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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 9-7 win over Houston

Posted on 23 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles salvaging the finale of a three-game set in a 9-7 win over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was a long time coming, but Zach Britton set a new American League record with his 55th consecutive save conversion and first since April 14. If he is indeed traded before the Orioles return home next Monday, it was a fitting final appearance for him at Camden Yards.

2. A balanced offensive attack was the difference as seven different Orioles collected an RBI. The offensive showing could have been even better if not for grounding into four double plays in the first six innings.

3. Dylan Bundy will continue receiving extra rest when off-days allow it, but he’s now posted a 7.85 ERA over his last seven starts after surrendering a career-high seven runs. He handled quite a workload over the first 2 1/2 months, and you wonder how much fatigue is factoring into his struggles.

4. Houston hitters were able to work their way back from multiple 0-2 counts as Bundy wasn’t able to finish them off. The walk to Alex Bregman preceding Nori Aoki’s game-tying three-run home run in the sixth was particularly frustrating for the young pitcher.

5. Mark Trumbo reminded us why he only plays sparingly in the outfield, but he made up for it with the game-tying home run in the last of the seventh. He was one of three Baltimore hitters to collect their 50th RBI of the season on Sunday.

6. Trey Mancini drove in two runs and improved his average with runners in scoring position to a whopping .431. You keep waiting for him to start looking more like a rookie at the plate, but it hasn’t happened.

7. Jonathan Schoop saw his streak of five straight games with multiple RBIs come to an end, but he’s had at least one in seven consecutive contests. His three-hit afternoon raised his season average to .307.

8. Jose Altuve’s greatness is hardly breaking news, but he collected four hits to finish off a .500 batting average for the series. He sure is something special to watch.

9. A move to the leadoff spot has sparked a recent surge for Adam Jones, who had four hits and passed former teammate Nick Markakis to move into sole possession of sixth place on the Orioles’ all-time hit list. He’s been in the middle of plenty of scoring rallies of late.

10. The sixth inning is a separator in today’s game as teams need starters capable of getting through six innings or an incredibly deep bullpen to survive. The Orioles gave up 11 runs in the sixth frame over this series.

11. Much was made about Dan Duquette’s trade deadline comments Saturday, but remember he was addressing season-ticket holders as players were within earshot. His actions, not his words, are what matter over the next week.

12. Had the Orioles gone 7-3 or better on this homestand to get back to .500, I could maybe understand not selling, but they have no more than six wins in any 10-game stretch since May 9. Winning five of seven isn’t enough to overlook 2 1/2 months of .379 baseball.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 12-1 win over Texas

Posted on 19 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their second straight game in a 12-1 final over the Texas Rangers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A starter giving up six runs before recording his first out sounds right out of the script of the 2017 Orioles, but Tyson Ross fell victim instead. It was good for Buck Showalter’s struggling club to have a laugher for once with its biggest margin of victory of the season.

2. For someone with more than one three-homer game in his career, Chris Davis setting a new career high with six RBIs in a contest was somewhat surprising. I would have guessed he’d done that at some point over the last five years.

3. Dylan Bundy hadn’t pitched in nearly two weeks, but he settled in nicely after a rocky beginning to record his club-leading 13th quality start of the season. His 13 swinging strikes were the most he’d had since June 14 as his slider induced five of those.

4. Having seen starters squander so many large leads this season, Bundy loading the bases in the second was an unsettling development, but he was able to escape unscathed when Shin-Soo Choo grounded out. The Rangers never threatened again.

5. Bundy finished strong with a 1-2-3 sixth that included his best average fastball velocity of the outing and culminated with a swinging strikeout of Mike Napoli. That was encouraging to see on the night he eclipsed his innings total from last year.

6. With the 24-year-old allowing one run in six frames, the Orioles registered back-to-back quality starts for the first time since June 1 and 2 when Wade Miley and Alec Asher did it against Boston. I realize how ugly the starting pitching has been, but that’s still remarkable.

7. The 12 runs were the most scored by the Orioles in a month. The starting pitching is the easiest — and most deserving — target for criticism, but it’s no secret that the offense has disappointed this season.

