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Cuban outfielder Urrutia joins Orioles to start second half

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Cuban outfielder Urrutia joins Orioles to start second half

Posted on 18 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

After three red-hot months in which Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia feasted on minor-league pitching, it appears the wait to see him in Baltimore is over.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Orioles will promote the 26-year-old outfielder after he completed a short stint with Triple-A Norfolk in which he hit .367 in 60 at-bats. This success and his .365 average that included seven home runs and 37 RBIs at Double-A Bowie were more than enough to persuade the Orioles to give him a chance to pump life into a stagnant designated hitter role.

This season, the Orioles have hit only .197 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs while posting an anemic .643 OPS (on-base plug slugging percentage) from the DH spot.

In addition to Urrutia, MASN reports Danny Valencia is also on his way to Texas as the Orioles begin their post-break schedule with a three-game set against the Rangers. The additions of both Urrutia and Valencia would appear to be bad news for Nolan Reimold, who has batted .195 and struck out 41 times in 140 plate appearances this season.

Reimold is out of options, meaning the Orioles’ only choice would be to designated him for assignment unless he is heading back to the disabled list. Since returning from the DL earlier this month, Reimold is just 6-for-27 with a homer, three RBIs, and 11 strikeouts.

Urrutia would likely serve as the left-handed DH with Valencia serving as a right-handed bat off the bench and potential DH against left-handed starters. Given the current construction of the Orioles bench that includes two second basemen behind Brian Roberts, Ryan Flaherty would be a logical option to be optioned to Triple-A Norfolk due to his sporadic playing time since Roberts’ return.

With the non-waiver trade deadline less than two weeks away, the Orioles need to see if Urrutia can provide the necessary production from the DH spot that they haven’t received all year, and the 26-year-old has certainly proven worthy of an opportunity after performing admirably at the two highest levels of minor-league ball.

Jurrjens chooses free agency after clearning waivers

As was anticipated last week, the Jair Jurrjens era has officially come to an end in Baltimore.

Despite clearing waivers and being outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk, the 27-year-old pitcher has instead elected to become a free agent. The right-hander was designated for assignment to make room for right-handed reliever Jairo Asencio on the 40-man roster after the former Norfolk closer was promoted to the active roster.

In two appearances with Baltimore this year, Jurrjens made one start and one relief appearance, posting a 4.91 ERA in 7 1/3 innings of work. He had an up-and-down season with Norfolk, going 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA in 16 starts.

“At his young age, I still wouldn’t close the door,” said Showalter, who initially expressed hope that Jurrjens would remain with Norfolk despite a crowded starting rotation that now includes Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman. “I think Jair still has a chance to pitch competitively up here. He’s shown periods down there. It’s just been inconsistent.”

With his fastball only in the mid-to-high 80s, Jurrjens’ velocity never improved to the level at which he had so much success in Atlanta. His 2011 All-Star selection must feel like a distant memory for a pitcher who passed through waivers after he was designated for assignment by the club on July 12. Of course, injuries and declining velocity can spell disaster for any pitcher in a very short period of time.

Ironically, it was just two winters ago that the Orioles engaged in trade talks with the Atlanta Braves that involved current center fielder Adam Jones, with Jurrjens often being mentioned as a prominent name in a potential deal. Now, Jones is in the midst of his third All-Star season and Jurrjens is looking for work after going unclaimed by the other 29 major league teams.

The Orioles and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette couldn’t have dodged a bigger bullet.

Schoop thriving in rehab stint

Infield prospect Jonathan Schoop is nearing his return to Triple-A Norfolk after hitting his second home run in six games for the Gulf Coast League Orioles. The 21-year-old Schoop is 7-for-18 with two homers, two doubles, seven RBIs, and four walks on his rehab assignment.

Schoop hasn’t played a game for the Tides since being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back in late May. Norfolk began its second-half action Thursday night in Charlotte.

While Schoop’s chances for a promotion to Baltimore during the 2013 season were diminished greatly due to the injury, it will be interesting to see whether a strong rest of the season would put him in line for an opportunity to win the starting second baseman job to begin the 2014 season.

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Orioles taking look at Norfolk closer Asencio for bullpen

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Orioles taking look at Norfolk closer Asencio for bullpen

Posted on 12 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — With the need for additional long reliever Josh Stinson passing, the Orioles decided it was time to take a look at Triple-A Norfolk closer Jairo Asencio to see if he can be a piece in the second-half bullpen.

After optioning Stinson to the Tides following Thursday’s 3-1 win, the Orioles selected the right-hander’s contract and designated right-handed pitcher Jair Jurrjens for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. Asencio is no stranger to the big leagues after appearing in 39 games split among Atlanta (2009, 2011), Cleveland (2012), and the Chicago Cubs (2012), posting a 1-2 record with a 5.23 earned run average in 53 1/3 innings.

