Tag Archive | "Jim Johnson"

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With Saunders inked, would Orioles consider minor-league deal for Jim Johnson?

Posted on 01 August 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles added to their organizational pitching depth Friday by signing left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders to a minor-league deal, leading many to wonder whether former All-Star closer Jim Johnson could be the next former Baltimore pitcher to return to the organization.

After beginning the season in the Rangers’ starting rotation, Saunders was released twice in the month of July and went 0-5 with a 6.13 ERA in eight starts for Texas this season. After being released by the Rangers on July 4, Saunders signed a minor-league deal with the Royals and was let go earlier this week after posting a 6.75 ERA in four starts for Triple-A Omaha.

Of course, Saunders was acquired by the Orioles late in the 2012 season and went 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven starts spanning 44 2/3 innings and was the winning pitcher in the inaugural American League Wild Card Game to send the Orioles to their first American League Division Series appearance since 1997. The 33-year-old went 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA in 32 starts for Seattle last season.

Realistically speaking, Saunders provides little more than some injury insurance as well as an option to pitch in long relief if he can work out the issues that have plagued him all season and prompted two other organizations to give up on him in the last month alone.

The more interesting question presented Friday came after the Oakland Athletics officially released Johnson, who pitched to a disastrous 7.14 ERA in 38 appearances and lost his closer job with his new — and now former — club at the beginning of the season. After Johnson collected a combined 101 saves for the Orioles in 2012 and 2013, executive vice president of baseball operations dealt him to Oakland for infielder Jemile Weeks and catcher David Freitas last winter.

Needless to say, the deal was an utter failure for Oakland while the Orioles haven’t really benefited with their return beyond saving the $10 million the 2012 All-Star selection was set to earn through arbitration in 2014. It’s clear that Johnson needed a change of scenery and a mental break at the very least, but would the Orioles consider bringing back the 31-year-old on a minor-league deal?

Manager Buck Showalter tried to dodge the question on Friday, but it’s no secret that Johnson was one of his favorites in Baltimore.

“We like Jimmy. He pitched real well for us here.” Showalter said. “He’s on his way to Sarasota. I know [pitching rehabilitation coordinator] Scotty McGregor is real close to him. If he becomes completely available, I’m sure a lot of people would have interest in him — including us.”

Showalter mentioning Johnson going to Sarasota was interesting considering it’s the club’s spring training home and the pitcher lives there, making it a compelling landing spot for him to clear his head and figure out his woes to get his career back on track.

Of course, the Orioles just acquired left-handed reliever Andrew Miller to sure up the back end of the bullpen and don’t have a pressing need, but Johnson’s track record wouldn’t make it a terrible idea to see if the organization can fix his problems — he averaged 5.1 walks per nine innings and posted a 2.06 WHIP in Oakland — and make him a middle relief option later this year or even next. Prior to this season, Johnson had pitched to an ERA under 3.00 in three consecutive seasons and was an above-average reliever in the AL for a number of years.

Just like the Saunders signing, a potential move to ink Johnson to a minor-league deal should be viewed with very little consequence and no serious expectations, but the familiar surroundings of the Orioles organization would seem to be a good fit if the reliever is to get his career back on track. Johnson was quite fond of his time in Baltimore and was quite emotional upon learning he had been traded last December.

Above all, it’s the kind of reclamation project that has Duquette and the Orioles written all over it, which would make his return not the least bit surprising.

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Former Orioles closer Johnson DFA’d by Athletics

Posted on 24 July 2014 by WNST Staff

A’s Recall Scribner from Sacramento; Designate Johnson for Assignment

OAKLAND, Calif. – The Oakland A’s recalled right-handed pitcher Evan Scribner from Triple-A Sacramento and designated right-handed pitcher Jim Johnson for assignment, the club announced today.

Scribner was on the A’s Opening Day roster and tossed 1.1 scoreless innings in two appearances before he was optioned to Sacramento April 7. He returned for a second stint June 17 but did not appear in a game before he was sent back to the River Cats June 20. The 29-year-old right-hander is 4-1 with a 3.35 ERA and .243 opponents batting average in 31 games with Sacramento and ranks fourth in the Pacific Coast League with 14 saves. Scribner has 57 strikeouts in 37.2 innings, an average of 13.62 strikeouts per nine innings, and has walked just seven for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.14.

Johnson was 4-2 with two saves, one blown save, a 6.92 ERA and .353 opponents batting average in 38 relief appearances with the A’s. The ERA is the highest among Major League relievers as is his .434 opponents on-base percentage. His opponents batting average is the highest in the American League. Johnson has allowed 12 runs on 13 hits in 4.1 innings over his last five games.

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David Price

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Orioles Need to Practice What They Preach

Posted on 13 December 2013 by WNST Staff

We have heard it all offseason; we have heard it for the past decade. After Orioles owner Peter Angelos was quoted saying Baltimore is a “limited market.” GM Dan Duquette has reiterated those sentiments, discussing the minute “resources” and trying to stay “competitive” against the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox.  