8. Seth Smith homered for the second straight night and now has 11 for the season. He’s hitting just .241 since mid-May, but he could be a fringe trade piece for a contending club looking for a left-handed platoon outfielder, especially if his bat stays hot over the next 10 days.

9. Showalter has been conservative in his use of Zach Britton since his return from the disabled list, but he struck out two and registered six swinging strikes in the ninth. He sure looks ready to return to the closer role with contenders eyeing him as a major trade target.

10. Jonathan Schoop drew his 20th walk of the season and is now one shy of his career high set last year in 273 fewer plate appearances in 2017. That improved plate discipline is a major reason for his breakout campaign that landed him in the All-Star Game.

11. Caleb Joseph made his second career appearance at third base in the ninth inning. That kind of novelty is much more enjoyable to watch when on the right side of a blowout.

12. The Rangers would like to fancy themselves as buyers at the deadline, but they sure haven’t looked like it over the last two nights. The 2016 AL West champions are now just a game ahead of the Orioles in the wild-card standings.

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schoop

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Which Oriole(s?) should receive 2017 All-Star Game nod?

Posted on 27 June 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles haven’t been in this position in some time.

Having sent no fewer than three representatives to each of the last five All-Star Games, Baltimore has struggled to remain relevant in the American League with a number of past selections either injured or performing below career norms. No, the Orioles haven’t reverted all the way to a time when they once sent journeyman Ty Wigginton as their required All-Star selection in 2010, but identifying a clear-cut candidate to represent the club in Miami on July 11 is a complicated task.

The latest All-Star voting update showed no Orioles even ranking in the top three at their respective positions — Welington Castillo ranks fourth among AL catchers and Manny Machado fifth among AL third basemen — making it clear that no player from Buck Showalter’s club will be elected as a starter. The All-Star voting concludes Thursday with the teams announced on Sunday night.

Below is a look at the Orioles’ most appealing All-Star candidates:

Who will be the Orioles' 2017 All-Star selection?

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2B Jonathan Schoop
The case for: The 25-year-old is on pace to set new career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, doubles, walks, and runs batted in. Entering Tuesday, Schoop ranks fourth in the AL in doubles and also leads the Orioles in hits, homers, RBIs, and total bases.
The case against: The AL is stacked at second base with MVP candidate Jose Altuve as well as former All-Star picks such as Robinson Cano, Starlin Castro, and Dustin Pedroia having reputations working in their favor. Schoops’s defense drops him to third in wins above replacement among AL second basemen.
Outlook: Even a couple weeks ago, I didn’t like Schoop’s chances in such a crowded position group, but Altuve is the only clear choice ahead of him and the Orioles need a rep, giving him a pretty good chance.

OF/1B Trey Mancini
The case for: If it weren’t for Aaron Judge, Mancini would be receiving plenty of Rookie of the Year hype as he leads the Orioles in batting average, OBP, and slugging and ranks in the top seven among AL hitters with at least 220 plate appearances in average, slugging, and on-base plus slugging percentage.
The case against: It’s difficult for most rookies to receive All-Star acclaim and it doesn’t help that Mancini has split time at first base and in the outfield as well as at designated hitter. He ranks just 15th in WAR among AL outfielders and, like Schoop, is competing with a deep talent pool in the outfield.
Outlook: AL manager Terry Francona could view Mancini as a bit of a wild card capable of playing more than one spot, but his chances appear totally dependent on whether Schoop gets the club’s bid.

RP Brad Brach
The case for: Look no further than the closer spot over the years for any so-so club needing an All-Star representative, and Brach ranks a respectable sixth in the AL in saves. He hasn’t come close to duplicating his amazing 2016 first half, but last year’s All-Star nod likely helps keep him on the radar.
The case against: Being 13-for-16 in save opportunities and a 2.43 ERA are numbers that hardly stand out when trying to put together an All-Star bullpen. Brach filling in as Baltimore’s closer may even hurt his case if we continue seeing more of a recent emphasis on taking a dominant setup man or two.
Outlook: Other than a rough patch from late April through mid-May, Brach has been very good with a club-best 0.87 walks and hits per inning pitched and has some history on his side to help his cause.

