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Twelve Orioles thoughts on approaching trade deadline

Posted on 10 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the non-waiver trade deadline just three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Manny Machado wasn’t pleased being asked by New York media about the Yankees’ reported trade interest after Monday’s doubleheader, but I don’t blame him after he’d answered multiple questions about his future earlier in the day. He’s handled the endless trade questions very well all season.

2. Machado has repeatedly stated his desire to stay at shortstop, but that’s a bigger issue for free agency than a contender needing a third baseman for 2 1/2 months. He was a pro deferring to J.J. Hardy for years, so this shouldn’t be any different, especially having a chance to win.

3. Any serious objection to trading Machado to the Yankees is based only on emotion. If theirs is the best offer, the Orioles would be foolish not to accept. Refusing to trade him to the Yankees won’t prevent him from signing in the Bronx if that’s where he wants to be.

4. The idea that the Orioles will deliberately keep Machado until after the All-Star Game in Washington was only a theory presented by another baseball executive to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, but that even being a possibility speaks to the negative perception of the organization. That must change.

5. Zach Britton has averaged a season-best 95.8 miles per hour on his sinker in each of his last two outings. That’s an encouraging sign and should ease some concerns about his poor performance and underwhelming velocity over his first eight outings of the season.

6. Meanwhile, Brad Brach’s trade value has been torpedoed by a 4.63 season ERA and a 7.50 mark since June 7. At this point, I’m not sure he’ll fetch much more than what the Orioles got for Tommy Hunter in 2015, a deal that brought only “Quad-A” outfielder Junior Lake.

7. In this era in which minor-league prospects are valued more than ever, packaging Machado and Britton together seems like a sound approach to land the two or three talents you really covet from another organization. Contenders can never have enough bullpen help, making that a formidable rental duo.

8. It’s hardly shocking there hasn’t been more out there about Adam Jones as marquee talents like Machado dominate headlines, but he remains a solid trade piece. His defense in center is a big topic of discussion, but don’t forget the remainder of his $17.33 million salary owed for 2018.

9. With that in mind, you’d like to see the Orioles be willing to eat some money in an effort to sweeten the pot of prospects coming their way. Including some cash could really improve a deal with a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold.

10. Time will tell what talent the Orioles secure in trades, but it’s encouraging seeing them target a number of prospects at the Single- and Double-A levels. The worst thing they could do is insist on major-league ready talent — with a lower ceiling — in an effort to be competitive in 2019.

11. His defensive struggles and a $13.5 million salary for 2019 are major obstacles, but Mark Trumbo is doing what he can to present himself as a long-shot trade piece. He entered Tuesday second on the Orioles with 12 homers and owns an .803 on-base plus slugging percentage. It’s still doubtful.

12. When you’re 40-plus games under .500 in July, all trade possibilities should be on the table, including players with years of club control remaining. Are the Orioles really going to be back in contention by the time Kevin Gausman (post-2020), Dylan Bundy (post-2021), and Mychal Givens (post-2021) hit free agency?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following Memorial Day checkpoint

Posted on 29 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With one-third of the Orioles’ 2018 season officially in the books after the 6-0 loss to Washington on Monday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles reached the much-discussed Memorial Day checkpoint sitting at 20 games below .500 and 20 games out of first place in the American League East. I’d say an extension to Flag Day probably isn’t necessary to determine how this organization needs to proceed.

2. Since plating 17 runs on Mother’s Day, the Baltimore lineup has scored three or fewer in 11 of 13 games. Pitching woes and bad defense haven’t surprised me, but I never expected the offense to be this consistently bad, ranking last in the AL in runs scored per game (3.83).

3. I’m unsure how good the likes of Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, and Austin Hays will be in the majors, but watching some of the outfield combinations used by Buck Showalter in recent weeks is tiresome. I suppose a 111-loss pace reflects the amount of dead weight on the current roster.

