.

What the organization gets from the former San Diego Padres shortstop is anyone’s guess as the 28-year-old went from being an All-Star selection in 2013 to being suspended 50 games for the Biogenesis later that year and followed that disappointment with an injury-riddled campaign in which he was limited to 90 games in 2014. Cabrera hit only .232 with a .572 on-base plug slugging percentage last season, but his 99 stolen bases over the last three years provide some appeal for a club that ranked last in the majors in that department a season ago.

Signing the Nicaraguan infielder to a one-year, $2.4 million contract, the Orioles like his upside that is accompanied by a remaining minor-league option.

“He’s young, he’s hungry, he made the All Star team in 2013,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “He can play a premium, skilled defensive position. He’s a switch hitter. He’s an outstanding baserunner and a premium base stealer. He’s got a lot of assets that can help the ball club and I’m sure we will find some good spots for him to help us win some ballgames.”

How Cabrera will fit into the picture remains to be seen. Starting second baseman Jonathan Schoop and utility infielder Ryan Flaherty appeared to be virtual locks for roster spots entering spring training, but Cabrera provides an element of speed that the other two don’t possess.

Considered the second baseman of the future by many, the 23-year-old Schoop posted a .598 OPS and walked only 13 times in 481 plate appearances during his rookie season. It’s possible that Cabrera might push Schoop for the starting job, but a more likely outcome would be him winning the utility infielder job from Flaherty.

After accepting a plea deal that included a fine, community service, and probation stemming from a resisting arrest charge last fall, Cabrera will now focus on proving the Orioles were wise to take a chance on him after two tumultuous seasons.

“I always think every spring training that I’ve got to compete,” said Cabrera, who spent much of the winter strengthening his hamstrings after injuries took their toll last year. “I don’t care where they’re going to put me. I’m going to play hard, and I’m going to compete every single day when they give me the opportunity to play.”

Cabrera will be busy this season getting acclimated to multiple infield positions after spending his entire career at shortstop for the Padres. He’s appeared in just 12 games at second base and only one at third base in his six-year major league career.

Manager Buck Showalter will give Cabrera every opportunity to prove himself to be worthy of a roster spot this spring, but he acknowledges not being overly familiar with the National League West in terms of evaluating the division’s talent. His speed on the bases is an obvious asset, but Cabrera will need to prove himself defensively before Showalter strongly considers using him in place of Schoop at second or designates him the primary utility man over Flaherty.

Keeping Schoop, Flaherty, and Cabrera on the 25-man roster appears to be unlikely, making the veteran’s signing an intriguing storyline to monitor this spring.

“He’s been doing a lot of work and had a very diligent offseason. I think the timing’s good with him,” said Showalter, who admitted Cabrera resolving his legal issues was a “prerequisite” to completing a deal. “This guy a lot of people considered one of the better infielders in the National League a couple years ago.

“We’ll see where the need is of the club and see if he can fit the need. He gives us some flexibility.”

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