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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-2 win over Boston

Posted on 02 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles opening a four-game road series with a 5-2 win over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. He was a hated man at Fenway Park after the recent drama with the Red Sox, but Manny Machado reminded us why he’s one of the game’s best players with a monster home run and several defensive plays that were terrific even by his standards. Don’t make him angry.

2. Dylan Bundy quelled recent concerns about his velocity by averaging 91.6 miles per hour with his fastball and turning in his sixth straight quality start. You know you’re off to a terrific start to 2017 when you allow two runs over seven innings and your season ERA increases to 1.82.

3. Despite matching a career high with four walks, Bundy did a superb job pitching out of jams by inducing two double plays and taking a shutout into the eighth. The free passes appear to be contagious, however, as Orioles pitching entered Monday with the highest walk rate in the majors.

4. I was genuinely surprised to see Bundy back on the mound to start the eighth after 99 pitches and with no one warming in the bullpen. Is it really a good idea for him to be throwing a career-high 111 pitches five days after his velocity was markedly down?

5. It was disturbing to learn what Adam Jones had to face on Monday night, making his performance in center field that much more impressive as he made a terrific catch to end a problematic eighth inning and added another nifty grab in the ninth.

6. Trying to protect a slim lead, Bundy didn’t appear to be in a spot to plunk Mookie Betts on purpose, but the optics were shaky after coming inside two pitches earlier. Either way, I’m sick of this saga that started with a slide not even considered malicious by the victim.

7. It’s laughable for anyone in Boston to take offense to Machado’s trot around the bases on his sixth-inning blast considering the retired David Ortiz just now reached home plate on the final home run of his career clubbed last September.

8. After collecting his first RBIs since Sept. 11, 2015 on Saturday, Caleb Joseph picked up an RBI in his second straight start with a double in the fifth. He’s a machine!

9. As if the Red Sox defense wasn’t bad enough, Hanley Ramirez rushing into second as Andrew Benintendi was standing on that very base was a bold strategy in the eighth. The Orioles took full advantage of the Boston ineptitude late in the game.

10. Chris Davis striking out three times isn’t exactly unusual, but I continue to be amazed by how many called strike threes he continues to take. He struck out looking twice and has already done it 17 times this year after shattering a career high with 79 last year.

11. Brad Brach provided an uneventful ninth inning to secure his fifth save and final opportunity before Zach Britton is activated on Tuesday. That was a pleasant change after what went down on both Friday and Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

12. Hyun Soo Kim sat in favor of Ryan Flaherty’s small-sample success against Rick Porcello. With two lefties and knuckleballer Steven Wright starting the next three games, Kim will likely sit more. There sure seem to be a lot of reasons not to play a .302 hitter from a year ago.

(Update: The Red Sox announced after Monday’s game that Wright would be going to the 10-day disabled list with a knee injury.)

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Orioles must remain flexible with Bundy despite early success

Posted on 27 April 2017 by Luke Jones

It would be easy for the Orioles to have tunnel vision with young starting pitcher Dylan Bundy.

Entering Thursday ranked seventh in the American League in ERA (1.65) and having registered a quality start in each of his five outings, Bundy has been Baltimore’s top pitcher and best player so far in 2017. The Orioles have needed him to pitch like an ace, too, with veteran Chris Tillman still on the disabled list and Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman off to a poor start.

But we’re also talking about a 24-year-old who only eclipsed the 300-inning mark for his entire professional career last week and has battled a number of injuries since being selected fourth overall in the 2011 draft. That’s why you can’t ignore the peripherals from his solid six-inning performance in the Orioles’ 5-4 win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. It was apparent early that he wasn’t close to having his best stuff, making the results that much more impressive.

Bundy’s fastball velocity was down substantially over the first three innings against the Rays, averaging roughly 89 miles per hour. The right-hander entered the night with a season average of 92.3 mph, but his average velocity had also declined slightly in each start before the significant drop early in Wednesday’s outing. The good news is that Bundy’s velocity climbed over the latter half of the outing and averaged just over 91 mph after the third inning, quelling some concerns of a possible injury that even Hall of Famer Jim Palmer shared aloud during MASN’s telecast.


