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Orioles option Hart, designate Pena for assignment

Posted on 17 May 2017 by Luke Jones

After a 13-inning game in which the struggling Orioles bullpen allowed an unseemly seven earned runs, changes were bound to be made on Wednesday.

Prior to the second game of a three-game set in Detroit, left-handed relief pitcher Donnie Hart was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk and No. 3 catcher Francisco Pena was designated for assignment to create open spots for fresh bullpen arms on the 25-man roster. Right-handed relievers Stefan Crichton and Miguel Castro were recalled to once again give Baltimore a seven-man bullpen.

Serving as the club’s lefty specialist since last August, Hart had been struggling over his last seven outings including Tuesday night when he was unable to protect a three-run lead in the bottom of the 12th inning. The 26-year-old had allowed six earned runs and 11 hits in his last six innings of work after now allowing an earned run in the entire month of April.

Pena’s designation comes as no surprise after starting catcher Welington Castillo was activated from the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether the 27-year-old will pass through waivers and remain with the organization after once again being removed from the 40-man roster.

Crichton made his major league debut last month and has allowed four earned runs and nine hits in three appearances for the Orioles covering 3 1/3 innings. He has a 1.56 ERA in 17 1/3 innings for Triple-A Norfolk this season.

Castro, 22, was acquired from Colorado in early April and owns a career 6.12 ERA in 31 1/3 major league innings over parts of two seasons. He had been pitching for Double-A Bowie, allowing one earned run in four innings.

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Orioles outright Gentry to Norfolk to make room for Castillo

Posted on 16 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles made room for returning catcher Welington Castillo on the 25-man roster by outrighting outfielder Craig Gentry to Triple-A Norfolk ahead of Tuesday’s series opener in Detroit.

Castillo had spent the last two weeks on the 10-day disabled list while dealing with right shoulder tendinitis, but the Orioles surprisingly elected to keep No. 3 catcher Francisco Pena on the 25-man roster — at least for one night. Manager Buck Showalter indicated to reporters that keeping a third catcher would not be a long-term plan as the Orioles have been using a six-man bullpen for quite some time.

Pena is out of minor-league options and would have to be removed from the 40-man roster, leaving his future with the organization in doubt. He hit two home runs in Saturday’s loss in Kansas City and was 4-for-7 serving as the backup to Caleb Joseph while Castillo was out.

Showalter had been dealing with a crowded outfield picture since the return of Joey Rickard from the DL late last month, which had relegated Gentry to limited duty as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner. The Orioles have been primarily using Rickard and rookie Trey Mancini as the corner outfielders against left-handed starters.

Gentry was hitting just .162 with one home run, four RBIs, and three stolen bases despite appearing in 33 of Baltimore’s 36 games. With Rickard missing action with a finger injury in April, the 34-year-old had served in the leadoff spot against left-handed starters, but he had not continued the spring success that won him a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Castillo was back in the starting lineup against the Tigers on Tuesday night and is hitting .314 with one homer, six doubles, six RBIs, and a .776 on-base plus slugging percentage.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-0 win over White Sox

Posted on 07 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles completing a three-game sweep in a 4-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. No one quite knew what to expect from Chris Tillman after he gave up four home runs in his last rehab start pitching for Triple-A Norfolk, but everyone invested in the Orioles would have gladly taken the five shutout innings he threw in his season debut.

2. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised given his history of first-inning struggles, but seven straight balls and two walks to open the game made you wonder if Tillman would make it out of the first. Despite quite a few deep counts, he walked only one more after those first two.

3. Tillman’s fastball velocity wasn’t his best, but he comfortably sat at 90 mph and went no lower than 88, which is good enough for him to succeed. He also threw good secondary pitches, inducing all eight of his swinging strikes with those over the course of his outing.

4. The results were good to see, but how Tillman feels Monday and Tuesday is more important than anything occurring in his first start. He and the training staff have put a great deal of work into strengthening his right shoulder, so you hope that pays off.

