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After promising stretch, Orioles pitching again looking too vulnerable

Posted on 17 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles pitching staff appeared to be turning a corner not long ago.

Despite a maddening offensive slump that led to three straight losses in Oakland last week, the starting rotation had rattled off seven straight quality starts as the latest sign of its second-half improvement. There had been some hiccups here and there from the bullpen, but Darren O’Day had finally returned a couple weeks before and the group still led the American League in ERA.

All the Orioles needed was their all-too-powerful offense to awaken from its second-half slumber and they’d seemingly be ready to take off at the right time in an all-too-tight AL East battle with Toronto and Boston.

Then, word came over the weekend that O’Day was dealing with a strained rotator cuff that required a cortisone injection and another trip to the disabled list. Manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday that the hope is for the veteran right-hander to be ready to return at the end of the minimum 15-day DL period, but a shoulder issue is one of the last things you want for a pitcher, particularly one as important as O’Day to Baltimore’s success over the last five years.

Making matters worse are the recent struggles of All-Star setup man Brad Brach, who pitched incredibly well during O’Day’s extended absence earlier in the season. The right-hander gave up the deciding two-run homer to Boston’s Mookie Betts in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to elevate his ERA to 4.50 in 12 innings of work since the All-Star break. It would have been unfair to expect Brach to maintain the microscopic 0.91 ERA he posted in 49 1/3 innings in the first half, but you do wonder if such a stressful workload and some simple regression to the mean are catching up to him down the stretch.

If they’re to endure this latest O’Day absence, the Orioles need Brach to find his first-half form sooner rather than later.

Of course, Showalter revealing Tuesday night that 15-game winner Chris Tillman would not pitch on Wednesday due to shoulder soreness creates more restlessness. Tillman is currently slated to start against Houston on Saturday, but there is clearly enough concern to scratch your ace from a critical game against the AL East foe who just pulled even with the Orioles for second place in the division.

Dylan Bundy will now try to continue his impressive run as a starter against the highest-scoring offense in the major leagues.

It could all be fine with Tillman making that Saturday start without any issue and a rested and healthy O’Day returning to action before the end of the month, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should be feeling more urgency to fortify the pitching staff ahead of the waiver trade deadline in two weeks. At the very least, the Orioles would benefit from another reliable reliever to ease the burden on Brach and Mychal Givens in trying to bridge the gap to All-Star closer Zach Britton.

Right now, the remainder of the bullpen consists of three long relievers — Vance Worley, Tyler Wilson, and the seldom-used Ubaldo Jimenez — and unproven left-hander Donnie Hart. The Orioles entered Tuesday’s game still sporting an AL-leading 3.15 bullpen ERA, but the parts just don’t breed confidence right now.

Doubts have persisted all year about the pitching, but the latest developments aren’t doing the Orioles any favors.

The offense rising to the occasion like it did in the first half would surely quell concerns, but the Orioles can only hope that a couple of sore shoulders won’t derail what’s been a surprisingly strong season.

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Sunday proved to be well worth wait for Orioles

Posted on 07 August 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles were the worst team in baseball when they selected Manny Machado with the third overall pick of the 2010 draft.

They were stuck in last place in the American League East a year later when they took Dylan Bundy fourth overall.

Both have experienced their trials — Bundy more so than Machado, of course — but it was gratifying to see the pair shine together in Sunday’s 10-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. It’s what Orioles fans only dreamed about five years ago, but the 23-year-old pitcher has finally joined the three-time All-Star third baseman in the major league spotlight.

Machado has provided plenty of highlights in his young career, but he became the first major leaguer to hit a home run in each of the first three innings of a game since Carl Reynolds in 1930. His seven RBIs were a career high and the highest single-game total from an Oriole since Nelson Cruz in 2014.

More importantly for the Orioles, it capped off a reawakening of the 24-year-old’s bat this weekend as he had hit .209 with a .621 on-base plus slugging percentage since the start of July before turning in a three-hit performance on Friday night. Much focus has fallen on the struggles of first baseman Chris Davis in recent weeks, but Machado is Baltimore’s best player and needs to play at a high level over the final eight weeks in the push for the division title.