(Graphic courtesy of FanGraphs)

Still, it’s tough to ignore that even his maximum fastball velocity on Wednesday (93.3 mph) was slower than his average as a starter (93.7 mph) in 2016. He managed only seven swinging strikes, a season low and often a barometer of the quality of a pitcher’s stuff. Bundy reminded reporters after the game that he’s mixing in more two-seam fastballs this year — which are typically slower than a pitcher’s four-seamer — but that wouldn’t explain that much of a drop, either.

To be clear, none of this means that Bundy is injured or doomed as he simply may not have been at his best physically, something that happens to any pitcher at least a couple times over the course of a six-month season. Even pitching in shorter stints out of the bullpen in the first half of 2016, Bundy didn’t really see his velocity start to spike until June and July, making you wonder if this is just part of his process of naturally building up arm strength and pacing himself for a long season.

Bundy is too important to both the present and future, however, to completely ignore the data solely because he’s pitching so well. Manager Buck Showalter acknowledged as much, saying he saw what everyone else did and that Bundy is always monitored because of his injury history. For what it’s worth, the pitcher said he felt good at the end of his outing and that he wasn’t concerned about the velocity.

The steady drop does make you wonder if the Orioles need to adjust their approach despite Showalter saying more than once that “the governors are off” the talented pitcher this season. It could be as simple as shaving his pitch count a bit or giving him an extra day of rest whenever possible, something the Orioles haven’t really been able to do this month while mostly going with a four-man rotation in Tillman’s absence. The practice of extra rest was used periodically with former Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen, who was much older than Bundy.

With Tillman possibly returning as early as next week, the Orioles will hope to have more flexibility with a normal five-man rotation.

Seeing how special Bundy has been so far, the organization must do whatever it takes to keep him strong and healthy for all of 2017 and beyond. If that means an extra day of rest here and there or even skipping a start if necessary, it should be an easy call to sacrifice the short term in favor of the big picture.

As easy as it might be to just focus on the results, the Orioles need to keep a watchful eye on a pitcher who is looking more and more like he can be something special. But they have to keep him on the mound for that to happen.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 11-4 win over Toronto

Posted on 16 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning an 11-4 blowout over Toronto on Sunday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What else can be said about Trey Mancini as he homered twice and tied a major league record for home runs in his first 12 games with seven? Buck Showalter has a good problem with Mancini, Seth Smith, and Hyun Soo Kim available for only two lineup spots.

2. Dylan Bundy continues to be superb so far in 2017 as he pitched six shutout innings to earn the win and lower his season ERA to 1.86. He’s allowed one earned run in 13 innings against the Blue Jays this month.

3. I still hold my breath seeing Bundy throw so many sliders given his history with the pitch, but there’s no disputing that being a game-changing pitch for his repertoire. It was a big reason why he struck out six and recorded 15 swinging strikes.

4. Bundy set the tone for the outing in the first inning after allowing a leadoff double and a bunt single. Instead of conceding early damage, the right-hander struck out Jose Bautista with a slider and got Kendrys Morales to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.

5. Craig Gentry went 3-for-5 and hit his first major league homer since 2013, quieting legitimate concerns about his ability at the plate. He shouldn’t be in the leadoff spot, but that was a strong performance from the veteran outfielder.

6. His homer wasn’t exactly a bomb, but Manny Machado needed that after seeing his average drop to .154 before his opposite-field homer off the foul pole in the eighth. I can’t imagine too many are concerned about the All-Star third baseman though.

7. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that Gentry and Machado homered using one of Mancini’s bats, but that’s still a heck of a post-game story. Whatever works, right?

8. After collecting only two hits and struggling to make solid contact over his first 19 at-bats of 2017, J.J. Hardy is 7-for-16 over his last four games and doubled twice on Sunday. He isn’t the power hitter he used to be, but throwing dirt on him was premature.

9. Seeing Adam Jones crash into the center-field wall in the eighth inning of an 11-1 game was the last thing Showalter and the Orioles wanted to see. Fortunately, he appeared to be OK and has the off-day to rest up.

10. As if things weren’t going poorly enough for Toronto, J.A. Happ left the game with left elbow soreness in the fifth inning after fellow starter Aaron Sanchez was placed on the 10-day disabled list hours earlier. The Blue Jays have to be begging for a mulligan.