5. The Baltimore lineup didn’t square up many against White Sox lefty starter Jose Quintana, but it was important to get Tillman an early lead after he escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first. An early 4-0 lead probably had Chicago thinking about getting out of town more than anything else.

6. Drawing the walk clearly isn’t a big part of the Orioles offense, but Adam Jones and Manny Machado came around to score after reaching on free passes in the first. You’d like to see a few more of those every now and then.

7. After homering off a right-hander the night before, Trey Mancini continues to make a strong bid to become an everyday player with a 3-for-4 performance that included a two-out RBI single in the first. His average now sits at .297 as he continues to maximize his chances.

8. Alec Asher was two outs away from the unorthodox three-inning-plus save before being lifted in favor of Brad Brach, but he did a superb job giving the bullpen a breather. His 2.55 ERA in 17 2/3 innings between starting and relief hasn’t gone unnoticed.

9. Francisco Pena said he’ll be OK for the start of the Washington series after his right thumb and much of his right arm cramped up in the eighth. If not, the Orioles will have an interesting decision on their hands with starting catcher Welington Castillo already on the disabled list.

10. The Orioles are 20-10 despite Tillman and Zach Britton missing significant time, Kevin Gausman struggling mightily, and Mark Trumbo slugging .314 with only two home runs so far. Just like Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette drew it up, right?

11. Jonathan Schoop missed his second straight game after being hit on the hand by a pitch in Friday’s win. The timing isn’t ideal with him swinging the bat so well and having reached base in 22 straight games, but Showalter hopes to have him back for the Nationals series.

12. Sunday marked the 2,000th game in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Needless to say, the last six seasons have been far more enjoyable than much of the park’s history. The Orioles are now 11-3 at home in 2017.

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Orioles activate Britton, place Castillo on 10-day DL

Posted on 02 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles officially welcomed closer Zach Britton back to the 25-man roster while losing another key player prior to Tuesday’s game against Boston.

Catcher Welington Castillo was placed on the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis a day after being scratched with what was originally described as neck spasms. An MRI exam revealed the issue, but the ailment is not expected to sideline Castillo for long.

Signed to a one-year, $6 million contract in December, the 30-year-old is batting .314 with one home run, six RBIs, and a .776 on-base plus slugging percentage in 72 plate appearances with his new club.

“Structurally fine. He started some medication,” manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Boston prior to Tuesday’s game. “I think it’ll manage itself within the 10 days, but because of the position, we’re going to need a catcher. We’ve been thinking about it, waiting on the tests, and talking with Welington the most. This is the path that we have decided to take.”

Baltimore selected the contract of Francisco Pena from Triple-A Norfolk. He is expected to serve as the backup to Caleb Joseph for the time being. To make room for Pena on the 40-man roster, recently-acquired minor-league pitcher Damien Magnifico was designated for assignment.

The Orioles are thrilled to have Britton back at the end of the bullpen for the first time since April 14 when he felt left forearm discomfort while throwing a slider in Toronto. The two-time All-Star closer made two rehab appearances for Double-A Bowie, allowing a home run in 1 2/3 innings.

To make room for Britton’s activation from the DL, right-handed pitcher Mike Wright was optioned back to Norfolk a day after being recalled as a fresh arm for the bullpen. He did not appear in Monday’s game.

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Looking at Davis’ 2016 season, outfield defense, Orioles catching

Posted on 10 February 2017 by Luke Jones

When discussing the “three true outcomes” in hitting, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is one of the most extreme examples you’ll ever find.

Having struck out, walked, or homered in more than half of his plate appearances over the last two seasons, Davis can be frustrating to watch despite having good value, evident by the peaks and valleys of his performance over the last five years. His 2016 season wasn’t his finest but it was markedly better than his nightmare 2014 campaign that ended with a 25-game suspension for taking unapproved Adderall.

Looking beyond his unimpressive .221 batting average last season, Davis still clubbed 38 home runs and posted a strong .332 on-base percentage with a .792 on-base plus slugging percentage. It wasn’t the season he or the Orioles had in mind after agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million contract last winter, but Davis was still worth 3.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

It also wasn’t a secret that Davis was playing with a sore left hand for much of the season, and the 30-year-old clarified last month that he suffered a dislocated left thumb in late April. Missing just five games all season, the first baseman played through discomfort, citing his defensive contributions as a reason for not wanting to miss extensive time to rest the thumb.

