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Orioles thoughts on Gallardo, Bundy, Kim, more

Posted on 25 April 2016 by Luke Jones

When veteran pitcher Yovani Gallardo left Friday’s game after two innings with right shoulder and bicep tendinitis, you wonder if some small part of the Orioles organization breathed a soft sigh of relief.

No one is taking satisfaction in the 30-year-old being injured, of course, but anyone who’s watched Gallardo pitch so far has observed a significant drop in velocity from even last season, leaving one to wonder if he was healthy. If he had been 100 percent over these first four starts, you’re left with a pitcher who simply can’t get the job done with a fastball sitting in the mid-80s and the lowest ground-ball rate of his 10-year career.

It’s certainly disappointing that Gallardo is already on the shelf after the Orioles forfeited the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft and $22 million over the next two years to sign him, but the pitcher we’ve seen so far isn’t a better option than the likes of Mike Wright, Vance Worley, or Tyler Wilson. In other words, his trip to the 15-day disabled list isn’t a dramatic on-field loss if what he’s done so far is all he’s capable of at this point in his career.

This doesn’t mean that a cortisone shot and a couple weeks of rest will magically transform Gallardo into the pitcher he was three or four years ago, either, but you hope he has a little more left in the tank than what he’s shown and this time away could help him recapture that. If not, it’s fair to ask why the Orioles were still willing to sign Gallardo when their rigorous physical brought red flags about the state of his right shoulder and prompted a restructured deal of two seasons instead of three.

That wouldn’t make them correct about Gallardo as much as they would look desperate to have signed damaged goods because they waited all offseason to address a rotation that finished 14th in the AL in ERA in 2015 and lost its most consistent starter over the last four years in Wei-Yin Chen.

Bundy a starter?

It’s encouraging to see Dylan Bundy healthy and contributing out of the Orioles bullpen with a 2.57 ERA through the first three weeks of 2016, but the discussion of him being a starter later this season is premature.

In addition to his lack of starting experience above Double-A Bowie, Bundy hasn’t shown the ability to miss bats so far with opposing hitters sporting an 89.8 percent contact rate, the highest of any Orioles pitcher in 2016. The 23-year-old has one strikeout in seven innings of work with a fastball averaging just over 93 miles per hour in short stints out of the bullpen when pitchers typically cut it loose.

If he’s only hitting 93 or 94 mph when asked to only throw 20 or 30 pitches, how would that translate as a starter being expected to go six or seven innings?

Of course, this is a small sample size and it’s reasonable to think Bundy’s velocity will increase the further away he gets from his 2013 Tommy John surgery and his shoulder issues from a year ago, but little of what we’ve seen so far from him in 2016 screams starter candidate.

For now, the Orioles and their fans should just be thankful that he’s healthy and contributing in relief, and they’ll see how he progresses from there.

Kim deserving of more chances

It isn’t difficult to see where South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim stands within the organization after starting just three times in the Orioles’ first 17 games, but he’s gone 5-for-10 with two walks in those limited opportunities.

Meanwhile, primary designated hitter Pedro Alvarez is off to a miserable 4-for-37 start. To be fair, Alvarez has a track record of bringing 30-homer potential to a major league lineup, but the Orioles invested $7 million in Kim over two years compared to a one-year, $5.75 million deal for the former Pittsburgh Pirate. This isn’t to suggest that Kim should be given an everyday DH role over Alvarez, but he’s done enough with his rare chances to warrant more frequent shots here and there.

If you don’t think he can play, release him or give him a few more chances to prove that he just can’t cut it in the majors. When he has received time, however, Kim has far from embarrassed himself.

Davis showing more patience

Chris Davis entered Monday with a .230 batting average, but he’s hit six home runs and his walk rate has gone through the roof in the early going.

The 30-year-old slugger has walked in just under 20 percent of his plate appearances, up from 12.5 percent last season. He’s also swinging at just 21.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone compared to 31.0 percent last year, another reflection of improved patience at the plate.

To this point, he’s striking out a little less frequently, walking a great deal more, and homering at a similar rate (7.9 percent of plate appearances) to what we saw in 2013 (7.9 percent) and 2015 (7.0 percent). It’s still very early, but the Orioles will gladly take that spike in on-base percentage and not care nearly as much about his batting average.