The 30-year-old Asencio was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in late March and assigned to the Tides where he’s saved 20 games to lead the International League to go along with his 4-0 mark and 2.15 ERA in 34 appearances (37 2/3 innings). He was named to the league’s All-Star Game and has struck out 41, walked seven, and made 27 scoreless appearances among the 34 games in which he’s pitched. He’s also held Triple-A hitters to a .174 average in the process.

“Asencio has been pitching well all year down there and we want to get a look at him and get a feel for what we have there before the end of the month,” said manager Buck Showalter, referring to the July 31 trade deadline. “Let’s make sure there’s something we’re going to need there that he can’t provide from within.”

The journeyman reliever features four-seam and two-seam fastballs that sit in the low 90s, a changeup that he uses frequently, and a slider.

It’s likely that the organization would like to see if he can fill the bullpen spot vacated by Pedro Strop, who was traded to the Cubs earlier in the month. Asencio acknowledged that while he’s pitched well at the Triple-A level, it doesn’t mean it will automatically translate to success in the majors, evident by his underwhelming results with three different clubs in the majors.

“I like the way [Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and pitching coach Mike Griffin] describe what he’s doing and the repertoire that has the potential to play up here,” Showalter said. “We’ll see. We’ve got some people here who know him from before.”

Jurrjens odd man out

After much effort to work out a minor-league deal in the winter and optimism that he’d regain his 2011 National League All-Star form, the Orioles designated Jurrjens for assignment, a move that may lead to his departure from the organization.

In two stints in Baltimore this year, Jurrjens made one start and one relief appearance, posting a 4.91 ERA in 7 1/3 innings of work. The 27-year-old has had an up-and-down season with Norfolk, going 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA in 16 starts while his velocity hasn’t improved to the level at which he had so much success in Atlanta.

Jurrjens has dealt with several physical ailments over the last couple years, including a knee injury that delayed his signing this past offseason.

“He could end up back with us,” said Showalter, referring the possibility of Jurrjens not being traded and clearing waivers. “I think we’ve got seven starters down there now. At his young age, I still wouldn’t close the door. I think Jair still has a chance to pitch competitively up here. He’s shown periods down there. It’s just been inconsistent.”

The Orioles will now have 10 days to either trade Jurrjens or see whether he would pass through waivers, allowing the club to outright him to Norfolk while keeping him off the 40-man roster.

Roberts leading off

A night after hitting his first home run at Camden Yards since 2011, second baseman Brian Roberts found himself back in his longtime leadoff spot for the first time since July 1 of last season.

Facing Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle, Roberts was moved to the top spot in the order in part due to his strong numbers against the veteran pitcher. In 43 career at-bats, Roberts is hitting .302 with one home run and three RBIs. The move allowed Showalter to keep right fielder Nick Markakis in the No. 3 spot — where he typically only bats against right-handers — where the club might be able to take better advantage of his .419 career average that includes two homers and five RBIs off Buehrle.

The fact that Toronto also features four left-handers and four right-handers in their bullpen also factored into the decision, according to Showalter. However, the Orioles manager isn’t committing to it being a permanent change against left-handed starters.

“[Bench coach] John Russell and I came down to a couple [lineups], like we do every day, and that one had the best feel to it,” Showalter said. “And he’s done it before. It’s not some new territory for him. It’s a better fit for us tonight. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Dickerson continuing to feel better

Reserve outfielder Chris Dickerson continues to improve after suffering a strained left shoulder in batting practice on Wednesday and planned to throw and swing the bat in the cage on Friday.

The Orioles do not expect a trip to the disabled list for the 31-year-old, especially with the four-day All-Star break arriving at the end of the weekend.

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Orioles recall Jurrjens, designate Ishikawa for assignment

Posted on 29 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — Needing a long reliever after using both T.J. McFarland and Kevin Gausman in Friday’s 4-3 win over the Yankees, the Orioles have recalled right-handed pitcher Jair Jurrjens and designated first baseman Travis Ishikawa for assignment.

Jurrjens will be available to pitch out of the bullpen for at least Saturday and possibly Sunday as manager Buck Showalter wants to stay away from McFarland and Gausman through the weekend. The Orioles are electing to keep Gausman on the 25-man roster as an option to make a start on the road trip this coming week should Wei-Yin Chen’s rehab start for Double-A Bowie not go well enough to feel confident you can activate him for his next start.

Ishikawa’s standing on the roster was always considered short-lived since his only true position is first base and he provides limited offense in backing up a man many consider to be the American League MVP to this point in the season in Chris Davis. The Orioles now have 10 days to trade Ishikawa or he must be put on waivers. Should he not be claimed, Ishikawa would then have the choice to accept an outright assignment to Norfolk or to become a free agent.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has been seeking a trade partner for Ishikawa over the last few weeks when it was apparent he intended to invoke his opt-out clause from his minor-league deal. The Orioles’ fear is the Yankees would claim Ishikawa to provide more help to their first base situation after it was learned that Mark Teixeira would miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury.

