Tag Archive | "Jason Hammel"

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Orioles linked to Hammel, Cruz at baseball’s Winter Meetings

Posted on 09 December 2013 by WNST Staff

Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista are underway, and with the Orioles still looking to add a big bat or starting pitcher to their 25-man roster, Orioles VP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette is already hard at work making some calls to agents of the game’s best players.

FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal and NBCSports’ Craig Calcaterra report that Duquette has met with agent Mitch Frankel, who represents former Rangers OF Nelson Cruz as well as free agent starting pitcher Bartolo Colon.

Cruz, a two-time All-Star with 157 career home runs, hit .266 with 27 HRs and 86 RBIs in 109 games in 2013 before being accused of buying performance-enhancing drugs from a clinic in Miami during the BioGenesis scandal.

Colon, 40, went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA for the A’s this season and owns a 189-128 record in his 18-year MLB career.

The Orioles also talked to former A’s closer Grant Balfour’s agent.

ESPN and SiriusXM’s Jim Bowden says that in a conversation he had with Duquette on his radio show, the Orioles have been zoning in on trying to find starting pitching, a LF, and a left-handed DH if possible.

One name that could fix their SP need would be Jason Hammel, who spent the last two seasons with the Orioles after coming over in a trade with the Colorado Rockies before the 2012 season.

Hammel, 31, has also drawn interest from the Cleveland Indians. Hammel had a spectacular season in his first season in Baltimore, going 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA before knee problems ended his season.

He was unable to rebound from the injury in 2013 and lost fastball command, finishing the season 7-8 with a 4.97 ERA.

The Yankees talked with former Orioles 2B Brian Roberts about a possible return to the AL East, after the Yankees saw their All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano sign a deal with the Mariners last week.

 

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Orioles decline Casilla’s 2014 option, pass on making qualifying offers to free agents

Posted on 05 November 2013 by WNST Staff

Already in the process of shaping their 2014 roster, the Orioles made several decisions regarding their own free agents on Monday.

The club declined a $3 million option for the 2014 season in infielder Alexi Casilla’s contract, making him a free agent after a $200,000 buyout. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette also passed on making one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers in 2014 for free agents Brian Roberts, Jason Hammel, and Nate McLouth.

Seven players on the 2013 Orioles declared for free agency following the World Series: Roberts, Hammel, McLouth, right-handed pitchers Scott Feldman and Francisco Rodriguez, outfielder Michael Morse, and catcher Chris Snyder. The Orioles have expressed interest in retaining some of their own free agents, but no formal discussions have taken place.

The Orioles also added 25-year-old left-handed pitcher Chris Jones to their 40-man roster and reinstated third baseman Manny Machado (knee surgery) and outfielder Nolan Reimold (neck surgery) to the 40-man roster after each finished the 2013 season on the 60-day disabled list.

With Reimold eligible for arbitration, the Orioles could forgo tendering him a contract and attempt to re-sign him as a non-roster invitee who would not take a spot on the 40-man roster.

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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

Posted on 16 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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Standing at 53-43 and sending five representatives to Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, the Orioles had quite the memorable first 3 1/2 months of the season filled with plenty of highs and also some lows.

Before manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles get back to business in Texas on Friday, I’ve composed my list of All-Star break awards. Some are more serious than others, but there was plenty to remember over the first 96 games of the 2013 season.

Most Valuable Player: Chris Davis
Skinny: Manny Machado deserves more consideration here than most will give him if you take his remarkable defense into account, but the Orioles first baseman is on pace to break franchise records for RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS, extra-base hits, and total bases as well as surpass the American League home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. Who else could it really be?

Best Starting Pitcher: Miguel Gonzalez
Skinny: Chris Tillman received the All-Star nod, but Gonzalez has been the Orioles’ best starter, especially since posting a 2.88 earned run average in his last 10 starts upon returning from a May stint on the 15-day disabled list. The 29-year-old posted seven straight quality starts heading into the All-Star break and his 3.48 ERA is the best in the starting rotation.

Best Relief Pitcher: Tommy Hunter
Skinny: Darren O’Day earned consideration here, but Hunter’s ability to pitch more than one inning has saved the bullpen numerous times. With Luis Ayala traded early in the season and Pedro Strop unable to bounce back from his late-season struggles from a year ago, the Orioles would have been in major trouble with their bullpen without Hunter’s 2.41 ERA and 52 1/3 innings of work.