Brach the pitching MVP so far

Zach Britton and Darren O’Day understandably receive most of the attention in the bullpen, but Brad Brach has been the Orioles’ most valuable pitching piece so far this season.

Tied with T.J. McFarland for the club lead with 11 1/3 relief innings, Brach has pitched to a 0.79 ERA and is averaging 10.3 strikeouts and 3.2 walks per nine innings. Right-handed hitters are just 1-for-19 with 10 strikeouts against him while lefty bats are 3-for-17, making him a good matchup for Buck Showalter against any hitter.

His mid-90s fastball and slider make him very difficult against right-handed bats and the downward movement on his changeup makes him that rare right-handed middle reliever who can be extremely effective against lefty hitters. Considering the issues the Orioles have had with starters getting into the sixth inning, Brach’s effectiveness and durability are key to bridging the gap to O’Day and Britton late in games.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-1 loss to Kansas City

Posted on 24 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-1 defeat to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday afternoon?

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 17th game of the 2016 season.

1st — The Orioles managed just one hit in Yordano Ventura’s final six innings of work after grabbing an early 1-0 lead. The Kansas City right-hander threw 28 pitches in an opening inning that included a Mark Trumbo RBI single, but the Orioles made Ventura throw a total of 25 in the next three frames and pushed only one runner into scoring position after the first. The lineup simply couldn’t handle Ventura’s effective off-speed stuff to go along with his fastball and were retired in order a total of six times on Sunday afternoon. You knew it wouldn’t be an easy day against the talented 24-year-old, but the inability to even make him work set up the Orioles for a long day at Kauffman Stadium.

2nd — After pitching well through six innings, Mike Wright couldn’t handle a long leash in the seventh and suffered his second loss. It’s a shame that many will look at the final numbers and just assume that the Orioles right-hander was lousy, but Wright effectively mixed in his off-speed and breaking stuff to compete against a lineup that included five lefty bats. That said, he left a 92 mph sinker up and over the outer half of the plate on Alex Gordon’s fourth-inning homer and hung a curve on Eric Hosmer’s long ball in the sixth, showing lefties are still problematic for him. To be clear, Wright doesn’t receive a pass as he entered the seventh at only 87 pitches, but Buck Showalter could have had a reliever loosening in a 2-1 game as the inning began. Even if it had been a clean inning, you wouldn’t have loved the Orioles’ chances with Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis looming in a 2-1 game, which could explain why Showalter tried to push it a little more than normal with Wright instead of going to the bullpen at the first sign of trouble. Right or wrong, that’s a choice that sometimes needs to be made when thinking of the long-term status of a bullpen that’s working behind a poor starting rotation in 2016.

3rd — You never know if the seventh would have been different for Wright if not for Chris Davis’ misplay of a Gordon chopper down the first-base line to open the inning. The Orioles made a handful of shaky plays defensively like the Royals did in Saturday night’s contest, but Davis would be the first to tell you that he should have turned that into the first out — even if catcher Caleb Joseph thought the ball was foul. Instead, it opened the floodgates to transform a close game into a blowout. Yes, Wright needs to be able to shake it off and not give up doubles to two of the next three hitters, but Baltimore’s stellar defense can’t bend like that when you’re asking a young starter to work into the seventh inning of a one-run game.

Home — Dylan Bundy wasn’t able to keep the Orioles in it after the deficit had grown to 4-1 in the seventh. He allowed three of the first four hitters he faced to reach as the Royals busted it wide open with a five-run advantage and allowed two more hitters to reach in the eighth. … Manny Machado saw his 16-game hitting streak come to an end as he went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Only Davey Johnson had a longer hitting streak (17 games) to begin a season in Orioles history. … Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-3 and is now hitting .108 to begin the season. … Trumbo collected his club-leading 16th RBI, but all have amazingly come on the road. … Kevin Gausman will be activated from the 15-day disabled list to make his 2016 debut against Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer on Monday night.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-2 win over Toronto

Posted on 22 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 14th game of the 2016 season.

1stManny Machado went 2-for-5 and actually saw his batting average fall a smidgen from .4074 to .4067, illustrating how incredible his start has been. The All-Star third baseman put the Orioles on the board with an RBI single in the first and blooped a double down the right-field line to plate the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning. His 14-game hitting streak has matched a career high set in 2013 and has made him only the third player in Orioles history to hit safely in the first 14 games of a season, joining Brian Roberts (2005) and Eddie Murray (1982). Machado entered Thursday with the most hits in the AL and was tied for the major league lead with Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. It has to be terrifying for the rest of the AL to wonder if the 23-year-old might be even better than he was last year.