The 29-year-old Ishikawa went 2-for-17 in six games for the Orioles after hitting .316 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs in Norfolk.

“We’d like to have Travis back in Norfolk,” Showalter said. “I like Travis. He’s better than he’s shown here. I know that; you know that.”

Jurrjens, 27, is making his second trip to Baltimore after making his only start of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 18. He didn’t factor in the decision but allowed four earned runs in five innings before being optioned back to Norfolk a few days later.

He is 5-5 with a 4.06 earned run average in 14 starts with the Tides this season.

After completing his rehab assignment with Norfolk, second baseman Brian Roberts arrived at Camden Yards Saturday and is expected to be activated from the 60-day disabled list on Sunday.

Outfielder Nolan Reimold is still scheduled to travel with the club to Chicago where he will be activated from the 15-day disabled list. He will continues his rehab assignment with Bowie through the weekend and entered Saturday’s game having gone 7-for-38 with a triple, four RBIs, and 12 strikeouts with the Baysox.

Showalter said the tentative plan for Chen would be for to pitch on Thursday in Chicago or Friday in New York if the organization is happy with what it sees in Saturday’s Double-A start. Should he pitch on Thursday, he could potentially make three starts prior to the All-Star break.

Wilson Betemit continues to make slow progress in Sarasota as he continues to build strength in his quad. The infielder suffered a Grade 2/3 PCL sprain in his right knee during spring training, an injury originally diagnosed to keep him sidelined for a minimum of eight weeks.

The 31-year-old did not have surgery on what was considered a serious injury, but the Orioles remain hopeful that he can make some contributions at some point after the All-Star break. When that will be, however, is anyone’s guess.

“It’d be nice to get Wilson back,” Showalter said, “but I don’t see a projectable date right now.”

Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada was scheduled to pitch for Norfolk on Saturday night and was not considered for the spot Jurrjens will fill at least for the next game or two. Showalter wants to see Wada continue to make progress over his next few starts after providing a more competitive effort over his last couple outings with the Tides.

 

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Jurrjens becomes latest Orioles starter sent back to Triple-A Norfolk

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Jurrjens becomes latest Orioles starter sent back to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — With the Orioles needing to make a roster move to create a spot for the returning Miguel Gonzalez on Tuesday night, most assumed right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta would be the one to go, but right-handed starter Jair Jurrjens was instead optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.

Perhaps the news shouldn’t have come as a surprise as Jurrjens became the fifth starting pitcher this season to be optioned back to the minor leagues after making just one start in Baltimore. Manager Buck Showalter explained the need to keep Arrieta available in the bullpen with a certain amount of mystery remaining in Gonzalez’s return from a blister on his right thumb that’s kept him sidelined since his start in Anaheim on May 3. Jurrjens wouldn’t have been available to give the club length out of the bullpen on Tuesday, according to the manager.

Jurrjens joins Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, and Josh Stinson as pitchers promoted from Norfolk who were optioned after their only start with the Orioles this year.

“They’re all tough anytime you’re sending guys down,” Showalter said. “But, there are some people who didn’t think he would get that [opportunity] this year. I think he knows that we’ve shown him and our guys where we’re going when there’s a need. I hope not, but I’m sure there will be another need this year. It could be sooner rather than later.”

Making his 2013 debut last Saturday after going 4-1 with a 3.14 earned run average in eight starts with the Tides, Jurrjens allowed four earned runs and six hits in five innings of work. However, all six hits were of the extra-base variety as the 27-year-old struck out five and walked one but didn’t factor into the decision.

Jurrjens declined comment in the Orioles clubhouse after learning of his demotion. He would be eligible to return to the 25-man roster in 10 days barring an injury that would force someone else to the 15-day disabled list.

“We need length in our bullpen as most clubs do,” Showalter said. “As always we are going to lean on protecting our bullpen and pitching staff and keep the length down there.”

The decision leaves the Orioles without a starter for the series opener in Toronto on Thursday, but Showalter named Arrieta as well as left-handed long reliever T.J. McFarland as the candidates. Of course, Arrieta began the year in the starting rotation before being optioned to Norfolk after posting a 6.63 ERA in four starts with the Orioles. He was summoned back to Baltimore on Saturday to serve in a long relief role but has yet to appear in a game.

Arrieta experience some tightness in his right shoulder earlier this month and hadn’t made a start for Norfolk since May 7, but Showalter said they’ve provided the 27-year-old with some simulated game work since he was recalled.