Of course, Machado was most responsible for the breathing room afforded to Bundy on Sunday, but the young right-hander responded exactly as manager Buck Showalter wanted to see. Throwing a career-high 92 pitches, Bundy completed six strong innings and allowed just two runs while registering a career-high nine strikeouts in his fifth major league start.

His 14 swinging strikes were a career high as Bundy set the tone for the outing in the first inning with three swinging strikeouts — one each with his fastball, changeup, and curveball. He arguably had his best curve we’d seen all season — striking out three more with it — but the most encouraging part of his outing was seeing see him finish off Justin Morneau with a 95 mph fastball for a strikeout to end the sixth.

Everyone will continue crossing their fingers as hard as they can regarding his health, but Bundy only appears to be getting stronger in a starter role. His season strikeout rate is now 9.0 per nine innings after so much discussion centered around his inability to miss bats early in the year.

While Machado has been an established star for a couple years ago, Bundy has pitched a lot like one for over two months now, posting a 2.28 ERA over his last 47 1/3 innings dating back to May 27. It’s sure been fun watching him play catch-up after three injury-riddled seasons that threatened to derail his development.

Winning just their ninth road series of the season was more important to the Orioles than how the details played out on Sunday, but there was something special about seeing both Machado and Bundy shine together in the midst of a pennant race.

It was a reminder of how far the Orioles have come since the two were drafted a year apart.

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Bundy starts rapidly becoming appointment viewing for Orioles fans

Posted on 03 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Dylan Bundy isn’t the only rookie pitcher to start fast for the Orioles over the last 15 years.

Check out what Josh Towers did in his first handful of major league starts in 2001.

Brad Bergesen was Baltimore’s best starter in 2009.

Even Mike Wright tossed 14 1/3 scoreless innings in his first two major league starts last year.

But this time, it looks and feels different. We long heard the hype surrounding the 2011 first-round pick and waited five years to see the young right-hander finally have the chance to perform on this stage — not counting his cup of coffee as a 19-year-old in 2012 — after three years’ worth of health problems.

After taking no-hitters into the sixth inning in back-to-back outings, Bundy is rapidly turning his starts into appointment viewing for fans while giving the Orioles a fantastic chance to win when he pitches. Asked whether he was disappointed or relieved — knowing Bundy’s pitch count wouldn’t reasonably allow him to go the distance — to see Elvis Andrus single to break up the no-hit bid in the sixth, Buck Showalter chuckled as he quipped that he’d never tell. The manager then admitted the seventh inning still would have been Bundy’s last regardless of whether a no-hitter was intact or not.

You can’t help but wonder if a similar question extends to the terrific way Bundy has pitched as he moves closer to a presumed innings limit that no one in the organization wants to discuss in any detail. How could the Orioles possibly take him out of play while fighting for the American League East title? But how can they responsibly allow Bundy to pitch into September and potentially October after he threw a combined 65 1/3 innings the previous three seasons?

Any decision to shut him down would sure be easier if his results were underwhelming, but the Orioles are obviously thrilled with the immediate return in helping a poor rotation.

Bundy has been brilliant since the end of May when the Orioles began giving him at least three days’ rest between relief appearances. In his last 40 innings dating back to May 31, the 23-year-old has posted a 2.25 ERA with 34 hits allowed, 47 strikeouts, six home runs surrendered, and only nine walks.

He was unaware that Tuesday marked the longest outing of his professional career, surpassing the 6 2/3 innings he threw for Single-A Frederick at Lynchburg on Aug. 1, 2012. His game score of 81 matched Tyler Wilson’s eight shutout innings at Boston on June 16 as the highest of the season by an Orioles starter.

Any pitcher can have a good start, but Bundy’s command is impeccable as he consistently hits the catcher’s glove within the strike zone. It’s all impressive, the mid-90s fastball, the slow curve, the terrific changeup that he didn’t begin throwing until four years ago. Of his 88 pitches on Tuesday, 60 were strikes and he walked just one batter while striking out seven.

As we’ve now seen for a couple months, Bundy appears to have the rare ability to make an incredibly difficult task look relatively easy. Of course, we know it won’t always be as easy as he’s made it look.