11. Zach Britton told reporters in Toronto that his left forearm strain is closer to his wrist than his elbow, but anyone invested in the Orioles will be holding their breath until the All-Star closer is back on the mound and looking like himself.

12. Yes, the Blue Jays have the worst record in the majors at 2-10, but the Orioles should be feeling good about themselves after continuing their division rival’s misery and taking three of four games at Rogers Centre, a place where they’ve struggled historically.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-1 loss to Boston

Posted on 12 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles surrendering a total of six runs in the seventh and eighth innings of an 8-1 loss to Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Infield defense is one of the Orioles’ greatest strengths, making J.J. Hardy’s error on what should have been an inning-ending double play in the seventh so surprising. What followed after that was downright brutal. Kicking the ball around to give the Red Sox lineup extra outs is begging for doom.

2. Lost in the ugliness of the last few innings was the fact that the Baltimore lineup has scored just twice in its last 16 innings. One run at Fenway Park isn’t going to cut it.

3. The final line for Darren O’Day doesn’t reflect him looking better than he did in his first two outings. He induced what should have been an easy double play and a pop fly that should have been caught. Few survive when they have to get five outs in an inning.

4. Dylan Bundy wasn’t carrying stuff or command as dominant as we saw against Toronto, but he gave his club a good chance to win over 6 1/3 innings. He didn’t miss many bats with just nine swinging strikes, but he still turned in a quality start against a superb lineup.

5. Considering how much he labored without a single 1-2-3 inning on the night, Bundy throwing a career-high 106 pitches against a club that led the majors in scoring last year reflects how much confidence manager Buck Showalter has in the 24-year-old.

6. Tuesday marked the latest example of Orioles hitters faltering against left-handed pitching. Baltimore was one of the worst teams in baseball against southpaws last year, a trend that can’t continue in 2017.

7. Give Drew Pomeranz credit for those struggles as he turned in a strong performance after an unsettling spring. The Red Sox lefty’s fastball velocity was strong early, and he did a good job pitching inside against right-handed hitters.

8. Their defensive mistakes in the seventh stood out, but Hardy and Schoop are each hitting .105 through the first six games and aren’t offering much at the bottom of the order thus far.

9. Welington Castillo had two hits and threw out Hanley Ramirez trying to steal, but his baserunning cost the Orioles a run in the second inning and hurt them again in the seventh. The Orioles lack speed, but they have to take extra bases when presented the opportunity.

10. His strong spring earned him a roster spot, but Craig Gentry being in the leadoff spot against a lefty is a tough sell for me. There may not be a natural fit with Joey Rickard sidelined, but I’d still go with virtually anyone else at the top of the order.

11. Trey Mancini did a respectable job playing left field in front of the Green Monster on Tuesday and showed why you like having his bat in the lineup against a lefty when he put a charge into one for a double to deep right-center in the second.

12. Despite Mancini’s potential, Hyun Soo Kim seemed to be a good candidate to hit for him with runners at the corners and no outs in the seventh and right-hander Heath Hembree pitching. The Orioles needed a good at-bat there, and Kim’s approach is one of the best on the club

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 win over Toronto

Posted on 06 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles besting Toronto in a 3-1 final to complete a brief two-game sweep, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dylan Bundy was nothing short of exceptional, giving up one run and striking out eight over seven innings in his first start of 2017. Making his first career start against the Blue Jays, he set the tone early by striking out the side in the first inning.

2. Bundy induced 17 swinging strikes, a career high and a total Chris Tillman reached only one time last season. Getting that many swings and misses without issuing a single walk reflects how nasty his stuff was on Wednesday.

3. After shelving his slider last year with a focus on staying healthy, Bundy used the pitch extensively to keep Toronto hitters off balance throughout the night. As long as it doesn’t create arm issues, that pitch could do wonders for the 24-year-old.

4. Going through the order for a third time presented a significant challenge for the right-hander last season, but the Blue Jays were 1-for-7 with three strikeouts in the sixth and seventh innings. That’s how you put an exclamation point on a performance.

5. After hitting only three home runs and posting a .580 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handed pitching last year, Adam Jones homered off Toronto starter J.A. Happ in the third inning. His career numbers against southpaws suggest 2016 was much more of an aberration.