2ndChris Tillman looked a lot like the pitcher who posted a 11.72 ERA against the Blue Jays in 2015 in the first inning, throwing 38 pitches while allowing two runs, two hits, two walks, and a hit by pitch. However, the right-hander mixed his curveball and slider effectively as the night progressed and he managed to register his first quality start of the season by not allowing a run over his next five innings of work. Toronto squared up a few balls hit directly at fielders over the course of the night, but Thursday turned out to be a vintage performance from Tillman in which he started slowly before regrouping to turn in a solid six-inning outing. That’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted against a very dangerous lineup.

3rdJoey Rickard only saw his legend grow on Thursday when he literally lined a ball through Toronto third baseman Josh Donald’s glove, a feat on par with Roy Hobbs tearing the cover off the ball in “The Natural.” In all seriousness, it was another impressive game for the rookie left fielder as he also stole the first base of his major league career before scoring on Machado’s single in the first. Rickard started the game-winning rally in the eighth inning with a single to center before advancing to second on a passed ball and aggressively scoring on Machado’s bloop double. It was a 3-for-5 night for Rickard, who is now hitting .350 and has hit safely in 13 of 14 games this season.

HomeDarren O’Day may have walked nemesis Jose Bautista on four pitches, but he turned in a masterful eighth inning against the heart of the Blue Jays order by striking out Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki. … Chris Davis registered four walks, a new career high, and currently has a .397 on-base percentage despite a .208 batting average. … Zach Britton recorded his 77th career save, moving past Randy Myers for sole possession of sixth place on the Orioles’ all-time saves list. … Dylan Bundy recorded the first strikeout of his major league career as he pitched on consecutive nights for the first time this season. … The Orioles are now 3-0 in games in which they’ve failed to hit a home run after going 11-39 in that department last year. … Matt Wieters was ejected for only the second time in his career after he was called out on a check-swing attempt by home plate umpire Dan Bellino, who drew the ire of both teams for an inconsistent strike zone throughout the game. … The Orioles begin a six-game road trip on Friday by sending Yovani Gallardo to the hill in Kansas City where he’ll be opposed by Royals right-hander Chris Young.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 9-5 win over Boston

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 9-5 win over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday 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 seventh game of the 2016 season.

1stJ.J. Hardy sliced a pair of opposite-field home runs inside the cozy “Pesky Pole” at Fenway Park and also hit a sacrifice fly to right that put the Orioles ahead for good in the top of the sixth inning. His first homer tied it at 2-2 in the third while his seventh-inning long ball busted the game wide open by giving Baltimore a 9-4 lead. It was the 12th multi-homer game of Hardy’s career and his first since doing it against St. Louis on Aug. 8, 2014. The three-time Gold Glove shortstop also provided a terrific defensive play with a diving catch of a liner off the bat of Blake Swihart that led to an inning-ending double play in the second and helped settle down starter Mike Wright for the time being.

2ndMark Trumbo continued to swing the bat exceptionally well and clobbered a 3-2 pitch for a long two-run shot over the Green Monster to tie the game in the sixth. The blast came at the end of a nine-pitch battle with Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz that included the Boston infield’s failure to catch a foul pop that would have sent Trumbo back to the Orioles dugout a few pitches before the big home run. The right fielder also singled, doubled, and scored three runs on a night that ended with him holding a .464 average with a 1.214 on-base plus slugging percentage.

3rdMatt Wieters was not off to a good start in the series after striking out four times on Monday and going down swinging in his first at-bat Tuesday, but the catcher contributed a critical two-run single to right-center in the seventh to open up a 7-4 lead. Those runs helped give an overworked Baltimore bullpen some breathing room in the late innings, which allowed manager Buck Showalter to rest the likes of Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, and Zach Britton.