Biggest Surprise: Manny Machado
Skinny: With Davis taking aim at the record books, it’s difficult not to give him the nod here, but I would have predicted Davis to be more likely for a breakout season than Machado, who just celebrated his 21st birthday less than two weeks ago. We now see the third baseman as a doubles machine with a shot at the single-season record, but many thought Showalter had gotten too much Florida sun when he put the unproven Machado in the No. 2 lineup spot at the start of the season.

Biggest Disappointment: Jason Hammel
Skinny: The Opening Day starter was counted on to be the de facto ace and has instead looked like the weak link in the current starting rotation. His 5.24 ERA is worse than his career mark, but most of his other numbers align closely with his career statistics prior to his arrival in Baltimore last season.

Most Overrated Performer: Nick Markakis
Skinny: The Orioles right fielder was close to being voted into the All-Star Game, but he is on pace for career lows in batting average and OPS and has become more of a singles hitter in recent years except for his 2012 injury-plagued campaign. Markakis is still a good player, but the clamoring for his inclusion in the Midsummer Classic was more about his popularity and less about his production. Many will argue that catcher Matt Wieters deserves this distinction, but few tried to say he was deserving of All-Star honors with his poor offensive output this season.

Most Underrated Performer: Nate McLouth
Skinny: Even McLouth’s biggest supporters had to wonder if the second-half success he enjoyed last season was a fluke, but the left fielder continues to be a spark plug at the top of the order and on the base paths with a team-leading 24 stolen bases. He doesn’t do anything that blows you away, but McLouth makes a substantial contribution just about every night, whether it shows up in the box score or not.

Most Improved Player: Ryan Flaherty
Skinny: The second baseman hit .133 in his first 102 plate appearances before being demoted to Triple-A Norfolk and has batted .300 in 94 plate appearances since being recalled at the end of May. The simple fact that many are clamoring for Flaherty to play over veteran Brian Roberts says all you need to know about his improvement since the start of the season.

Biggest Injury: Wei-Yin Chen’s strained right oblique
Skinny: The Taiwanese lefty went down with the injury in mid-May, leaving a major hole in the rotation for nearly two months. Ironically, the long layoff may pay off in the long run for Chen, who tired down the stretch last year and should now feel strong for the remainder of the season after less wear and tear on his pitching arm.

Most Important Win: A 2-1 victory over the Yankees thanks to Adam Jones’ homer off Mariano Rivera on July 7
Skinny: Even Showalter downplayed the significance of the dramatic victory in early July, but the Orioles were on the verge of dropping their third straight one-run game to New York to complete a 1-5 road trip before Jones tagged the greatest closer of all time for his first blown save at Yankee Stadium since 2010.

Most Disappointing Loss: Jim Johnson’s meltdown in Toronto on May 26
Skinny: The Orioles sent Johnson to the mound with a 5-2 lead and needed only three outs to take three of four from the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. A double, two singles, a walk, and a Munenori Kawasaki double later, the closer had blown his fourth save in his last five chances and the Orioles had suffered a stunning 6-5 loss on a Sunday afternoon.

Most Exciting Moment: Chris Dickerson’s walk-off homer against the Tigers on May 31
Skinny: All-Star Game starter Max Scherzer had pitched brilliantly for eight innings before Detroit manager Jim Leyland turned the game over to Jose Valverde with a 5-3 lead in the ninth. Before an electric crowd of over 46,000, the Orioles staged a rally as Markakis hit a homer to lead off the inning and the part-time player Dickerson hammered a three-run blast into the right-center bleachers for one of the most exciting regular-season moments in Camden Yards history.

The Kevin Gregg-Michael Gonzalez Fireman Award: Pedro Strop
Skinny: The Orioles tried to stick with the volatile but talented Strop as long as they could, but you knew time was running short for the 28-year-old on June 29 when Showalter felt the need to warm up O’Day in his bullpen as the struggling reliever was working the ninth inning with an 11-3 lead over the Yankees. Sporting a 7.25 ERA in 29 appearances, Strop was dealt along with Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs a few days later in exchange for starting pitcher Scott Feldman.