6. The two-run shot tied Rafael Palmeiro on the Orioles’ all-time list as Jones now trails only Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Boog Powell, and Brooks Robinson. That’s really impressive company for the veteran center fielder now in his 10th season with Baltimore.

7. Chris Davis also homered, his 200th as a member of the Orioles. Jones quipped after the game how Davis is only 23 behind him despite the latter having played just five full seasons here. It’s typically a good sign seeing the first baseman drive the ball to the opposite field.

8. A 2016 Gold Glove finalist, Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar showed why by robbing Manny Machado of extra bases in the third inning. You never want to see someone crash into the wall as hard as Pillar did — he stayed in the game — but what a sensational catch.

9. Zach Britton found the reliable 6-4-3 double play off the bat of former Oriole Steve Pearce to nail down his first save of 2017, but the Orioles closer labored through a second straight outing and is still searching for his usual command.

10. Other than the two home runs allowed, Happ pitched very well for Toronto as he struck out nine and walked none over seven innings. His career renaissance going back to the second half of 2015 with Pittsburgh has been nothing short of impressive.

11. Trey Mancini wasn’t tested extensively in his first start in right field, but he made a good throw to the plate on a Devon Travis RBI single and handled both fly balls hit his way without incident. So far, so good with this experiment.

12. The new LED lights at Camden Yards have been a topic of conversation this week, but Jones didn’t exactly provide a great endorsement after Wednesday’s game (go to the 1:55 mark). They’re markedly brighter and at least provide the decorative perk of blinking during Britton’s entrance from the bullpen.

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2017 Orioles preview: Dylan Bundy

Posted on 28 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a week away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

Manny Machado
Kevin Gausman
Adam Jones
Darren O’Day
Seth Smith
Mike Wright
Caleb Joseph
Donnie Hart
Jonathan Schoop
Mychal Givens
Ryan Flaherty
Brad Brach
J.J. Hardy
Ubaldo Jimenez
Mark Trumbo
Wade Miley
Welington Castillo
Zach Britton
Chris Davis

SP Dylan Bundy

Opening Day age: 24

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season

2016 stats: 10-6, 4.02 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 18 HR, 109 2/3 innings

Why to be impressed: It was remarkable to see Bundy hold up as well as he did physically in 2016 after having pitched a total of 65 1/3 professional innings the previous two seasons combined. The right-hander’s strikeout rate was also better as a starter than it was as a reliever with one per inning in the second half of the season, an encouraging sign for his ability to succeed as a major league starter.

Why to be concerned: Bundy struggled going through the order a third time as opponents hit six home runs and posted a .960 OPS in 55 plate appearances, which could have been a result of fatigue or hitters figuring out his repertoire. His average fastball velocity dropped nearly two whole miles per hour from his first start in mid-July to his final start, another sign of his workload needing to be monitored.

2017 outlook: The 2011 first-round pick brings much-needed upside to a below-average starting rotation, but you wonder if the Orioles are asking for too much in what will be his first full season as a starter. The reintroduction of the cutter will hopefully offset some of his problems going through the batting order a third time, but it was clear in 2016 that he has the talent to succeed if he can stay healthy.

2017 not-so-scientific projections: 12-9, 3.89 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 23 HR, 151 innings

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Ten Orioles questions entering 2017 spring training

Posted on 12 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The time has finally arrived for the Orioles.

Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota for the start of spring training on Monday.

Seeking their fourth trip to the postseason in six years, the Orioles will begin searching for the answers to a number of questions starting this week.

Below is a look at 10 of them:

1. Who will hit in the leadoff spot for Buck Showalter?

This question shouldn’t be as complicated as many will make it out to be. No, there may not be an everyday prototype with speed on the roster, but Hyun Soo Kim led the club in on-base percentage (.382) by a wide margin in 2016 and doesn’t hit for much power, making him the obvious choice against right-handed starting pitching. Finding a leadoff hitter against lefties remains a trickier proposition, but the Orioles have seen southpaw starters in only 25 to 33 percent of games in a given season over the last several years. Joey Rickard could be an enticing option after posting a .367 OBP against lefty pitching last year. Showalter said after last season that he doesn’t want to use Adam Jones in the leadoff spot again, and his career .318 OBP should reinforce that sentiment.

