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Orioles can only look forward in trying to erase ALCS deficit

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Orioles can only look forward in trying to erase ALCS deficit

Posted on 12 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It felt as though the momentum was finally shifting in the Orioles’ direction.

Tied 4-4 with the Kansas City Royals in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, the Orioles had just gunned down pinch runner Jarrod Dyson trying to steal on a perfect throw from catcher Caleb Joseph and retired the side a moment later when Eric Hosmer flied out to center. A sold-out crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards that balanced enthusiasm with concern for much of the evening could sense the Orioles were on the verge of finally breaking through for their first in-game lead of the series.

Those cheers only grew louder as Nick Markakis reached on an error by reliever Kelvin Herrera and Alejandro De Aza walked to start the inning, bringing the heart of the order to the plate. Even after Adam Jones swung through three straight pitches, spirits were once again elevated when Nelson Cruz singled to left to load the bases with one out for Steve Pearce and J.J. Hardy.

But instead of the Orioles pushing runs across the plate, Kansas City delivered a body blow as Pearce popped to shallow left and Hardy flied out to right. The threat was over with no damage done.

Two innings later, an infield dribbler, a sacrifice bunt, and Escobar’s sharp grounder inside the first-base bag gave Kansas City the lead and a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series as they went on to win 6-4 on Saturday.

The saying goes that you’d rather be lucky than good, but the Royals have been lucky and good in putting the Orioles on the ropes as the teams now travel to Kansas City for the next three games of the series. Sure, the upstart Royals have benefited from a number of broken-bat hits, bloopers, and dribblers in the first two games of the series, but they’ve also homered four times, pitched tremendously in relief, and put at least one runner on base in 18 of their 19 innings at the plate in the ALCS.

“The hot team makes things go their way,” said closer Zach Britton, who surrendered Escobar’s game-winning double in the top of the ninth. “They are hot, they beat [the Los Angeles Angels], and they are continuing that right now. We scored some runs, and we’re not able to shut them down. The big key — if we want to win this series — is when we get that momentum, keeping it on our side.”

No, the Orioles haven’t been firing on all cylinders as their starting pitching has been poor and normally-reliable relievers Darren O’Day and Britton have struggled, but they’ve lost two games by a combined four runs with Kansas City scoring the winning runs in the final inning each time. It isn’t a case of the Royals being dramatically better, but Ned Yost’s club has endured every shot from the Orioles and returned one just a little bit stronger.

Baltimore now faces a steep climb to get back in the series as no team has ever won an LCS after dropping Games 1 and 2 at home. But there have been teams to bounce back from that same scenario in the World Series as the 1996 New York Yankees were embarrassed by the Atlanta Braves in the first two games in the Bronx before they won four straight for their first championship in 18 years. The 1985 Royals and 1986 Mets also won titles after dropping World Series Games 1 and 2 at home, so the chore isn’t impossible, even if unlikely.

The Orioles can either roll over for the red-hot Royals, who’ve won all six postseason games they’ve played, or they can focus on a simple task. Facing former Oriole Jeremy Guthrie in Game 3, the Orioles need an early lead to lift their in-game spirits and a win on Monday. That’s all they can try to control at this point.

“You’ve got to earn everything, every inning, every at‑bat,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Like I said last night, you can’t bottle the concentration level and everything that goes into these games. Humanly, you couldn’t do it for the 200 games we play a year. You see at this time of year guys are firing, and you’re getting the best from everybody.”

While many are now counting out the Orioles more because of Kansas City’s current play and karma than anything else, one of Baltimore’s biggest strengths under Showalter has been an ability to compartmentalize every game and every series over the course of a 162-game schedule. Rarely have we witnessed the Orioles too high after an important win or too low after a significant loss.

The atmosphere in the clubhouse following Saturday’s defeat was predictably quiet, but center fielder Adam Jones wasn’t about to concede anything to the Royals after they handed the Orioles consecutive defeats at Camden Yards for the first time since June 28-29.

“The series ain’t over. If you guys are thinking it’s over, why are we going to show up on Monday?” Jones said. “We’ve got a lot of baseball to play in this series. Let’s get back after it. We’re going to go to [Kansas City]. We’ve been a very good team on the road, so let’s go there and have some fun. Eat some barbecue.”

For a club that’s endured season-ending injuries and suspensions to All-Star players while still winning 99 games counting the playoffs, a 2-0 deficit in the ALCS is the latest trial to overcome. It won’t be easy as Kansas City holds a whirlwind of momentum that started with an improbable win over Oakland in the AL Wild Card Game.

Ultimately, it could just be the Royals’ year when we look back at the 2014 postseason.

But the first challenge for the Orioles moving forward is to win on Monday to make it a 2-1 deficit and put a little pressure on the Royals as they play in front of their home crowd. Kansas City has embraced the role of being the underdog this month, so it will be interesting to see how Yost’s players respond to being the favorite for at least the next couple games.