4. Continuing to bat Chris Davis fifth or sixth is even worse.

5. Alex Cobb turned in his longest start of the season Monday, but he was plagued by a 42-pitch third inning that didn’t feature a single swing and miss. He has the worst swinging-strike percentage among pitchers completing 40 innings. His split-changeup still hasn’t returned since Tommy John surgery.

6. Davis’ performance has helped mask the struggles of Jonathan Schoop, who owns a .667 on-base plus slugging percentage and a walk rate on par with his first two seasons. The oblique strain didn’t help, but this isn’t ideal for someone needing to be re-signed or traded in the near future.

7. Many were pointing to Richard Bleier as a possible candidate to represent the Orioles at the All-Star Game if Manny Machado were to be traded before then. A 5.23 ERA in May and opponents batting .438 against him this month have certainly cooled that possibility.

8. Trey Mancini is batting .203 with a .632 OPS since banging his knee against the brick wall on April 20. He hasn’t used the knee as an excuse, but he’s hitting too many balls on the ground and his defense has taken a substantial step back from last year.

9. Concerns about Andrew Cashner being able to miss bats have been quelled by him averaging 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but his previously-stellar ground-ball rate has plummeted to a career-worst 37.8 percent and he’s allowed 11 homers in 60 1/3 innings. That hasn’t been a good trade-off.

10. How big has the long-ball problem been for the rotation? Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Cashner, and Cobb all rank among the top 30 for worst homer rates in the majors among those completing at least 40 innings. Chris Tillman would also be on that list if he had enough innings.

11. This past weekend marked the six-year anniversary of Adam Jones inking his $85.5 million contract that was a winner for both sides. It represented happier times when a competitive window was just opening and the Orioles had the vision and urgency to lock up a 26-year-old entering his prime.

12. I’m unmoved about in-season firings in what’s already a lost year, but how refreshing would it be for a member of the Angelos family to speak about this being unacceptable, to vow changes, and to lay out some semblance of a vision? Is that really too much to ask?

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Bundy’s struggles take Orioles’ season to new low

Posted on 09 May 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Nearly 20 games below .500 three weeks before Memorial Day, the Orioles are a punchline to many in the sports world right now.

But there’s nothing funny about what’s going on with starting pitcher Dylan Bundy despite the best efforts of some on social media. Unlike the many poor performances from players unlikely to be in Baltimore beyond this season, the 25-year-old is supposed to be one of the few long-term answers in place for an organization full of uncertainty from top to bottom.

He represents hope, either as a fixture atop the rotation for years to come or even as a valuable trade chip for a last-place club desperately needing to rebuild.

That’s why Bundy becoming the first pitcher in major league history to allow four home runs in a game without retiring a batter Tuesday night wasn’t a laughing matter for anyone invested in the Orioles. After beginning the 2018 season with a sparkling 1.42 ERA, striking out 40, and allowing only one long ball in 31 2/3 innings, the 25-year-old has allowed an obscene nine homers and 19 earned runs in his last nine innings on the mound, ballooning his season ERA to 5.31.

Those three starts being the extreme opposite of what he did over his first five outings when he looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball will naturally prompt one to wonder whether Bundy is healthy. His well-documented injury history in the minors would make anyone take pause, but both Bundy and Buck Showalter said he felt good physically after Tuesday’s 15-7 loss, a claim the Orioles manager reiterated a day later.

“I know he went out and ran two miles today. He said he feels great,” said Showalter, who added that Bundy is still scheduled to make his next start on Sunday. “Sometimes there’s not a black and white answer. Anytime you have a guy who’s as good a pitcher as Dylan have some of the outings he’s had, it makes you look at it. It’s not as simple as, ‘Well, he’s always struggled in May.’ That’s not what I or Dylan or anybody wants to hear.

“That’s a little different proportion last night. We’ll take a look at him as always during the workday. I know he’s looking forward to getting back out there.”

Bundy’s average fastball velocity on Tuesday was 90.5 miles per hour and 90.6 in the start before that, down from his 91.7 average over his first five starts. That’s not a dramatic red flag by itself, but that decrease, less movement, and the poor command compared to what we’ve typically seen from the young pitcher raise concerns.

