Tag Archive | "J.J. Hardy"

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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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Kim makes major league debut as Jones remains sidelined

Posted on 10 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim was set to make his major league debut on Sunday as the Orioles concluded a three-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Kim was slotted in the No. 9 spot and playing in left field after not appearing in the first four games of the 2016 season. With Adam Jones sidelined with rib soreness for a third straight game, regular left fielder Joey Rickard was once again in center as Kim received his first start.

The 28-year-old hasn’t started in a game since March 25 and received just two more spring at-bats after that as the Orioles tried to persuade him to accept a minor-league assignment.

“We talked about it, but you don’t want to say too much,” said manager Buck Showalter about Kim making his regular-season debut. “There’s a fine line there — go play. He’s probably got enough things going on without me jumping in there too deep.”

As he predicted on Saturday, shortstop J.J. Hardy was back in the lineup after missing Friday’s game due to tightness in his left calf. However, Showalter continues to be cautious with Jones, who is improving but is still feeling some discomfort in the rib area at the end of his swing. The manager reiterated that the training staff does not believe that Jones is dealing with an oblique problem.

For now, the Orioles are willing to wait before considering putting the five-time All-Star selection on the 15-day disabled list. Jones hasn’t played since Wednesday night when he felt discomfort swinging in his final at-bat.

“It’s a concern because he’s one of our best players and he’s not playing,” Showalter said. “But it’s close we think; [we’ll wait] as long as it takes. You know that 10 days is as far as you can backdate something [for the DL], so 10 days? Then, if on the 11th day, he comes in and says he feels good, I’m fine with that, too.

“He’s worth waiting on.”

Kevin Gausman (right shoulder strain) was set to make a rehab start for Double-A Bowie on Sunday that was expected to last three or four innings. The right-hander would then make his next rehab start at Single-A Frederick on Friday and could be activated from the DL as soon as April 20 if all goes to plan.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) will pitch two to three innings for Bowie on Monday and is expected to be activated from the DL on Thursday when the Orioles begin a four-game series in Texas.

Showalter said pitching prospect Hunter Harvey experienced a mild setback with a groin issue he’s been dealing with since late March.

Right-hander Mike Wright will now make his 2016 debut in a Tuesday start against Boston after Saturday’s start was postponed. Chris Tillman will now make his next start against the Rangers on Thursday.

Below are Sunday’s lineups:

TAMPA BAY
2B Logan Forsythe
DH Logan Morrison
3B Evan Longoria
LF Corey Dickerson
1B Steve Pearce
SS Brad Miller
RF Steven Souza Jr.
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Curt Casali

SP Jake Odorizzi (0-0, 1.59)

BALTIMORE
CF Joey Rickard
3B Manny Machado
1B Chris Davis
RF Mark Trumbo
C Matt Wieters
DH Pedro Alvarez
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Jonathan Schoop
LF Hyun Soo Kim

SP Vance Worley (2015 stats: 4-6, 4.02 ERA)

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Hardy hopes to play Sunday, Jones still absent

Posted on 09 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As the Orioles tried to endure unseasonably cold weather in the second contest of a three-game set with Tampa Bay, shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Adam Jones were once again out of the starting lineup before Saturday’s game was eventually postponed.

Hardy said his left calf was feeling much better after he sat out Friday’s series opener, but the low temperature and high winds in the forecast for Saturday night were factors in giving him one more day off. Manny Machado was making his second straight start at shortstop with utility infielder Ryan Flaherty starting at third base.

“I’m walking around with no pain,” said Hardy, who added that he plans to play in Sunday’s series finale. “I think I probably could get it going tonight and play, but I think with the cold I think everyone’s kind of scratching that idea. I’ll be good to go tomorrow.”

Jones was out of the lineup for the third straight game due to soreness in his rib area. Manager Buck Showalter was noncommittal about the status of both Hardy and Jones for Sunday, citing a forecast with temperatures that were only supposed to climb to just over 50 degrees.

Rookie Joey Rickard was making his third consecutive start in center field in place of Jones.

“They’re close. They’ll be available if I need them tonight. But if not, I wouldn’t tell you,” said Showalter on Saturday afternoon. “I’ll never say never [about Jones and Hardy returning on Sunday]. It’s a quick turnaround.”