SP Dylan Bundy
The case for: Being Baltimore’s best starting pitcher is hardly a high bar, but Bundy is tied for second in the AL in quality starts and tied for fifth in innings, a surprising feat for a 24-year-old in his first full season as a starter. According to Baseball Reference, his value of 2.2 WAR leads all Orioles players.
The case against: Bundy’s 5.93 ERA in June has dropped him to 12th in the AL in that category among qualified pitchers. His 4.76 fielding independent pitching mark also reflects his underwhelming strikeout and home run rates compared to many of the top starting pitchers in the league.
Outlook: The right-hander looked like Baltimore’s most promising choice a month ago, but recent struggles and the Orioles’ desire to back off his workload around the break hurt his chances.

3B Manny Machado
The case for: The 24-year-old is a great case study in the debate over whether the All-Star Game should be a true showcase of the game’s brightest stars or a mere reward for having three good months. Machado’s defense shouldn’t be overlooked as he’s played third base better than anyone in the AL.
The case against: Entering Tuesday with a .228 average and a .299 OBP doesn’t help his cause while other third basemen such as Jose Ramirez and Miguel Sano have been far superior at the plate. His OPS ranks ninth among qualified AL third basemen, showing the overall quality of the position offensively.
Outlook: Little about his 2017 profile says he’s deserving, but he’s a Miami native and still celebrated as one of the game’s greatest stars, meaning I wouldn’t rule out his inclusion entirely.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 12-0 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 20 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles being shut out for the fourth time this season in a 12-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles made history in the wrong way Monday by allowing five or more runs for the 16th consecutive game, setting a new AL record formerly held by the 1937 St. Louis Browns. They’re four shy of the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies for the major league record (dating back to 1913).

2. Jason Kipnis led off three straight innings for the Indians, who sent nine hitters to the plate in both the fourth and fifth and eight in the sixth. The Orioles gave up 11 runs over those three frames, but Cleveland also left 13 runners on base for the night. Astonishing.

3. Dylan Bundy faced one batter over the minimum through the first three innings before surrendering four doubles, a walk, and a hit batter in the fourth. Seeing him struggle to command his pitches and go off the rails like so many other Orioles pitchers was just deflating.

4. Despite pitching three scoreless innings to begin the night, Bundy went to three-ball counts to five of the first nine hitters he faced and gave up some loud outs. Both he and Buck Showalter acknowledged after the game that all wasn’t well even before the fourth inning.

5. This outing could have simply been some regression to the mean for a young pitcher who entered Monday with a 4.46 fielding independent pitching mark or Bundy could be tiring from the heaviest workload of his career. His average fastball velocity of 91 mph was his slowest in a month.

6. Vidal Nuno has now given up eight earned runs and three home runs in 2 2/3 innings since being recalled last week. He’s shown no signs of belonging in the major leagues with a 10.43 ERA in 14 2/3 innings with the Orioles.

7. I hate to say it, but Indians hitters wouldn’t have been able to generate nearly as much exit velocity if a batting tee had instead been set up at home plate. These are the kind of thoughts that creep into my mind during these blowouts.

8. If we’re being honest, even a good performance from Bundy would have been wasted with the way Corey Kluber was dealing for the Indians. The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner retired 15 in a row at one point and struck out 11 in a three-hit shutout.

9. Old Toronto nemesis Edwin Encarnacion collected his 1,500th career hit with a double in the fourth inning. Contrary to popular belief, half of those have not come against the Orioles, but he does have more hits (129) against them than any other team.

10. Francisco Lindor, arguably Cleveland’s best player, went 0-for-6 and was the only Cleveland starter without a hit. So, there’s that.

11. I liked Adam Jones’ approach trying to go the other way against Kluber to try to account for his nasty curveball. It resulted in a first-inning single and decent contact again in the fourth. He’s gone the other way more this year than he has at any point since 2006.