 

We all know the real story there; the owner refuses to open his wallet, knowing he is going to take $3.50 from every household in the Baltimore area for his MASN network. The reports circle every offseason how much Angelos grosses from his TV deal, but we all know that money will never be re-allocated to the roster, while he is in charge.

 

In the end, he is the owner and that is his prerogative; he can basically run his “business” however he so chooses (even if that means spitting in the face of those who fatten his pockets; but that’s a different story, which is already well reported by the WNST staff). If Angelos is going to stick to that “business plan” (if you want to call it that), then the team must operate as such.

 

Every offseason for the past ten or so years, we hear about those players that the Orioles are “interested” in acquiring.  Whether it is Mark Teixeira or Zack Greinke or Nelson Cruz, everyone knows the real story; the team will not pony up enough to garner their services, but cry that those players would not sign in Baltimore. So as a fan base, this is a plea for the the organization to stop with this nonsense.

 

It is time for the Orioles front office to embrace the “limited market” mantra they have been spewing for years. Stop acting as if the team will be actual players in the offseason; start acting like the team that will build from within.

 

Andy McPhail started that idea years ago; after moving Erik Bedard for Adam Jones (a move that panned out pretty damn well).  But those are the smart (and tough) decisions the organization has evaded, since their resurgence in 2012.  Take emotion out of your moves; basically make decisions with your head and not your heart.

 

The team traded away Closer Jim Johnson, one year too late and could not capitalize on his value at the time.  A contending team like the Dodgers or Tigers or Cardinals (I know I’ve said this before) would have given up an everyday player or at least some top level prospects in return if they would have pulled the trigger last offseason. Instead, the Orioles received a struggling 25 year, who was demoted to Triple A in 2013.

 

The same goes for fan favorite Matt Wieters; he’s been a gold-glover and an All-Star, but is he really worth the $100 that his agent (noted Orioles pain in the ass, Scott Boras) will ask for. The question is now what can you get in return for an overworked catcher, who is slow and cannot hit above .250?  If they would have considered moving Wieters before last season, they would have returned several top prospects and MLB players, while his value was at an all-time high.  Now, no one can even be  sure Wieters can get back even one everyday player or starting pitcher.

 

The point is that if you want to pretend that Baltimore is such a “limited” market than put your business plan in place as such.  Do not keep stringing along the hopes of fans holding out that the team will actually sign a Shin Shoo-Choo; start following the same model of successful “limited” market teams, like the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

Before last season, they traded away a pretty good top-of-the-rotation starter in James Shields. In return they only received…the top prospect in baseball in OF Wil Myers and the Royals best pitching prospect, Jake Odorizzi.  

 

David PriceNow the team is in the same bind with former Cy Young Award Winner, David Price.  Since their actual resources are limited, they understand they cannot retain him under their budget.  In turn, the Rays, a perennial winning franchise in baseball, is looking to deal one of the top five best pitchers in the entire MLB.

 

And why? Because they understand value and have a business plan in place for the next several years.  They are stocked with young talent on throughout their farm system and continually replace players, like Price or Shields, with more top prospects.  

 

The Orioles brass seem to have little grasp of this concept, especially after standing still for the past two offseasons.  The tough moves are always the hardest, but will always help in the long scheme of things.  If the front office has no intentions of keeping around some of the team’s “star” players in the not too distant future, (i.e. Chris Davis) then why not make the tough decision now.  

 

Chris Davis ShirtIf the slugger is not in your future plans or budget, then why not recoup as much as possible for players the Orioles will have control over for the next seven-eight years.  Teams would be lining up with their best offers to acquire the services of a power-hitting first baseman with two years left of team control.

 

But then again this is the Orioles we are talking about. They will bank you parking your butt in the seats at Camden Yards for the next two seasons, to watch “Crush” hit bombs towards the warehouse.  All the while, you handing them money for tickets and hot dogs and beers and merchandise.

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Jim Johnson

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Johnson Trade Too Little, Too Late

Posted on 03 December 2013 by WNST Staff

Its official; no one will get that queezy feeling at Camden Yards in the 9th inning, when hearing “The Pretender” anymore.  Jim Johnson was moved to the Oakland Athletics for second baseman,  Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later.  What a difference a year makes.

Jim JohnsonIf the Orioles moved Johnson before last season (like I said here and here), they would have had a pick of the litter of players from several different contending teams.  What would have the Tigers or Dodgers or Cardinals have done to sure up their closing roles before 2013? It sure as hell would have been more than a 26 year old second baseman with “potential.”

The lack of proactive nature by the organization has cost the Orioles a great deal, in terms of on-field production.  Johnson has been a good relief pitcher for years, but his value was at his highest at the end of 2012 playoff season.  For a team that wants to build with youth, to sustain success for the future, making tough decisions, with generally likeable guys, is simply a must.