The Justin Duchscherer “Yes, He Was an Oriole” Award: Mike Belfiore
Skinny: If you’re asking who Belfiore is, you’re probably not alone as the left-handed reliever has twice been recalled to the 25-man roster this season but hasn’t appeared in a game. Chances are good he’s near the top of the list of players currently on the 40-man roster who could be designated for assignment should the need for a roster spot arise, but Belfiore does have a 3.67 ERA for Triple-A Norfolk this season.

The Jack Cust Baserunning Award: Alexi Casilla’s ninth-inning blunder against the Red Sox
Skinny: Trying to rally against Boston closer Andrew Bailey on June 15, the Orioles sent the speedy Casilla into the game to run for J.J. Hardy at first base with one out. After Ryan Flaherty lined a ball sharply to right fielder Shane Victorino, Casilla was inexplicably standing on third base as he was doubled off first to end the game. The utility infielder said after the game he knew the number of outs and simply misread the ball off Flaherty’s bat, but the play may have gone down as the Orioles’ worst pinch-running debacle since Manny Alexander was picked off upon running for Cal Ripken in a 1996 game that then went into extra innings.

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Hammel not answering call in Orioles rotation

Posted on 13 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter expressed confidence that Jason Hammel’s best games still lie ahead in the second half after Saturday’s 7-3 loss to Toronto.

And it’s a good thing too, because the struggling starting pitcher didn’t sound like he had much in himself after allowing six earned runs in six-plus innings to the Blue Jays. After plunking No. 9 hitter Emilio Bonifacio and walking Jose Reyes to begin the seventh inning, Hammel was lifted by Showalter to watch those runners eventually score, raising his earned run average to 5.24 on the season.

“I hate seeing him come out every time in the seventh inning when we’ve had a lead and I’ve given it back,” said Hammel, referring to the 3-2 lead he relinquished an inning earlier by giving up four straight singles with two outs. “I’ve got to hand the ball over to him and today was no different. I was very frustrated, actually kind of spiked it into his hand. I was a little [ticked] off. It’s frustrating.”

Winless since May 27 and unable to build on three straight quality starts from Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman heading into Saturday, Hammel appears to be the weakest link in the rotation despite receiving the Opening Day start less than four months ago. He fell to 7-6 on the season and now has a 6.65 ERA in eight home starts (46 innings) this season. Only two of those have been quality starts as his frustration boiled over following Saturday’s loss.

His 2012 first half in which he was an American League finalist for the All-Star Game’s final fan vote must feel like a distant memory for the 30-year-old right-hander, who’s status in the starting rotation has to be in question for the second half. The heavy-hitting Blue Jays were all over him early, evident by Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run homer in the first inning. To Hammel’s credit, he rebounded to throw four straight scoreless frames before once again running into trouble at the end of the day.

“Unacceptable. Far too many baserunners, getting behind hitters,” Hammel said. “[That’s a] fastball-hitting club that I’m feeding fastballs. It’s easy to hit when you know what is coming. I’m not throwing sliders for strikes, not throwing curveballs where I want them. Changeup is nonexistent. I’m beating myself right now.”

The biggest downfall for Hammel in 2013 has been his inability to duplicate the success he enjoyed with his two-seam fastball a year ago when he was able to frequently induce grounders and mix in his breaking stuff to overpower hitters. In 20 starts in 2012 — Hammel missed most of the second half after undergoing right knee surgery in July — he went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA and posted career bests with 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.24 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).

Those numbers prompted Showalter to give Hammel the ball in Game 1 of the American League Division Series despite the fact that he made only three regular-season starts after the All-Star break. Showalter hoped Hammel would be their de facto ace in 2013 by awarding him the start on Opening Day, but he hasn’t looked the part sans a handful of outings this season.

Without the two-seamer being a consistent factor this year, Hammel’s pitches have been consistently up in the zone as he’s allowed 19 home runs in his 19 starts this season, just two shy of his career-worst total of 21 in 2011.

“He’s pitched some good games. You can go back through that,” Showalter said. “There are some things that didn’t work out. But I think it bodes well for the rest of the season because he’s capable of better and I think his best games are ahead of him.”