12. The Orioles have won just five of their last 16 games with four coming against National League teams. They’ve lost nine of their last 10 against AL clubs. Any possibility of trading leagues with Washington?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-3 loss to Yankees

Posted on 31 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their eighth loss in nine games in an 8-3 final against the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The good vibes from Monday’s win vanished in a matter of nine pitches as Chris Tillman allowed a pair of solo home runs. We’ve seen Tillman straighten himself out after rough first innings numerous times in the past, but it was apparent that wasn’t happening Tuesday.

2. Tillman allowed nine of the 17 New York hitters he faced to reach base in what was easily his worst start of the year. His command wasn’t there as he either missed his spots badly or left pitches over the heart of the plate. That’s a lethal combination.

3. It was only a matter of time before the home runs allowed began to normalize as Tillman hadn’t allowed one over his first 20 1/3 innings of 2017. That was one of the lone factors keeping his ERA at a tolerable level through his first four starts.

4. Tillman showed his best average fastball velocity of the season at 90.8 miles per hour, but that’s still below his career average. He again said after the game that his shoulder feels good physically, but you wonder if this is the best we’re going to see from him moving forward.

5. Yankees starter Luis Severino deserves credit as he lowered his season ERA to 2.93 after 6 1/3 superb innings, but the Orioles scored fewer than five runs for the seventh straight game. Most of the lineup just looked lost as the quality at-bats were few and far between.

6. Manny Machado struck out four times in a game for the second time in his career as his average fell to .210. You could lower him in the order or sit him down, but perhaps a game at shortstop would get him to focus on something other than his struggles.

7. J.J. Hardy had an RBI single in the eighth, but three straight swinging strikes on Severino sliders with the bases loaded in the second were deflating as the Orioles had a chance to fight back against an early deficit. The 34-year-old shortstop has a .561 on-base plus slugging percentage.

8. Trey Mancini continues to be a bright spot as he went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a walk. His .873 OPS continues to lead the Orioles, and he continues to have impressive at-bats for a rookie.

9. Matt Holliday and Brett Gardner continue to be Oriole killers in 2017 as they each hit two home runs on Tuesday. Holliday has five homers against Baltimore this season while Gardner has four.

10. I hate the mentality of immediately blaming coaches when players aren’t performing, but hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh has to find a way to help get Machado going. The inconsistency of Chris Davis is one thing, but Machado is too good to be struggling this long.

11. Buck Showalter was asked about the possibility of shaking up the lineup Tuesday, and the time feels right to try it. With few hitting well, I’m not sure which direction to go, but maybe he should just draw names out of a hat like his mentor Billy Martin once did.

12. At some point, the obvious question needs to be asked about the Orioles’ starting rotation: How do you go about cloning Dylan Bundy?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-2 win over Yankees

Posted on 29 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles snapping their seven-game losing streak to beat the New York Yankees in a 3-2 final on Memorial Day, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dylan Bundy was the stopper, which is exactly what the club needed after dropping 13 of the previous 16 games. The 24-year-old registered his 10th quality start in 11 outings this season and did it against one of the best offenses in baseball. Where would the Orioles be without him?

2. The results over seven innings were paramount, but Bundy showed some of his best fastball velocity of the season, sitting comfortably around 93 mph over his final five innings and touching 95. For what it’s worth, this was about the point last year when his velocity began climbing.

3. Perhaps that velocity was the reason why Bundy relied so much on his fastball, throwing his four-seamer and two-seamer a combined 53 times against the powerful Yankees. We hear it over and over, but fastball command makes pitching so much easier and allows you to stay in attack mode.

4. Pitch efficiency allowed Bundy to complete seven innings for the fifth time this season as he had thrown only 72 pitches through six frames. A lengthy seventh prevented him from setting a new career-long outing, but he did quite a job staying out of trouble.

5. Jonathan Schoop delivered the key two-run double in the third after the Orioles had squandered some other opportunities early in the game. The second baseman added a nifty double play in the sixth inning with Bundy facing the heart of the New York order for the third time.

