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Orioles promote outfield prospect Hays from Double-A Bowie

Posted on 05 September 2017 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of MILB.com)

BALTIMORE — The Orioles have promoted their fastest-rising prospect to the major leagues as outfielder Austin Hays was called up from Double-A Bowie on Tuesday.

A third-round pick out of Jacksonville University in 2016, Hays was preparing to play in the Eastern League playoffs for the Baysox before receiving the call from Baltimore. The 22-year-old hit .328 with 16 home runs, 15 doubles, 41 RBIs, and a .956 on-base plus slugging percentage in 64 games for Single-A Frederick earlier this season before being promoted to the Double-A level in June. Hays impressively didn’t miss a beat playing against tougher competition, batting .330 with 16 homers, 17 doubles, 54 RBIs, and a .960 OPS in 64 games for the Baysox.

Ranked 99th on Baseball America’s mid-season top 100 list released in early July, Hays has seen his stock rise dramatically and has started receiving national attention in his first full season of professional baseball. The right-handed hitter and thrower was ranked as Baltimore’s No. 2 prospect behind catcher Chance Sisco in the same publication’s top 10 list for the organization released in late July

Hays was also named one of five finalists to be Baseball America’s minor league player of the year on Tuesday.

It remains unclear what role Hays might fill this month, but it would be surprising to see him removed from a minor-league playoff experience if the Orioles intended to mostly sit him on the bench. Hays has played in both center field and right this season, making it possible that he could see action in right field against left-handed pitching.

Joey Rickard has served as the primary right fielder against lefties, but he is hitting just .223 with a .560 OPS since the All-Star break. His .283 average against southpaws is respectable, but his .706 OPS against lefties reflects his lack of power.

To make room for Hays on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino for assignment. Considered a candidate for the major league starting rotation this spring, Aquino has pitched to a 4.24 ERA in 21 starts for the Tides this year and has made only two starts and four appearances for Baltimore, posting a 7.43 ERA.

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Jimenez penciled in for Sunday’s start — for now

Posted on 23 May 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Those wanting the Orioles to finally move on from Ubaldo Jimenez will apparently need to wait a little longer.

But that doesn’t mean the struggling starting pitcher is in the clear, either.

Asked about his plans for the three-game series in Houston this weekend, manager Buck Showalter said the veteran right-hander’s turn was scheduled for Sunday, but he left himself wiggle room for that to change. What he doesn’t want to do is to move up the rest of his starting rotation at the expense of Jimenez or anyone else who could be in play to pitch the finale against the Astros.

The Orioles will be off on Thursday after concluding their three-game set with Minnesota on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m going to give these guys the extra day with the off-day every chance we get, especially with Dylan [Bundy] and [Kevin Gausman],” Showalter said. “Jimenez’s next start is on Sunday, and we’ll see what happens when we get there. That’s when he’s scheduled to start again. But I’m going to keep Gausman and Dylan on that extra day with the off-day.

“We’ll take each day as it comes and see where we are as a pitching staff after each outing.”

After giving up six earned runs and squandering an early 5-0 lead in Monday’s 14-7 loss to the Twins, Jimenez now sports a 7.17 ERA, the worst among all American League pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched and second behind only San Diego’s Jered Weaver for the worst ERA in the majors. The 33-year-old is in the final season of a four-year, $50 million contract that pays him a total of $13.5 million in 2017.

In addition to the financial reality of any decision regarding Jimenez’s roster status, the Orioles would need to determine who would fill his spot in the rotation if they were to make a change. Right-handed reliever Alec Asher has registered quality starts in both of his starting opportunities this season and owns an impressive 2.33 ERA in 27 innings this season, but he hasn’t thrown more than 41 pitches in a game since May 7 and has been used in more and more key relief spots in recent weeks.

“I don’t think, on the surface, he’s that far removed from extended outings,” Showalter said. “Now, in a week or two, it probably wouldn’t be normal length if you went there. But I also think he’s shown an ability to serve a need in our bullpen, too, with Zach [Britton] being down. There’s some different challenges in our bullpen with Zach out that you need to have an optionable bullpen and you need to have some versatility down there and some guys who can pitch, physically, more than once every four days down there. It doesn’t work.”

Asked about the possibility of Jimenez moving to a relief role after Monday’s loss, Showalter alluded to the difficulty of carrying a pitcher who can’t be optioned to the minors and would need a few days to rest between outings. Of course, the Orioles probably wouldn’t be looking to use Jimenez in any close games, either, with the way he’s pitched so far in 2017.

NOTES: Needing a fresh long man in the bullpen for Tuesday’s game, the Orioles recalled left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino and optioned right-hander Stefan Crichton to Triple-A Norfolk. Crichton threw a season-high 59 pitches and gave up two earned runs and six hits in 3 1/3 innings on Monday. … Outfielder Michael Bourn is no longer with Triple-A Norfolk as a decision looms for the organization regarding his opt-out clause. He has been temporarily transferred to Single-A Aberdeen in the meantime. … Right-handed pitcher Logan Verrett was activated by the Tides Tuesday after being on paternity leave and isn’t currently an option to be recalled by the Orioles since he hasn’t pitched since May 16. … Showalter celebrated his 61st birthday on Tuesday. The manager quipped that he was glad his birthday didn’t fall Monday when his club was blown out by Minnesota. “Remember when you thought 61 was old? It is.”