With lefty Drew Smyly starting for the Rays on Saturday, Pedro Alvarez began the game on the bench with Matt Wieters serving as the designated hitter. Alvarez is the only Orioles regular still looking for his first hit of the season after going 0-for-12 in the first four games.

Showalter confirmed that Sunday starter Vance Worley will be on a pitch limit since he hasn’t thrown in a competitive game since the final spring game in Philadelphia on April 1.

Relief pitcher Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) said he felt good after one-inning outings at Double-A Bowie on Thursday and Friday, but the lefty specialist may have one more extended outing with the Baysox on Monday before joining the Orioles on the upcoming road trip. There was previous talk of Matusz being activated from the 15-day disabled list as early as Sunday.

Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman (right shoulder strain) was scheduled to make a rehab start for Bowie on Saturday, but the Baysox postponed their game, pushing his outing to Sunday. Gausman will then make a rehab start at Single-A Frederick on Friday, but the previous target date of April 19 for his activation from the DL will be pushed back at least a day because of the schedule change.

In addition to the Baysox, the Washington Nationals postponed their Saturday afternoon game due to the bitter conditions, but the Orioles attempted to play their game with wind chills expected to fall below 30 degrees on Saturday evening.

“It’s going to be cold, but we play games,” Showalter said. “That’s what we do.”

Below were Saturday’s starting lineups:

TAMPA BAY
2B Logan Forsythe
DH Logan Morrison
3B Evan Longoria
LF Corey Dickerson
1B Steve Pearce
SS Brad Miller
RF Steven Souza Jr.
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Curt Casali

SP Drew Smyly (0-1, 6.75 ERA)

BALTIMORE
CF Joey Rickard
LF Nolan Reimold
SS Manny Machado
1B Chris Davis
RF Mark Trumbo
DH Matt Wieters
2B Jonathan Schoop
C Caleb Joseph
3B Ryan Flaherty

SP Mike Wright (2015 stats: 3-5, 6.04 ERA)

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Hardy, Jones out of Friday’s lineup against Tampa Bay

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Center fielder Adam Jones was out of the Orioles lineup for a second straight night, but a veteran teammate joined him on the bench for the series opener against Tampa Bay on Friday.

J.J. Hardy experienced some calf tightness running the bases in Thursday’s win over Minnesota and was feeling better a day later, but Buck Showalter did not want to take any chances with a player who’s had several health issues over the last couple seasons. Jones was also feeling improvement in his rib area and even took swings in the batting cage on Friday afternoon, but the Orioles decided to give him another day to rest. Both players were available off the bench if needed, according to the Baltimore manager.

“I want to try to get ahead of it and make sure it doesn’t turn into something,” said Showalter about Hardy. “I was going to play Ryan [Flaherty] today anyway. Knowing the players — both of them — they know the difference between something that they should be careful with [and not]. Especially if we don’t play tomorrow [due to inclement weather], they should be ready to go on Sunday.”

Rookie Joey Rickard was leading off and playing center field for the second straight game as he prepared to play against the organization that let him go in the Rule 5 draft in December.

Instead of simply inserting Flaherty at Hardy’s position like he has in the past, Showalter chose to move Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado to shortstop, his natural position. Machado started six games there last season when Hardy was dealing with injuries.

“He enjoys being able to do something for the club [when] there’s a need there,” Showalter said. “Ryan’s probably a little better third baseman than shortstop. That’s a tough act to follow — [Machado] knows. He doesn’t want to step back. He’s playing with house money as far as going over there. It’s kind of like a new toy for him, but it’s different. The clock’s different.”

Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman was still scheduled to make a rehab start at Double-A Bowie on Saturday, but a wintry forecast could postpone that to Sunday. The Orioles are still targeting an April 19 return date for the talented 25-year-old, but Showalter reiterated Friday that they’ll be cautious with Gausman’s health and they’ll delay the process if that’s what’s best for him.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz was scheduled to pitch again for Bowie on Friday night and could be activated for Sunday’s game against the Rays.