HomeDylan Bundy took over for Wright holding a one-run lead to begin the bottom of the sixth inning and gave the Orioles 2 1/3 innings of quality work, allowing only one run in the process. The talented 23-year-old effectively mixed his changeup and slow curve with his fastball sitting between 92 and 94 miles per hour. … Joey Rickard struck out twice and grounded out twice before singling to left in the eighth, extending his hitting streak to seven games to begin his major league career. … The Orioles matched their high-water mark of 2015 by improving to seven games above .500 and have won seven in a row in a season for the first time since 2005. Dating back to the end of last year, Baltimore has won 12 straight regular-seaosn games. … The Orioles will send Ubaldo Jimenez to the hill in search of a three-game sweep on Wednesday night, and he’ll face Red Sox right-hander Joe Kelly.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Minnesota

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins to complete a three-game sweep on Thursday night?

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

1stUbaldo Jimenez didn’t look like he would complete seven strong innings early on, but he induced a 1-4-3 double play from Trevor Plouffe to escape a jam in the third inning and turned his outing around from there. The right-hander retired 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced, striking out eight over that stretch. Minnesota hitters were on his fastball early, but Jimenez mixed in his secondary pitches more effectively the second and third times through the order and his split-finger fastball was particularly sharp. Known for his occasional control issues, Jimenez didn’t walk a batter while striking out nine and scattering eight hits. His outing not only allowed the Orioles to remain within striking distance, but he saved a bullpen that had worked 11 innings over the first two games of the series.

2ndManny Machado was moved out of the leadoff spot for the Orioles on Thursday, but he still served as the catalyst for a lineup that was scuffling against Minnesota starter Phil Hughes for much of the evening. His home run to left with two outs in the bottom of the sixth reminded the rest of the order that a 2-0 deficit was far from insurmountable and the Orioles responded with three more runs over the next couple innings to surge ahead. The first-pitch homer came after Machado was locked in during his previous at-bat, a nine-pitch battle in the fourth that resulted in a line-drive single.

3rd Darren O’Day did have a two-run lead and has proven to be more than capable of handling the closer duties in the past, but he was very impressive in striking out the side to complete the 4-2 victory. The right-hander was also making his third appearance in four days, a heavy workload for this early stage of the season. O’Day recorded six strikeouts in three scoreless innings in the series.

HomeJoey Rickard continued his storybook start to the 2016 season with his first major league homer in the bottom of the eighth. The Rule 5 pick received a curtain call for his efforts as the crowd chanted his name repeatedly. … Jonathan Schoop knocked in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh with a single to center. … Dylan Bundy made his first major league appearance since Sept. 25, 2012 and pitched a scoreless eighth inning after he had warmed up at several other times during the series. … Caleb Joseph threw out two runners attempting to steal, one of them being Danny Santana right before Joe Mauer homered off Jimenez in the first inning. … After throwing only 22 pitches because of a rain delay on Opening Day, Chris Tillman returns to the hill on Friday where he’ll be opposed by Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer to begin a three-game set.

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Five things that must go right for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 31 March 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule full of twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that must go right for the Orioles in 2016:

1. Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman take the lead for a suspect starting rotation

It’s impossible not to be concerned with the starting five, especially with bounce-back candidate Miguel Gonzalez being released after a poor spring. That’s why Tillman and Gausman are so important to the Orioles’ chances of improving a starter ERA (4.53) that finished 14th in the AL in 2015.

Tillman will once again take the ball on Opening Day and posted a 3.42 ERA from 2012-2014 to lead the rotation, but his 4.99 mark last year was one of the big reasons why the club allowed 100 more runs than it did in 2014. A hip ailment slowed him at the start of spring, but the 27-year-old is still talented and young enough to rebound. The question will be whether it’s enough improvement to move the meter.

Gausman’s right shoulder tendinitis is cause for concern until he’s back on the mound, but the Orioles hope they were proactive in taking care of it. Finally a full-time member of the rotation, Gausman has the ability to become the best pitcher in the rotation if he can master his command of a third pitch to go with his electric fastball and tough split-changeup. At the end of last season, he expressed growing confidence in his curveball after throwing a slider earlier in his major league career.

The Orioles will hope for the best with the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, but inconsistency has followed him his entire career. Newcomer Yovani Gallardo has an impressive track record, but a declining strikeout rate and diminished velocity make him an expensive question mark. After that, the Orioles will hope the likes of Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson can handle the final rotation spot.

If Tillman and Gausman can be productive rocks for the rotation, it becomes easier to put together the rest of the group to improve from last season. If not, things could get ugly.