Meanwhile, the 23-year-old McFarland has quietly turned heads with a 2.61 ERA in 10 appearances covering 20 2/3 innings. A Rule 5 pick out of the Cleveland Indians system, McFarland doesn’t impress you on the surface with his 87 mph sinker, but he’s struck out 22 while allowing 23 hits and seven walks in his rookie season.

While Showalter didn’t officially name his choice for Thursday’s game, his comments reflected that he was leaning toward McFarland, praising him for his work in long relief and mentioning the reward at this level is “an opportunity to do more.” The manager acknowledged that Arrieta would have the ability to go deeper into the game from a pitch-count standpoint but estimated that McFarland could give the club somewhere between 75 and 90 pitches.

McFarland hasn’t thrown more than 53 pitches in any of his 10 outings this season, making one assume the lower portion of that range would be more realistic.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of which way Showalter is leaning was mentioning how a pitcher fares in a certain ballpark — in this case, Rogers Centre in Toronto. Arrieta has a 7.31 ERA in three career starts in the building formerly known as SkyDome while the rookie McFarland has never pitched there.

Of course, Showalter could have simply been presenting a smokescreen while having every intention of giving Arrieta the ball on Thursday while keeping the Blue Jays — and the rest of us — guessing.

As has been the case all season, circumstances could change quickly should Gonzalez or Jason Hammel — or both — have short outings that would force either Arrieta or McFarland into relief action before Thursday.

NOTES: Regular center fielder Adam Jones served as the designated hitter for Tuesday’s game after dealing with some right leg soreness. The 27-year-old downplayed any injury and lobbied to play the field, but Showalter saw it as an opportunity for Jones to rest his legs while remaining in the lineup. … Nolan Reimold (right hamstring) may travel with the Orioles to Toronto and take early batting practice as he continues to work his way back from the disabled list. Showalter still anticipates sending Reimold to a minor-league affiliate for some at-bats before potentially making his return. He is eligible to return from the DL on May 27, but it would appear he won’t be ready until at least some time after that. … Backup catcher Taylor Teagarden (dislocated left thumb) could begin playing in extended spring training games as early as next Monday. … Struggling starter Jason Hammel told reporters he threw all fastballs in his bullpen session since he’s struggled to command both his four-seam and two-seam pitches at different points this season. He currently sports a 5.72 ERA in nine starts this season.

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Orioles have no choice but to circle back patiently with starting options

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Orioles have no choice but to circle back patiently with starting options

Posted on 19 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

It’s never a good idea to definitively assess any team in the midst of its worst stretch of the season in the same way that you shouldn’t ignore weaknesses while enjoying the prosperous times.

With the Orioles suffering their first four-game losing streak of the season and surrendering a staggering 30 runs and 45 hits over their last three games, it’s easy to panic over such an ugly stretch of baseball. Early questions over starting pitching have transformed into serious concerns as the club has endured the losses of Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez to the disabled list and the recent struggles of Opening Day starter Jason Hammel while attempting to piece together the back end of the rotation.

The poor starting pitching has placed even more reliance on the bullpen as the Orioles have seen All-Star closer Jim Johnson blow consecutive saves this week. Showalter insists the bullpen hasn’t been overworked and is very meticulous with everything from innings pitched down to the number of times a reliever even gets up to throw during games, but that won’t remain the case if the poor performance of the starting pitching continues into the summer.

Chen is sidelined indefinitely with the always-unpredictable strained oblique injury, meaning Chris Tillman is the only starter on which manager Buck Showalter can currently rely as Orioles starting pitching has allowed 32 earned runs in 39 1/3 innings — a 7.32 earned run average — over the last eight games. The club hopes the 2012 version of Gonzalez will surface beginning with his scheduled return on Tuesday and that Hammel will find the proper release point to improve his fastball command after a miserable recent stretch.

Beyond those concerns, the picture becomes even more frightening with the final two spots in the rotation. Yes, it’s easy to look back at the offseason and criticize executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette for not acquiring any impact starters — I shared that very sentiment at the start of spring training and again at the beginning of the season — but Duquette and Showalter also expressed great faith in their internal options.

Now, one time through a lineup of “second-tier” starters that includes Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Freddy Garcia, Jair Jurrjens, and Josh Stinson, only Arrieta and Garcia have received more than one start to this point. Arrieta doesn’t really fall into the same category as the others after beginning the season as the fifth starter, and a strong debut in Anaheim bought the 36-year-old Garcia two more starts that have been underwhelming at best.

Understanding that even the brightest pitchers in the game will have a handful of less-than-stellar outings over the course of a season, is a one-start audition really the best way to determine if a pitcher can be an asset for the major league rotation?

Make no mistake, gone are the days when a young prospect such as Brian Matusz will be afforded the opportunity to accumulate a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts as he did over two different stints in the 2011 season. Higher expectations are here to stay and competition is paramount with Duquette and Showalter as they look beyond the 25-man roster while viewing Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie as essential partners in fielding a competitive club in the American League East.