“I was hoping there was no lasting effect, and it feels good,” said Davis at FanFest last month. “I really didn’t realize how much of an impact it was having on my swing until I took some cuts this offseason. It’s nice to have two hands to hit with again.”

Of course, determining how much a bad thumb might have impacted Davis’ performance isn’t easy, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize a hitter’s top hand is probably important. So, was there anything dramatically different about the slugger’s peripherals compared to previous years?

His 32.9 percent strikeout rate was just below his career-worst mark of 33.0 percent in 2014, but he still struck out 31.0 percent of the time in his strong 2015 season. His 65.7 percent contact rate was also a career low compared to his 67.6 percent career mark, but Davis struggling a bit more to make contact isn’t exactly news.

He posted a career-high 13.2 percent walk rate, continuing his streak of improving in that department every year since arriving in Baltimore in 2011. Still, a 0.7 percent increase from 2015 hardly raises eyebrows.

Where we start to see notable change was a dramatic decline in Davis’ pull and line-drive rates. After hitting the ball to right field well over 50 percent of the time the previous two seasons, Davis pulled the ball just 41.7 percent of the time last year. And just 19.8 percent of the balls he put in play were line drives, down from his 22.9 percentage for his career.

Davis’ plate discipline also changed substantially as he swung at just 42.7 percent of pitches, easily a career low compared to his 49.4 percent career mark. Seventy-nine of his 219 strikeouts were on called strike threes, which shattered his previous single-season high of 56.

In other words, these numbers reflect a hitter struggling to turn on pitches and more reluctant than normal to swing the bat. Sure, it could be the start of a decline for a power hitter suddenly trying to overcompensate by attempting to draw more walks, but those numbers would also reflect a batter dealing with a hand issue and possibly trying to pick his spots to swing the bat with authority.

Maybe the truth falls somewhere in the middle — we are talking about a streaky performer anyway — but the batted-ball data and noticeable change in aggressiveness support the idea that something in 2016 was out of whack beyond Davis merely getting a year older.

Outfield defense

Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, center fielder Adam Jones drew some criticism for his comments about Baltimore’s outfield defense, but he wasn’t wrong.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette stated last October that improving the club’s outfield defense was a top priority, but the addition of the 34-year-old Seth Smith — who is at least a better right fielder than Mark Trumbo — hardly quells concerns. The Orioles outfield finished last in the major leagues at minus-52 defensive runs saved in 2016.

With Jones now 31 and dealing with an array of nagging injuries over the last two seasons, the Orioles should really be making life easier for him in the outfield while pondering his long-term viability in center. Though never as good of a center fielder as Jones, Andrew McCutchen, 30, recently agreed to move to right field for Pittsburgh, a move made easier by the presence of Gold Glove teammate Starling Marte.

Instead, Jones is working harder than ever to cover up for too many plodders in the outfield.

A chance for Chance

With projected starter Welington Castillo playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and backup Francisco Pena being designated for assignment on Friday, catching prospect Chance Sisco could reap the benefits of more extensive action this spring.

Manager Buck Showalter probably isn’t thrilled about Castillo being away from the club instead of getting better acquainted with pitchers in his first spring with the Orioles, but Sisco is considered the catcher of the future and would surely benefit from more opportunities in the Grapefruit League. Duquette has openly discussed the possibility of Sisco being ready to contribute in the majors at some point during the 2017 season.

A good spring would seemingly expedite that process.

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Orioles send struggling backup catcher Joseph to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 22 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Needing to reinstate starting catcher Matt Wieters from the paternity leave list prior to Monday’s series opener against the Washington Nationals, the Orioles demoted backup Caleb Joseph to Triple-A Norfolk.