If the Orioles needed it, the speedy outfielder Dyson even offered some bulletin board material when asked by the Kansas City Star whether he expected the series to return to Baltimore.

“I don’t. And I don’t think they think that, either.”

Baltimore went 46-35 on the road, so maybe a day off and the opportunity to play away from the home crowd will allow the Orioles to reset mentally. The prospects of winning two of three in Kansas City — where the Royals were only 42-39 this year — aren’t impossible if the Orioles stay true to themselves in their style of play, which is pretty darn good despite the results of Games 1 and 2 that can’t be changed.

A 2-0 deficit can’t be erased entirely in one contest, but a win in Game 3 would sure make things far more interesting.

“We had chances and we just didn’t get it done,” Jones said. “Plain and simple. Ain’t no excuses in here. Take it to K.C. and get back after it.”

That’s been the mindset under Showalter for the last three winning seasons, and it’s the reason not to throw in the towel on the 2014 season just yet.

Perhaps the Orioles have a few body blows of their own to stun the Royals with before this series is over.

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Late innings suddenly not so comfortable for Orioles

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Late innings suddenly not so comfortable for Orioles

Posted on 11 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Amidst changing faces and three different closers over the last three seasons, Darren O’Day has remained the backbone of the Orioles bullpen.

We saw it firsthand against the Kansas City Royals in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series as he inherited a disastrous situation created by closer Zach Britton in the ninth inning and induced a 6-4-3 double play from designated hitter Billy Butler to escape a bases-loaded jam and keep the Orioles tied 5-5.

But the right-hander’s fortunes changed in the top of the 10th as Alex Gordon led off with a tie-breaking homer to help send Kansas City to an 8-6 win on Friday night. In isolation, the Orioles could chalk it up as a rare mistake for the submarine pitcher who posted a 1.70 ERA in the regular season, but Gordon’s blast continued a disturbing trend that began right around Labor Day.

After allowing only three home runs in the first five months of the season, O’Day has now surrendered five long balls since Sept. 2, with four of them against left-handed hitters. Batters from that side of the plate hit only .189 against him in the regular season, but O’Day’s recent difficulty against left-handed bats suddenly makes the Orioles’ back-end trio of Britton, O’Day, and Andrew Miller appear mortal. And it spells trouble against a lineup featuring Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas.

“Highs and lows of playoff baseball,” O’Day said. “I came in the inning before and got out of a situation you don’t expect to get out of and, as easy as that, just like I’m throwing batting practice, I gave up a home run. I take great pride in being able to get left-handers [out]. Lately, I haven’t been. Forget getting them out. You have to keep guys in the yard, left- or right-handed.”

Of course, O’Day wasn’t the only factor in explaining why the Orioles lost their first game of the postseason Friday as starter Chris Tillman struggled, the offense squandered some golden opportunities, and the defense missed a chance to limit the damage in a four-run fourth. But in a series in which the Orioles face a bullpen as imposing as their own, O’Day’s vulnerability against left-handed hitters could make for a trying series.

Since the acquisition of Miller, Baltimore has flourished while often creating a six-inning game for opponents with O’Day and the former Boston Red Sox lefty handling the seventh and the eighth before Britton would slam the door in the ninth. But it doesn’t take much for a bullpen to suddenly find itself in disarray.

As anyone in baseball will tell you, there’s nothing more volatile than relief pitching.

Just ask former Oriole Jim Johnson, who went from record-setting closer to unemployed in less than two years. He’s still trying to fully pick up the pieces from his failures in the AL Division Series against the New York Yankees two years ago.

“They’re good hitters and they’re good pitchers, and sometimes it doesn’t work out,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Those guys that all pitched tonight are the reason we’re sitting here playing a seven-game series for the American League championship. It will continue tomorrow.”

Showalter will continue to go with O’Day and Britton just as he should. As spectacular as Miller has been in the postseason — tossing 4 2/3 scoreless innings — he can’t pitch multiple innings every night in a best-of-seven series.

Britton expressed confidence after the Game 1 loss that his wildness was an aberration, but Friday’s outing in which he threw only five strikes out of 20 total pitches did follow a shaky ninth-inning performance in Game 3 of the ALDS in which he allowed back-to-back doubles and needed a 5-4-3 double play to close out the series. You have to trust – and hope – his inability to throw strikes against the Royals in Game 1 was more a product of having not pitched in four days and not evidence of developing the yips on the second-biggest stage you’ll find in the majors.

The left-handed closer held up just fine pitching in the first two games of the ALDS, which earns him some benefit of the doubt.

But O’Day’s vulnerability against left-handed pitching has now lasted the better part of six weeks. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen this from the veteran as lefty hitters batted .309 with five home runs against him in 2013, but it does complicate the bullpen’s pecking order if he can’t be trusted in certain situations.

Lefty specialist Brian Matusz certainly didn’t inspire confidence later in the 10th by allowing a two-run homer to the lefty-hitting Moustakas, which ended up being the difference in the game after the Orioles staged their 10th-inning rally.