However, the problem with higher expectations is the emphasis it places on smaller sample sizes when trying to evaluate. And you wonder if the possibility of such a short audition for the likes of Britton and Johnson creates too much of a mindset of looking over your shoulder and trying to be too perfect. It also devalues their minor-league performances that earn them their chance in the first place.

Showalter acknowledged this weekend most of these immediate demotions couldn’t have been avoided due to the strain placed on the bullpen as a direct result of the short outings. There is plenty of merit to that explanation, but at some point, the Orioles need to find the proper balance between having higher expectations and exercising the faith expressed this offseason in their internal options by showing just a bit more — brace yourself for that all-too-familiar word — patience.

No one is endorsing that Britton or Johnson or whichever pitcher sitting at the top of the totem pole for the next chance automatically receives six weeks’ worth of starts in the big leagues, but a reasonable opportunity of three or four starts might be more conducive to the potentially fragile psyche of a young pitcher. Fringe pitchers such as these certainly need to feel urgency playing for a contending club, but trying to be too perfect in fear of being sent down isn’t setting them up with the mindset for success, either.

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Reimold placed on 15-day DL with hamstring strain; Arrieta recalled

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Reimold placed on 15-day DL with hamstring strain; Arrieta recalled

Posted on 18 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — Needing an extra arm in the bullpen and realizing a nagging hamstring injury wasn’t improving, the Orioles have recalled right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta and placed designated hitter Nolan Reimold on the 15-day disabled list prior to Saturday’s game with the Tampa Bay Rays.

As expected, starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens had his contract selected by the club in order for the right-hander to make his Orioles debut. To make room for Jurrjens, the Orioles optioned right-handed reliever Alex Burnett to Triple-A Norfolk and placed injured second baseman Brian Roberts on the 60-day DL to clear room on the 40-man roster.

Reimold’s hamstring has been bothering him since spring training and struggled to play through the cold weather of the early season with the back of the leg tightening up at various times, according to Showalter. The 29-year-old hasn’t played since last Saturday in Minnesota, meaning his DL stint is retroactive to May 12. Showalter is hopeful that the time off will remedy the hamstring strain but acknowledged it could take longer than the 15-day period since Reimold has dealt with the ailment for quite a while.

“I think he understands where we are and what we want to do,” Showalter said. “He’s not — I wouldn’t say — down. Obviously, no one wants to go on the DL. I can’t tell you whether this period will clean it up completely. I’m frustrated for him. I want to get as close to a perfect world for him [physically] as I can get. He’s a very capable contributor if we can just get him right.”

The expectation is that Reimold would get at-bats in a rehab assignment before making any return to the 25-man roster. Serving as the Orioles’ primary designated hitter this season, Reimold was hitting just .188 with four home runs and nine RBIs in 101 at-bats.

Steve Pearce, Nate McLouth, and Chris Dickerson have all seen time at the DH spot since last Saturday.

The need for an additional releiver was the result of a 12-run, 17-hit attack by the Rays against Friday starter Jason Hammel and four other relievers. Burnett allowed three earned runs in just 1/3 inning of work in the 12-10 loss.

Arrieta was scheduled to start for Norfolk on Saturday night and had dealt with shoulder tightness recently, but the 27-year-old completed successful bullpen sessions on Wednesday and Thursday to quell any significant concerns.

“I developed a little stiffness a few starts ago,” Arrieta said. “It’s something that has been manageable. They wanted to give me a few days — kind of push me back a little bit. I’ve stayed on top of it as much as I can.”

Manager Buck Showalter confirmed prior to Saturday’s game that Arrieta will pitch out of the bullpen for the time being. Of course, the enigmatic pitcher began the year in the starting rotation but was sent to the minors after going 1-1 with a 6.63 ERA in four starts for Baltimore.

As of now, veteran Freddy Garcia is scheduled to pitch against the New York Yankees on Monday, but Arrieta could conceivably become an option to take his place should he not be used in the bullpen over the next couple games.

In three starts for the Tides, Arrieta went 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA while striking out 17 and walking three in 19 2/3 innings.

 

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Jurrjens looking to bring innings, experience to Orioles rotation

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Jurrjens looking to bring innings, experience to Orioles rotation

Posted on 17 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — Poised to become the Orioles’ 10th starting pitcher of the 2013 season, right-hander Jair Jurrjens isn’t treating Saturday’s debut against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Of course, that’s easier said than done after the Orioles cycled through Josh Stinson, Zach Britton, and Steve Johnson with each receiving one start and promptly being optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk after subpar performances. Among the four pitchers summoned to replace Jake Arrieta and the injured Miguel Gonzalez from the Opening Day rotation, only the 36-year-old Freddy Garcia — who can’t be optioned to the minors — has remained with the club beyond his first start.