Showalter speculated after Tuesday’s game that the young pitcher could be going through a “dead arm” period that many pitchers experience during spring training. Bundy also dealt with some minor groin tightness on the Orioles’ last road trip, but he and Showalter dismissed its significance.

To be clear, no one should have expected him to continue pitching to an ERA well below 2.00, but Bundy was averaging a dominant 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings and opponents had a .325 batting average on balls in play over his first five starts. Those numbers suggest he wasn’t benefiting from luck in the way that even a bad pitcher can sometimes have a shiny ERA with some good fortune over a handful of starts. Bundy was bound to give up a few more long balls after surrendering only one over his first five starts, but the last three outings are a little much to simply chalk it up to some regression to the mean.

The good news is that Bundy is as mentally tough as young pitchers come, making it unlikely that the historic embarrassment of Tuesday night will linger beyond the short-term disappointment of not giving his team a chance to win. If the last three starts are only an extreme example of the ebbs and flows of a season or the result of a mechanical flaw that’s easily correctable, Bundy’s confidence level should be fine moving forward.

This Orioles season has been dreadful from the beginning with the day-to-day results already becoming inconsequential, but watching Bundy every fifth day was supposed to remain a highlight. The thought of him continuing to pitch like this or, even worse, there being an issue with his health makes a season that’s already been a nightmare that much worse.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts ahead of nine-game homestand

Posted on 08 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles limping home with an appalling 8-26 record after a winless trip to the West Coast, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore needs to play like a 92-win club the rest of the way to finish at .500 and like a 97-win team just to get to 85 wins. Even the obligatory Dumb and Dumber reference rings hollow at this point.

2. If you’re seeking any semblance of a silver lining, there shouldn’t be any danger of the organization having delusions of a chance at the trade deadline as it did in 2015 and 2017. Hovering a few games below .500 in late July and not selling would be worse than this.

3. Firing anyone at this point isn’t saving the season and isn’t going to prompt more fans to come to the ballpark. At the same time, nothing should be off the table when an organization is in this kind of a position and there’s so much blame to pass around.

4. As has been discussed by numerous outlets for months, the Orioles communicating and executing a short-term and long-term direction would mean more than firing or trading any individual. Chris Davis remaining the biggest example of long-term stability speaks volumes.

5. Part of that direction is determining how dramatically to rebuild. Trading pending free agents is easy, but will fetch mostly-underwhelming returns. Dealing Kevin Gausman or even Dylan Bundy would be painful, but they’d fetch more talent. Are the Orioles going to contend again before either hits free agency?

6. The organization should be open to trading Manny Machado at any moment, but I’m not convinced the best offers automatically come now rather than a little later. Teams’ needs and their level of urgency aren’t in a vacuum — even if it would be smart to maximize the rental.

7. Jonathan Schoop returning from the disabled list is a welcome sight. The Orioles would be wise to put on the full press to try to extend him over the next two months. If unsuccessful, trading him at the deadline should be a major priority. They shouldn’t repeat the Machado saga.

8. How to proceed with Adam Jones is complicated on various levels, especially since he has a full no-trade clause. However, he’s not going to have any trade value if he continues to sport a .674 on-base plus slugging percentage. He has two walks in 144 plate appearances.

9. The numbers back up how awful the Orioles defense has been as they entered Tuesday ranked dead last in the majors at minus-28 defensive runs saved. Trey Mancini is at a club-worst minus-10 defensive runs saved while Jones sits at minus-seven.

10. Alex Cobb looking much more like Alex Cobb over his last two starts has been encouraging. As was feared a few weeks ago, however, it already appears too late to make a meaningful difference in 2018.

11. No matter who runs the organization in 2019, persuading the Angelos family to reconsider its long-held position on sitting out the international market is a must if the Orioles ever want to build a strong farm system.