2. Will there be a late addition to the major league roster?

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is always tinkering with the roster and made significant signings after the start of spring training in two of the last three years. The Orioles are still pondering the possibility of adding an outfielder for speed and defense — Michael Bourn is still available — and have discussed the possibility of signing a veteran pitcher to improve the rotation depth. Longtime catcher Matt Wieters surprisingly remains a free agent, but the club made a conscious decision to move on early in the offseason and shouldn’t deviate from that short of a very cheap one-year deal.

3. How will the World Baseball Classic impact preparations for the start of the season?

The fourth edition of the event will present challenges to Showalter and the Orioles as five players — Jones, third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, relief pitcher Mychal Givens, and new catcher Welington Castillo — are scheduled to take part. Castillo’s inclusion is the biggest concern as he will lose precious time to better familiarize himself with the pitching staff. The Orioles will also hold their breath hoping the 26-year-old Givens doesn’t overdo it competing for the United States. Another wrinkle to consider is the makeup of the Dominican roster, which could lead to Machado sliding over to shortstop to allow Adrian Beltre to play third base. It’s not the end of the world, but the Orioles can’t be thrilled that Machado will be focused on a position other than his primary one while he’s away.

4. Are shoulder problems completely behind Chris Tillman and Darren O’Day?

Yes, both pitchers returned to pitch in mid-September and declared themselves fully healthy at last month’s FanFest event, but the real test will be how they respond to the first few weeks of spring training when they’re building up their arm strength for a long season. Entering his final season before free agency, Tillman will once again be entrusted to lead the rest of a starting rotation composed of youthful or inconsistent options. After averaging 66 innings per year in his first four seasons with Baltimore and signing a four-year, $31 million contract last winter, O’Day threw just 31 frames in an injury-plagued campaign. The Orioles can’t expect Zach Britton and Brad Brach to be quite as dominant as they were last season, so O’Day will need to return to his usual form to keep a sensational bullpen on track.

5. How do the Orioles minimize concerns about the outfield defense?

The re-signing of Mark Trumbo all but guaranteed that the outfield defense will remain an issue, which Jones hasn’t shied away from mentioning after the Orioles outfield finished last in the majors in defensive runs saved in 2016. Seth Smith is an upgrade over Trumbo in right, but he’s also 34 and average at best. Kim was also well below average in left field at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2016. Asked about the state of the outfield defense at FanFest, Duquette mentioned there being ways to more precisely position outfielders on a hitter-to-hitter basis, but that will only go so far in compensating for a lack of athleticism and speed. It doesn’t help that Jones, 31, is reaching an age when clubs typically begin considering a move to a corner spot, but he remains the Orioles’ best outfielder by a clear margin.

6. Will the cutter be a viable option for Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter?

The 24-year-old offers some of the most intriguing upside on the roster, but an early story will be whether Bundy starts using a cut fastball again. The right-hander began experimenting with the pitch again last month after it was believed to cause his arm discomfort in the fall of 2015 and subsequently removed from his repertoire last season. Of course, caution must be used to preserve Bundy’s health in what’s expected to be his first full major league season as a starter. Bundy already has a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve, and an impressive changeup, but successfully mixing in the cutter could take his starter potential to another level. And considering opponents posted a .960 on-base plus slugging percentage in Bundy’s third trip through the order last year, the introduction of another pitch certainly wouldn’t hurt.

7. How many outfield platoons will be in play?

It remains to be seen whether Kim will play more against left-handed pitching after he went 0-for-17 against southpaws in his first major league season, but Smith owns a career .594 OPS against lefties, making it clear that he’ll need a platoon partner. Rickard posted an .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against lefties as a rookie and will likely be part of one platoon. Showalter could also use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but that further weakens the outfield defense and leads to the question of who might serve as the designated hitter in those spots. Such an alignment would leave the door open for Trey Mancini to come north with the club, but is that the best roster construction for the Orioles?