It could mean a few more high-leverage opportunities for the 23-year-old Kevin Gausman, but Showalter wants to use the right-hander to bridge the gap to the late innings if a starter runs into trouble as we saw with Tillman on Friday and Wei-Yin Chen in Game 2 of the Division Series last week.

To be clear, the Orioles shouldn’t panic after their series-opening defeat as 13 of 28 Game 1 losers have recovered to win the ALCS since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1985. Showalter will continue to ride the horses that got the Orioles to this point, and there’s a track record to suggest they’ll bounce back for the remainder of the series.

But with O’Day’s recent struggles against lefties and Britton’s alarming lack of control Friday night, the late innings suddenly aren’t as comfortable as they’ve been for most of the season.

And that will make you hold your breath even more when you’re just four victories away from advancing to the World Series — and now three losses from elimination.

“We will go get them [Saturday],” Britton said. “We have to win four, and it doesn’t matter what four you win so we’ll bounce back [Saturday]. We’ve done it before.”

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Orioles’ strengths, Detroit’s weaknesses surface in Game 1

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Orioles’ strengths, Detroit’s weaknesses surface in Game 1

Posted on 03 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — An eight-run inning naturally changed the narrative of the Orioles’ 12-3 win over the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, but the winning formula was already in place.

A couple home runs, solid starting pitching, and a bullpen as effective as any in the game had put the Orioles in position to seize the opening game of the series before they came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning. And that’s when Detroit’s biggest weaknesses surfaced in transforming a tightly-contested 4-3 game into a blowout before a maniacal 47,842 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Thursday night.

No, the formula wasn’t flawless as starter Chris Tillman’s high pitch count chased him after five innings and right-hander Darren O’Day surrendered a solo shot to Miguel Cabrera in the eighth, but manager Buck Showalter made it clear he was going to use his best bullpen assets — the trio of Andrew Miller, O’Day, and closer Zach Britton — to protect the opportunity. With Tillman at 105 pitches, Showalter went right to Miller in the sixth inning with the heart of the Detroit lineup — Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez — due up.

The big guns needed to be ready a little earlier than usual.

“We’ve talked to them since the season was over about how this was going to work,” Showalter said. “The way we have normally used them, they know that it’s all hands on deck. And it felt like that spot of their order was good for Andrew. And the next group of guys was good for Darren. I knew that I would pitch Zach in the eighth inning.”

Miller responded with 1 2/3 innings and O’Day got through an inning before allowing the homer to Cabrera. Britton then retired the only batter he faced to conclude the top of the eighth.

We’ll never know if the first-year closer would have pitched a clean ninth for the first four-out save of his career, because the Orioles lineup took advantage of the Tigers’ biggest deficiencies in the bottom half of the inning.

Despite the Tigers owning a more-balanced offense and the last three AL Cy Young Award winners in their rotation, their bullpen and defense lag far behind the Orioles in those areas, which led to their demise in turning a winnable contest into a humbling defeat. Errors by shortstop Andrew Romine and center fielder Rajai Davis didn’t help, but the trio of Joba Chamberlain, Joakim Soria, and Phil Coke only reinforced the many concerns about the Detroit bullpen throughout the season.

In contrast, the Orioles played crisp defense and allowed only one run in four innings of relief to go up 1-0 in the best-of-five series.

“I feel like everybody’s clicking right now at the same time,” said Miller, who expressed no concerns about bouncing back quickly after matching a season-high 32 pitches. “If you can get the ball to the next guy, we’re going to be in good shape. You trust that you go in there and give it your best until you run out of gas, and Buck asks the next guy to come in and we’re going to be pretty good.”

The offensive explosion in the Orioles’ final turn at the plate made the outcome elementary, but it will be interesting to see how Showalter handles his staff with such a quick turnaround Friday afternoon.

Game 2 starter Wei-Yin Chen will have his work cut out for him against a lineup that hit a league-leading .285 against left-handed pitching in the regular season, making you think the Orioles would be happy if he can give them five or six innings while keeping the score close. You’d imagine Showalter would prefer to stay away from Miller on Friday, but O’Day only threw 16 pitches and Britton five, meaning both will be available on Friday.

Perhaps we’ll see the flame-throwing Kevin Gausman as the change of pace behind Chen to bridge the gap to the late innings and put the Orioles in position to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Whatever the case, Showalter has options in the bullpen unlike Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who probably felt he was only throwing gasoline on the fire that was the bottom of the eighth.

On Thursday night, Baltimore’s biggest strengths and the Tigers’ most painful weaknesses came into focus, and it resulted in a convincing win for the Orioles.

“It’s a different season. It’s a different set of rules,” Showalter said. “Everything is different. Now your team has to make the adjustments, and I think our guys know that. We’ve got to figure out how to win two more games from these guys. It’s going to be tough.”

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Keeping eye on Orioles bullpen in September

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Keeping eye on Orioles bullpen in September

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

There’s little to be concerned about with the Orioles enjoying a 9 1/2 game lead in the American League East entering the weekend, but the late innings of Thursday’s 9-7 win over the Cincinnati Reds suggest there might be something worth monitoring in the short-term future.