12. Nick Markakis owns a .977 OPS and has struck out 13 times compared to 20 walks in the final season of his deal with Atlanta. The 34-year-old hasn’t been great the entire time, but the Orioles could have used his dependability and .362 on-base percentage over these last few years.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 loss to Boston

Posted on 15 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their third straight defeat in a 3-1 final against the Boston Red Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles led 1-0 three batters into the game and didn’t score again as the bottom six lineup spots were 0-for-20 with one walk and 12 strikeouts. No one expects 10 runs per game with the tough schedule and cold weather they’ve endured in April, but this is ridiculous.

2. Sixteen games into the season, three regulars against right-handed starters — Manny Machado, Trey Mancini, and Pedro Alvarez — have swung the bat well. Two part-timers — Chance Sisco and Craig Gentry — have been OK. The overall performance of everyone else has ranged from poor to below-replacement level.

3. In the four games in which Dylan Bundy has started, he’s posted a 1.40 ERA while the Orioles have scored a total of seven runs. To channel Gisele Bundchen, he can’t pitch the ball and hit the ball. If only he were Shohei Ohtani.

4. Bundy recorded five of his six strikeouts on his slider and has now gotten a swing and miss on 35.3 percent of his sliders this season. That’s up from 24.4 percent last year. Impressive.

5. It’s tough to pitch when you have to get five outs in the sixth inning of a tie game. Maybe it wasn’t a great idea to cut payroll by 10 percent without bothering to acquire a real utility infielder. Danny Valencia’s career minus-36 defensive runs saved aren’t a secret.

6. Until this season, the infield had done a good job masking the Orioles’ overall defensive decline since 2014 when they led the American League in defensive runs saved. Baltimore entered Sunday 12th in the AL in DRS and has finished 11th or 12th every season since its division title campaign.

7. I’ve been a Caleb Joseph guy, but he really needs to start hitting. His defense is his strength, but a .286 on-base plus slugging percentage is unacceptable with Sisco behind him. He needs to produce in the neighborhood of what he offered last year (.700 OPS) or 2015 (.693).

8. Richard Bleier pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings isn’t shocking, but registering two strikeouts is rare after having only three in his first 9 2/3 innings of 2018 and striking out only 3.7 per nine frames last season. The lefty sinkerballer is a fascinating contrast to the strikeout-heavy relievers of today.

9. Even before Monday’s postponement, the Orioles were listing Chris Tillman’s turn in the rotation as TBD for the Detroit series. I expect him to receive a few more opportunities, but that’s still pretty telling. Then again, an 8.28 ERA since the start of last year says it all.

10. Jonathan Schoop expressed hope Sunday that he’d only be on the disabled list for the minimum 10 days before returning. I admire his desire, but oblique injuries can linger all season if not handled carefully. I expect the training staff to protect the All-Star second baseman from himself if necessary.

11. Alex Cobb had an awful debut, but overreaction has been silly. There’s much over which to be concerned, but declaring someone who signed less than four weeks ago a bust is a bit much. That said, Baltimore is already running out of time for Cobb to get up to speed.

12. We’re only 10 percent of the way through the schedule, but Sunday was only the third of 11 losses in which the margin of defeat was three runs or fewer, reflecting the struggle to even be all that competitive. It’s going to start getting late very early if this continues.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following Toronto series

Posted on 12 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles enjoying a day off after a series loss against Toronto, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles lineup scoring five runs in Wednesday’s win hardly qualifies as an offensive explosion, but that came after plating only seven runs in the first five games at Camden Yards and opponents twice taking no-hitters into the eighth inning. The bats have been colder than the weather.

2. Thirteen games isn’t a big sample, so how much can the offensive struggles be attributed to tough luck? The Orioles rank 23rd in batting average on balls in play (.280), but they lead the majors in strikeouts, are 25th in hard-contact percentage, and rank 27th in line-drive percentage. Discouraging signs.

3. Chris Davis collecting two hits on Wednesday was encouraging, but the thought of him trying to bunt on a 1-2 pitch in the eighth inning of a one-run game like he did Monday night would have been lunacy a few years ago. He looks so lost at the plate.