Arriving in the Baltimore clubhouse Friday afternoon, Jurrjens expressed his gratitude for finally receiving the call after eight starts with the Tides, but he has 125 career starts and a 3.62 career ERA in the majors on his side to cope with any potential anxiety. Whether that means he’ll receive a longer leash remains to be seen as he can be optioned back to Norfolk should the Orioles not like what they see and need immediate bullpen help as a result.

“This is not my first time pitching in the big leagues,” said Jurrjens, who was 4-1 with a 3.14 ERA. “I am just going to take it as another game and try to eat innings and give the team the best performance I can.”

Jurrjens owned an opt-out clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent had he not been promoted to the big leagues by June 15, but that doesn’t prevent him from being optioned after making it to the 25-man roster. Of course, the Orioles entered Friday with just three starters in their current rotation and would like to see someone emerge as their fifth starter in addition to the anticipated Tuesday return of Gonzalez from the DL to ease concerns with the starting pitching.

The lingering concerns about Jurrjens’ knee over the last couple years are a thing of the past as strengthening exercises and his ability to repeat his mechanics have left him feeling better than he has in a few years, according to the pitcher. Questions about Jurrjens’ medical records delayed his signing with the Orioles this winter before executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette eventually inked the 2011 National League All-Star to a minor-league contract that included an invitation to spring training.

One of the most concerning aspects of Jurrjens’ decline from an All-Star pitcher to one with a 6.89 ERA who spent time in the minor leagues was the decline in velocity. The Curacao native saw his average fastball velocity dip from just above 91 miles per hour in 2010 to just about 88.5 mph last season.

Jurrjens features a fastball, sinker, slider, and changeup in his arsenal and carries a 53-37 record in his six-year career spent mostly with the Atlanta Braves. He will wear No. 49 with the Orioles.

“If the command is there, he’ll give us a chance to win,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s been a long journey for him. I don’t know if anxiety is the word, but he’ll have some [jitters]. He’s done this before. I think a lot of people miss — I know I did originally — how young he is. I’m anxious to see.”

In 51 2/3 innings, Jurrjens walked only 15 batters while striking out 36 and allowing 44 hits. The control hasn’t been an issue and his strikeout rate of 6.3 per nine innings is more than acceptable, but both Jurrjens and Showalter didn’t mention improvement in the pitcher’s velocity when asked about his progress.

As is the case with any pitcher promoted from Triple A to the big leagues, there will be questions whether his repertoire that worked against International League hitters will translate to success at the next level.

“It can be difficult [knowing], because down there, some guys just go up there and swing,” said Jurrjens, who claimed he hasn’t paid close attention to his velocity so far this season. “Here, some guys are more patient and they look for one pitch to hit.”

Gonzalez on Tuesday track

Gonzalez completed his simulated game at Camden Yards without any problems on Friday afternoon.

Showalter said prior to Friday’s game that the right-hander remains an option for Monday, but the club is leaning toward a Tuesday return from the 15-day disabled list for the 28-year-old. Gonzalez has been dealing with a nasty blister on his right thumb since the beginning of the month and is eligible to be activated from the DL on Sunday.

“You look at his face as much as you do his thumb,” Showalter said. “He feels good about it. I don’t expect something else to crop up. He did it today without the bandage on.”

Gonzalez threw roughly 50 pitches against several teammates after throwing 25 in the bullpen and was able to throw his entire array of pitches.

Roster move coming

The Orioles must make a roster move to add Jurrjens to the 40-man roster as well as to clear room on the active roster prior to his Saturday start.

Showalter said the club has a few different options in mind, with extra reliever Alex Burnett and infielder Yamaico Navarro assumed to be the most likely candidates. However, Navarro was in the lineup for Friday night’s game as Showalter said the 25-year-old deserved a look at second base. The organization likes Navarro’s bat, but there are some questions about his defense.

Navarro was hitting .303 in 147 plate appearances for the Tides, leading some to wonder whether struggling second baseman Ryan Flaherty might be the player to go on Saturday. Flaherty is hitting only .133 in 102 plate appearances and has struck out 26 times.

Playing 29 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, Navarro was acquired in exchange for pitcher Jhondaniel Medina on Nov. 30, 2012.

Injury updates

The Orioles announced Friday that catcher Taylor Teagarden (dislocated left thumb) had his splint removed.

Infielder Wilson Betemit began jogging in the pool as he continues his recovery in Sarasota from a Grade 2/3 PCL tear in his right knee. He remains on the 60-day DL and Showalter expressed hope earlier this week that he could return at some point in June.

 

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Jurrjens in line to get ball for Orioles on Saturday

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Jurrjens in line to get ball for Orioles on Saturday

Posted on 14 May 2013 by Luke Jones

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BALTIMORE — With Memorial Day still almost two weeks away, the Orioles appear on the verge of using their 10th starting pitcher of the season as Jair Jurrjens appears to be next in line to take the ball for a shorthanded rotation.