The Orioles bullpen has been stellar all season, ranking fourth in the AL with a 3.21 ERA, but there have been a few leaks over the last week that likely grabbed the attention of manager Buck Showalter. Baltimore relievers only rank sixth in the AL in innings pitched, which doesn’t indicate overuse being a major concern, but witnessing Brian Matusz and the newly-recalled Evan Meek warm up in the eighth inning of a two-run game Thursday — the night after Miguel Gonzalez had pitched a complete-game shutout to give the entire bullpen a night off — made it clear that Showalter didn’t have his full array of arms.

Left-handed reliever Andrew Miller is currently dealing with a tweaked hamstring and hasn’t pitched since Monday when he allowed two hits and an earned run while retiring only two batters. The former Boston reliever has downplayed the significance of his injury, but it’s clear the Orioles manager was trying to avoid using him this week.

Outstanding right-hander Darren O’Day not warming up after Tommy Hunter allowed a leadoff double in the eighth inning Thursday makes you wonder if he might be dealing with a physical challenge as well. O’Day did throw 26 pitches in a rare poor appearance Tuesday when he allowed a grand slam to Jay Bruce, but the submarine-style pitcher only seeing one appearance since Saturday is a little unusual.

Right-hander Brad Brach has been one of the better stories of the 2014 season, but the 28-year-old has allowed five earned runs, nine hits, and three walks in his last three innings of work spanning five appearances. His four runs allowed Thursday allowed the Reds to come back from what was originally a 6-0 deficit in the first inning to force a 7-7 tie in the seventh.

And even though closer Zach Britton continues to do remarkable work in the ninth, he ranks eighth in the majors in innings pitched by relievers and recently completed a stretch in which he appeared in five games in seven days. The former starting pitcher is used to a heavy volume of work, but pitching so frequently is a difficult adjustment for someone in his first season pitching in relief.

By no means should these factors instill any sense of panic, but they do provide evidence for Showalter to make use of his September bullpen that currently features 11 pitchers. The manager has already said he won’t change his managerial style before the Orioles potentially clinch their first division title since 1997, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to lighten the load for the key members of his bullpen such as Britton, O’Day, and Miller while passing a few more opportunities toward the likes of Hunter, Matusz, Ryan Webb, T.J.McFarland, and even veteran Joe Saunders.

It’s a careful balancing act as relievers need regular work to remain sharp, but there’s no question that Showalter will want to do everything he can to ensure that his late-inning weapons are as close to full strength as they can be in October.

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Orioles temporarily option Chen to minors to add extra bat off bench

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Orioles temporarily option Chen to minors to add extra bat off bench

Posted on 27 August 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles furthered their reputation for manipulating their roster as much as any club in the majors by optioning left-handed starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen to their Gulf Coast League affiliate and recalling catcher Steve Clevenger from Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday.

The procedural move provides another left-handed bat off the bench for manager Buck Showalter, but Chen will be allowed to be recalled for his regular turn to pitch against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. Since the Gulf Coast League completes its season on Thursday, the Taiwanese lefty would be eligible to return to the majors the following day and would not need to wait the normally-required 10-day minimum in the minors.

Clevenger was hitting .305 with two home runs and 30 runs batted in in 64 games for the Tides this season. He hit .240 in 26 games for the Orioles earlier this year. The Orioles have been playing with a three-man bench since recalling right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez and designating infielder Cord Phelps for assignment in Chicago on Sunday.

“We’ve been playing short a position player for a while,” Showalter said. “We thought this was an opportunity to take care of that problem and give us a better chance to win tonight. That’s what it’s about. And a better chance to win tomorrow night.”

Not factoring in the decision after his second-shortest outing of the season in Tuesday’s 4-2 win, Chen will pitch on regular rest despite Showalter briefly considering waiting to recall Chen until Monday when major league rosters will expand. The Orioles will need to make a temporary 25-man roster move to make room for Chen on Sunday.

Chen leads the Orioles with 13 wins and has posted a 3.76 ERA in 25 starts this season. The 29-year-old has allowed 158 hits, struck out 109, and walked 28 in 148 1/3 innings.

With Kevin Gausman, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez also possessing minor-league options and scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Orioles may choose to send down other starting pitchers over the next few days should a need arise.

“We’ll consider anything that gives us a better chance to win the game that night and doesn’t jeopardize anything we’re doing in the future down the road,” Showalter said. “We’ll see what the game brings tonight. We’ll let each game dictate where we are and what our needs are.”

Machado surgery successful

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado underwent successful surgery to repair a partially-torn ligament in his right knee.

Machado traveled to Los Angeles Tuesday before Dr. Neal ElAttrache — who handled last year’s surgery on his left knee — completed the procedure early Wednesday morning. The 22-year-old is expected to remain in California for the next three weeks before either traveling to Sarasota to continue rehabbing or rejoining the Orioles for a while.