The Orioles announced that veteran right-hander Vance Worley will be the No. 5 starter and is scheduled to start on Sunday, but that depends on what happens with the status of Saturday’s game in which Mike Wright is scheduled to pitch.

Below are Friday night’s lineups:

TAMPA BAY
2B Logan Forsythe
1B Logan Morrison
3B Evan Longoria
DH Corey Dickerson
LF Desmond Jennings
SS Brad Miller
RF Steven Souza Jr.
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Hank Conger

SP Chris Archer (0-1, 3.60)

BALTIMORE
CF Joey Rickard
LF Nolan Reimold
SS Manny Machado
1B Chris Davis
RF Mark Trumbo
C Matt Wieters
DH Pedro Alvarez
2B Jonathan Schoop
3B Ryan Flaherty

SP Chris Tillman (0-0, 0.00)

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

Posted on 07 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday 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 second game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Davis homered at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the first time since Oct. 4, 2015, the game many assumed would be the slugger’s last in an Orioles uniform before he signed a seven-year, $161 million contract in January to remain in Baltimore. The 421-foot shot to center off Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson gave Baltimore the lead for good in the bottom of the third and was the Orioles’ first home run of the season. The first baseman made a good defensive play in the eighth, picking J.J. Hardy’s in-between hop on a throw and keeping his foot on the bag to record the out before tumbling over.

2ndYovani Gallardo allowed just one run and struck out four in five solid innings to win his Orioles debut. The only hits he allowed were a pair of doubles by talented Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, but Gallardo did walk three batters and induced only three grounders, which is fairly unusual for him. His velocity remains a concern as his fastball sat mostly between 87 and 88 miles per hour, but he mixed his pitches well, using his slider to strike out Byung Ho Park and Eduardo Escobar in the fourth. The 30-year-old retired seven of the final eight hitters he faced and threw 89 pitches, 52 for strikes.

3rdJoey Rickard continued to impress in his second major league game, going 2-for-3 and picking up the first RBI of his career with a sacrifice fly to left in the fourth inning. The Rule 5 pick is 4-for-7 with a double and a run scored in two games and is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Rickard also had two six-pitch at-bats on Wednesday, something manager Buck Showalter wants to see if the left fielder is to eventually become the club’s leadoff hitter.

HomeJonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters each collected RBI doubles to give the Orioles their other two runs on the night. … Zach Britton allowed a double and a walk, but the 2015 All-Star closer struck out the side to earn his first save, tying Eddie Watt for seventh on the club’s all-time saves list with 74. … Not known for his patience at the plate, Hardy drew a walk for the second straight game and saw a total of 23 pitches in four trips to the plate. The Orioles have drawn 11 walks in their first two games of the season. … Pedro Alvarez is the only regular in the lineup yet to record a hit this season, but the former Pittsburgh slugger walked twice in Wednesday’s win. … Adam Jones appeared to show some discomfort after striking out swinging in the bottom of the eighth, but Showalter said he was unaware of any issue when asked following the game. … Thursday’s announced attendance was 12,622, the Orioles’ lowest mark since April 22, 2013 if you don’t count the empty-ballpark game from last year. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill Thursday night with the Orioles in search of a three-game sweep after going 0-7 against Minnesota in 2015. He’ll be opposed by Twins right-hander Phil Hughes.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 01 April 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 filled with 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 can’t happen for the Orioles in 2016 after looking at the factors that must go right. In an effort to not be too redundant in the wake of the first piece, I tried to avoid discussing the previous points needing to go well.

1. The starting pitching collapses

Yes, we touched on the starting pitching in the previous piece, but what else could possibly top this list — the entire starting lineup adopting Marty Cordova’s tanning bed strategy for the season?

In the AL in 2015, the Baltimore starting pitchers finished 14th in in ERA, 10th in strikeouts, sixth worst in walks, and second worst in home runs allowed. On top of that, the club’s most dependable starter, Wei-Yin Chen, signed with the Miami Marlins in the offseason.

Veteran newcomer Yovani Gallardo was tabbed as the man to replace him and carries a 3.66 ERA for his career, but his strikeout rate and velocity have plummeted over the last few seasons and the Orioles renegotiated his original three-year contract because of concerns with his right shoulder. The hope is that an impressive ground-ball rate keeps the 30-year-old effective pitching at Camden Yards.

Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman provide the most upside, but the former dealt with a hip issue early in camp and is coming off his worst season since 2011. Meanwhile, Gausman will begin the season on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis and the Orioles have already pushed back his projected return date from April 10 to April 19, making you wonder if the ailment is more serious than they first indicated.

You never know what you’re going to get from Ubaldo Jimenez, but he’s been more bad than good in his first two seasons with the Orioles. And now with the Orioles having severed ties with Miguel Gonzalez, they’ll be counting on the likes of Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and veteran newcomer Vance Worley to fill out the last spot in the rotation with Wright getting the first shot.

If this group can bring middle-of-the-pack quality — probably the most upside you could reasonably hope for — the Orioles are strong enough elsewhere to be in contention. A repeat of 2015 or worse could lead to a long summer in Baltimore.

And then you’d fear how dramatic struggles from the rotation could wear out a strong bullpen, no matter how effectively it’s managed.

2. Corner outfield wasteland repeats

The Orioles failed in their plan to use a committee of fringe veterans to handle the spots flanking center fielder Adam Jones a year ago, but questions remain for a second straight season.

Projected to be the primary starter in right field, Mark Trumbo should be an upgrade with the bat, but his limitations in the outfield are no secret and negative defensive value would wipe away much of what he brings at the plate. Fortunately, there isn’t a ton of ground to cover in right at Camden Yards, so the test will be how quickly Trumbo can get used to playing balls off the out-of-town scoreboard.

Left field was supposed to be handled by Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim, but his poor spring has his future in limbo. Putting aside the scouting failure of signing a player who isn’t able to catch up to fastballs and is poor defensively to a $7 million contract, the Orioles haven’t exactly treated Kim in the most hospitable way by benching him and then speaking at length to the media about his shortcomings as they’re trying to get him to accept a minor-league assignment, something he’s under no contractual obligation to do.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard is the wild card here after he posted a 1.029 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, but are the Orioles putting too many eggs in this basket? What did Tampa Bay not like about Rickard that the Orioles could be missing?

Veteran Nolan Reimold will factor into the mix as well, but he is better suited to be a fourth outfielder at this stage of his career. The minor-league options include Dariel Alvarez, Xavier Avery, Henry Urrutia, and converted first baseman Christian Walker, who is intriguing if he proves himself defensively.

3. Chris Davis reverts to his 2014 form

You can’t expect Davis to be any better just because he signed the richest contract in franchise history in the offseason, and it will be difficult for the 30-year-old first baseman to match what he did last season with his 47 homers.

That said, few events would be more deflating than to see Davis have a season more closely resembling what he was in 2014 when he hit .196 with just 26 home runs. If the Orioles are to contend, they’re going to need to hit a ton of home runs and Davis needs to again lead the way in that department.

His ever-increasing pull rate is something to monitor and could cause him to age poorly, but the Orioles hope Davis will continue being a great power hitter for the next three to four years before crossing their fingers that the final few years of the contract aren’t as painful as some fear they will be.

4. Buck Showalter leans too heavily on J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters

I touched on these topics at length in the offseason, but the Orioles would be wise to better manage Hardy’s health after two injury-plagued seasons and shouldn’t overlook defense when it comes to the catching pair of Wieters and backup Caleb Joseph.

Hardy has stayed healthy and slugged .521 with three home runs this spring, drastic improvement from his .564 OPS while playing the entire 2015 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The 33-year-old shortstop would likely benefit from more routine days off and should no longer be treated as the guy who missed only seven games combined in 2012 and 2013. Keeping Hardy fresh would presumably go a long way in keeping him healthy and productive at the plate and in the field.

The spring scare with Wieters’ right elbow could be a sign that he isn’t yet ready to be the guy who regularly caught 135-plus games per season prior to Tommy John surgery. Even if he is, the tools Joseph brings behind the plate shouldn’t be ignored despite Wieters being the better offensive player. If Wieters isn’t tearing the cover off the ball, the Orioles shouldn’t hesitate to use Joseph more often because of his ability to frame pitches and handle a pitching staff, especially since the former is only under contract through this season.