4. Coming off a career season, Jonathan Schoop figured to break out eventually, but his start had been brutal aside from a 7-for-13 series against Houston. Before his two-hit performance on Wednesday, Schoop had gone 3-for-40 with no extra-base hits against non-Astros opponents.

5. It’s a shame Dylan Bundy has received such poor run support early. From his sparkling 1.35 ERA and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings to a .283 opposing BABIP that’s actually higher than last year’s, everything about the start of his season beyond the empty win column has been Cy Young-like.

6. Kevin Gausman turned in a solid performance against Toronto, but his average fastball velocity this season is 92.3 miles per hour, virtually identical to Bundy’s (92.2). For someone who’s consistently averaged 95 mph and frequently reached the high 90s, that’s a potential red flag.

7. The bullpen pitched to an impressive 2.42 ERA over 26 innings in the New York series, but the group sports a 6.21 ERA against everyone else. Wednesday marked the first game in which the bullpen didn’t allow a run, but no one said it would be easy without Zach Britton.

8. Mark Trumbo’s setback that Buck Showalter wouldn’t call a setback isn’t good news, but Pedro Alvarez is currently sporting a .462 on-base percentage. Alvarez isn’t known for his consistency, but the Orioles could have an eventual problem since you don’t want either slugger playing defense regularly.

9. Chance Sisco has had trouble hitting breaking balls, but his throwing has been solid and he’s shown ability to drive the ball the other way. I expect Caleb Joseph to pick it up offensively, but Sisco will push for more playing time sooner than later if he keeps this up.

10. Andrew Cashner has posted a 2.50 ERA, his strikeout rate is up, and he’s missing more bats than he has in a couple years. A few young pitchers have also gravitated to him in the clubhouse, which is a perk as long as he’s getting the job done on the mound.

11. Acknowledging the circumstances that left the bullpen in poor shape at the start of the week, I still didn’t like the Orioles disrupting the start of Hunter Harvey’s season at Double-A Bowie. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed about him not making an appearance this week.

12. The offense has been poor, the defense isn’t what it used to be, the bullpen has been inconsistent, and the starting rotation remains a sustantial concern despite having more upside than recent seasons. Beyond singling out Bundy or Manny Machado, what exactly is this club’s strength?

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Cobb won’t make Orioles debut before April 14

Posted on 31 March 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Free-agent acquisition Alex Cobb won’t be making his first start for the Orioles before April 14.

The right-hander completed a four-inning outing on 48 pitches in extended spring training on Friday and will complete five innings in his next start and build up to six frames before being recalled from Double-A Bowie. Cobb will be on the Baysox roster for that final six-inning outing, but he is not expected to pitch in an actual Eastern League game at this point.

Pitchers on minor-league rehab assignments are usually permitted to use a major league ball, but since Cobb was optioned to the minors and is not coming back from an injury, he would be required to use the minor-league ball that has raised seams. Some fear this could put strain on the pitcher’s arm, and it’s no secret that Cobb is only three years removed from Tommy John surgery.

“One of the problems you have is in a situation like this, they don’t let you use a major league baseball, which really doesn’t make much sense at all,” manager Buck Showalter said. “One, to have two different baseballs [between the majors and minors], and a lot of guys don’t want to throw the minor-league ball. I’m sure [Philadelphia is] going to have the same issue with Jake Arrieta in Clearwater.

“Alex will not throw that baseball, so if they make him throw it — and that’s where they’re going — then we’re going to come up with another plan. Crazy, isn’t it?”

That plan could mean him simply pitching in a simulated game involving Baysox hitters on April 9 before he would make his 2018 debut at Boston five days later. Showalter cautioned that the organization could decide to give him an extra day of rest at some point or adjust the current schedule if necessary.