As much as the Orioles hoped last season was a renaissance for Hammel after underwhelming runs with Tampa Bay and Colorado, his numbers this season are more reflective of his pre-2012 statistics when he occasionally bounced back and forth between the starting rotation and bullpen with his former clubs. His current ERA and home run totals are higher than his career numbers (4.80 ERA and 1.5 homers per nine innings entering Saturday), but his current WHIP (1.44) and strikeouts per nine innings (6.3) are nearly identical to his career numbers (1.43 and 6.6).

Much to the organization’s chagrin after failing to acquire a veteran starting pitcher in the offseason, it appears Hammel’s 2012 season was the outlier and his performance this season is simply returning to the norm. That revelation makes it no easier for any of the involved parties, however, in the midst of a pennant race.

“This first half, honestly, is unacceptable for me,” said Hammel, who plans to get away from baseball over the All-Star break to clear his mind and believes he’s been trying too hard to make adjustments between starts. “I’m better than this and it’s on my shoulders. It’s on nobody else. It’s fixable. It’s just I’ve got to get out of my own way.”

Hammel doesn’t appear to be in immediate danger of losing his spot in the rotation, but beyond the top three of Gonzalez, Chen, and Tillman, the Orioles must find more consistency from the back end of the rotation, which includes the newly-acquired Scott Feldman. Otherwise, Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette will have no choice but to revisit the possibility of rookie Kevin Gausman or another option such as Steve Johnson receiving another shot while continuing to explore the possibility of another trade.

The timing of Hammel’s struggles couldn’t be worse for him personally as he is scheduled to become a free agent after the season. While some encouraged the Orioles to sign Hammel to an extension last winter, his future with the organization beyond the next few months now appears in doubt due to his performance this season.

For now, the Orioles continue to express confidence in Hammel, who threw first-pitch strikes to just 13 of the 28 hitters he faced in Saturday’s loss. But that confidence can only go so far in the second half in a very tight AL East race.

“I think it’s just you’ve got to get ahead of guys,” said first baseman Chris Davis, who clubbed his major league-leading 36th home run of the year Saturday. “I think Ham is obviously a guy who has really good stuff if he can go out there and get ahead of guys. If you put the [count in his favor], I think he’s successful.”

The Orioles keep waiting — perhaps only hoping at this point? — for last year’s Hammel to suddenly appear. But after 19 starts of results more closely mirroring the rest of his career, you wonder how much longer they can wait before looking elsewhere.

Even Hammel acknowledged as much on Saturday.

“I know these guys are pulling for me,” Hammel said. “I do believe the best days are ahead, but it’s got to happen fast if we want to make this a championship season. I’m a big part of it and I have to get it right.”

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Arrieta to start Monday in Detroit with Hammel pushed back

Posted on 16 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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Following Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox, Orioles manager Buck Showalter revealed right-hander Jake Arrieta will take the hill in place of scheduled starter Jason Hammel Monday night against the Detroit Tigers.

Hammel has been dealing with a stomach virus since late least week and was even instructed to stay away from Camden Yards on Friday and Saturday. The 30-year-old hopes to start Tuesday, but his strength was zapped after the illness required him to receive intravenous fluids over the weekend.

Recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on Friday to act as a fresh arm in the bullpen, Arrieta didn’t pitch over the weekend and will make the start Monday because Norfolk lefty Zach Britton remains on call to pitch on Tuesday if Hammel needs more time to recover. Either he or lefty reliever T.J. McFarland would be options if the latter doesn’t need to be used in long relief in the series opener against the Tigers.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman also remains on the radar as Miguel Gonzalez will be placed on the paternity list as soon as his wife goes into labor. Her due date falls on Wednesday and there has been some talk that she could be induced if labor doesn’t begin by then, but the Orioles are obviously respecting the family’s privacy by not wanting to divulge too much information.

Arrieta has struggled mightily in recent weeks for the Tides, allowing 15 runs and 19 hits in 10 1/3 innings over his last two starts. He owns a 3-3 mark with a 5.50 earned run average in seven appearances at the Triple-A level.

Of course, the 27-year-old began the season in the Orioles’ starting rotation but went 1-1 with a 6.63 ERA in four starts and was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk in late April.