5. The Orioles are unable to block out the noise

It was a weird offseason a year after executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette flirted with the Toronto Blue Jays’ job promotion, and questions continue about whether members of the organization are on the same page.

The Orioles enter 2016 with a franchise-record payroll, but negotiations didn’t exactly go smoothly with Davis and the early-spring drama with both Gallardo’s physical and the twists and turns with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler were nothing short of bizarre.

The decision to release Gonzalez this week may have been the correct one from baseball and business standpoints, but it’s no secret that the well-liked pitcher’s departure didn’t sit well with his teammates. Yes, they’re professionals and will move on, but these are human beings with emotions, as Showalter often likes to remind us.

The Kim situation threatens to linger if the Orioles choose not to eat $7 million and instead carry him on the 25-man roster after saying he wasn’t good enough to make the club. Such a scenario wouldn’t exactly send a great message to the rest of the clubhouse, either.

On top of all that, the Orioles spent a great amount of money to essentially maintain a similar roster to the group that needed a five-game winning streak just to finish .500 last season. And few experts are giving the Orioles much of a chance to make the playoffs for the third time in five years after they failed to make any significant improvements to the starting rotation.

Over the past few years, the Orioles have often thrived under such circumstances, which should give fans hope.

None of this is quantifiable, of course, but with a higher payroll come greater expectations and this is a club with a window of just three seasons before All-Star pillars Manny Machado and Adam Jones hit free agency. And the minor-league well is quite dry when it comes to reinforcements to help address deficiencies.

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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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2016 Orioles preview: J.J. Hardy

Posted on 11 March 2016 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a month 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

SS J.J. Hardy

Age: 33

Contract status: Under contract through the 2017 season

2015 stats: .219/.253/.311, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 45 R, 0 SB, 437 PA

Why to be impressed: While injuries completely zapped Hardy of any offensive value, the veteran shortstop continued to play strong defense and was worth four defensive runs saved above average in 2015. You also have to respect Hardy playing through a torn labrum in his left shoulder that was sustained in spring training as he still went on to play in 114 games last season.

Why to be concerned: Hardy’s .564 on-base plus slugging percentage was a nightmare as he finished with a career-high strikeout rate and career-low extra-base hit rate in 2015. It remains to be seen whether forgoing shoulder surgery was the right choice for the veteran, and that’s not even considering his back issues that have become more problematic over the last two season.

2016 outlook: The days of Hardy being a 30-homer threat appear to be long gone, but the Orioles would be thrilled if he could at least approach his 2014 offensive production, which included a .682 OPS. If manager Buck Showalter wants to maximize the player he can be at this point in his career, Hardy needs regular days off with a goal of playing roughly 135 games.

2016 not-so-scientific projections: .245/.288/.365, 11 HR, 45 RBI, 57 R, 0 SB, 535 PA

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Even with late additions, key to 2016 Orioles comes from within

Posted on 18 February 2016 by Luke Jones

If the Orioles are finally able to reach agreements with Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, they will have entered new territory.

Not only will the signings likely make the Orioles the biggest free-agent spender of the offseason — let that notion marinate for a few moments — but you could finally say that the 2016 club looks better than last year’s 81-81 outfit on paper. That is both an encouraging sign as well as a reminder of just how expensive the current Orioles have become without even mentioning the countdown to Manny Machado’s free agency after the 2018 season.

However, it’s important to remember that Gallardo isn’t an ace and Fowler isn’t an MVP-caliber player. Their additions alone won’t propel a .500 club into the postseason as they are more complementary pieces than dynamic difference-makers, regardless of their price tags.

If we’re being realistic about Gallardo’s declining strikeout rate and diminished velocity over the last few seasons, his biggest value will likely come through an ability to make 30 or more starts like he’s done in seven straight seasons. Even if his ERA doesn’t sparkle, the Orioles need Gallardo to take the ball every five days and alleviate some pressure from the rest of the rotation and a talented bullpen that figures to be busy once again in 2016.

The Orioles need Fowler to set the table at the top of the order with his .363 career on-base percentage and to play good defense at a corner outfield spot, which will be a change after spending his entire career in center. In a lineup filled with plenty of power, the switch hitter can simply do what he does best.

