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One-time Raven and Gilman grad still making mark in Baltimore

Posted on 05 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Strive to be the owner, not just a player.

That’s one of the key messages former Ravens linebacker and Gilman grad Brandon Copeland tries to convey when speaking to youth who are aspiring to be professional athletes. The Detroit Lions linebacker wants kids to know that their options stretch beyond the dream of playing professional football.

“Let’s set our dreams high. You know there’s a guarantee that football won’t last forever,” said Copeland, who graduated with an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 and interned on Wall Street. “Let’s set ourselves up so that no matter what, we’ll be able to provide the lifestyle we want for ourselves and our families.”

Fulfilling a dream to give back to his local community, Copeland will host Beyond the Basics, a free football camp open to kids in grades seven through 11 at Utz Field in Patterson Park on Saturday, July 9. Online registration is available at www.bcopeland.com with same-day registration taking place at 8:30 am before the camp takes place from 9 a.m. to noon.

In addition to traditional drills and activities you’ll find at many football camps, the day will focus on teaching young players other practice and training methods to use individually before their season begins. A speed trainer and a strength and conditioning coach will be on hand for instruction.

A group of current and former Ravens including Torrey Smith, Jameel McClain, Jeremy Butler, and Carl Davis are scheduled to attend to help out, but other volunteers include fellow Gilman products and NFL players Darius Jennings and Cyrus Jones as well as friends and former teammates of Copeland who are serving in other career fields. It is Copeland’s hope that the latter individuals can leave as big of an impression as the NFL players on hand for the camp.

“My biggest goal with the kids is we’re all in our volunteer t-shirts and having fun and playing with the kids,” said Copeland, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2013 but was released at the end of that preseason. “The kids are going to say, ‘Oh man, this one guy is cool. This guy must play for [some NFL team].’ Then, they’ll come to find out this guy’s a lawyer. Maybe a kid says, ‘Maybe I’ll start looking into law school a little bit.’

“My thing is giving kids role models outside of the box of [only] an NBA player or an NFL player or a professional athlete.”

In addition to the on-field activities, MedStar Orthopaedics is providing a date for campers to receive free physicals while Under Armour and Living Classrooms have also made extensive contributions.

The grandson of former Baltimore Colts defensive end Roy Hilton, Copeland provides his own inspirational story that can be a lesson to his campers. Despite spending much of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 on the practice squad of the Tennessee Titans, the 6-foot-3, 248-pound linebacker was released in September and remained unsigned for the remainder of the 2014 season. After taking part in last year’s veteran combine — which wasn’t held this offseason — Copeland was one of only two participants to make a 2015 regular-season roster and would appear in all 16 games as a reserve with the Lions last season, collecting 14 tackles and a half sack.

Though his Ivy League education left him prepared to move on from football, Copeland wasn’t ready to relinquish his dream of playing in the NFL.

“I was counted out. I was the underdog. I sat at home for a whole year unemployed,” said Copeland, who described himself as a late bloomer both physically and as a football player. “I went to the vet combine. It was my last straw. I remember the first thing they told us, ‘Most of these scouts think that they’re here for no reason.’ Fortunately, I came out of it with a few job offers. I work every single day to keep it going.

“I’m going to go home and give back and try to at least say what’s on my heart to the kids while I have this platform today.”

Unlike many camps that are open to younger ages, the 24-year-old chose to focus on junior high and high school kids who are facing more immediate pressure to make good choices for the future.

While he is using football as the fun hook to get their attention, Copeland wants kids to know there’s an entire world out there beyond what may or may not happen for them on the field over the next few years.

“They’re at a very impressionable age,” Copeland said. “They’re at the age range where you’re either setting up your life or hurting your potential. Football for me in high school was a means to an end, not the end-all, be-all. There are other things in this world besides football.”

Register online for Beyond the Basics at www.bcopeland.com

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Orioles “very pleased” with Gallardo’s first throwing session

Posted on 14 May 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo was encouraged by his first throwing session since being placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder discomfort on April 23.

The right-hander made 25 throws from 60 feet on flat ground Saturday afternoon and told reporters that he felt good. Manager Buck Showalter isn’t ready to disclose the full schedule for Gallardo’s potential return to the mound, but he will throw from 90 feet on Monday and from 120 feet after that.