8. What impact will be made by new pitching coach Roger McDowell and new bullpen coach Alan Mills?

McDowell was mentored by former Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace and Mills served as a minor-league pitching coach in the Baltimore system over the last four years, which should make for a smoother transition than normal. Mills’ familiarity with the likes of Givens and lefty specialist Donnie Hart will be a valuable asset, but McDowell will be looking to make a good first impression with his staff. Wallace and former bullpen coach Dom Chiti were very popular with pitchers and did wonders for the likes of Britton and Brach, so the Orioles can only hope their new coaching duo has similar success stories.

9. Will Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander be real options for outfield depth?

No organization has valued the Rule 5 draft more than the Orioles in recent years, so the progress of these two young outfielders is worth monitoring this spring. The 24-year-old Tavarez comes from the Boston organization and spent most of last season at Double-A Portland, hitting .335 with seven home runs and 18 stolen bases. Santander, 22, is an intriguing switch hitter who hit 20 homers and 42 doubles for Cleveland’s Single-A affiliate in the Carolina League last year. The latter underwent right shoulder surgery last year, which could provide an opening for the Orioles to stash him on the disabled list for the start of the season. Neither is a sure thing to make the roster, of course, but history suggests the organization will do whatever it can to keep at least one of its two Rule 5 picks to begin the season.

10. How will the starting rotation depth shake out?

With the trade of Yovani Gallardo to Seattle last month and the departure of Vance Worley to Washington, the Orioles do not have a clear-cut “No. 6” starter to go behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. Sure, there is some inventory that includes Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Logan Verrett, and Joe Gunkel, but none inspire much confidence until they prove otherwise. When you’re already counting on inconsistent options such as Jimenez and Miley for the back end of the rotation, that’s an unsettling position in which to be. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Duquette add another veteran to the mix on a minor-league deal.

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Orioles push back Gausman due to intercostal issue

Posted on 22 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Already reeling from a 2-5 start to their final homestand that has obliterated hope for a division title, the Orioles are pushing back one of their best starting pitchers due to a health concern.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman is dealing with an intercostal issue and will not start Sunday’s home finale against Arizona, according to manager Buck Showalter. Fellow right-hander Dylan Bundy will instead make the start on five days’ rest despite the original plan to give him another day of rest.

The hope is that the 25-year-old Gausman will be able to start on Tuesday or Wednesday in Toronto. The Orioles are off on Monday before beginning a six-game road trip to conclude the regular season.

“He felt it a little bit — the start of an intercostal [issue] — and we think we caught it in time,” said Showalter, who added that his back was not an issue before Tuesday’s start. “But we’ll see how it manages. We just don’t think it’s smart to have him pitch on Sunday.

“He wasn’t sick, but he had some things happening to his body that meant he might have been a little short on fluids that may have been some of it. We’re hoping it was more that than anything else, but we’ll see.”

The news couldn’t come at a worse time for the Orioles, who entered Thursday on a three-game losing streak and with only a one-game lead for the second wild-card spot. Despite being tagged for five earned runs in Tuesday’s loss, Gausman has been Baltimore’s best starter since late July and has pitched to a 2.57 ERA over his last 63 innings.

Showalter has already been using a six-man rotation and will start Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, and Bundy against the Diamondbacks.

Gausman threw a career-high 120 pitches over eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over Boston on Sept. 14, but he did not disclose any physical concerns after his 101-pitch outing on Tuesday night.

“I feel great,” said Gausman after Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Red Sox. “I think having that extra day [of rest] definitely helped, especially this time of year. Physically, I feel great and mentally, too. I felt good.”

In 28 starts covering 166 1/3 innings this season, Gausman is 8-11 with a 3.57 ERA, 166 strikeouts, 44 walks, and 25 home runs allowed.

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Time running out for Orioles bats to heat up again

Posted on 20 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles knew it would be difficult against Cy Young Award candidate Rick Porcello on Monday, but there’s nothing easy about playing in a pennant race, especially against a Boston lineup that’s the best in baseball.

That especially holds true when you’re waiting for a once-explosive offense of your own to finally heat up again. Baltimore has hung a crooked number on the board every now and then since the All-Star break, but the offensive consistency that propelled them to first place for the better part of four months in spite of shoddy starting pitching has disappeared.

Taking nothing away from Porcello’s impressive 89-pitch complete game, the Orioles scored fewer than four runs for the 33rd time in 63 games since the break on Monday. In contrast, they scored three or fewer runs only 31 times in 87 games in the first half.