Even if the free-agent newcomers live up to expectations, the Orioles need much more from several incumbents than they received a year ago if they’re to return to the postseason for the third time in five years.

No matter whom the Orioles were realistically going to add to their rotation this offseason, bounce-back seasons from Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez were going to be a necessity. Can Tillman put his 4.99 ERA from a year ago behind him and pitch more like the right-hander who had a 3.42 mark from 2012-2014? Was Gonzalez’s 4.91 ERA in 2015 more about poor health or did the perceived good fortune of outperforming his peripherals over the previous three seasons — a 3.45 ERA compared to a 4.59 fielding independent pitching mark — finally catch up with him?

Manager Buck Showalter said several times this offseason that Kevin Gausman is ready to “pop” as a full-time member of the starting rotation, but the 25-year-old will need to back up the confidence he expressed in his curveball late last season. No one doubts the 2012 first-round pick’s ability, but the Orioles would like to see him at least pitching like a top-half-of-the-rotation starter to improve their chances.

Shoulder and back injuries have zapped J.J. Hardy’s ability to be the hitter he was from 2011-2013, but can he at least rebound to produce at a level closer to what he did in 2014 when he still managed a .682 on-base plus slugging percentage? His defense would need to be at an elite level to offset a repeat of his .564 OPS from a year ago if he wants to remain a player of any value.

Will being another year removed from Tommy John surgery allow Matt Wieters to play at a level coming close to justifying his $15.8 million salary while the capable Caleb Joseph is likely relegated to backup duties? Wieters’ handling of the staff will be even more important than what he’ll bring with the bat after Orioles pitchers had a superior ERA with Joseph behind the plate (3.65 to 4.38) in 2015.

And then there’s the defense, arguably the biggest factor explaining the Orioles’ ability to run away with the AL East title by 12 games two years ago. In 2015, the calling card of Baltimore’s success in recent years was underwhelming due to injuries and frequent turnover at several positions. Fowler and Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim will try to stabilize the corner outfield defense, but improved health for Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, and Adam Jones should keep the Orioles defense strong up the middle.

Even if you don’t love the prospects of forfeiting two draft picks, the Gallardo and Fowler signings would address a rotation that lost the reliable Wei-Yin Chen and improve a corner outfield situation that was nothing short of horrendous a year ago. They are the best of what remains on the free-agent market in late February.

But their additions will mean much more if several incumbents are able to put last year behind them.

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Seven questions for Sarasota: 2016 Orioles spring training

Posted on 16 February 2016 by Luke Jones

It’s about that time.

Pitchers and catchers officially report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Thursday as the Orioles begin preparations for their 63rd season in Baltimore. With their arrival comes the annual optimism of spring training, but there are plenty of questions to be answered as the club tries to bounce back from its first non-winning season since 2011.

Below are seven questions that will begin to be answered in Sarasota this week:

1. Are any high-profile additions still on the way?

Having already invested more than $250 million this offseason, the Orioles don’t appear to be finished spending with multiple reports indicating they were moving closer to a deal with free-agent starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo last week. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette also remains interested in adding another bat with free agents Dexter Fowler and Pedro Alvarez as well as Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce all being mentioned as possibilities. Of course, any additions of this caliber would have a substantial impact on not only the club heading north to Baltimore in April but on the 40-man roster that the Orioles have manipulated as frequently as anyone in baseball over the last few seasons. Duquette hasn’t hesitated to make substantial moves with spring training already underway in the past, so we’ll see if the Orioles are willing to spend a little more than they already have.

2. Can the Orioles win with the current starting rotation?

Of course, the addition of Gallardo would figure to help — even if there are real questions about him moving forward — but the Orioles lost their most reliable starter in Wei-Yin Chen and finished 14th in the AL in starter ERA last year. We won’t know whether Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have recaptured their pre-2015 form until the season begins, but it would be encouraging to see both pitch well in Grapefruit League action. Meanwhile, Kevin Gausman enters the spring knowing he will be in the rotation after being bounced between starting and relief and Baltimore and Norfolk over the last three years. The Orioles need the 25-year-old to put it together for a full season. Then, there’s the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, who had a 2.81 ERA in the first half and a 5.63 mark after the All-Star break in 2015. If Gallardo isn’t signed, the fifth starter competition is less than encouraging for a club hoping to contend.