6. Bundy appeared to have struck him out on a questionable check-swing call earlier in the at-bat, but Aaron Judge showed off his monster power with a 429-foot home run to the bleachers on a 3-2 pitch in the seventh. He’s impressive to watch.

7. The Orioles made Jordan Montgomery throw a whopping 56 pitches over the first two innings, but they managed only one run. Give them credit for battling the lefty, but that’s the kind of result occurring far too often lately.

8. Buck Showalter would gladly take a young pitcher like Montgomery in his rotation, but his 100 pitches over 4 1/3 innings on Monday would fit right in with what we’ve been seeing in Baltimore. That’s not fun to watch.

9. The Orioles defense was trying to do too much early as Mark Trumbo cut in front of Joey Rickard on a fly ball — allowing Starlin Castro to advance to second — and Chris Davis deflected a Didi Gregorius grounder going right to Schoop. Those plays cost Bundy a run.

10. Darren O’Day is quietly looking like his old self again as he registered his fourth straight 1-2-3 inning and sixth consecutive scoreless appearance. He’s missing bats again, which the Orioles really needed.

11. That was as good as Brad Brach has looked all season as he struck out Judge and Gregorius to end the game. It isn’t coincidental that he and O’Day look much better when not having to pitch five times per week. Of course, the Orioles need to find middle ground.

12. Manny Machado struck out to lead off the bottom of the third and slammed his bat down at home plate, leaving the bat boy to go fetch it in the middle of an inning. His .216 average is concerning enough, but that wasn’t a good look at all.

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Time for Orioles to reset bullpen — and find more quality

Posted on 17 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The idea of a six-man bullpen sounded good in theory for the Orioles.

Wanting to keep an extra position player for more flexibility off the bench late in games and having a collection of long relievers with minor-league options on the Norfolk shuttle, manager Buck Showalter tried to maneuver his way through games with at least one fewer reliever available on any given night. The plan may have worked had All-Star closer Zach Britton not re-injured his left forearm upon being activated from the disabled list in early May.

But the failure of the experiment came to a climax in Detroit Tuesday night with the kind of bullpen meltdown that’s been rare in these parts for a long time. Before putting Mychal Givens, Brad Brach, and Donnie Hart on full blast for their efforts in Detroit — and, yes, their performance was brutal — realize there are multiple reasons why the six-man bullpen hasn’t worked.

Many have fairly pointed to the lack of quantity in the bullpen, but the issue is as much about the need for more quality. You can argue that Showalter has relied too heavily on his top relievers in Britton’s absence if you want, but then you have to accept those times when he’s tried others in tight spots — like Alec Asher and Vidal Nuno during the recent four-game losing streak — and it hasn’t worked. Last year’s wild-card game in Toronto reminded us that the Orioles manager is hardly beyond reproach and maybe Darren O’Day’s recent shoulder issue should have landed him on the DL in favor of another healthy arm, but Showalter’s track record for managing a bullpen speaks for itself over the last five years and any skipper is going to look foolish when his top relievers perform like they have recently.

The Orioles need to find another bullpen arm — maybe two — who can be trusted in the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning of a close game, whether that guy is currently in their minor-league system or elsewhere. Frankly, a seventh pitcher in the bullpen isn’t going to help much if he can only be relied upon in mop-up situations.

The starting rotation hasn’t helped with Dylan Bundy being the only one offering both quality and length in his outings this season. Wade Miley’s 3.02 ERA looks good at first glance, but he’s averaging just over five innings per start and walking nearly six batters per nine innings. Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez both have ERAs above 6.00 while Chris Tillman is still building shoulder strength in his recent return from the disabled list. It doesn’t take a pitching guru to figure out what strain that kind of a rotation can have on a bullpen.

Until scoring 21 runs over the last two games, the offense also deserved blame for scoring at a below-average level over much of the first six weeks of the season and putting so much pressure on late-inning relief. All those narrow, low-scoring victories that we saw in April and early May take their toll on higher-leverage relievers when the starting rotation is averaging 5.4 innings per start and the best closer on the planet is on the DL. This roster was constructed to have an above-average offense that will hit gobs of home runs to give the pitching some breathing room from time to time at the very least. Instead, the Orioles continue to lead the league in save opportunities.