“He and [head athletic trainer Richie Bancells and bullpen coach Dom Chiti] were very pleased with it,” Showalter said. “So far, so good. That was a good step for him. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. He wasn’t just flipping it — you throw. It’s got some intensity to it.”

Showalter said the throwing progression will be similar to the one completed by Kevin Gausman in late March and April but would probably take a “little longer.” Gausman was sidelined for just over a month after receiving a cortisone shot for right shoulder tendinitis on March 20 and making his first regular-season start on April 25.

Gallardo, 30, had never gone to the DL with an arm-related injury in his first nine major league seasons.

He hasn’t pitched since leaving an April 22 start in Kansas City after two innings due to right shoulder discomfort. In his four starts covering 18 innings, Gallardo posted a 7.00 ERA with nine strikeouts and seven walks.

Much had been made about Gallardo’s declining strikeout rate and velocity over the last few seasons before the Orioles deliberated over his physical and eventually signed him to a two-year, $22 million contract in late February, but the organization hopes that the efforts to rest and strengthen his shoulder will result in a more competitive pitcher. Gallardo’s fastball was averaging a career-low 88.3 miles per hour in April, down 2.2 mph from last year’s average.

“You could see some of his arm action was even better,” said Showalter about his first throwing session. “This is a guy who had great command. One of the first things you know when a guy’s not feeling well is when they lose command.

“I’m hoping when he gets back that the stuff and the command are going to be better.”

Alvarez at third

Since J.J. Hardy’s foot injury resulted in some defensive shuffling two weeks ago, Showalter had said several times that Pedro Alvarez had more major league experience at third base than any other player on the roster.

The manager acted on that thought Saturday by giving Alvarez his first start at the hot corner since Aug. 17, 2014 when he was with Pittsburgh. Not known for his defensive work at either corner infield spot, Alvarez has been worth minus-29 defensive runs saved at third base in his career, which prompted the Pirates to move him to first base.

“It’s one thing I’ve been trying to get done,” Showalter said. “It’s something he’s very experienced at; it’s just I [had] to get him out there. As we play our next 120-some-odd games, we need to be able to know what we have — people at different places. There’s only one way to do it.”

Odds & ends

On Saturday, Scott McGregor began a four-game stint filling in as the Orioles pitching coach while Dave Wallace is away to deal with a family matter. … Hyun Soo Kim was making his first start since May 7 and seventh of the season. … Orioles relievers entered Saturday leading the majors with a 2.20 ERA in 110 1/3 innings pitched. Baltimore’s overall team ERA (3.47) ranked fourth in the American League and eighth in the majors. … Adam Jones hit his 200th career home run in Friday’s 1-0 win over Detroit. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other player to hit a century-mark homer in a 1-0 game (200th or higher) was Ted Williams, who hit his 400th career long ball in a win over the Kansas City Athletics at Fenway Park in 1956.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 1-0 win over Detroit

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 33rd game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman continues to look the part of an ace early on as he went toe to toe with 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and tossed seven shutout innings for his fifth victory of the season. Despite getting off to his customary slow start by allowing a total of four baserunners and throwing 38 pitches over his first two frames, Tillman settled in nicely to retire 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced. He recorded an impressive 13 swinging strikes and struck out seven batters, the final two coming immediately after he surrendered a leadoff double to Nick Castellanos in the top of the seventh. The right-hander has now posted five consecutive quality starts and has struck out an impressive 36 batters over those 33 innings of work. His season ERA now sits at a strong 2.58.

2ndAdam Jones picked the opportune time to hit his 200th career home run as he knocked a 92 mph fastball from Verlander into the Orioles bullpen with one out in the bottom of the sixth for the only run of the game. It was the third straight time that Jones had swung at a first-pitch fastball, and the center fielder didn’t miss one of the few mistake pitches made by the Detroit right-hander. The RBI moved Jones into sole possession of eighth place on the Orioles’ all-time list with 663, surpassing Melvin Mora. After a difficult start to the season, Jones has now homered in three of his last four games and has raised his average from .200 to .248 over that time.