He’s only had four major league starts, but there’s a growing buzz inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards whenever he pitches. You just pray that he stays healthy and that the Orioles don’t completely lose sight of what’s best for him while focusing on the present pennant race.

There can be a today as long as the Orioles remember there is a tomorrow with Bundy and do whatever they can to help him continue on with good health.

The organization has long felt that he has the ability to be the true ace its lacked since the days of Mike Mussina. Bundy still has a long way to go, but seven innings of one-hit ball against an imposing lineup was another flash of that talent as more and more fans are anticipating what will happen with each start.

After his potential felt much more like a ghost over the last couple years, Bundy is here in the flesh and turning heads.

Teammate Darren O’Day might have said it best in summarizing Bundy’s growth from the beginning of the season until now.

“We enjoyed the time we had with him in the bullpen, but I think he’s moved on to better things.”

The Orioles have a good problem on their hands.

And fans can’t wait to see what happens next.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-1 loss to Colorado

Posted on 28 July 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 100th game of the 2016 season.

1st — The recent offensive woes continued as the Orioles went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings alone. Baltimore entered Wednesday averaging just 3.5 runs per game in July and only 2.9 per contest since the All-Star break, but there were plenty of opportunities against Rockies starter Jon Gray in the middle innings. In the fourth, Manny Machado popped out to shallow left with runners at the corners and no outs and Mark Trumbo and Jonathan Schoop later failed to deliver with the bases loaded. An inning later, J.J. Hardy, Nolan Reimold, and Adam Jones squandered a leadoff double. Gray is talented and was the third overall pick of the 2013 draft, but this was a winnable game with even a decent offensive showing. Virtually everyone in the order has had his share of recent struggles, but Chris Davis has one hit in his last 27 at-bats while Trumbo is hitless in his last 17 at-bats. The Orioles need to get their offense going quickly with a three-game set in Toronto looming this weekend after the one-day trip to Minnesota for a makeup game on Thursday.

2nd — Dylan Bundy turned in a special performance that was only tainted by two changeups up in the strike zone that went for home runs in his final inning of work. The 23-year-old’s outing was electric as he retired the first 16 hitters he faced and struck out a career-high eight, creating quite a buzz at Camden Yards in only his third major league start. However, the lack of run support did Bundy no favors as he ran into trouble in the sixth inning. After issuing a one-out walk to Mark Reynolds to lose his perfect game, Bundy elevated a changeup that former Oriole Nick Hundley deposited into the left-field seats for the first runs of the night. Two batters later, rookie David Dahl jumped on a first-pitch changeup up in the zone for a homer to dead center. The sequence was a reminder that Bundy is still a work in progress as it relates to a full starter’s workload, but 15 swinging strikes on 89 pitches illustrated how effective he was until running out of gas. Home runs aside, he deserved better from his own offense.

3rd — A couple questionable replay reviews may not have decided the outcome of the game, but Matt Wieters appeared to hit a home run down the right-field line that was ruled foul as he led off in the third inning. We’ve seen multiple balls directly down the line and higher than the foul pole causing problems at Camden Yards this season. Whether the solution is to extend the pole higher, find a way to improve the TV camera angle down the line, or both, something needs to be done to help make calls more definitive on these towering flies that have often looked fair despite being called foul on the field and replay not being definitive enough to overturn the ruling. Manager Buck Showalter was not happy with how that one played out and hasn’t been with a couple others this year.

Home — It was a close call, but Wieters being thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double was a bad play with the Orioles trailing by two runs in the seventh. What made it even more painful was Hardy drawing a walk right behind him, which would have meant the tying runs were on base. … The Orioles dropped only their second home series of the season and first since losing two of three to Seattle from May 17-19. … Manny Machado slugged his 21st home run of the season in the sixth inning while Wieters recorded the 150th double of his career in the fifth. … Davis ended an 0-for-24 streak with a bunt single in the second inning. … Ubaldo Jimenez will make his first start — and first appearance — since July 8 on Thursday while the Twins send right-hander Kyle Gibson to the mound at Target Field.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-3 loss to Colorado

Posted on 27 July 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-3 defeat to the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 99th game of the 2016 season.