 

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Ejection call on Hammel possibly avoidable but understandable

Posted on 01 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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BALTIMORE — Needless to say, the main topic of conversation following the Orioles’ 10-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers was the fourth-inning ejection of starting pitcher Jason Hammel.

The right-hander had just surrendered three consecutive home runs before plunking left fielder Matt Tuiasosopo in the left shoulder on the first pitch of the at-bat. Home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt immediately tossed Hammel — the first ejection of his career — despite objections from the pitcher, manager Buck Showalter, and catcher Matt Wieters arguing that he had thrown a slider.

Many fans were infuriated by the decision with it commonly accepted that pitchers will use their fastball to drill hitters intentionally, but allowing three straight homers eliminates most benefit of the doubt in that instance. The Orioles’ position was predictable, acknowledging where the umpire was coming from but maintaining Hammel’s innocence as the pitcher expressed there was “zero intent” to drill the Tigers outfielder after the game.

Truthfully, I don’t believe Hammel was throwing at him intentionally and a warning probably would have been as effective considereing it was a breaking pitch, but the starter’s own ineffectiveness eliminated most benefit of the doubt and put Wendelstedt in a difficult position that can escalate quickly and become very emotional if not treated with assertiveness.

“I understand his position; I still don’t understand why he threw me out,” Hammel said. “That was the quickest toss I’ve ever seen. It was almost immediate, so, he didn’t have time to asses the situation.”

Unless you talked to the Tigers fan base, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who is 100-percent convinced that Hammel was intentionally throwing at the batter in frustration. His command was poor throughout the short outing and both he and Showalter mentioned that several sliders had slipped out of the pitcher’s hand on a 90-degree day in Baltimore.

But, ultimately, no one knows for sure whether Hammel was trying to hit Tuiasosopo on purpose other than the pitcher himself, so it’s a tough call to make with almost two-thirds of the game remaining. In most situations like these, umpires are instructed to err on the side of order before an altercation can potentially take place later on.

“It’s tough on umpires trying to judge intent, but they get a lot of pressure from the major league offices,” Showalter said. “But obviously we’re biased, very biased. I understand what the umpire’s trying to do, but it’s very tough for them to judge intent.”

The decision in this case was more about taking a preventative measure than it was about disciplining Hammel. And in the heat of an emotional moment, the umpire threw him out even though Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters after the game his club didn’t feel Hammel hit Tuiasosopo on purpose.

The Orioles were understandably unhappy, but there’s no way of proving the general rule of using the fastball to hit someone intentionally as an absolute. And it’s likely the hometown fans would have been calling for the same outcome if opposing starter Justin Verlander had done the same exact thing.

“I know you’ve seen guys trying to get by with doing that with a breaking ball,” Showalter said, “but most guys that I’ve ever seen do it want to make sure everyone knows. If you’re doing that, you’re going to throw a fastball — not a breaking ball.”

As for the impact of Hammel’s ejection on the game, it didn’t really matter as the right-hander was clearly unable to command his fastball like he had in each of his last two starts — both victories — and T.J. McFarland, Troy Patton, and Tommy Hunter went the rest of the way for the Orioles.

Showalter said after the game he felt the bullpen should be in decent shape for Sunday’s series finale in which rookie Kevin Gausman goes against the Tigers’ powerful lineup. Steve Johnson only threw four pitches on Friday night and should be available in a long-relief role while Hunter was appearing in his first game since Wednesday and threw only 12 pitches in a scoreless ninth.

A day off on Monday should do the trick in providing the necessary rest to get the bullpen back on track, regardless of how Gausman fares.

After the game, Hammel was angriest about the position his ejection put on the bullpen — telling Showalter after the game he could pitch in relief on Sunday if needed — but he put himself in position to be judged harshly.

“You can issue a warning there,” Showalter said. “Obviously, three balls left the park and then a breaking ball hits the guy. You put yourself in their shoes and put yourself in our shoes. That’s what I try to do. I can’t speak for the umpire. I understand the intent of what they were trying to do.”

And maintaining control of the game was more important than giving Hammel a break in that situation.

Even if it might have been the wrong call.