Right-hander Mike Wright will indeed fill Cobb’s spot in the Baltimore rotation and will start against Houston on Tuesday. Showalter has elected to give Opening Day starter Dylan Bundy the benefit of an extra day of rest rather than moving him up in the five-man rotation because of the Friday off-day.

Chris Tillman will start Monday’s game against the Astros while Bundy will pitch the finale of the three-game set on Wednesday afternoon.

Outfielder Mark Trumbo (right quadriceps strain) has begun to do some light hitting and will travel to Sarasota after Sunday’s finale against Minnesota. He will take full batting practice on Monday and is scheduled to play in an extended spring game on Friday.

Closer Zach Britton (Achilles tendon) will travel with the club on the upcoming road trip.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-2 win on Opening Day

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles recording their third straight Opening Day walk-off victory in a 3-2 win over Minnesota in 11 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Two days shy of the 10th anniversary of his first game with the Orioles, Adam Jones provided another memory with his game-winning homer in the 11th, his first walk-off blast since 2012. He owns a .341 average with two homers, six doubles, a triple, and eight RBIs in 11 openers.

2. Manny Machado’s future has understandably been the focus for months, but Jones remains the heart and soul of the Orioles. Drafted a few months after the center fielder was acquired from Seattle in 2008, Caleb Joseph described what he’s meant to the organization perfectly:

3. Dylan Bundy didn’t receive the win, but his Opening Day start was exactly what the Orioles envisioned when they drafted him. He was up in the zone early as Minnesota made some loud outs, but he was superb as the game progressed, tossing seven shutout innings on 88 pitches.

4. Twelve of Bundy’s 15 swinging strikes came on his slider, which had terrific downward movement. All seven of his strikeouts came on that pitch. What a weapon.

5. Bundy’s best work came in the fifth inning after Byron Buxton stole second base with one out. That’s when a starter needs to bear down in a scoreless game, and he proceeded to strike out Jason Castro and Brian Dozier to end the threat.

6. The defense didn’t help and Robbie Grossman’s game-tying single was a bloop, but Brad Brach blowing the save doesn’t inspire confidence with Zach Britton’s return at least a couple months away. Going back to last year, Brach seems to fall into protect mode rather than attacking hitters in save situations.

7. Who would have predicted Joseph hitting the first triple and picking up the first RBIs of the season? He’s done a commendable job putting his historically-nightmarish 2016 season behind him.

8. The Orioles scoring two runs while striking out four times in the seventh inning felt very Oriole-like, didn’t it?

9. An 0-for-4 performance in the leadoff spot is nothing over which to fret, but two defensive miscues — including one that started the Twins’ ninth-inning rally — and nearly getting thrown out at second base on Machado’s ninth-inning single made for a forgettable day for Chris Davis.

10. Craig Gentry starting in right field over Colby Rasmus raised a few eyebrows, but watching him rob Eddie Rosario of a home run in the second inning made Buck Showalter look like a genius. That was a tremendous catch.

11. Jake Odorizzi did an excellent job changing speeds and the eye levels of Orioles hitters with his splitter, curve, and elevated fastballs on the inner half of the plate. The Twins starter and Bundy put on a good show.

12. The Orioles have won eight straight season openers under Showalter. It’s one of 162 games, but the manager always talks about wanting to send a big crowd home happy in hopes that they’ll come back, and that’s certainly been the case with the last three openers ending in walk-off wins.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering 2018 season

Posted on 26 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles about to begin the 2018 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Alex Cobb signing not only added much-needed teeth to a rotation that finished last in the majors in starter ERA in 2017, but it brings real hope for another fun season if several variables break the right way. That optimism simply wasn’t there a week ago.

2. Cobb’s addition was also a meaningful sign of commitment beyond 2018, something that had been lacking all winter. That’s important when the contracts of your general manager, manager, and several key players are all expiring after this season. I’m intrigued to see what happens next.

3. Cobb and Andrew Cashner hardly make the Baltimore rotation one to fear around baseball, but adding two ground-ball pitchers with a history of keeping the ball in the park certainly makes sense playing at homer-friendly Camden Yards.