3rdZach Britton induced three grounders for a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record his 10th save in as many tries to begin 2016. It was his 83rd career save, tying the left-hander with Jorge Julio for fifth place on the Orioles’ all-time saves list.

HomeDarren O’Day worked around a leadoff single to retire the side in the eighth inning, which included getting Miguel Cabrera out for the second straight night in a close game. … The Orioles beat the Tigers by a 1-0 score for the first time since Sept. 23, 1981 at Memorial Stadium. It was the second shutout victory of the season for Baltimore. … Mark Trumbo saw his 25-game on-base streak snapped in an 0-for-3 night. … The Orioles can clinch a series win on Saturday night with Mike Wright going to the hill against Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 7-5 win over Tigers

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 7-5 come-from-behind win over the Detroit Tigers on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 33rd game of the 2016 season.

1st — Jonathan Schoop had never tripled in his major league career before lining a ball down the right-field line to plate two runs and give the Orioles their first lead of the night to cap off a five-run seventh inning. The second baseman also drove in Baltimore’s second run of the night with an infield single an inning earlier as the Tigers bullpen began losing its grip on a 5-0 lead. Schoop has hit safely in 13 of his last 14 games with two doubles, a triple, two home runs, and seven RBIs over that stretch.

2ndChris Davis doubled to left-center to plate the first Orioles run off Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey in the sixth, but his next at-bat was even more impressive as he lined an 0-2 fastball from lefty Justin Wilson into right for a run-scoring single to make it a 5-4 game in the bottom of the seventh. Davis would then score the go-ahead run on Schoop’s triple to complete his two-RBI, two-run night.

3rdPedro Alvarez entered the game with just one hit off left-handed pitching this season and had already lined out to center off southpaw Kyle Ryan with two runners on in the sixth, but he became the second lefty to collect a key hit off Wilson in the seventh when he singled past first baseman Miguel Cabrera to drive in the tying run with two outs. He also drew a walk and lifted his season average to .212.

HomeDarren O’Day walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth, but he then retired the heart of the Tigers order to preserve the 7-5 lead. … The Orioles improved to 5-6 in games in which they haven’t homered this season after going 11-39 in that department in 2015. … Mark Trumbo went 0-for-3, but he drew a walk in the sixth to extend his on-base streak to a major-league best 25 consecutive games, according to MLB Network. … Zach Britton earned his ninth save of the season and his 82nd career save with the Orioles, one shy of tying Jorge Julio for fifth place on the club’s all-time saves list. … Adam Jones collected his 662nd RBI with the Orioles, tying Melvin Mora for eighth place on the club’s all-time list. … The Orioles’ five-game winning streak is their second longest of the season, topped only by their 7-0 start to 2016. … On Friday, Chris Tillman goes to the hill trying to improve to 5-1 on the season while the Tigers will start 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.

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Ngata trade proved to be winner for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2016 by Luke Jones

There is plenty to question about the offseason that preceded a disappointing 5-11 campaign for the Ravens in 2015.

But the decision to trade five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata proved to be a good one.

Of course, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens were never going to allow Ngata to carry a $16 million salary cap figure in the final season of a five-year, $61 million contract, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to keep him. The organization attempted to work out an extension like it did with Terrell Suggs a year earlier, but the sides didn’t come to an agreement before the 2006 first-round pick was traded to Detroit in the final moments before free agency began on March 10.

It turns out that the Ravens were probably fortunate not to extend Ngata. As Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey used to say, “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”

The trade was praised by many at the time, but the possibility of Ngata producing another Pro Bowl season and the Ravens struggling mightily up front was still there.

Ngata wasn’t awful in Detroit, but he hardly played at a Pro Bowl level as he registered a career-low 24 tackles in 14 games and dealt with hamstring and calf injuries. Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s 39th-best interior defender in 2015 while Brandon Williams was 21st and Timmy Jernigan 49th. The production certainly didn’t warrant the $8.5 million base salary he was paid by the Lions, who were desperate to fill the void left behind by four-time Pro Bowl selection Ndamukong Suh.