2. The lineup produces its highest run total since 2008

The Orioles have averaged just under 719 runs scored per season over the last four years, but it’s fair to expect more from a lineup that added sluggers Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez and hopes to have healthier versions of Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Jonathan Schoop.

Even if the starting rotation can improve from last year, it doesn’t appear to have the kind of ceiling that would make you think the Orioles will stay in serious contention without boosting their run total of 713 from 2015. After finishing third in the majors with 217 homers, the lineup now has two more bats with 30-homer ability in Trumbo and Alvarez, making it arguably the most powerful order in the majors.

The lineup will strike out too much and doesn’t have many hitters with good on-base ability, but it’s not impossible to think the power-hitting Orioles can eclipse the 750-run mark for the first time since 2008.

3. The defense returns to its 2014 level of excellence

Most focus on the demise of the 2015 club fell on the regression of the starting pitching from the previous year, but a rotation that depended on pitching to contact did not have the same quality of defense behind it as in 2014.

Sure, the Orioles committed the fewest errors in the AL, but that traditional measure doesn’t take into account factors such as range, arm strength, or the ability to make spectacular plays. After leading the league in defensive runs saved (plus-50) in 2014, the Orioles finished ninth at minus-11 last year.

Healthier versions of Hardy, Schoop, and Adam Jones should improve the overall defense at positions that suffered in their absence last year. And Machado being another year removed from his knee surgeries will likely eliminate the shaky defensive start he had in 2015, making the already-elite third baseman even better in the field.

Of course, Trumbo being projected as the primary right fielder probably won’t help a position that was abysmal for the Orioles at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2015. And it will be interesting to see how a heavier workload for Wieters will impact the defense behind the plate after Caleb Joseph finished second on the 2015 club with 12 defensive runs saved.

If the starting pitching improves enough in 2016, the defense will likely have a lot to do with it.

4. The bullpen becomes even more dominant than it was the last few years

How can you expect much more from a group that finished third in the AL in bullpen ERA over the last two years and posted a 3.21 mark in 2015?

Full-season contributions from Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy give a deep bullpen even more upside than it already had with 2015 All-Star selections Zach Britton and Darren O’Day leading the way. There is some short-term concern about the lefty specialist role with Brian Matusz ailing this spring, but the Orioles have right-handed relievers such as O’Day and Brad Brach who are effective against left-handed hitting to help pick up the slack for the time being.

Long-term depth might be even more important than dominance late in games with the serious questions about the starting rotation. Fortunately, there are a couple more capable arms such as Oliver Drake waiting in the wings at Triple-A Norfolk.

Manager Buck Showalter is as good as they come handling relievers, so you trust his ability to keep them fresh for the long haul. At the same time, the starting rotation might test the bullpen like it hasn’t faced in several years.

5. Someone other than Machado emerges as the leadoff hitter

Machado did an admirable job primarily serving in the top spot in the order with a career-high .359 on-base percentage, but his run-producing ability is better utilized in the second or third spot.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard figures to receive some early opportunities in the leadoff role after winning the starting left field job to begin the year. He had a .390 career on-base percentage in the minors, but will that ability translate to the majors considering his limited power that will prompt pitchers to challenge him with strikes and better stuff at a higher level?

Veteran Nolan Reimold could also factor into the equation as he had a .344 OBP in 195 plate appearances last year.

It isn’t as important that the Orioles move Machado out of the leadoff spot as it is to find a replacement who is truly deserving of hitting at the top of the order. If they do, the offense can better maximize its power capabilities and score more runs to help out a starting rotation that remains the biggest concern entering 2016.

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Spring bringing little optimism from Orioles starting rotation

Posted on 23 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Hope springs eternal for the Orioles starting rotation.

Three former All-Star selections are projected members of this year’s rotation.

Three starters remain from the group that thrived in the second half of 2014 and contributed to the Orioles running away with the American League East title.

Baltimore may have lost its most consistent starting pitcher from the last four years — Wei-Yin Chen — but his replacement, Yovani Gallardo, sports a 3.66 career ERA.

Then you actually take a look at what’s transpired this spring and wonder how a club that increased its payroll to roughly $150 million can be living under such a black cloud with its starting pitching entering the 2016 season.