“Manny’s surgery went real well. That was good to hear,” Showalter said. “Doctors say everything went well [and] as expected, without mentioning the doctor’s name. They had a good [grasp on] what they thought was going to happen and what they thought they were going to find.”

The Orioles and Machado expect his surgically-repaired knee to be 100 percent and cleared before the start of spring training.

Bundy ready for “normal” offseason

Pitching prospect Dylan Bundy visited Showalter and the Orioles to discuss his offseason plan on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old right-hander has nearly recovered from the lat strain that landed him on the disabled list and prematurely ended his season pitching for Single-A Frederick. Bundy is expected to participate in the Orioles’ Sarasota minicamp in late January.

“The goal and the hope now for him is to have a normal offseason of a healthy pitcher,” Showalter said. “They talked about him ending the season active and marked as healthy just so he can start his offseason, which in some cases would be doing nothing for a while. I think that would be good for him.”

Bundy made his return in June from last year’s Tommy John surgery, going 1-3 with a 3.27 ERA in nine starts spanning 41 1/3 innings split between short-season Single-A Aberdeen and high Single-A Frederick.

O’Day receives his due

Right-handed relief pitcher Darren O’Day has been exceptional since arriving in Baltimore in 2012 and received some novel recognition with his own T-shirt (below) given to fans before Wednesday night’s game.

“I’m glad [he's] being recognized,” said Showalter, who wasn’t aware of the O’Day T-shirt prior to Wednesday. “If you just throw a blanket over all relief pitchers, you can make a case there’s nobody in baseball having a better year out of the bullpen than Darren O’Day. This year, it’s been left, right, switch-hitters, it doesn’t matter. Darren’s just been solid.

“When you get your ERA under 1.00 with those amount of appearances, you’re not sneaking up on anybody. They all know what he features; they all know what he’s trying to do.”

O’Day is 4-1 with a 0.94 ERA in 57 2/3 innings of relief work, which includes 61 strikeouts and 16 walks.

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No easy answer for Orioles to solve closer dilemma

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No easy answer for Orioles to solve closer dilemma

Posted on 14 May 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles didn’t need a closer Wednesday afternoon as they were swept by the Detroit Tigers in a 7-5 final, but manager Buck Showalter offered few clues as to who might be taking the ball the next time his club has a save situation.

Struggling incumbent Tommy Hunter wasn’t ruled out by the Baltimore manager prior to the series finale against Detroit, but Showalter implied he would not receive the same leash as former Orioles closer Jim Johnson. Before being traded to Oakland over the winter, Johnson blew a career-high nine saves in 2013 but was only a year removed from an All-Star campaign in which he collected a franchise-record 51 saves for the playoff-bound Orioles.

“The difference between Tommy and Jimmy is, Jimmy had a track record,” said Showalter, alluding to the former entering the 2014 season with only four career saves. “Tommy does, too, in certain other things. So, there’s some unknown with where it is we’ll go with Tommy.”

Sporting a 6.60 earned run average and 1.87 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) so far this year, Hunter is on thin ice to put it mildly, but the Orioles knew this was a possibility when they elected not to sign an established closer after a two-year, $14 million agreement with Grant Balfour was scrapped due to a failed physical over the winter. The problem is figuring out where to turn next if three blown saves in 14 tries are enough in Showalter’s mind to demote Hunter from the role — at least temporarily.

Many have called for a closer-by-committee approach in which Showalter can play the matchups on any given night, but such a strategy only thrives with starting pitching that consistently works deep into games to leave some combination of the club’s top relievers available for the ninth inning and the opposing hitters it might bring. If the starting pitching is substandard,  a manager must then lean more on long and middle relief for the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, decreasing the likelihood of even getting to the ninth inning with a narrow lead intact.

Of course, the possibility of an outside addition exists as the Orioles still sit in first place in the American League East, but here’s an assessment of the most likely alternatives currently on the 25-man roster who would be in line to receive the ball in the ninth inning instead of Hunter:

RHP Darren O’Day (0.60 ERA, two saves)
Case for: The veteran sidearm pitcher has the longest track record with Showalter and has averaged 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, proving he misses plenty of bats despite his unorthodox style and underwhelming velocity.
Case against: Left-handed hitters batted .309 against him last season and have posted a .300 average so far this year, making him an easy target for opposing managers to use left-handed pinch hitters in the ninth inning.
Is he a good option to try next? Maybe, but O’Day would need to recapture the success he had against lefties in 2012 when they hit only .205 against him.

LHP Zach Britton (0.84 ERA)
Case for: The 26-year-old’s sinker has been devastating against nearly everyone he’s faced as right-handed hitters are batting .167 and lefties only .156 against him in 21 1/3 innings this season.
Case against: The left-hander has only been a reliever for seven weeks, and moving him to a defined closer role would mean he would no longer be stretched out enough to be able to save the bullpen as he has on a number of occasions already this season.
Is he a good option to try next? Yes, he’s the perfect example of riding the hot hand even if you’re concerned about rattling his confidence for the remainder of the season if he fails in the role.