In an effort to get Joseph some regular at-bats to right his dismal season at the plate, Baltimore elected to keep catcher Francisco Pena on the 25-man roster to back up Wieters for the time being. In 121 plate appearances, Joseph is hitting just .193 with two extra-base hits, no RBIs, and a .450 on-base plus slugging percentage.

He is eligible to return as early as Sept. 1 when major league rosters expand.

“We’d like to get him some at-bats, consistently, with Matt back,” said manager Buck Showalter, who made it clear that Joseph remains in the club’s plans moving forward. “In fact, he would have caught tonight if Matt wasn’t back. We’ve got an opportunity to get him 10 days of at-bats [with] some things he’s been working on. Get him back.

“He probably would have caught maybe once here in those 10 days, maybe twice. We just thought the benefit would be better there. He doesn’t lose any service time or anything. He’ll be back in 10 days.”

In 39 plate appearances this season, Pena has hit .222 with one homer and three RBIs. He filled in as the club’s backup catcher throughout the month of June after Joseph took a foul ball to the groin area and had to undergo emergency testicular surgery on May 30.

Joseph’s intense struggles at the plate this year are quite a change from last year when he hit .234 with 11 home runs, 49 RBIs, and a .693 on-base plus slugging percentage. In 2014, he filled in admirably after Wieters was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and batted .207 with nine homers, 28 RBIs, and a .618 OPS as a rookie.

He has been an above-average defensive catcher in the majors despite not having the best reputation in that department during his minor-league career, but the Orioles want to get his bat going for the stretch run.

“This guy’s got a pretty good track record, offensively, behind him,” Showalter said. “He’s a better hitter than he’s shown here, and I think sometimes it gets kind of mentally and emotionally in there. Caleb’s driven in some big runs for us, and he’s been a nice guy to have down in the bottom of the order. If you relax on him, he’s a guy you like to see coming up with people on base.

“We’ve just got to get him back to that. How do you do it? Sitting around playing once every 10 days? It doesn’t work too good.”

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-1 win over Yankees

Posted on 05 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-1 win over the New York Yankees on Sunday?

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 55th game of the 2016 season.

1stMatt Wieters once again came up big in a late-game situation, grounding a 101 mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman into center field to plate the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth. Not only was Wieters pinch-hitting for just the third time this season, but he had quickly fallen behind 0-2 after failing to catch up to two straight 99 mph fastballs from the Yankees lefty. It was an impressive feat for the starting catcher as he shortened his stroke and delivered the first Baltimore runs of the afternoon. Wieters is now hitting .369 with a .967 on-base plus slugging percentage and 16 RBIs in his last 18 games.

2ndKevin Gausman didn’t record a single 1-2-3 inning and had many deep counts, but the Yankees were just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position against him as the 25-year-old turned in the Orioles’ first quality start since Memorial Day. The right-hander scattered seven hits and two walks, but his most important work came in the fourth inning when he got Aaron Hicks to ground into a fielder’s choice and Jacoby Ellsbury to strike out with the bases loaded to maintain a 1-0 deficit. He would strike out five in six innings while throwing 104 pitches for his fifth quality start of the season.

3rdFrancisco Pena was at Triple-A Norfolk with a total of seven major league plate appearances under his belt a week ago, but the reserve catcher picked up a huge single off Chapman to load the bases and give Wieters a chance as a pinch hitter with two outs in the eighth. He also got a great read on Wieters’ single to advance to third, which allowed him to score on Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s errant throw. Son of Yankees first base coach and former major league catcher Tony Pena, the 26-year-old also walked in the third and singled in the fifth in a 2-for-3 performance.

HomeT.J. McFarland pitched two scoreless innings to not only keep the Orioles in the game, but the lefty also helped preserve an overworked bullpen that’s without the services of the injured Darren O’Day. For his efforts, McFarland picked up his first win of the season. … Zach Britton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 17th save in 17 tries and extended his scoreless streak to 13 games covering 14 1/3 innings. … The Orioles improved to 2-20 when trailing at the end of seven innings and handed the Yankees their first defeat of the year when ahead at the end of seven. … Right-hander Mike Wright will start the opener of a three-game set with the Kansas City Royals, who will send lefty Danny Duffy to the hill on Monday night.