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 win over Boston

Posted on 23 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their fourth straight game in a 2-0 final over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There was nothing fancy about his outing with a fastball maxing out around 90 miles per hour, but Jayson Aquino fetched the desired results by allowing two earned runs over six innings for his first major league win. He limited hard contact and made good pitches when he needed to.

2. Steven Wright appeared to be on his way to avenging his nightmare outing against the Orioles last week before completely losing the feel of his knuckler in the fourth. One of the good stories in the American League from a year ago is currently a mess for the Red Sox.

3. Wright will have nightmares about Trey Mancini, who now has two home runs in three at-bats against the right-hander. Mancini continues to dazzle and tied the major league record for home runs in his first 17 career games with eight.

4. The only real blemish on Aquino’s night was a hanging slider thrown to Jackie Bradley Jr. for a long two-run homer in the third. That was the first ball hit onto Eutaw Street this season and the 89th in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

5. Aquino’s best moment of the night was his curveball to strike out Hanley Ramirez and strand two runners in the top of the fifth. The rookie needed that shutdown frame after his offense gave him four runs in the previous half-inning.

6. Orioles pitchers have now allowed only three runs over their last 42 innings and have registered quality starts in eight of the last nine games. That’s not too shabby with Chris Tillman and Zach Britton currently on the disabled list.

7. Darren O’Day needed only one pitch to register the save, but Mychal Givens did the heavy lifting in the bullpen. He retired the top six hitters in the Boston lineup over two perfect innings. Lefties are also just 1-for-9 against him so far in 2017.

8. I understood Boston’s displeasure over Manny Machado’s hard slide into Dustin Pedroia on Friday — the All-Star third baseman has to wear his reputation stemming from the bat-throwing incident in 2014 — but it was nice to see no retaliation. Hopefully that continues moving forward.

9. The Orioles are now eight games over .500 less than three weeks into the season. It’s only April, but stacking more wins now means a lighter burden down the stretch. A strong first half last year carried them to the playoffs despite mediocre play after the All-Star break.

10. Adam Jones stole his second base of the season to match his total from 2016. It only took him 16 games to do it this time around.

11. Regardless of the number of opposing lefty starters and Buck Showalter pointing to his lack of familiarity with knuckleballers — no hitters see them regularly — Hyun Soo Kim should be getting more at-bats and certainly shouldn’t be losing so many to Craig Gentry, who’s hitting .167.

12. The results weren’t pretty, but Chris Tillman told Showalter it was the “best he’s felt” in a rehab outing for Double-A Bowie against Harrisburg on Saturday. The recent performance of the starting rotation should ease some temptation to rush him back before he’s ready.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 2-0 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 20 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles pitching their first shutout of the 2017 season in a 2-0 win over Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The good Ubaldo Jimenez showed up at a perfect time after Kevin Gausman taxed the bullpen by completing only 2 2/3 innings on Tuesday. The maligned veteran turned in the longest outing of the year by an Orioles starter, allowing only two hits over 7 2/3 scoreless innings.

2. You typically know it’s going to be a good night for Jimenez when he’s inducing more ground balls early. Six of the first eight outs he recorded came on the ground, which kept the defense engaged early.

3. Jimenez did a superb job locating his two-seam fastball down in the zone and later found the feel for his secondary pitches. He only recorded three strikeouts and nine swinging strikes, but the Reds produced little hard contact until late in his outing.

4. The starting pitcher added to the fun by collecting his first hit since 2015. Having spent the first six years of his major league career in the National League, Jimenez is now 34-for-289, but he has never had an extra-base hit.

5. Jimenez collected the victory, but Reds starter Amir Garrett was very impressive, striking out 12 and walking one over his seven innings. His fastball velocity sits in the low 90s, but a 6-foot-5 frame with long arms and legs will make his pitches appear faster.

6. The Orioles struck out 16 times in Wednesday’s win, but they entered the day with the third-fewest strikeouts in the American League. It can be maddening to watch, but remember virtually everyone strikes out in today’s game.

7. Brad Brach looked comfortable in his first save opportunity filling in for the injured Zach Britton as he recorded a 1-2-3 ninth inning on nine pitches. As long as the starting pitching isn’t horrendous, the Orioles should be able to endure a short-term absence from their All-Star closer.

8. We’re only 13 games into a long season, but who would have guessed that Adam Jones would be second on the club in walks with six already? He’s had some really good at-bats so far in 2017.

9. I’m not sure when we’ll see it again, but you could have won some money two months ago if you’d predicted that Trey Mancini would lead off and play left field in the season’s 13th game. His nine-pitch at-bat in the fifth that resulted in a single was impressive.

10. Even with the encouraging updates about his health over the last few days, it’s a no-brainer for Britton to undergo a precautionary MRI on Friday to make sure his forearm strain isn’t something more serious.

11. Jayson Aquino was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to serve as a fresh long man out of the bullpen, but the Orioles fortunately didn’t need to use the left-hander. This increases the likelihood of Alec Asher or Aquino starting against Boston this weekend.

12. With Wednesday’s victory, the Orioles clinched a winning record for their first road trip of 2017. For a club that was a combined 19 games below .500 in away games the previous two years, that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

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