RHP Ryan Webb (3.94 ERA)
Case for: His career splits against left-handers (.284) and right-handers (.238) are balanced enough to suggest he might be able to handle regular appearances in the ninth, and his sinker also plays well at Camden Yards.
Case against: His lifetime 1.36 WHIP is on the high side and his career 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings isn’t ideal for the closer role where you typically want a pitcher to miss more bats.
Good option to try next? Yes, Webb’s splits aren’t dramatically skewed to one side of the plate or the other unlike other candidates currently in the bullpen, and he has more relief experience than most in the Baltimore bullpen.

LHP Brian Matusz (3.46 ERA)
Case for: Lefties hit only .168 against the southpaw in 2013 and his background being stretched out as a starter as recently as spring training suggests he may have the durability for a regular closer role.
Case against: His 1.77 WHIP so far this season is far too high, right-handed batters hit .302 against him last season, and he’s more valuable as a lefty specialist to use in a big spot against an imposing left-handed bat such as Boston’s David Ortiz.
Good option to try next? No, Matusz simply hasn’t been effective enough this season and right-handers feast on his stuff too often to take him out of his current specialist role.

Who should be next in line for the closer job? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

 

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Positive signs all around for the O’s

Posted on 03 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

The Orioles earned their 48th win of the season tonight with a 4-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. Tonight’s game was a complete 180 from last night’s 5-2 loss. Tomorrow, the teams will square off at 2:10 p.m. to determine the winner of the series.

Tonight’s game was filled with positive signs. Scott Feldman made his Orioles debut and was as advertised. Feldman went six innings while giving up two earned runs and six hits. Feldman will be able to eat up more innings but the fact that he was thrown into the fire and performed well was impressive to me.

As always, the bullpen was stellar. Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter, and Jim Johnson pitched one inning a piece and gave up just one combined hit through the three remaining innings.

How could there be an Orioles blog without mentioning Chris Davis? The man is crazy good. We are truly watching one of the greatest regular seasons in baseball history! Davis scored a run, knocked in three more, and is now hitting for an average of .331.

Davis has hit nine RBI in his last four games which date back to June 29 against the New York Yankees. Davis’s stats will continue on their record pace and could even improve. If Brian Roberts can be productive at the bottom of the order, he will act as another lead off man which in turn will put more men on base for the offense.

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Your Monday Reality Check: Unlike would-be assailants, Buck rises above fray

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Your Monday Reality Check: Unlike would-be assailants, Buck rises above fray

Posted on 24 June 2013 by Glenn Clark

There are a few of you who I’m assuming were forced to find a new baseball team to root for Sunday night.

Actually, I’m probably speaking to a smaller audience as many of you jumped ship to become fans of the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees or Washington Nationals or some other team.

No? So you’re telling me you don’t know ANYONE who posted something on Saturday night saying something along the lines of “If the Orioles don’t put one in Jose Bautista’s ear Sunday I’ll lose all respect for Buck Showalter and stop rooting for them”?

I’m not talking about a large group of people who suggested they would swear off the team. There were certainly a few, and many more who suggested they would lose respect for the skipper even if they didn’t stop rooting for the team.

The Baltimore Orioles were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend, a disappointing series outcome even against a red hot Jays team that has now won 11 straight games. In Saturday’s 4-2 loss, Jose Bautista hit a tie-breaking two run bomb in the 8th inning. As he rounded third base, Bautista offered the following gesture to Birds reliever Darren O’Day…

It was immediately pointed out by many that O’Day had been a bit animated himself Friday night when he recorded a big seventh inning strikeout of Bautista in the Birds’ 7-6 loss. However quite a few Birds fans (clearly frustrated by seeing the bullpen falter for the second consecutive evening) took to social media to suggest Bautista’s gesture fell into the area of baseball’s “unwritten rules” and meant an O’s pitcher might need to go head hunting Sunday.

I immediately responded to those thoughts with a post at the WNST.net Facebook page Saturday afternoon…

I would share the responses to my post, but they aren’t particularly family friendly. I mean, am I even allowed to share “Go Fist Yourself” as one particularly deranged commenter suggested I do?

Multiple posts suggested I was unaware of baseball’s “unwritten rules” and therefore incapable of doing my job. Those people (of course) couldn’t be further from being accurate. Not only am I aware of the “unwritten rules”, I through a high-five the day Maxim shredded them because I know them well enough to absolutely detest them.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

Posted on 12 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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

BALTIMORE — It’s only getting worse for Orioles relief pitcher Pedro Strop.

Fresh off a stint on the 15-day disabled list with what was labeled a lower back strain — many have drawn their owns conclusions on the injury — Strop displayed the same form seen over the first two months of the season Wednesday as he allowed four earned runs and saw his ERA balloon to 7.58 while retiring just one batter in the seventh inning. The implosion turned what was a 4-2 Orioles lead into an eventual 9-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

Despite a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a slider with good movement that enabled him to serve as an elite member of the Baltimore bullpen through the first 4 1/2 months of the 2012 season, Strop is looking more and more like a pitcher whose time with the Orioles is running out.