Meanwhile, the Ravens drafted outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith with the fourth-round pick they received from Detroit and used their new fifth-round selection to trade up a few spots in the second round to take tight end Maxx Williams. Time will tell whether these players will make major contributions after mostly-quiet rookie seasons that did finish on high notes, but the potential value alone trumps what Baltimore might have gotten from Ngata in 2015.

If we’re being honest, the Ravens probably missed the 345-pounder to some degree as the run defense ranked 12th in the NFL and allowed 4.0 yards per carry after finishing fourth and surrendering just 3.6 per attempt in 2014. His primary replacement Jernigan shook off a slow start to play well in the second half of 2015, but he was stronger as a pass rusher than as a run-stopping defender at Ngata’s old 3-technique spot.

Ngata would have made the defensive line more stout, but his expensive presence hardly would have transformed the Ravens from a 5-11 team into a 10-6 playoff contender. If the Ravens had signed him to an extension last winter, we’d also be wondering how much football he has left in the way we’re now asking about his longtime teammate Suggs, who will be coming off his second Achilles tendon tear in four years and carries a $7.45 million cap figure for 2016.

The 32-year-old Ngata has expressed desire to re-sign with Detroit, but he is not committed to playing beyond 2016, which should make Ravens fans feel even better about the organization not signing him last winter. Given the issues Baltimore has with its salary cap, the fewer contracts awarded to aging players near the end of their careers, the better.

It became apparent over the course of the 2015 season that the Ravens need to get younger at several key spots, something they’ve done along the defensive line without significant drop-off. Ngata was one of the best players in the 20-year history of the franchise, but parting ways with an aging defensive tackle was the right call with only minimal short-term fallout.

Little went right for the Ravens in one of the most disappointing seasons in team history, but the Ngata trade has already proven to be a winner without even knowing what Smith and Maxx Williams will offer in the future.

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The Lindell AC and Tiger Stadium are gone but the baseball life is good in Motown...

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 14 Detroit Tigers

Posted on 27 August 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Detroit – Comerica Park suffers simply because it’s not Tiger Stadium. The places I feel the worst for on the list are the ones where they built a “newer” ballpark and . Kind dark and gray and old time that gives you a sample of Tiger Stadium. Well, nothing could give you a sample. We rode the carousel like idiots. We posed with the giant Tiger. We drank beer down the left field line with some crazy fans. We had a great day. It’s a nice ballpark. Detroit, in general, is a pretty solid place to visit to see a sporting event of any kind. It’s not as bad as they say. And I live in Baltimore…

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Nov 11, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch (4) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal in the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium.  Baltimore defeated Oakland 55-20.  Mandatory Credit: James Lang-US PRESSWIRE

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Ravens thoughts on Koch, safety position, Ngata

Posted on 14 July 2015 by Luke Jones

At a time of year when you pray for peace and quiet while counting down to the start of training camp, the Ravens made positive news last week by signing veteran punter Sam Koch to a long-term extension.

Despite being the second-longest tenured player on the team behind Terrell Suggs, the 32-year-old’s future had been under scrutiny the last couple offseasons due to a high salary cap figure for a punter, but general manager Ozzie Newsome showed how much the organization valued Koch by inking him to a five-year, $16.25 million extension that runs through the 2020 season. The 2006 sixth-round pick was coming off arguably the best season of his career in which he led the NFL in net punting with a 43.3 yard average.

Koch will receive good pay for however long he remains in Baltimore — the structure of the contract would make it fairly easy to cut him as early as the conclusion of the 2016 season if desired — but the deal still ranks outside the top five for punter contracts in total cash and guaranteed money. Remembering that the salary cap has increased by more than $23 million since 2011 makes Koch’s deal much easier to swallow considering his consistency.

While more attention has understandably fallen on the future of 2013 Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker — who is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2015 season — Koch has long been a respected member of the locker room that extends beyond his reputation for executing directional kicks as well as any punter in the league. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg passionately summarized Koch’s value to the Ravens after the veteran failed to make the Pro Bowl last December despite winning the fan vote:

I think the fans got it right. The fans prove to be more informed than the experts in this particular regard, in my opinion. Sam has his team as the No. 1 net punt and No. 1 gross punt team in the league if you’re looking just at numbers – which I’m assuming people did – and that’s hard to do. It’s hard to do both. And other numbers that jump out at you – he’s one of the lowest numbers in percentage of returned balls, one of the lowest numbers in percentage of yards returned, one of the highest percentage of inside-the-20 punts in the league.