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

Posted on 19 May 2013 by Luke Jones

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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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Ten Orioles thoughts with April in the books

Posted on 01 May 2013 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles concluding the opening month of the 2013 season by tying a franchise record with 16 wins in April, here are 10 thoughts to ponder as May begins:

1. Jason Hammel leads the club with four wins, but we’ve yet to see the 2012 version of the de facto ace show up this season. That’s not to say the right-hander hasn’t been one of the Orioles’ better starting pitchers, but the two-seam fastball that led to his renaissance last season hasn’t shown nearly the same bite through six starts this year. Despite a 3.79 earned run average, Hammel is averaging just 5.9 innings per start and his 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings is down dramatically from the 8.6 rate he held last season. Always possessing strong breaking stuff, Hammel needs to find a better feel for his two-seamer in order to make the rest of his repertoire more explosive. There was little debate that 2012 was a career season for Hammel prior to the knee surgery in July, but the Orioles didn’t actively pursue an impact starting pitcher with the thought — wise or not — that they had a pitcher with top-of-the rotation stuff. They’ll need better from Hammel over the next five months of the season.

2. Chris Davis’ historic opening-week start gained the most attention, but the free-swinging first baseman also collected 16 walks in April. His nine home runs have garnered plenty of press as opponents are pitching the left-handed slugger very carefully since the beginning of the season, but the walk totals have led many — including me — to praise Davis for an improved level of patience at the plate after he walked only 37 times during the 2012 season. However, the 27-year-old is seeing just 3.79 pitches per plate appearance after averaging 4.00 pitches per trip to the plate a year ago. Part of this can be explained by Davis’ strikeout rate decreasing (one every 3.5 at-bats compared to one per 3.0 at-bats last year), but it also indicates his walk numbers may not be sustained as his bat inevitably cools off at different points in the season. Regardless of just how much more patient Davis has become at the plate or not, it’s difficult to dispute how much of a force he’s become since the beginning of last season, making his acquisition in the Koji Uehara deal in 2011 a brilliant one by former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail.

3. The decisions to let go of Mark Reynolds and Joe Saunders weren’t the problem, but electing not to replace them is looking more and more like a mistake. Anyone who expects the former Orioles first baseman to continue hitting .300 like he did in his first month with Cleveland will likely be disappointed, but his eight home runs would look very good in the Baltimore lineup right now. Considering Orioles designated hitters batted .144 and posted a .502 on-base plus slugging percentage in April, Reynolds occupying that role or first base — with Davis handling the other — would be a major boost to the lineup. Meanwhile, Saunders pitched a complete game against the Orioles on Monday night but has been abysmal away from Safeco Field (12.51 ERA) so far. As I said during the offseason, letting go of Reynolds and Saunders was fine if the intention was to upgrade each of their spots and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette expressed the desire to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat and a veteran starting pitcher. However, neither of those goals were accomplished and that could continue to plague the Orioles throughout 2013.

4. Zach Britton turned in a poor 2013 debut, but his quick demotion sends the wrong message to the organization’s young pitchers. No one expected the 25-year-old left-hander to have a long leash given the higher expectations in Baltimore these days, but I can’t subscribe to the idea of sending down a pitcher who you hope will fit into your future after only one rough start. This creates the impression that young pitchers looking for their chance in Baltimore need to be perfect, which isn’t a mindset conducive to being successful. I also wonder what kind of message it sends to Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and pitching coach Mike Griffin, who gave their recommendation for Britton to be the next call-up after Josh Stinson’s failed start last week. A spot start for an organizational depth guy like Stinson or even a journeyman like Freddy Garcia is fine, but if the expectation all along was for Britton to only receive one chance, the club would have been better served leaving him in Norfolk and not messing with his head. Again, allowing six earned runs in six innings was far from acceptable, but it wasn’t the type of disastrous outing that warranted an immediate exit.

5. It’s safe to say Nolan Reimold has yet to adjust to his new role as the club’s primary designated hitter. Reimold has two home runs, five RBIs, and a 1.029 OPS in 29 plate appearances as the club’s left fielder, but the 29-year-old has posted an ugly .477 OPS with one homer and two RBIs in 52 plate appearances while serving in the DH spot. The problem for Reimold is the remarkable play of Nate McLouth, who has been more productive at the plate and is better defensively in the outfield. Manager Buck Showalter can’t justify taking McLouth out of left field, so Reimold needs to adjust to his new role, which can be difficult for individuals accustomed to being in the game as a defensive player. The good news for Reimold is that he’s remained healthy after undergoing spinal fusion surgery last year, but the Orioles must get better production from the designated hitter or will need to begin looking at other options for the role. It’s fair to acknowledge he’s still regaining strength and is adjusting to not having quite as much range of motion in his neck after the surgery, but Reimold would be the first to tell you he needs to be better at the plate.