1st — After spoiling the Orioles with an outstanding 1.29 ERA in four July starts, Chris Tillman just couldn’t put away hitters with two strikes in the four-run third inning. The right-hander appeared to be carrying good stuff early, but he ran into trouble with one out in the third as Colorado loaded the bases with three singles all coming with two strikes. After Nolan Arenado popped out, Carlos Gonzalez hit a two-run double to the opposite field on a 2-2 count and Trevor Story singled in two more runs on a 1-2 pitch. Tillman credited Colorado for hitting some good pitches, but he got a couple key pitches up and just didn’t have the good swing-and-miss slider that we’ve seen so many times in 2016. His six runs allowed matched his season high as he took just his third loss of the season.

2nd — Rockies starter Chad Bettis effectively used his sinker and hard slider, and the Orioles just couldn’t take advantage of the few opportunities they had against a pitcher who entered the night with a 5.31 ERA. Going 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position is rarely going to get the job done unless you’re hitting the long ball, but the No. 3 through No. 8 hitters went a combined 1-for-23 with one walk. On a rare off-night for Tillman, you would have liked to see his offense be able to pick him up.

3rd — He wasn’t the only one who struggled on Tuesday night, but Chris Davis continues to look lost at the plate. The first baseman is hitless in his last 24 at-bats and has seen his average plummet to .223. His most frustrating at-bat came in the eighth with runners at the corners, one out, and the Orioles trailing 6-2. After getting ahead 2-0 against lefty reliever Boone Logan, Davis expanded the strike zone and struck out on the next three pitches. Of course, we’ve seen Davis go through plenty of stretches like this in the past before going on a monster tear, but you wonder if a day off to clear his head might help.

Home — It was correctly ruled a wild pitch, but Matt Wieters failed to backhand a pitch that could have been blocked, allowing Colorado’s sixth and final run to score. … The Orioles saw their five-game winning streak snapped as they suffered their first loss at home since July 8. They had won six straight contests at Camden Yards. … Adam Jones hit a two-run homer in the fifth and walked twice as he’s already eclipsed his walk total from 2015. … In his return from the disabled list, Hyun Soo Kim went 1-for-3 with a walk and now owns a .412 on-base percentage to lead the team. … Tyler Wilson pitched four perfect innings of relief to save the rest of the bullpen after Tillman lasted only five innings. … Buck Showalter announced that Ubaldo Jimenez will make Thursday’s start in Minnesota as the manager wants to give the other members of his rotation an extra day of rest. … Dylan Bundy will take the hill on Wednesday in search of a series win while right-hander Jon Gray will start for Colorado.

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With trade options limited, recent rotation surge encouraging for Orioles

Posted on 25 July 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 10:30 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — The Orioles clearly want starting pitching help.

We can certainly debate to what degree they need more starting pitching as Baltimore entered Monday holding the best record in the American League despite a 4.91 rotation ERA ranking 24th in the majors.

But we should be realistic about this final week leading up to Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. There isn’t much out there, plenty of contenders are looking for starters, and the Orioles have few commodities to give up unless they’re planning to surrender impact talent from their current roster, which doesn’t sound all that appealing when you’re trying to improve.

These realities don’t excuse the Orioles, who knew they had rotation problems entering the offseason before letting their 2015 ace, Wei-Yin Chen, depart via free agency and replacing him with Yovani Gallardo, who’s dealt with shoulder issues that were first flagged during his February physical and eventually landed him on the disabled list in April after only four starts. The options may not have been plentiful this winter, but no one can say the Orioles’ Achilles heel is remotely surprising a few months later.

There just isn’t a whole lot to be done about it right now.

“We’re going to try to add to our rotation,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said over the weekend. “We need some more consistency from the guys we have here, and we’re going to try to add to it via the trade route. This is a really thin market. There’s a lot of teams chasing a few pitchers. It’s about as thin as I’ve ever seen the market, but we’re going to see what we can do.”