4. Anger over how the Orioles have mishandled the Manny Machado situation is completely justified, but don’t let that totally ruin your enjoyment from watching him this season. He’s happy to finally be playing shortstop, and I’m curious to see how that impacts his performance on a daily basis.

5. Dylan Bundy fetching positive results in his final spring outing eased some concerns, but his Grapefruit League numbers were also poor last year. It’s good to see him finally making an Opening Day start after the expectations that have followed him from the moment he was drafted seven years ago.

6. I’d be more worked up about Chris Davis possibly leading off if the Orioles actually had an ideal candidate for that job, but there’s no understating how important it is for Davis to rebound from 2017 to improve the club’s outlook — this year and beyond.

7. I had no problem re-signing Chris Tillman as a fifth starter candidate, but you just can’t stick with him long if he looks like the 2017 version, especially with only a $3 million salary. An 8.03 ERA with eight walks and four strikeouts in 12 1/3 spring innings isn’t encouraging.

8. A reasonable expectation of catching duties — assuming good health — would be Caleb Joseph catching 60 percent of games and Chance Sisco handling the other 40 percent with some occasional designated hitter duties. Of course, growth behind the plate from Sisco could change that ratio.

9. This Q&A was a good look into the psyche of Kevin Gausman as this could be the “now or never” season for him to put it all together or simply remain an average — and frustratingly inconsistent — starter. He posted a 2.62 ERA in 113 1/3 innings with Joseph catching last year.

10. Danny Valencia provides a potent bat against lefty pitching, but a 33-year-old who’s registered minus-34 defensive runs saved at third base in his career and has no meaningful experience up the middle isn’t an appropriate utility infielder. This isn’t a well-constructed bench going into the season.

11. Darren O’Day struck out 10 and allowed only one run in seven spring innings. The 35-year-old providing the durability and consistency he did from 2012-15 would make this bullpen that much better trying to endure Zach Britton’s absence.

12. I don’t see how carrying the out-of-options Mike Wright and two Rule 5 pitchers, Nestor Cortes and Pedro Araujo, will be tenable. Even assuming one of the three goes when Cobb is activated, does the upside justify the lack of flexibility? The irrational Rule 5 fascination lives on.

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Bundy selected as Orioles starter for Opening Day

Posted on 22 March 2018 by Luke Jones

A move anticipated for much of the spring became official Thursday as the Orioles announced right-hander Dylan Bundy would be the Opening Day starter against Minnesota on March 29.

It’s a role that’s been envisioned from the time Bundy was selected out of high school with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft, but injuries threatened to derail a promising career before he finally established himself as a major league pitcher in 2016. Had the just-signed Alex Cobb arrived in camp several weeks ago, he might have received the honor because of his accomplishments with Tampa Bay, but it will instead be Bundy’s task while the veteran newcomer will build up some innings in the minors.

Bundy, 25, is entering his second full season as a starter after winning 13 games and posting a solid 4.24 ERA in 169 2/3 innings in 2017. His 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings dipped slightly from his rookie year when he pitched the first half of the season out of the bullpen, but Bundy struck out an impressive 9.9 batters per nine frames after last July’s All-Star break. He finished third on the club in wins above replacement (2.7) and first among Baltimore pitchers, according to Baseball Reference.

After posting an impressive 2.93 ERA over the first two months of last season, Bundy struggled in June and July before rebounding in August as the club went through the efforts of giving him extra rest in the second half. He pitched a one-hit shutout while striking out 12 against Seattle on Aug. 29, one of the more impressive pitching performances in club history.

It’s been a poor statistical spring for Bundy, who’s posted a 9.00 ERA in 15 Grapefruit League innings. However, manager Buck Showalter is trusting an already-solid track record built over the last two years, an impressive feat since the talented pitcher had missed most of his final three minor-league seasons with elbow and shoulder injuries.

Kevin Gausman started the 2017 opener while Chris Tillman took the ball in three consecutive Opening Days prior to that.

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