3. Just how good is Hyun Soo Kim?

The Orioles signed the Korean outfielder to a two-year, $7 million contract in December, an indication that they believe he can be a starting-caliber player in the major leagues. However, there haven’t been many players to come to the majors from the Korean Baseball Organization, a league many consider to be comparable to the Single- or Double-A level of the American minor leagues. Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang was a big success story last season, but the Orioles hope Kim’s ability to get on base and to consistently hit line drives will translate into major league success. Early projections have compared him to Nick Markakis and Melky Cabrera, and the organization would be thrilled to get that kind of production from the 28-year-old. Kim handling a starting job would go a long way in quelling concerns about a corner outfield situation that was a nightmare in 2015 and is still a major concern.

4. How healthy is J.J. Hardy’s shoulder and back?

I discussed this situation in depth on Monday, but the Orioles must figure out a way to maximize whatever production the 33-year-old shortstop has left after the worst season of his career in 2015. Manager Buck Showalter is known for leaning hard on his veterans, but it may be time to take the foot off the gas in terms of expecting Hardy to play close to 162 games like in 2012 and 2013 when he missed a total of just seven games. It will be interesting to see if Manny Machado takes more reps at shortstop during the spring with thoughts of him playing games at his natural position when Hardy is out of the starting lineup like we saw last September. Of course, before any discussion or tinkering can take place, the Orioles need to see that Hardy’s left shoulder is healthy after he elected to forgo surgery on the torn labrum sustained late last spring. The health of his back is always something to monitor as well.

5. Will Dylan Bundy be ready to pitch in the big leagues?

The 2011 first-round pick made his major league debut as a 19-year-old more than three years ago and has pitched a total of 63 1/3 professional innings since then because of Tommy John surgery in 2013 and a shoulder problem last year. Bundy is only 23, but he’s out of minor-league options, meaning the Orioles must carry him on their 25-man roster if they don’t want to risk him having to clear waivers. Even if he is healthy — a question that will be of great interest this spring — the organization must try to marry his development with the reality of him occupying a spot in the bullpen. In a perfect world, Bundy would report to Sarasota healthy and gradually emerge as an effective middle reliever in a deep bullpen, but little has gone to plan with the prospect. His presence will resemble that of a Rule 5 pick, but there’s no finish line in sight as Bundy is now stuck in the majors unless he lands on the disabled list yet again.

6. How will Showalter handle the catcher situation?

The Orioles may not have expected Matt Wieters to accept the $15.8 million qualifying offer they made in November, but you would have to think Showalter intends to use the three-time All-Star selection as his primary catcher over Caleb Joseph. That being said, there are compelling arguments in favor of Joseph catching more and Wieters was just getting to a point in the final month of the season when he was able to catch on consecutive days, something he did only five times after returning in early June. Wieters said in December that he was happy to finally be finished with the rehabilitation process and to have a normal offseason, but he will still need to see how his elbow responds to a full spring training and full-time catching duty. The Orioles hope that Wieters stays healthy and lives up to his lofty salary, especially after Joseph showed the last two years that he was capable of being a solid starter for a fraction of the cost.

7. Who will be the biggest surprises of the spring?

Adding Gallardo and Fowler would shrink the number of open jobs, but there are a few players who could force the club’s hand in deciding who heads north in April. Outfielder Joey Rickard was considered one of the shrewder picks of the Rule 5 draft, and the Orioles are intrigued by the combined .427 on-base percentage the 24-year-old posted at the Single-, Double-, and Triple-A levels in Tampa Bay’s system in 2015. With at least one corner outfield job still open, could Dariel Alvarez or a returning L.J. Hoes have a spring strong enough to make the club and beat out veteran Nolan Reimold? And though the Chris Davis re-signing seemingly blocks Trey Mancini, could the 2015 Orioles minor league player of the year hit at such a high clip this spring that he forces the club to find a way to make room? Will someone off the radar do what Jimmy Paredes did last spring (a 1.005 on-base plus slugging percentage) to win a spot?

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