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Wieters, Orioles in better position to endure Joseph’s absence

Posted on 31 May 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There’s never good timing for the kind of injury Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph suffered as we collectively cringed watching him take a foul ball to the groin area during Monday’s game.

But with the defensive-minded backup undergoing surgery for a testicular injury and being placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Orioles are in better position to endure his absence than they’ve been in a long time. With three-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters playing more frequently in May being nearly two full years removed from Tommy John surgery, the Orioles can feel more comfortable with the recalled Francisco Pena serving as his backup for at least the next couple weeks.

Wieters rarely caught on consecutive days upon returning to action last season, creating more of a timeshare behind the plate.

“It doesn’t change anything about Matt,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We’re not going to start pushing up his load and jeopardize something down the road. He may feel differently, but we’ll take it day to day. It shouldn’t change anything about that, but we’ll see.”

Wieters may never again start 135 or more games at catcher in a season like he did earlier in his career, but he caught on three straight days last week for the first time since having elbow surgery and has caught on back-to-back days five other times since the end of April, taking on more of a conventional workload for a starting catcher in recent weeks. Including Tuesday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, Wieters has served as the starting catcher in 14 of the Orioles’ last 21 games.

That is good news for the Orioles, who will now depend on a backup catcher with all of nine career games in the majors. Acquired from the Kansas City Royals in December, Pena at least had the opportunity to work with many of the club’s pitchers during spring training and had thrown out 11 of 23 runners attempting to steal while catching for Triple-A Norfolk this year.

However, the 26-year-old was hitting .200 with a .491 on-base plus slugging percentage in 87 plate appearances for the Tides. Joseph was off to a poor start at the plate this season with a .182 average, but the 29-year-old hit .234 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs last season.

From an offensive standpoint, the Orioles hope Wieters can continue what he’s been able to do while receiving more regular at-bats in May. After hitting .214 in the first month of the season, Wieters entered Tuesday hitting .354 with three homers and a .933 OPS in May.

Just having him behind the plate more regularly is more of a relief for the Orioles while Joseph recovers.

“I feel good, but I also feel like Frankie’s a guy who can go back there and catch, too,” Wieters said. “I think that’s one thing we’ve always preached. We’ve got to be able to have guys at Double A and Triple A who can step in and play in a big-league game. We’re not going to call anybody up we don’t feel can go out there and catch in a game.

“Whatever needs to happen for the team to win games, I’m all for. But I have complete confidence in Frankie getting back there and catching a big-league game and getting wins.”

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Orioles tender arbitration-eligible players, acquire catcher

Posted on 02 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Dan Duquette had a busy Wednesday, and that’s not even counting finalizing the acquisition of slugger Mark Trumbo and relief pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser from Seattle in exchange for catcher Steve Clevenger.

The Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations also acquired catcher Francisco Pena from Kansas City for cash considerations. The 26-year-old batted .251 with 13 home runs and 48 RBIs in 95 games with Triple-A Omaha this past season and appeared in nine major league games for the Royals over the last two years.

To make room for Pena on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated infielder Paul Janish for assignment. The slick-fielding 33-year-old hit .286 in 14 games with Baltimore this past season.

The biggest event of the day was the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, and the Orioles did exactly that with infielders Manny Machado and Ryan Flaherty, right-handed pitchers Brad Brach, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman, lefties Brian Matusz and Zach Britton, and Trumbo. Baltimore agreed to one-year contracts with outfielder Nolan Reimold and right-hander Vance Worley to avoid arbitration with both.

The club and tendered players will exchange salary figures in January with arbitration hearings then scheduled for February. In most cases, the parties settle terms before ever going to arbitration.

The Orioles did not tender a contract to outfielder David Lough, making him a free agent. Last season, the 29-year-old was designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk before having his contract selected in late September, but a .201 average in 84 games made him expendable.

Janish and right-handed pitcher Steve Johnson were also non-tendered after both had been designated for assignment earlier in the day.

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