Miguel Gonzalez, one of the great stories of the Orioles’ resurgence beginning in 2012, has been nothing short of disastrous in the Grapefruit League after posting a 6.14 ERA in the second half last season. In 14 1/3 innings this spring, the 31-year-old has allowed 20 earned runs, 28 hits, six walks, and five home runs while striking out just four. Against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Gonzalez continually missed up in the strike zone and threw fastballs sitting in the upper 80s as he allowed four earned runs, six hits, and two homers in 4 1/3 innings.

Strong track record or not, Gonzalez has struggled dramatically dating back to June of 2015 and should not be assured a spot in the rotation, but the alternatives are few and far between. Gonzalez will have a couple more starts to turn it around before the season begins, but it’s worth noting that he has a minor-league option remaining if his poor performance continues.

The talented Kevin Gausman is dealing with shoulder tendinitis for the second straight year and received a cortisone shot to alleviate the discomfort. Even if the ailment proves to be minor, this isn’t the start that the 25-year-old was looking for with the Orioles needing him to take a major step forward in his first full season as a starter.

Manager Buck Showalter has remained optimistic about Gausman’s availability at the start of the season, but the Orioles won’t know how practical that is until he begins throwing again later this week. Gausman avoiding the disabled list appears unlikely at this point.

Signed to a two-year, $22 million deal that was restructured after apparent concerns about his shoulder, Gallardo has allowed four homers in 4 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League and surrendered two runs, six hits, and three walks while striking out one in four innings of a Single-A game on Monday. A late start to the spring gives the 30-year-old the benefit of the doubt, but there was much discussion about his declining velocity and strikeout rate before the Orioles signed him in late February.

The next couple outings are important for him.

Slowed by a hip issue earlier this spring, Chris Tillman threw the ball well on Sunday despite mediocre results — three earned runs and two homers in four innings — but he also acknowledged during that MASN telecast that his hip still isn’t 100 percent. The Orioles need Tillman to pitch more like the guy he was from 2012-2014 and not the pitcher who posted a 4.99 ERA in 2015.

And then there’s Ubaldo Jimenez, who gave up six runs and retired just one batter in his spring debut on March 2. Fortunately, the enigmatic right-hander has allowed just two earned runs in 17 innings split between Grapefruit League and minor-league outings since then.

It speaks volumes about the current state of the rotation when Jimenez looks like the surest bet.

So, who else might the Orioles turn to, especially if Gausman isn’t ready to return when a fifth starter is needed on April 10?

Of a group that also includes Mike Wright (5.74 ERA), Vance Worley (5.56 ERA), and Odrisamer Despaigne (7.15 ERA), Tyler Wilson has stood out this spring as he’s posted a 2.89 ERA in 9 1/3 innings. The 26-year-old doesn’t blow you away with his stuff, but a strong 3.50 ERA in 36 major league innings last year showed that the stage wasn’t too big for him and he has yet to walk a batter this spring.

Wright’s spring ERA isn’t stellar, but his 15 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings at least keep him in the conversation.

Beyond those names, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette continues to look for reinforcements, whether it’s that elusive left-handed starter or another right-handed one who can simply get hitters out.

You never want to read too much into spring training performance — good or bad — but it’s getting late early for the starting rotation and there hasn’t been much evidence from Florida to discount the biggest concern about the 2016 Orioles. We know spring numbers don’t count in the long run, but you’d like to see a little more to be optimistic about at this late stage.

Who knows?

Maybe the pre-2015 light bulb goes back on for Gonzalez, Gausman’s shoulder isn’t an issue and he takes that big step forward, Tillman puts last year behind him, Gallardo proves to be one of the best signings of the offseason, and the good Jimenez surfaces for an entire season. Such a series of events would make us forget all about an ugly spring training and might even make the Orioles the favorites in the AL East.

Hope springs eternal this time of year, right?

As long as you don’t pay attention to anything that’s happened so far.

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2016 Orioles preview: Dylan Bundy

Posted on 23 March 2016 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than two weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2016 Orioles every day as they try to return to the playoffs for the third time in five years this season.