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Starting rotation performance headlines Orioles’ uneven start

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Luke Jones

Before anyone goes off the deep end over the Orioles’ 3-4 start to the 2013 season, consider this your much-needed reminder that it’s early.

It’s very early, in fact, as Baltimore has completed just over four percent of the 162-game schedule. That’s the equivalent of the Ravens approaching the end of the third quarter of their season-opening game if you needed a football comparison to put it in the proper context.

But issues have already begun to arise, specifically with the injuries to Wilson Betemit, Nolan Reimold, and Brian Roberts that have left designated hitter and second base as early albatrosses in the lineup. Ryan Flaherty is 0-for-14 to begin the season and Steve Pearce has yet to collect a hit in his first 10 at-bats after securing the final spot on the 25-man roster at the end of spring training.

Fortunately in Reimold’s case, the Orioles are hoping the 29-year-old outfielder will be ready to return to the lineup as early as Wednesday after leaving Sunday’s game with a tight hamstring.

The bullpen experienced a hiccup against Tampa Bay and a Chris Davis error contributed to Jim Johnson taking the loss in Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, but there’s little other evidence to suggest the group won’t be up to the task this season. It just might not be as dominating as it was a year ago with a plethora of relievers pitching at their absolute best for the better portion of six months.

After going 29-9 in one-run games last year, the Orioles have dropped their first three contests decided by one run, but no one could have reasonably expected the club to repeat that type of a historically-efficient performance.

The biggest concern – again, based on a week’s worth of games – has been the starting pitching with both the numbers and, more importantly, the eyeball test. Though Wei-Yin Chen pitched well in a 3-1 loss to the Red Sox on Monday, the Orioles entered Tuesday ranked last in the American League in starters earned run average at 5.45.

Of the seven outings turned in by the starting five, only three have been quality starts (if you subscribe to the minimum requirements of six innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed being anything special). The numbers don’t mean much when you’re not even through the rotation a second time, but the eyeball test raises bigger concerns.

De facto ace Jason Hammel is struggling to command both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a deadly combination that baffled opposing hitters prior to the knee injury that largely derailed his 2012 season. He hasn’t looked like the dominating pitcher he was in the first half last season and his lower strikeout numbers (five in 12 2/3 innings pitched) confirm that.

The Orioles need Hammel to be the veteran standing at the front of the rotation and not just another pitcher in the starting mix.

Chen’s 3.75 ERA is perfectly acceptable, but the same issue of running out of gas right around the 85-to-90 pitch range that we saw last year has resurfaced in his first two starts. Entering the seventh inning having thrown 87 pitches on Monday, Chen gave up a three-run homer to Daniel Nava before departing with one out.

Many will criticize Buck Showalter for not pulling the Taiwanese lefty sooner, but the manager likely wants to see if Chen can add another gear for the late innings or whether this is as good as it gets for the 27-year-old. Entering Monday, Chen had pitched to a 7.42 ERA after the sixth inning in his major league career. If that’s the best the club can expect when the lefty approaches 90 pitches and beyond, it’s difficult to view Chen as anything better than a fourth starter for the long haul.

Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez appeared the best of any starter the first turn through the rotation, but Showalter has elected to push the 28-year-old’s next start back to the Yankees series, citing a desire to give him a few extra days of rest. That action sounds prudent in August and September, but it raises a red flag this early in the season despite the manager insisting there are no health concerns with Gonzalez.

If making a start every fifth day is a challenge already, you have to wonder how much the Orioles can expect from Gonzalez over an entire season.

Jake Arrieta? He looked very much like the same Arrieta we’ve seen in past seasons on Friday, pitching well in spurts but allowing a four-run fourth inning to derail his overall outing. It’s the same inconsistency that landed him out of the rotation and in the minor leagues midway through last season.

The 27-year-old power arm figures to have the shortest leash of any of the current starters.