It remains to be seen whether Duquette can deliver a starter who represents a marked upgrade over what the Orioles already have — forgive me if I’m not doing cartwheels over the likes of San Diego’s Andrew Cashner — but the executive was right about the need to find some improvement from within. That’s what has made the start of the second half uplifting for Baltimore.

In their first 10 games since the All-Star break, the Orioles have posted a 3.03 starter ERA after a robust 5.15 mark in the season’s first 87 contests. It’s a very small sample that includes seven games against two light-hitting clubs — Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees — but six starts of six or more innings have allowed manager Buck Showalter to rest a little easier of late.

The rotation isn’t fixed, but you’ll take any positives you can find after the first half.

Arguably the club’s most valuable player behind Manny Machado, ace Chris Tillman has rebounded from a rocky June with four straight starts in which he’s lasted seven innings and allowed only one run to lower his season ERA to a tidy 3.18. Kevin Gausman has also elevated his performance as the No. 2 starter, surrendering two runs and striking out 13 over his two starts covering 13 1/3 innings since the break.

After signing him to a two-year, $22 million contract, the Orioles desperately want to see Gallardo as their true No. 3 starter in a perfect world, but the questions about his ability to pitch deep into games haven’t disappeared despite back-to-back outings last at least 6 2/3 innings. His track record makes provides optimism that he can build on what he’s done over the last week.

But what we witnessed on Friday and Sunday provides some hope beyond the clearly-defined top two and Gallardo in the rotation. These names aren’t definitive rotation answers, but we’ll call them “maybes” for right now.

Facing a Cleveland offense currently ranking third in the AL — and ahead of the Orioles — in runs scored, Dylan Bundy allowed only one unearned run in five strong innings in the series-opening win. You can’t cross your fingers any harder that the 23-year-old will stay healthy and that the Orioles will take care of him as they stretched him out from 70 pitches in his first start to 87 on Friday night, but the ability is undeniable and his season results have been better than anyone could have expected entering 2016. What we don’t know is how the organization will handle his workload to keep him in play as a contributor in September and October, but he’s been fun to watch.

Veteran Vance Worley provided the other shot in the arm on Sunday by allowing just two runs over seven innings as the Orioles completed the series sweep over the AL Central-leading Indians. In a perfect world, Worley would have remained in his role as an effective long man, but he owns a respectable 3.89 mark as a starter in his career. After seeing the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Mike Wright struggle with extensive opportunities in the first half, the Orioles had few choices but to go with Worley, who received little more than a cameo as a starter in April before moving to the bullpen.

At least for the time being, Bundy and Worley have done enough to continue giving them the ball for the time being. The Orioles rotation isn’t magically going to transform into a top five group, but rising to even the middle of the pack in the AL in the second half would go a long way in complementing a powerful offense and a bullpen back to full strength with the return of Darren O’Day.

Finding that kind of improvement would be much easier if Duquette can somehow find another viable arm to slot into the rotation, but the start of the second half has brought some encouragement.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 5-1 win over Cleveland

Posted on 23 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians 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 95th game of the 2016 season.

1st Mark Trumbo embraced the return to Camden Yards by crushing a hanging curveball from Indians starter Trevor Bauer for a long three-run home run in the first inning. The blast to left-center gave the Orioles an early 3-0 lead and provided some cushion for a young pitcher making his second major league start. It was Trumbo’s first home run since July 9 and his 29th of the season as he retook sole possession of the major league lead. The right fielder added a single in the seventh inning to complete a 2-for-4 performance.

2ndDylan Bundy earned the win and showed improvement from his first start as he struck out the side in the first and did a good job using his secondary pitches early on. The right-hander allowed only one unearned run and five hits while striking out five and walking none in his five innings of work on 87 pitches. His changeup was particularly effective as six of his 13 swinging strikes came on that pitch. Bundy also showed impressive composure after the Orioles botched a rundown in the fifth as he calmly induced a double play and a grounder to escape the inning after only allowing the one unearned run.