March 1 – Adam Jones
March 2 – Chris Tillman
March 3 – Jonathan Schoop
March 4 – Brad Brach
March 5 – Nolan Reimold
March 6 – Yovani Gallardo
March 7 – Matt Wieters
March 8 – T.J. McFarland
March 9 – Dariel Alvarez
March 10 – Brian Matusz
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Mychal Givens
March 13 – Ryan Flaherty
March 14 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 15 – Mark Trumbo
March 16 – Darren O’Day
March 18 – Pedro Alvarez
March 19 – Oliver Drake
March 20 – Mike Wright
March 21 – Zach Britton
March 22 – Caleb Joseph

RP Dylan Bundy

Age: 23

Contract status: Under club control through the 2021 season

2015 stats (with Double-A Bowie): 0-3, 3.68 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 10.2 K/IP, 2.0 BB/IP, 0 HR, 22 innings

Why to be impressed: The 2011 first-round pick has been through hell from an injury standpoint over the last three seasons, but he is still just 23 years old and has had a healthy spring to this point, creating optimism that he’ll be able to contribute in the Baltimore bullpen. In 8 1/3 innings this spring, Bundy has allowed three earned runs while striking out five and walking two and displaying mid-90s velocity.

Why to be concerned: Elbow and shoulder injuries have limited the top pitching prospect to just 63 1/3 innings in the minor leagues since the start of the 2013 season. Bundy is out of minor-league options and must remain on the 25-man roster if he is healthy, meaning manager Buck Showalter will need to find innings for a pitcher who is far from a finished product despite his promising talent. 

2016 outlook: All discussion is a moot point if Bundy cannot stay healthy after losing significant time over the last three years, but the right-hander needs to pitch if he’s ever going to realize his potential. His performance this spring has been encouraging, but no one can really know what to expect once Bundy is thrown into a major league setting for the first time since his cup of coffee late in the 2012 season.

2016 not-so-scientific projections: 3-3, 4.06 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7.4 K/IP, 3.5 BB/IP, 4 HR, 45 innings

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Can Bundy, Harvey restore some faith in Orioles’ future?

Posted on 19 February 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles are optimistic about their chances in 2016, especially if they complete deals with starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and outfielder Dexter Fowler as many anticipate.

But there’s no avoiding concern when you take a peek toward the future. It’s no secret that Baltimore’s farm system ranks among the worst in baseball in the eyes of multiple publications, and they now appear on the verge of forfeiting their top two choices in the 2016 amateur draft. Instead of having up to eight picks in the first 91 slots as it appeared possible at the start of the offseason, the Orioles will have four — none in the top 50 — if both Gallardo and Fowler agree to play at Camden Yards this summer.

In looking at the farm system, we once again come back to the health of pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, who both took part in the first official workout of the spring on Friday. Injuries have derailed their promising futures, but the Orioles are expressing optimism that each pitcher is finally back on track.

With Bundy, the future is now since he enters the spring out of minor-league options. After finally appearing to be past the effects of his 2013 Tommy John surgery, the 23-year-old was limited to just 22 professional innings last year before being shut down with a sore right shoulder. He was shut down again in the Arizona Fall League with right forearm tightness, but that was deemed to be minor and he’s working without any restrictions at the start of the spring.

“He’s as good right now as I’ve seen him since he’s been with the Orioles,” director of player development Brian Graham said Thursday on MLB Network. “I think health is the major factor. He’s throwing the ball well. He looks good. He’s got a smile on his face. He’s healthy. This is a different guy right now.

“Dylan Bundy’s ready to finally be healthy and be the kind of guy that we always expected.”

The only problem is that Bundy is far from a finished product with just 38 2/3 innings above the Single-A level under his belt, and he will now be relegated to bullpen duty in the majors as a pseudo-Rule 5 pick without the benefit of being able to send him to the minors at the end of the season. Even if he remains healthy — a major question until he proves otherwise — how will a bullpen role impact his development?

You can’t help but wonder if Bundy has already reached the point of no return, at least as it relates to visions of him being the future ace in Baltimore. If effective in short relief or as a long man, the 2011 first-round pick will still have a difficult time building up innings to the point where he can be relied on as a full-time starter in the near future.

Of course, the Orioles would just like to see him healthy enough to pitch in any capacity for a full season before they start worrying about what might come next.

Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Harvey says his forearm and elbow are healthy after he’s been shut down with a strained right flexor mass in each of the last two years. The 2013 first-round pick saw his stock skyrocket with a 3.18 ERA as a 19-year-old at Single-A Delmarva in 2014 before he was shut down in late July of that season.