“Not good,” Strop said in an interview with MASN before leaving the clubhouse as the rest of the media talked to manager Buck Showalter. “Only thing I can say. I couldn’t do the job.”

The Orioles aren’t hiding from Strop’s problems, evident by their decision to place him on the DL and circumvent the reality of the right-hander being out of options. Manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair used the 15-day period as a way for Strop to work on his mechanics in hopes of improving his command after he walked 14 batters in 17 2/3 innings through his first 22 appearances.

However, the organization decided not to send Strop on a minor-league rehab assignment that could have lasted up to 30 days and would have allowed him to continue working on adjustments to his mechanics while rebuilding his confidence against minor-league hitters. There was some thought of that possibility before last week’s oblique injury to Steve Johnson, which prompted the club to activate Strop instead of looking to Triple-A Norfolk for another option.

Even before Wednesday’s implosion, it was perplexing to see the Orioles forgo that strategy with nearly everyone concluding his DL stint was more about ineffectiveness than any legitimate health concern.

It’s understandable to not want to give up on a talented 28-year-old who only became a pitcher in 2006 after beginning his professional career as a shortstop. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette knows at least a few clubs would take a chance on Strop should he be placed on waivers in hopes of getting him to the minor leagues, but the Orioles are also a contending club in the American League East that needs production from every player on the 25-man roster.

“He’s just not getting results,” Showalter said. “He understands it. Nobody cares more about pitching well for this team than Pete.”

It’s easy to criticize Showalter for turning to the volatile Strop after starter Jason Hammel allowed a single to Alberto Callaspo and walked Brad Hawpe on four pitches to begin the seventh inning, but a quick inventory of the bullpen made it easy to see Showalter’s options were limited at best as he acknowledged “two or three” relievers were unavailable without revealing names. Closer Jim Johnson had pitched in three straight games and Tommy Hunter had thrown a total of 51 pitches on Sunday and Monday.

Showalter wouldn’t reveal his late-inning plans when asked, but that presumably left Darren O’Day available for the ninth inning and lefty Brian Matusz to pitch the eighth. As a result, Showalter faced the prospects of sending a tiring Hammel out for the seventh with 94 pitches under his belt and having Strop and lefty Troy Patton — who’s also struggled this season — as his options if the starter ran into trouble. Showalter was rolling the dice for a quick inning by Hammel, but the right-hander was obviously gassed before being replaced by Strop.

Perhaps the Orioles manager could have resisted the urge to use Hammel — who wasn’t exactly dominating hitters despite a statistically-effective outing through six innings — with the thought of a fresh inning with the bases empty being more conducive to Strop having success, but that’s looking with 20-20 hindsight. The reality is Showalter didn’t have great choices at his disposal in the seventh.

“I was hoping [Hammel] could get us through seven, but it wasn’t there,” Showalter said. “That’s kind of where we were. We keep a pretty good log on innings pitched and [pitchers warming up in the bullpen], and I’m not going to put anybody in harm’s way.”

The real issue with the Orioles bullpen is more concerning than the individual struggles of Strop. Beyond the reliable quartet of Johnson, O’Day, Matusz, and Hunter, the Orioles have three other pitchers in the bullpen — Strop, Patton, and Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland — that they can’t really trust in important situations. All have long-term potential to varying degrees, but none can be moved off the 25-man roster without significant risk of losing them.

In fairness, McFarland has pitched respectably as a long reliever in blowout situations, but that’s a role typically held by a pitcher who can easily be moved on and off the roster to address a club’s needs at a given point in the season. It’s a major reason why we saw the one-and-done approach applied with several ineffective starting pitchers earlier in the season and it has further hamstrung the roster flexibility that Showalter and Duquette enjoy having.

The Orioles’ problems in middle relief have led to a heavier dependence on their best relievers, which jeopardizes the club’s long-term viability for the second half of the season. It’s not uncommon for even the best teams in baseball to have shaky options beyond the top three or four pitchers in the bullpen, but the keystone of the Orioles’ 2012 success included the effectiveness of middle relievers like Luis Ayala and Patton in the sixth and seventh innings that spared other late-inning options on occasion.

Baltimore needs improvement from its middle relievers or starting pitching — preferably both — to improve its chances in a tight division in which fourth-place Tampa Bay trailed first-place Boston by only four games entering play on Wednesday.

“We can’t pitch the same guys every night,” he said. “It just doesn’t work, and [Strop] was one of those guys for us last year and has been at times this year, and we hope that he will again. He pitched well and got physically fine and had a couple really good outings, as you saw. It just wasn’t there for him today.”

Bullpens are typically quite fluid over the course of a season, but the Orioles currently have just two pitchers (Matusz and O’Day) with remaining minor-league options and they obviously aren’t going anywhere. That means time is running out for Strop — you can say the same for Patton — to right himself after roughly four months of struggles going back to last year’s regular season.