Besides that, he’s probably – and I don’t have numbers to back it up – but I suspect that the numbers would back me up to say he’s probably the best holder in the history of football. He has held for three Pro Bowl kickers since he has been here. This last year, he held for three different snappers, actually four counting Haloti [Ngata]. What more does a guy have to do? I guess that’s the way I look at it. And this is meant as no disrespect for the two outstanding players that made it, but the reason we do what we do is because Sam can do it. And the season he has had has been phenomenal. He went through an offseason where he got some undeserved criticism that was thrown out there and some people swallowed it and then spit it back up. His family endured that, and all Sam did is work and take care of his family.

He’s a great husband and a father, an outstanding member of his community. This is a model for pro athletes. If anybody wants to look at a pro athlete, I say, ‘Look at Sam. Be like Sam.’ His teammates have an enormous amount of respect for him. The thing I think has happened here is, because he’s such an unassuming team man – that he doesn’t seek attention for himself – that I think he has been overlooked for a number of years. Certainly not by us, not by his teammates – he is not being overlooked. We are passionate in our support of Sam Koch, because he’s such an outstanding man and an outstanding player.

Is Rosburg partial to the only punter he’s known in Baltimore? Of course, but his words tell all you need to know as to why the Ravens felt it was important to lock up their veteran punter.

Of course, the bigger challenge will be signing Tucker, but the franchise tag is almost certain to be in play if the sides don’t strike a deal by next February.

Safety concerns

The Ravens were able to augment their depth at the cornerback position with the additions of veteran Kyle Arrington and fourth-round rookie Tray Walker this offseason, but safety remains a concern as they enter training camp later this month.

Newsome made a modest commitment to veteran newcomer Kendrick Lewis with a three-year, $5.4 million contract, but only time will tell whether he represents an upgrade from Darian Stewart, who wasn’t exactly stellar in his lone season in Baltimore last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Lewis graded out as the 27th-best safety among those playing at least 50 percent of team snaps while Stewart was 23rd, but the Ravens believe Lewis has better ability to play deep coverage — an area in which the pass defense struggled dramatically a year ago.

Strong safety Will Hill could be the wild card for the Ravens secondary if he can build on his 2014 campaign in which he graded out as the 14th-best safety in the league, per PFF. Head coach John Harbaugh challenged the 25-year-old Hill to keep himself out of trouble this offseason after he was suspended three times in his first three years in the NFL, resulting in him being jettisoned by the New York Giants last year.

Baltimore will knock on wood hoping no news is good news with Hill as his continued emergence would mean less reliance on the disappointing Matt Elam or the rehabbing Terrence Brooks to begin the 2015 season. Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, Hill would not only solidify his standing in the starting defense with a strong season, but he’d put himself in line for a nice payday despite the tumultuous beginning to his professional career.

Ngata story

The winner of this year’s Ravens-related topic that isn’t remotely a story might have been the recent comments made by Haloti Ngata about his new defense in Detroit.

Apparently, the five-time Pro Bowl selection saying he had “never been a part of a defense like this” meant he was trashing his former team as if he’s supposed to walk on eggshells in describing his new surroundings. Many of those stirring up controversy failed to mention that Ngata will be playing in a base 4-3 front for the first time in his NFL career and — wait for it — will have different teammates than the ones with whom he played in Baltimore, very much making it a defense he’s “never been a part of” before.

If you need further evidence to dismiss the notion that Ngata was out of line in expressing admiration for a non-Baltimore defense, Detroit finished ahead of the Ravens in total defense and points allowed in 2014.

While I wouldn’t describe the separation between Ngata and the Ravens as harmonious after contract talks broke down this winter, each side ultimately made a business decision the other respected. The veteran spent nearly a decade in Baltimore, rarely ever used the media to draw attention to himself, and has expressed nothing but respect for his former organization since the March trade, making last week’s created controversy absurd.