You can only hope the recent awakening of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo is a sign of better things to come for the offense.

Even without Britton, the rest of the bullpen is too good to continue like this. There’s little reason to think guys like Brach, O’Day, and Givens can’t return to pitching at a high level if they can stay healthy and relatively fresh, but they also have to take accountability for their own performance and rise up to get the job done without their normal ninth-inning man behind them.

The group must find a way to keep its head above water until Britton returns, which the Orioles hope will be sometime next month.

Still, you get the sense that the Orioles will need to average five or six runs per game more consistently to continue winning games in the short term. That and some reasonable improvement from the rotation would go a long way in calming the current relief crisis.

It’s time to reset the bullpen by adding a seventh man and auditioning the likes of Edwin Jackson, Stefan Crichton, and Jimmy Yacabonis for a legitimate middle-relief role. Perhaps the idea of using Mike Wright in middle relief should be revisited with several starting options ahead of him in the pecking order backing up the current rotation.

But a return to a seven-man bullpen may not matter if the group doesn’t get help from the rest of the roster.

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What has happened to Kevin Gausman?

Posted on 15 May 2017 by Luke Jones

There’s been plenty to dislike during the Orioles’ season-worst four-game losing streak, but the latest poor outing from Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman tops the list.

Seemingly poised to become a top-of-the-rotation starter after a superb final two months of 2016, the 26-year-old has instead been one of the worst pitchers in baseball to begin the new season.

The fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft entered Monday last among qualified American League starters with a 7.19 ERA over his first nine starts and is better than only the 43-year-old Bartolo Colon in the major leagues. In blowing a 5-0 lead in Sunday’s 9-8 loss to Kansas City, Gausman surrendered at least five earned runs for the fourth time in his last six starts, an alarming stretch considering he entered the season with a total of 12 outings of five or more earned runs allowed in his entire career. Forgetting any visions of Gausman becoming an ace, where’s the solid pitcher who posted a combined 3.77 ERA over the previous three seasons to serve as a middle-of-the-rotation starter?

That’s what makes his horrendous start so troubling. Contrary to the many frustrated fans comparing him to Jake Arrieta — though his sudden fourth-inning collapse against the Royals on Sunday was quite “Arrietian” in nature — and Brian Matusz, Gausman has had much more success than either of those two ever did as starters in Baltimore. The right-hander hasn’t struggled to this degree since early in his rookie season when he was a year removed from being drafted and hadn’t pitched above Double-A Bowie.

So, what’s wrong with the talented young pitcher?

A career-low 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a career-high 4.6 walks per nine are red flags that beg to question whether Gausman is healthy, but his average fastball velocity is nearly identical to what it was last year and is in line with where it sat when he was exceptional over the final two months of 2016, according to PITCHf/x data. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t still be hiding an injury as diminished command can be an early sign of an ailment, but manager Buck Showalter has volunteered more than once that Gausman is in a good place physically after dealing with bouts of shoulder tendinitis in 2015 and early in 2016.

Gausman has spoken more than once about his mechanics being out of sync as the novice can see how frequently his fastball has leaked to his arm side this season. Even his biggest critics over the last few years acknowledge that he never had a problem with issuing free passes after walking just 2.5 per nine frames over his first four seasons. If his delivery is out of whack and causing his poor command, what is new pitching coach Roger McDowell doing to help matters?

Regardless of how hard he’s been hit overall, Gausman simply isn’t throwing as many strikes — a career-low 60.6 percent of his pitches have been strikes compared to 64.4 percent over the previous two years — and that’s clearly a problem.

There have been some changes to Gausman’s pitch usage early in 2017 that could either help explain or merely reflect his overall problems.

The development of an effective breaking ball has been a well-documented obstacle throughout his professional career, but he revealed in the spring that he was going back to his slider after leaning more on a curveball the previous two years. Gausman is throwing the slider more frequently than ever — with the occasional curve mixed in — and his average slider velocity of 84.3 mph is much faster than he’s ever thrown it, but the results still haven’t been there.