3rdOdrisamer Despaigne did a superb job spelling Bundy and maintaining a 5-1 lead by tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. The right-hander allowed three hits and struck out four while walking only one. That free pass of Abraham Almonte came on his final hitter of the game as he was only one strike away from a rare four-inning save, but manager Buck Showalter chose to bring in closer Zach Britton to get the final out. Considering the issues the Orioles have had with their long relief in recent weeks, Despaigne providing that kind of outing kept the bullpen in great shape for the rest of the series.

HomeManny Machado hit his 20th home run of the season and reached base four times on Friday night. It was the All-Star third baseman’s first long ball since July 5. … Britton converted his 31st save in as many tries in 2016 and is now one shy of Tippy Martinez (105 saves) for third place on the Orioles’ all-time list. The All-Star lefty hasn’t given up an earned run over his last 32 appearances since May 5. … Adam Jones hit a sacrifice fly in the second inning to move into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for seventh place on the club’s all-time RBI list with 701. … J.J. Hardy registered two hits for a third consecutive game. … The Orioles improved to a remarkable 34-14 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which is the best home record in the majors. … Kevin Gausman will take the hill on Saturday night while the Indians will start right-hander Josh Tomlin.

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Orioles prospect Hunter Harvey to undergo Tommy John surgery

Posted on 21 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Nearly two full years after originally being shut down with right elbow discomfort, Orioles pitching prospect Hunter Harvey will undergo Tommy John surgery on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old exited his minor-league rehab start with short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Saturday after just 1 1/3 innings due to discomfort in his right flexor mass, the original diagnosis he received in late July of 2014, his first full professional season. The ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction — which typically requires about a year to recover — will be performed by Dr. Donald D’Alessandro in Charlotte, N.C. on Tuesday.

Despite pitching to a 3.18 ERA in 87 2/3 innings with Single-A Delmarva in 2014 to establish himself as one of the top 100 prospects in baseball, Harvey has experienced an array of health problems that have threatened to derail a promising career. In addition to the recurring forearm and elbow discomfort preceding Tuesday’s surgery, the 2013 first-round pick has lost extensive time due to a broken fibula in 2015 and sports hernia surgery earlier this season, factors that likely made it more difficult to assess how Harvey’s elbow was responding to the conservative treatment used in hopes of him avoiding surgery.

Harvey did not pitch last season and had made only five combined starts between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen in 2016. He has posted a 2.79 ERA with 157 strikeouts in 125 2/3 career innings in the minor leagues.

While many pitchers have made successful recoveries from Tommy John surgery, this is clearly disheartening news for the Orioles, whose current starting rotation ranks among the worst in the majors. With Dylan Bundy now in the majors — and three years removed from the same procedure — Harvey was considered the top prospect in a Baltimore system lacking starting pitching depth across the board.

However, Bundy’s mere presence in the current starting rotation now is a good reminder that Harvey is far too young to write off as a potential key cog of the future.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-1 win over Yankees

Posted on 21 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday afternoon?

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 94th game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman pitched like an ace to close out a rough road trip on a positive note. Needing a strong start as they tried to avoid their fifth consecutive loss and a four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles got seven superb innings from the right-hander, who improved to a sparkling 14-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.18. After allowing five batters to reach over his first two innings, Tillman relied more heavily on his fastball to register four strikeouts in the third and fourth innings and did an excellent job mixing his assortment of pitches the rest of the way. In addition to retiring 16 of the last 17 batters he faced to ultimately tie Chris Sale for the major league lead in wins, Tillman became the first Orioles pitcher since Jim Palmer in 1978 to complete at least seven innings and allow no more than one run in four consecutive starts. Baltimore is now a whopping 18-3 when Tillman takes the mound, the most team wins in any pitcher’s starts this season. Where would the Orioles be without him?

2ndJ.J. Hardy has been one of the few to swing the bat well at the start of the second half, and the shortstop set an improved tone early in Thursday’s game. With the Orioles entering the day just 3-for-33 with men in scoring position since the All-Star break and Mark Trumbo having already popped up with runners on the corners, Hardy delivered a hard single past Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius to plate two runs with two outs. The hit allowed Baltimore to match its run total from the first three games of the series and gave Tillman a lead before he took the hill. Hardy added another single in the fourth.