That’s simply not good enough for a club that’s designed to score plenty of runs.

After averaging just under 5.1 runs per game in the first half, the offense is roughly a run worse since the break at just over 4.1 per contest. The starting pitching will likely be remembered as the Achilles heel of the 2016 Orioles, but the rotation ERA has improved from a hideous 5.15 before the break to a more acceptable 4.51 in the second half.

Yes, the home runs have still been there, but everything else from the first half — the doubles, the high on-base percentage, a few more walks — has dried up to anemic levels. Since the All-Star break, the Orioles rank first in home runs, but they’re 10th in runs, last in doubles, last in batting average, and last in on-base percentage in the American League.

Allowing five runs to the Red Sox on Monday wasn’t ideal, but you better be ready to score when playing a lineup that’s plated a whopping 5.6 per game this season. The Orioles’ AL East title hopes are circling the drain barring three straight wins to conclude the current series, but the offense needs to get on a roll to not only secure a wild card but to try to make some noise in October.

To be fair, the Boston offense hasn’t had an equal all year — the Red Sox have outscored every other AL club by at least 100 runs in 2016 — but the Orioles were at least worthy of being mentioned in the same breath in the first half.

Unfortunately, that feels like a long time ago for Buck Showalter’s club as Boston has begun pulling away.

Bundy dilemma

Monday marked the fourth time in Dylan Bundy’s last seven starts that the right-hander has allowed five earned runs as he took the loss in the 5-2 final.

His 6.62 ERA over his last 34 innings has led many to wonder if he’s tired after eclipsing the 100-inning mark for the first time since his first full professional season in 2012. You can certainly argue that the Orioles are overdoing it with Bundy, but what passes as conventional wisdom in the baseball industry is hardly exact science when it comes to taking care of pitchers’ arms.

The stress of pitching in a pennant race in the major leagues definitely changes the dynamics, but the Orioles originally intended to have Bundy throw around 100 innings in the minor leagues last year before a shoulder injury derailed his season. Does that setback automatically lead to a plan for him to throw even fewer frames a year later, or do you just need to let him go and see what you have at some point?

Bundy again said after Monday’s game that he feels good physically, and it’s worth noting that his average fastball velocity has been up over his last three starts compared to the lull he went through over five starts starting in mid-August. However, his command has suffered in recent outings as he’s walked 19 batters over his last 29 2/3 innings.

On Monday, he struggled with the feel for his curveball, causing him to shy away from using it and making him too predictable with only the fastball-changeup combination. That was evident when David Ortiz appeared to sit on a changeup and hit a decently-located one for a home run in the fifth.

Yes, Bundy might be tired as the Orioles continue to push him further than anyone would have predicted, but he could just be experiencing the typical struggles of a 23-year-old pitcher with limited experience in the majors.

Other side of attendance question

No matter who’s at fault, the Orioles drawing an announced crowd of just 18,456 for the opener of the biggest series of the year is a shame and not a good look.

It’s easy to blame the fan base — plenty of people are already doing that — but many reasons for the decline in attendance have already been discussed, ranging from the tardiness in sending out season-ticket invoices and a substantial price increase to the elimination of cheaper deals such as Tuesday bargain nights for upper-reserve seats. Anyone who expected a different story for this week’s games hasn’t paid attention to the weeknight attendance woes for even the most intriguing opponents throughout the season.

But what has the organization — not the club on the field, but the business and marketing side — done to try to pack Camden Yards for weeknight games when it was apparent over the summer that this problem wasn’t going away? Where are the weeknight promotions such as discounted tickets, concession specials, or a few more giveaways that have become all but exclusive to weekend games?

If a restaurant with good food is struggling to attract patrons during the week, does management simply stomp their feet and continue to ask why no one is coming there to eat or do they try to do something about it in the form of specials and attractive deals?

Yes, winning should be enough — no one is arguing that this is the best fan base in baseball — but you have to be prepared to try to find other ways to compel people to come to the ballpark on weeknights, especially when they can watch the games on high-definition TV at home every night. If not, maybe you just don’t care all that much to have more people in the ballpark for such important games.

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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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