Making matters worse has been the regression of his split-changeup, which had easily been his best secondary pitch over his first four major league seasons. According to Brooks Baseball, Gausman is throwing his split a career-low 14.8 percent of the time, and the sharp break and consistent command of the pitch just haven’t been there. Though that pitch has been more effective against left-handed batters and he did face some righty-heavy lineups early in April, a 1.5-percent decrease in lefty hitters faced from a year ago is hardly meaningful enough to justify such a decrease in his usage of the split.

Has his spring focus and increased velocity on the slider somehow compromised the reliability of the fastball-split combination that had made him consistently competitive in the majors over the last few years?

Only Gausman can know this for sure, but could at least part of the problem be mental?

Despite looking every bit the part of an ace over the final two months of 2016, Gausman had to hear about the increased expectations throughout the offseason, especially with veteran Chris Tillman sidelined throughout the spring and over the first month of the season. Has the emergence of Dylan Bundy prompted Gausman to put more pressure on himself to be great since the 24-year-old has spent a fraction of the time in the majors compared to him?

After Gausman received little run support a year ago, no one can complain about the lineup’s contributions as he’s received the best run support of his career so far in 2017. Staked to a 9-1 lead at Yankee Stadium last month, Gausman gave up five earned runs and was chased in the seventh inning of a game the Orioles inexplicably lost in extra innings. On Sunday, it took him only minutes to squander a 5-0 lead as MASN broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer questioned his concentration level during the telecast.

Whatever the explanation, the Orioles need Gausman to rediscover himself quickly. With Tillman not pitching at full strength and Bundy still in his first full season as a major league starter, Gausman is too important to the fate of the 2017 club to continue performing like this. His track record as a reliable middle-of-the-rotation arm for the better part of the previous three seasons makes him deserving of at least a few more starts to get back on track and start showing consistent improvement, but he can’t continue holding a rotation spot as one of the worst pitchers in baseball for the long term — even with the lack of viable alternatives.

Those offseason thoughts of Gausman finally becoming a No. 1 starter may look foolish at the moment, but, at this point, the Orioles would take him being the solid pitcher he’s been for most of his career.

Aside from a start or two, even that guy is nowhere to be found in 2017.

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Finale of Orioles-Nationals series postponed due to rain

Posted on 11 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles will have to wait to conclude their 2017 season series with the Washington Nationals after Thursday’s game was postponed due to rain.

The game will be made up on June 8 at 7:05 p.m. with tickets for Thursday’s game at Nationals Park being honored on that date. Baltimore will squeeze in that makeup game between a two-game home set with Pittsburgh and a three-game weekend series at Yankee Stadium beginning on June 9.

Though clubs never want to lose a scheduled off-day, Thursday’s postponement doesn’t come at the worst time for a pitching staff that’s endured plenty of hardships over the last two weeks. From the abbreviated starts turned in from Kevin Gausman and Wade Miley last week to the unfortunate recurrence of All-Star closer Zach Britton’s left forearm strain, the Orioles have answered plenty of challenges to continue to hold one of the best records in baseball. However, an undermanned bullpen gave up five runs in the final two innings of Wednesday’s 7-6 defeat to the Nationals.

The Orioles prevailed in the first two games of the series at Camden Yards earlier this week.

The inclement weather also allows Thursday’s scheduled starter Dylan Bundy to receive an extra day of rest, which isn’t a bad idea for a young pitcher currently ranking seventh in the American League in innings pitched and still in his first full season as a major league starter. With Bundy starting the opener in Kansas City, Chris Tillman’s second start of the season has now been pushed back to Saturday and Kevin Gausman will start the finale on Sunday afternoon.

A roster move could also be coming on Friday as The Virginian-Pilot’s David Hall reported that left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino was scratched from his Thursday start for Triple-A Norfolk and would be joining the Orioles in Kansas City.