The former Atlanta Braves right-hander will have his contract selected to make his club debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday afternoon, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Manager Buck Showalter predictably wouldn’t confirm Jurrjens to get the ball, only labeling him as “an option” to make the start.

Signed to a minor-league contract at the start of spring training, Jurrjens became the obvious candidate when the Orioles elected to recall relief pitcher Alex Burnett to take injured left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen’s place on the 25-man roster. Right-hander Steve Johnson would have been eligible to be recalled — waiving the 10-day waiting period for being optioned last Saturday — had he been taking the place of a player going to the disabled list.

As part of his agreement upon signing with Baltimore, Jurrjens had a June 15 opt-out clause that allowed him to become a free agent had the club not promoted him to the 25-man roster by then. In seven starts for Triple-A Norfolk, the 27-year-old is 4-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 51 2/3 innings. He has allowed 44 hits, struck out 36, and walked 15 batters in his work with the Tides.

Jurrjens was a National League All-Star just two years ago when he went 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 23 starts for Atlanta, but he was demoted to the minor leagues last year as he dealt with a strained groin and finished 3-4 with a 6.89 ERA. In his seventh major league season, Jurrjens has also dealt with knee issues, which was one of the reasons the Orioles opted not to sign the right-hander to a major-league contract this offseason.

The Braves did not offer Jurrjens a contract last offseason as he became a free agent after going 50-36 with a 3.58 ERA in five years with Atlanta.

Chen’s timetable for return unknown

The Orioles officially placed Chen on the DL prior to their series opener with a strained right oblique, which is an injury that could keep him sidelined beyond the 15-day minimum requirement.

Both Chen and Showalter are trying to remain optimistic, but the risk for re-aggravating the muscle often makes the recovery time slower than you’d like to see. Chen will travel to Sarasota toward the end of their current eight-game homestand, but he is not expected to begin throwing again until ample rest has been provided.

“I think there will be some things Wei-Yin will be able to do other than throw, but the actual throwing motion is the last thing that you do,” Showalter said. “It’s a challenge for the people that do it to decide when to do it. If it’s too early, you get another setback. It’s a slippery slope.”

Chen’s absence opens a gigantic hole in the starting rotation as the 27-year-old left-hander is 3-3 with a 3.04 ERA in eight starts this season. In addition to having the lowest ERA among Orioles starters, he was the only starter the club had last season to make more than 20 starts (32) and win more than nine games (12).

Obviously disappointed that he’s unable to pitch for the foreseeable future, Chen understands the importance of taking it slow with an injury commonly known to linger when a hurler tries to come back too soon.

“Fingers crossed for me,” Chen said through his interpreter. “This is a day-to-day progress. I cannot push myself too hard. I just will try to do my best.”

Gonzalez still an option for early next week

Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (blister) played catch on Tuesday and hopes to go on a minor-league rehab assignment later this week, which would keep him in line to return early next week.

Placed on the 15-day DL retroactive to May 4 with a nasty blister on his right thumb, Gonzalez’s progress has been slower than the club hoped, but the plan is for him to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday without the bandage he’s used to cover the tender area while playing catch. Showalter said Gonzalez wouldn’t necessarily need a length rehab outing on Thursday or Friday to put him in line to return on Tuesday when the Orioles will need a fifth starter.

However, the Orioles will be careful in fear of the skin breaking and beginning the recovery process all over again.

“If we rush it and I had to miss another two or three weeks, we don’t want to do that,” Gonzalez. “I want to be ready to go and be able to perform 100 percent.”

Odds & ends

In addition to Burnett replacing Chen, infielder Yamaico Navarro was recalled to take Mike Belfiore’s spot on the 25-man roster and give the Orioles an extra bench player for the next few days. … Left-handed pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada will begin his injury rehab assignment with a start for Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday afternoon. … Right-hander Jake Arrieta threw a bullpen session on Tuesday to test out his sore right shoulder. … Brian Roberts has begun riding a stationary bike in Sarasota as he recovers from right hamstring surgery. … Right-handed veteran Freddy Garcia will make the start against San Diego on Wednesday afternoon and Jason Hammel will start Friday in the series opener against Tampa Bay.

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Key word for the Orioles in 2013?  Same one as 2012…”luck”

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Key word for the Orioles in 2013? Same one as 2012…”luck”

Posted on 13 February 2013 by Drew Forrester

My first baseball blog of 2013.

And it’s February 13.

Then again, there’s not really been any legitimate reason to write about the Orioles since January 1.  First, the football team kept us all in constant contact with Purple Fever, which made writing and opining about anything BUT the Ravens a waste of time.  And, obviously, the Orioles haven’t done anything worth commenting on…unless you count the signing of a broken-down Jair Jurrjens as a move deserving of evaluation.  I didn’t.