The talent is there, but the Orioles need last year’s effectiveness to resurface.

They don’t have the flexibility to wait much longer.

 

 

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Orioles Relievers In Need of Relief

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Orioles Relievers In Need of Relief

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

There are lots of theories about what’s been wrong with Jim Johnson over the last week or so. The analysis (or over-analysis) of baseball can lead us down a lot of different roads, seeking an explanation for why the bottom has dropped out so dramatically on the Orioles’ closer. Sometimes that analysis might lead us to overlook the easiest of answers, but sometimes the easiest answers are the right ones.

The inability of the Orioles starting rotation to simply eat innings has been an issue all season. Now it seems that issue could be taking its toll on the bullpen.

 

It’s not as if last year the O’s did a much better job of covering innings with their starters, but what they were able to do was better hide their issues with a steady stream of arms passing through the revolving door between the big club and its minor league affiliates.

 

This year with fewer players having options remaining, the Orioles have to be more creative with their roster shuffling or risk losing players with promise to the waiver wire when sending them back and forth between the minors and the big club.

 

Last year the Orioles found themselves on the bad side of the run differential equation too. As a result many cast the team as lucky, and deemed their success unsustainable. While they indeed may have been lucky, it was that luck that in large part made them sustainable.

 

This year’s Orioles have a fantastic offense, and are sitting on the right side of the run differential, but they haven’t been able to come up with blowout wins. The blowout losses that fed last season’s run differential debate are gone as well, which hasn’t provided the team with the “luxury” of rolling out the B-bullpen and living to fight another day. As a result, the 3 arms in the bullpen that the O’s seem to trust are being used at an alarming, and likely unsustainable, rate.

 

Jim Johnson

 

Last year Johnson pitched in 71 games in the regular season. That’s 43.8% of the team’s 162.He pitched in 63 wins (67.7%) and only 8 losses (11.5%).

So far this season, Johnson has pitched in half of the team’s 44 games. He’s been in 73.9% of Orioles wins, and also in 23.8% of their losses.

He’s on pace to pitch an incredible 81 games.

 

Darren O’Day

 

In 2012 O’Day pitched in 69 games. That’s 42.5% of the Orioles total. He threw in 48 wins (51.6%) and 21 losses (30.4%).

So far in 2013, he’s thrown in 21 games or 47.7% of the teams total. . He’s been used in 15 wins (65.2%) and 6 losses (28.5%).

O’Day is on pace to pitch in 77 games.

 

Brian Matusz (relief only)

 

Matusz became a member of the Orioles bullpen on 8/24/12, and appeared in 18 games. That’s 47.3% of the 38 games he was available for. He threw in 14 wins (56.5%) and 4 losses (30.4%).

So far in 2013 Matusz has thrown in 21 games or 47.7%. He’s been in for 13 wins (56.5%) and 8 losses (38%).

Matusz is also on a 77 game pace.

 

The absence of Luis Ayala, the ineffectiveness of Pedro Strop, the inconsistency of Troy Patton and Tommy Hunter, and the inexperience of TJ McFarland has left Matusz, O’Day and Johnson to pick up most of the bullpen load when the Orioles are winning. The inability of the starters to pitch deep into games has left more innings to be picked up. And the lack of blowouts, for or against the Orioles, have led those 3 to be used in many more losses than they were last season too.

 

*Of last year’s 1483 innings pitched by the Orioles, 545.1 were covered by the bullpen. That’s 36.6%.

Of this year’s 385 innings pitched by the Orioles, the pen has covered 142.1. That’s 36.9%, or not much of a difference.

If there is a difference it’s that 60 of the Orioles bullpen innings last season were in extra frames. That’s 11%. This year 6 of the pen’s innings have been in extras. That’s just 4%.

In innings 1-9, the bullpen covered 34% in 2012 and is covering 37% of those innings in 2013.

 

All of this makes Buck Showalter’s decision to pull Freddy Garcia after just 66 pitches on Monday that much more curious as it led to 5 relievers and 76 pitches to cover innings 7-10.

 

For all of the talk of which Orioles the Orioles could least afford to lose, Matusz, Johnson and O’Day should probably be on the list ahead of Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis or anyone else. More concerning it seems only a matter of time before one or more of these guys’ workloads cost them their health,

 

Last but not least, while no one is Mariano Rivera, it’s kind of interesting that baseball’s greatest closer has only pitched in 70 or more games 3 times in his career. In 2001 Rivera pitched 71 times and famously blew the World Series against the Diamondbacks. In 2004 her pitched in 74 games and then blew 3 post-season saves. And in 2005 he pitched 71 times and had 2 appearances in an unremarkable post season.

 

If the great Mariano was made mortal in seasons with 70 or more appearances, how much of Jim Johnson’s post-season struggles could we attribute to overuse? What might happen on his way to 81 appearances this season?

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