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Even by Orioles standards, superb start to 2017 tough to explain

Posted on 11 May 2017 by Luke Jones

We’ve been here before talking about the Orioles.

After another offseason in which the projection models and pundits didn’t like their chances in the American League East, the Orioles are off to their best start of the Buck Showalter era. Now a fifth of the way through the season, Baltimore entered Thursday on pace to win 108 games despite playing 24 of its first 27 games against division opponents and 21 contests against clubs currently above .500. It’s hardly been a cupcake schedule for the Orioles, who own a winning record on the road and the best home mark in the majors.

Veteran starting pitcher Chris Tillman and All-Star closer Zach Britton have missed most of the season with the latter not expected to return until the latter half of June at the earliest. Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman has a 6.63 ERA through his first eight starts. Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis have a total of eight home runs and both have slugging percentages under .400 so far. Even Manny Machado is hitting just .227 despite leading the club in homers and RBIs.

Of course, the Orioles have had their share of surprises, too, with Dylan Bundy looking every bit the part of an ace over his first seven starts, Wade Miley overcoming a slew of walks to pitch to a 2.45 ERA, and Trey Mancini ranking second on the club in home runs, but how do you best explain a .667 winning percentage through the first 33 games?

The stock answer for most of their success since 2012 has been home runs and strong bullpen work, but even those assumed strengths have been only slightly above average through the first 5 1/2 weeks of the season.

The Orioles entered Thursday sixth in the AL in both home runs and bullpen ERA. The offense ranks seventh in the league in runs and eighth in on-base plus slugging percentage. The rotation has been better than expected without Tillman, but Baltimore still ranks just seventh of 15 AL clubs in starter ERA. It hasn’t been about elite defense, either, as the Orioles are tied for 12th in the AL in defensive runs saved.

In other words, everything about this club has been ordinary except its win-loss record, which is paramount and clearly nothing for which to apologize. An 8-2 record in one-run games and a plus-13 run differential reflect good fortune in amassing a 22-11 record, but the best way to describe the 2017 Orioles so far is to say they’ve been been really good at being opportunistic.

Their .303 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks second in the AL and their pitcher win probability added (WPA) leads the league, which are both indicators of “clutch” performance. The offense has been good when it’s absolutely needed to be while the pitching has been at its best in many high-leverage moments.

Even the most optimistic of fans would concede that the Orioles won’t continue winning two-thirds of their games, but such a strong start has given them some breathing room to tread water if we assume the young and surprising New York Yankees aren’t going to keep winning at their same impressive rate, either.

It’s reasonable to expect the likes of Trumbo, Davis, and Gausman to pick up their production while acknowledging the likelihood of regression for Bundy, Miley, and Mancini, but the bullpen has to be the biggest concern even before Wednesday’s meltdown in Washington. A healthy Britton was never going to be as dominant as he was in his historic 2016, but you just don’t replace the man who ranked second on last year’s club at 4.3 wins above replacement and led all major league pitchers in WPA by a wide margin. The 2016 AL Reliever of the Year made up for plenty of deficiencies last season that would have otherwise prevented the Orioles from qualifying for the postseason for the third time in five years.

Making matters more difficult for Showalter is the current five-man bench, which leaves the Orioles with just six arms in the bullpen on a given night. Yes, the organization has effectively used the Norfolk shuttle to receive some meaningful contributions in long relief, but you’d prefer having another reliable middle-to-late relief option to use in the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning in a given night. It’s a lot to ask of Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens, and Donnie Hart to pick up the slack in Britton’s absence, and we’ve seen each struggle at times with Brach and his 10.29 ERA since April 28 most recently receiving the loudest criticism.

For now, the Orioles can feel good about their terrific start knowing they haven’t come close to firing on all cylinders yet. But if they’re going to continue to flourish, their old reliables must emerge sooner than later. The home runs need to start flying out of the ballpark more frequently and the bullpen must find a way to tighten up until Britton is hopefully ready to return early in the summer.

The latter is easier said than done, but if anyone can figure out the current relief puzzle, it’s Showalter. Once again, his club is showing to be greater than the sum of its parts.

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