3rdJonathan Schoop gave the Orioles some much-needed breathing room when he hit a soft liner down the right-field line to score two runs and increase the lead to 4-1 with two outs in the seventh. The two-run double came on an outside off-speed pitch from New York starter CC Sabathia, who was then lifted from the game and suffered his fourth consecutive loss. Schoop also started the scoring rally in the first with a one-out infield single and is now hitting .296 on the year.

HomeZach Britton may have been staked to a comfortable three-run lead in the ninth, but the All-Star closer improved to a remarkable 30-for-30 in save opportunities this season by pitching a 1-2-3 frame against the heart of the Yankees order. His 30 saves in as many chances to begin a season is the 10th-best mark in major league history. … Returning to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with flu-like symptoms, Manny Machado went 2-for-4 with a run scored. … Brad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning and has not allowed an earned run in his last 14 appearances covering 16 2/3 innings. … While Machado and Chris Davis returned to the lineup, center fielder Adam Jones missed Thursday’s games after dealing with back spasms the previous night. Catcher Matt Wieters missed his third straight game while resting a bruised foot. … The Orioles return to Camden Yards on Friday to begin a six-game homestand with right-hander Dylan Bundy making his second major league start against Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer.

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Patience, perspective needed for Bundy in Orioles rotation

Posted on 18 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Questioning the Orioles’ decision to put Dylan Bundy in the starting rotation is fair, but scrapping the experiment after one disappointing start as some have already suggested would lack patience and perspective.

The results weren’t pretty on Sunday as Bundy was too slow to establish his secondary stuff and gave up three home runs — matching the total surrendered in his first 38 innings this season — but his 70 pitches were the most he’d thrown in a professional game since a 73-pitch outing for Single-A Frederick on Aug. 5, 2014. It was an important step for a 23-year-old who has experienced a cruel number of physical ailments since being selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft.

We all know that the Orioles giving Bundy this opportunity isn’t as much about his success out of the bullpen as it is a reflection of the failures of their starting rotation, which entered Monday ranked 14th in the American League and 28th in the majors with a 5.14 ERA. Given his restrictions in terms of pitch counts and innings, expecting Bundy to be the rotation savior would be unfair, but he could at least help stop some of the bleeding as executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette looks for starting pitching help on the trade market.

Even if Bundy isn’t going to be unleashed for a 110-pitch outing in the immediate future — nor should he be with his history since undergoing Tommy John surgery three years ago — giving him the ball for abbreviated starts still beats the alternative of giving more starts to Ubaldo Jimenez, doesn’t it? Other internal options physically equipped to throw 100 pitches haven’t exactly gotten the job done this season, have they?

It’s certainly against the norm, but I’d rather take a multi-start look at Bundy for 70 or 75 pitches — with a long reliever behind him — over any other internal option the Orioles have behind Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and Yovani Gallardo in the current rotation. It’s not as though Baltimore was getting consistent and successful 100-pitch outings from Jimenez, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson to preserve its bullpen anyway.

We just can’t expect Bundy to morph into a conventional starter overnight. The fact that he’s already contributed in meaningful ways is a great bonus for a contending club, but the most important goals for him this season continue to center around his long-term health and development, the reason why some were opposed to making Bundy a starter this soon in the first place.

His 1.42 ERA and 23 strikeouts over his last 19 innings in relief put Bundy in the rotation conversation, but starting is a different animal when the opposition is specifically preparing for you to take the hill that night.

It will be interesting to see how the Orioles proceed with Bundy, whose fastball velocity dropped to the low 90s in his final inning of work on Sunday after it sat in the mid-90s over his first three frames. That isn’t exactly a sign that he’s ready to further increase his pitch count — his 2016 high before Sunday’s 70 was 57 — but remember he wasn’t blowing hitters away through the first two months of the season until manager Buck Showalter began giving him at least three days of rest between relief appearances.

Let’s see how the young right-hander responds to the heavier workload and a set schedule between outings before we just send him back to the bullpen for the rest of the season.

Whether you agree with making Bundy a starter right now or not, drawing definitive conclusions from Sunday’s outcome is premature. The fact that we’re even having this conversation shows how far Bundy has come after a long and frustrating three years.

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