But, with pitchers and catchers reporting on Tuesday and the rest of the players showing up by Friday, it’s clearly time to start discussing our orange-feathered-friends with an eye towards the 2013 campaign.

As our very own Luke Jones assessed RIGHT HERE on Tuesday at WNST.net, it’s been a listless off-season for the Birds.  They commenced the hot stove period with question marks and issues worth considering at first base, second base, left field and starting pitching.

The team convenes in Sarasota with none of those problems either completely addressed or improved upon, truth be told.  Rather than go out and get a real first baseman, they simply promoted a formerly-failed glove with a decent bat in Chris Davis.  Not knowing whether or not Brian Roberts will ever return to form, the club elected to add a half-player in Alexi Casilla rather than create a sea change by sending Roberts on his way and giving the job to an everyday major-leaguer.  Left field was rescued in large part by Nate McLouth in 2012, but anyone willing to bet that he will duplicate his form of a year ago is just hoping for the sake of hope.  Oh, right, the team still believes Nolan Reimold can stay healthy and be a threat at the plate and share the left field position with McLouth.  The team likely believes in the Tooth Fairy, too.

In fairness, if the Orioles can get the same yield from guys like Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez, the 2013 starting rotation might not be all that bad.  Would it have been good to see the Orioles make a play for Zack Greinke or Dan Haren or, like Toronto, make a trade to bring in the likes of Josh Johnson and/or Mark Buerhle?  Sure.  But those players all cost money.

While the Birds clearly didn’t do anything in the off-season to improve their team, it’s accurate to note that the Blue Jays wound up being the only A.L. East club to appear as if winning was going to be important to them in ’13.  Boston’s going to stink again, the Yankees appear to be hard-pressed to be an 85-win team and Tampa Bay traded away some of their good young arms to Kansas City for high-level prospect types.  Sadly, had the Orioles actually added a handful of quality players over the last four months, they might legitimately be the favorite in the division.

My guess on 2013?  Pretty simple.  As The Killers showed with their first album, it’s awfully hard to catch lightning in a bottle two times in a row.  I’m going to assume the luck that guided the Orioles through 2012 ran its course a year ago and that same good fortunate bestowed upon the Birds by the baseball gods will instead go to the Royals or Mariners or Brewers or (insert team here) in the upcoming season.

2012 was a fluke season for the Orioles.

I said before the first game a year ago they’d go 79-83 and everyone in town thought I was nuts.  Obviously, I had no idea how lucky things would turn out for them.

I think they’re an 85-win team in ’13, but that won’t be nearly enough to get them into post-season play.  After 14 years of horrible baseball, I suppose we should be happy with back-to-back seasons of plus .500 play, but the Birds turned 95 wins into 85 wins in the off-season by dumpster diving for guys that no other team in the big leagues cared to take.  That philosophy worked a year ago but I can’t see lightning striking twice in the same place twelve months apart.

I’m hoping for the best, because I enjoyed the hell out of 2012, but you can’t count on luck to take you places.  At some point, you have to try to win.  And you do that by adding quality, not gambling on also-rans who swallowed the pill-of-good-fortune and put together a few good months of baseball.

I’d love to be wrong about this group.

I hope like hell they get as lucky this year as they did last season.

But I’m not counting on it.

 

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Report: Orioles agree to 1-year deal with RHP Jurrjens

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Report: Orioles agree to 1-year deal with RHP Jurrjens

Posted on 25 January 2013 by WNST Staff

After executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette expressed his desire to add a veteran starter last week, the Orioles have reportedly agreed to terms on a one-year deal with right-handed pitcher Jair Jurrjens.

According to a CBSSports.com report, the former Atlanta Braves starter reached an agreement on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, which could be valued as much as $4 million with incentives. Jurrjens was non-tendered by Atlanta in the offseason after earning $5.5 million last season.

A National League All-Star in 2011 when he went 13-6 with a 2.96 earned run average, Jurrjens had a brutal 2012 campaign as he went 3-4 with a 6.89 ERA in 10 starts and spent a large portion of the season at Triple-A Gwinnett.

Jurrjens will turn 27 later this month and was targeted by the Orioles last winter as the right-hander was mentioned as a component in a potential trade with the Braves for center fielder Adam Jones. His strikeout rate has declined dramatically since the 2010 season when he averaged 6.7 per nine innings. Jurrjens averaged only 3.5 strikeouts per nine innings last season.

He has dealt with knee and groin issues over the last few seasons in what’s been an up-and-down career for the Curacao native. Jurrjens plans to play for the Netherlands’ in this year’s World Baseball Classic, which would take him away from the club and potentially hinder his chances of cracking the starting rotation.

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