Yes, it’s a slow news time in the NFL, but there was nothing to see there at all.

 

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Detroit squashes tampering speculation from Bisciotti comments

Posted on 02 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Less than a day after Steve Bisciotti made seemingly harmless comments about the future of former Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, his new team squashed any possibility of tampering charges being filed.

Addressing season-ticket holders in a conference call on Wednesday, Bisciotti said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the five-time Pro Bowl selection re-signing with the Ravens next offseason after he was traded to the Detroit Lions last month. This raised a few eyebrows as some suggested the comments could qualify as tampering, especially in light of the ongoing saga between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots over All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.

“He could be a free agent a year from now, and we may be watching the second coming of Haloti Ngata,” said Bisciotti, pointing to the 2006 first-round pick only being under current through the 2015 season. “Who knows? I’d never give up hope that we couldn’t get him back.”

Reflected in a statement released by the Lions on Thursday afternoon, the Ravens reached out to Detroit to clarify comments Bisciotti was making to fans about a player who had just spent nine years in Baltimore. It appears Detroit understands Bisciotti was simply stating the obvious in answering a fan’s question and sharing that the sides had no hard feelings.

Of course, it helps that the teams share a good relationship with former Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell serving as Lions head coach and former secondary coach Teryl Austin now Detroit’s defensive coordinator. Had the words been about a former player playing for Pittsburgh or New England, the response might have been different.

“We appreciate both the Ravens’ professionalism and the context in which Mr. Bisciotti’s statements were made,” the statement read. “We consider the matter to be a non-issue.”

With much debate about tampering in the current climate of NFL free agency and with the Patriots-Jets spat, it’s nice to see common sense prevail as an owner’s words to fans about one of the greatest players in franchise history shouldn’t be viewed in the same light as illegal negotiating through back channels, which is what the rule is really in place to prevent.

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Fingerprints of Duquette all over Orioles’ Game 3 clincher

Posted on 05 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter would be the first to tell you much of the foundation of the Orioles’ run to their first American League Championship Series since 1997 was in place before they arrived in Baltimore several years ago.

Others may have been responsible for bringing the likes of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, J.J. Hardy, and Zach Britton to Baltimore years ago, but it was Duquette’s fingerprints all over the Orioles’ 2-1 victory to complete the three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. In fact, a trio of acquisitions made over the last 15 months — winning pitcher Bud Norris, slugger Nelson Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller — played a critical part in Baltimore sweeping its first postseason series since 1971 and sending the big-name Tigers home for the offseason.

Acquired in exchange for unspectacular outfield prospect L.J. Hoes, 19-year-old pitching prospect Josh Hader, and a draft pick in late July of last season, Norris may not have made the difference in 2013 as the Orioles fell short of the postseason, but the reasonable asking price as well as two extra years of club control made the former Houston Astros pitcher more attractive to Duquette than other seasoned pitchers with expensive or expiring contracts on the trade market.

Making his postseason debut after Miguel Gonzalez was initially slated to pitch in Game 3, Norris pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings while striking out six and allowing two hits to shut down a formidable Detroit lineup that had given him plenty of trouble in two starts earlier this season. Commanding his four-seam fastball and keeping the Tigers scoreless as the Orioles faced 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, Norris offered a gutsy performance to build on a strong campaign that included a 15-8 record with a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts this season.

It was Cruz who provided Norris with just enough run support as he homered inside the right-field foul pole in the top of the sixth to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead. It was the 34-year-old’s second homer of the series and 16th career postseason homer to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time list, which came after a 40-homer season that resulted in him being named the club’s most valuable player in late September.

No, Cruz wasn’t a diamond in the rough despite no club being willing to invest a long-contract in a player tainted and suspended due to last year’s Biogenesis scandal, but Duquette saw the opportunity to add a slugger on the cheap for a lineup that needed another middle-of-the-order bat. A one-year, $8 million investment made during spring training has never worked out better for the Orioles as Cruz responded with the best season of his 10-year career.