He hasn’t pitched in a professional regular-season game since then, but Harvey told reporters in Sarasota on Friday that he has been throwing since December and is fully cleared for spring training as a non-roster invitee. He will likely begin the 2016 season at either Delmarva or Single-A Frederick.

“All the medical reviews and the MRIs and everything he’s gone through, they say he’s 100 percent healthy,” Graham said. “If Hunter has the ability to stay healthy and pitch the way he’s capable of, he has a chance to be special. I think sometimes he might be glossed over just a little bit, and people don’t quite realize how good he is.”

At this point, the Orioles and their fans are in wait-and-see mode when it comes to both young pitchers. A clean bill of health at the start of spring training isn’t the same as being healthy in late March and in early June and for an entire season, but it’s a start.

No news is good news as it relates to the health of Bundy and Harvey, and such a development would be a much-needed shot in the arm for the Orioles’ pitching future.

No pun intended.

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LOUGH

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Lough becomes latest Orioles outfielder to be designated for assignment

Posted on 14 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles continued their purge of disappointing corner outfielders on Friday by designating David Lough for assignment prior to their series opener against the Oakland Athletics.

With Matt Wieters currently nursing a hamstring strain, catcher Steve Clevenger was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take Lough’s place on the 25-man roster. Lough, 29, became the fifth Orioles outfielder to be designated for assignment since late May, joining Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Chris Parmelee, and Travis Snider as players who failed as part of the offseason plan to replace free-agent departures Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

Originally acquired to replace former Oriole Nate McLouth in left field two winters ago, Lough never established himself at the plate and was relegated to a role as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner for much of his two seasons with Baltimore. The July 31 acquisition of Gerardo Parra made Lough even more expendable because of his ability to back up Adam Jones in center field, a role that he held for the last two years.

After hitting .247 in 197 plate appearances last season, Lough was hitting just .202 in 2015 and was mired in a 2-for-26 slump in early July.

Manager Buck Showalter expressed hope that Lough would remain with the organization and accept an outright assignment to Norfolk if he goes unclaimed on waivers. The Orioles would then consider him for a September call-up.

Clevenger went 5-for-11 in a brief stint with the Orioles earlier this year and has had an impressive season for Norfolk, batting .305 with four home runs, 32 RBIs, and a .769 on-base plus slugging percentage. The organization has also been pleased with his improved defense behind the plate, a weakness of his when acquired from the Chicago Cubs in 2013.

The Orioles have also summoned Norfolk outfielder Henry Urrutia to Norfolk and are expected to activate him for Saturday’s game, meaning another roster move is coming. The Cuban outfielder hasn’t played for Baltimore since hitting .276 in 58 plate appearances in 2013, but the lefty is batting .292 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs for the Tides this season.

It doesn’t look like the Orioles will make room for Urrutia by placing Wieters on the disabled list as the three-time All-Star catcher said prior to Friday’s game that his hamstring is feeling much better, joking that he’s closed to being back to his normal “slow speed” on the bases. The 29-year-old said he would be available off the bench if needed, but Clevenger being recalled reflects a desire to stay away from using Wieters for at least another day or two if possible.

Right-hander Chris Tillman will complete his bullpen session on Saturday and is still in line to make Monday’s start despite being struck with a line drive on the right triceps during his last start in Seattle.

Right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe received a cortisone injection in his right shoulder and is responding well, leading to optimism that he’ll be ready to return after the 15-day minimum on the DL.

Steve Pearce is now taking batting practice in Sarasota as his injured oblique continues to improve. The Orioles hope he can begin a minor-league rehab assignment as early as the beginning of next week.

Right-hander Mike Wright is still feeling “tentative” when running and pushing off with his calf as Showalter did not make it sound like his return from the DL was imminent.

According to Showalter, pitching prospect Hunter Harvey’s throwing program is proceeding well as he continues to throw off flat ground. The organization is deciding whether he will pitch this fall and where that might take place.

Showalter also said that 22-year-old pitcher Dylan Bundy will have an appointment with Dr. James Andrews at the end of the month to determine how his shoulder is progressing after extensive rest.

Right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson is currently on the minor-league seven-day DL and is improving, but his return from an oblique strain is not considered imminent.

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