Coming off the 15-day disabled list to make his first start against Minnesota on Saturday, Chris Tillman was all over the place and looked nothing like the successful pitcher we saw in the second half of last season in allowing five earned runs and walking four in 3 2/3 innings. It was one start, but it won’t quiet those who question whether the 24-year-old’s 2012 campaign was more fluke than transformation.

It’s a very small sample size — just like this piece is one of many that will examine the various stages of the season – but these seven games will count as much as any seven-game stretch over the course of the year. It’s not a definitive indictment or a final verdict by any stretch of the imagination but rather an honest assessment of what we’ve seen so far.

The injuries and shortcomings in the lineup and questions of how closely the bullpen can match its 2012 performance are all manageable concerns if the starting rotation rises to the occasion like it did for the final two months last season. Showalter said countless times this spring that the Orioles will only go as far as their starting pitching will take them.

And with the club sporting a 3-4 record in the first week of the season, the very early return in that department has been underwhelming.

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Orioles’ rare victory against Price not one to take for granted

Posted on 02 April 2013 by Luke Jones

The Orioles’ season-opening win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday had just about everything you’d like to see.

A five-run seventh inning turned a 3-2 deficit into a 7-4 a comeback victory over an American League East foe.

Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Chris Davis combined to go 6-for-12 with two home runs, three walks, and seven runs batted in. Wieters’ two-run home run provided the early lead, Jones’ two-run double in the seventh put the Orioles back in front, and Davis’ three-run blast later that inning finished off Tampa Bay for good. You can’t ask for much more from the heart of the order.

Starting pitcher Jason Hammel pitched six solid innings and allowed only three runs despite being up in the strike zone for a good portion of the afternoon. The de facto ace earned his first victory of the season and was picked up by Troy Patton and Darren O’Day in the seventh and eighth innings.

All-Star closer Jim Johnson earned his first save in an uneventful ninth inning.

20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado picked up where he left off in the field last year with a couple smooth plays and collected a single and a walk hitting in the No. 2 spot.

Even Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold, two players the Orioles are depending on to remain healthy this season, went a combined 4-for-8 at the plate.

The euphoria accompanying any Opening Day win aside, we know pennants aren’t won or lost in April except in the most extreme cases, but a victory in a game pitched by 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner David Price is one to put in your back pocket over the course of a 162-game schedule. Price didn’t factor into the decision, but the patience and tough at-bats put together by Baltimore hitters — including a 13-pitch walk drawn by Wieters in the third — pushed the left-hander’s pitch count to 100 through six innings and forced Rays manager Joe Maddon to go to his bullpen earlier than he wanted to with his ace on the mound.

The Orioles made life more difficult than it needed to be for themselves by going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and leaving four runners stranded on second or third with Price in the ball game, but that’s as much a credit to the 27-year-old pitcher as any shortcoming of Buck Showalter’s lineup. Jones finally broke the 1-for-9 drought overall with runners in scoring position with the double off lefty Jake McGee, who relieved Price to start the seventh.

In three starts against Baltimore last season, Price was 2-0 and allowed one earned run and 13 hits in 22 1/3 innings. No player on the current 25-man roster had ever hit a homer against Price until Wieters launched one into the left-field seats to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the first inning.

The Orioles weren’t fazed by the power lefty, even after he threw four shutout innings against them in Sarasota last week. And they came away with a win in the first of 19 meetings with the Rays, who are regarded by most as a division favorite along with the Toronto Blue Jays this year.

Tueday’s victory is only one in a 162-game marathon, but it’s one you put on the positive side of the ledger that you typically wouldn’t expect to have when facing one of the best pitchers in the game. Of course, it means nothing if you don’t win the close games in which you have a chance, an area in which the Orioles excelled last year with their 29-9 record in one-run games, 16-2 mark in extra-inning affairs, and astonishing 74-0 record when leading after seven innings.

As we would have said had they lost 11-1 at Tropicana Field on Tuesday, it’s only one game. But it is one game just as important as the 161 to follow. And for what’s expected to be an extremely tight division race, Tuesday’s victory represents one the Orioles won’t have to make up in September.

It’s a new season and the improbable 2012 season is only a memory, but the Orioles have already come away with one that you would not have expected.

And that was a familiar feeling.

 

 

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