After carrying the Orioles through the first 2 1/2 months of the season and heating up once again over the final few weeks of September, Cruz once again was the offensive hero as the Orioles faced a third straight Cy Young Award winner on Sunday at Comerica Park. His flick of the bat on a high and outside pitch from Price put the Orioles ahead and further depressed what was already a subdued crowd watching their Tigers try to climb out of an 0-2 hole.

The heroics of Norris and Cruz paved the way for Miller, the acquisition that most of baseball ignored while Oakland acquired Jon Lester and the Tigers traded for Price. Those high-profile trades for aces were viewed by many experts as the moves that would automatically send the Athletics and Detroit to a meeting in the ALCS

Miller retired all five hitters he faced in Game 3, including the top three hitters in the Tigers lineup in the bottom of the eighth inning. While many criticized — or at least questioned — the Orioles’ inability to land a top-of-the-rotation starter at the trade deadline, Duquette dealt pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox for the tall left-hander, who’s dominance has transformed the Orioles bullpen from good to great over the last two months.

Pitching to a 1.35 ERA and averaging 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 23 regular-season appearances for Baltimore, Miller’s 32-pitch performance in Game 1 matched his highest total of the year and he allowed only one runner in 3 1/3 innings in the ALDS.

No, it wasn’t the sexy move and it’s not as though Lester or Price pitched poorly in their new homes, but Duquette and Showalter have constantly preached the desire to acquire players that are the right fit for their club — not necessarily the biggest or most expensive names. Miller certainly fit the bill as a reliever with great strikeout ability and excellent numbers against hitters from both sides of the plate.

And it’s a move that’s been an integral part of the Orioles continuing to play in October while the Tigers and Athletics have already been eliminated.

The Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations has often been teased by outsiders for his decade-long absence from the majors as well as his off-the-wall moves that many have even labeled dumpster diving. Not every move has turned to gold — he did sign high-priced free agent Ubaldo Jimenez, after all — but you couldn’t help but tip your cap to Duquette in watching Sunday’s game play out with the Orioles earning the series win.

A one-year contract and two deadline trades that appeared solid but unspectacular couldn’t have paid off any better in Game 3. And while Duquette may not have built the entire core of the current club from the ground up, the pieces he’s added in recent months have helped put the Orioles four wins away from an American League pennant.

 

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Orioles elect to go with Norris over Gonzalez for ALDS Game 3

Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones

After previously leaning toward starting Miguel Gonzalez for Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers, manager Buck Showalter instead elected to go with right-hander Bud Norris as the Orioles will go for the sweep on Sunday afternoon.

The decision was made following Baltimore’s 7-6 win Friday to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Showalter told reporters in Detroit that the change allows the Orioles to use Norris out of the bullpen in a potential Game 5 and gives Gonzalez a chance to have a good workday on Saturday after being on standby in the bullpen for the first two games of the series.

With Kevin Gausman pitching 3 1/3 effective innings and Brad Brach and Zach Britton the only other relievers to work in Game 2, the bullpen should be in excellent shape to back up Norris in the event of a shaky outing. Ubaldo Jimenez would still be ready as a long man and all other relief options besides Gausman should be fresh.

“We didn’t need Bud as much in the bullpen [Sunday],” Showalter told reporters in Detroit. “It’s one of the reasons we kind of held off on a lot of it. We wanted to wait this time of year, some of the things that happened in the game, what that means will happen in further games comes into play.”

Norris hasn’t pitched since Sept. 24 and will be making his postseason debut, which might lead you to believe the Orioles wanted him to get his feet wet with the benefit of a two-game cushion in the Division Series. Gonzalez pitched seven strong innings and allowed only one earned run in his only postseason start against the Yankees in Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS.

The 29-year-old Norris went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts this season. In two starts against Detroit in 2014, Norris was 0-2 with a 6.39 ERA, but it was his second start against the Tigers on May 12 that sparked controversy when he plunked Torii Hunter in the ribs after giving up a late home run to Ian Kinsler, a move that prompted the right-hander’s ejection before both benches and bullpens emptied.

Gonzalez allowed eight earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against Detroit this season, which included a start on April 4 that was the worst of his season. He also made a relief appearance against the Tigers in relief of a Gausman start in mid-May.

 

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