Jemile WeeksAs for the return, Baltimore receives a player, in Weeks, that could be the everyday second baseman (but confidence in that actually panning out has to pretty low at this point).  After being called up in 2011 (which he played 96), he posted a .303 average and .421 OPS, with 22 stolen bases. But following his stellar first MLB season, things went awfully wrong for the 12th overall pick in the 2008 draft.  Hitting just .211 in 2012, leading to a demotion by the A’s; playing in only nine games in the majors in 2013.  Though he had decent numbers in the minors last season (.271 avg, .376 OPS, 17 stolen bases), Weeks could not have foreseen his career path heading in this direction.

But what could Orioles really expect to recoup in a trade for a player everyone in the MLB knows they will not pay $10 million?  Johnson was one of the most inconsistent relief pitchers in baseball last year; leading the league in saves and blown saves. He never had dominating “stuff” to finish out games, did not have enough strikeouts as a closer and put too many runners on base.

Could Johnson have contributed for the Orioles in 2014? Absolutely.  If Buck Showalter would move him back into a less-volatile role, in the 7th or 8th inning (like he was pre-2012), there is a good chance he could regain his form.  But with the manager’s loyalty, Buck would probably be too tempted to throw Johnson into a game with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.  The team simply had to move on and got the only thing possible in return; potential.

Jim JohnsonThe same fans that wanted to DFA (designate for assignment), essentially releasing Johnson for nothing, halfway through last year, now are complaining about the balance of this trade.  As for the organization “saving” all that money, this is baseball, there is no salary cap, teams can pay players whatever they like. There is no cash limit in baseball that teams have to adhere to and the Orioles are no where near the luxury tax threshold. And with an organization that has a successful television network, cost-cutting on a contending team is inexcusable.

Did the Orioles clear some dead money off the books? Yes. Will they use that money to acquire much needed depth on the big league club? Only the next couple weeks will tell. Of course, Peter Angelos could just pocket that money and let his “baseball people” make the baseball decisions, with the roster as it stands.

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Showalter leaving door open for ninth-inning options besides Johnson

Posted on 16 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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BALTIMORE — With the Orioles returning home following a deflating three-game sweep at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the question on everyone’s mind was who would take the ball in the ninth inning for manager Buck Showalter.

Having blown his last three save opportunities to run his total to a league-worst nine for the season, closer Jim Johnson told reporters in the Orioles clubhouse that he remains confident and that Showalter continues to express confidence in him. And while it’s true that the Baltimore manager maintained Friday that Johnson was still the best option on the team, he also provided himself wiggle room to make a change if he feels it to be necessary.

“I think we have a lot of options and he’s one of them,” Showalter said. “We’re lucky to have all those options. Different guys have failure. I know the finality of it and I know the questions should and need to be asked and it’s frustrating for Jimmy and me. I’m frustrated for him. There’s some things we haven’t done in other innings, too, but I understand the finality of that inning.”

Johnson still leads the majors with 39 saves, but the embattled right-hander is just 9-for-16 in one-run saves as many have pointed to the Orioles’ horrendous 56-9 mark when leading after eight innings and an underwhelming 14-21 record in one-run games after going a remarkable 29-9 in contests decided by one run last year. Those ugly realities have led most to the conclusion that the Orioles need to make a change at the closer spot — at least temporarily.

Showalter has repeatedly expressed his confidence in Johnson this year — including when the 30-year-old reliever blew four of five save chances in late May — but that loyalty is now appearing to contradict the ultimate goal of winning enough games to qualify for postseason play. If Showalter is planning a change, it comes as no surprise that he isn’t broadcasting that for both competitive reasons and respect for the 2012 All-Star closer.

Some have suggested even just giving Johnson a mental and physical respite for a number of days to see if that straightens him out for the stretch run, but the club has already tried to do that at a couple points this season, according to Showalter. If the next save opportunity comes Friday or later this weekend or even next week, the Orioles aren’t tipping their hand whether it will once again be Johnson or somebody else trotting to the hill in the ninth inning.

“If we decide to do that, there’s not going to be some big announcement,” Showalter said. “It will be something I’ve talked to people about and you’ll probably know about it when the gate opens. There are a lot of things that have to be done for us to get 27 outs before they score more runs than we do.”

Even Showalter’s biggest supporters have questioned the sanity of continuing to use Johnson in the ninth inning, a reality not lost on the manager as the Orioles start an important nine-game homestand to take them to the final days of August.

He’s very aware that the Orioles have lost some games that they shouldn’t have won, but Showalter’s intense loyalty to his players that is typically viewed as his greatest strength looks much more like a weakness at this point.

“I’m a fan, too. I get frustrated. We’re all fans of the Orioles,” Showalter said. “I’m a fan of the Orioles and I want us to win. If there are adjustments that need to be made along the way, I understand the sense of urgency with 42 games [left]. But I also know we’re still in a position to do what we set out to do this season and we won’t give in.”

No timetable for Adair’s return to club

As the organization did in announced Rick Adair’s personal leave of absence on Friday morning, Showalter remained respectful of his privacy and would not divulge any details about the circumstances with which the pitching coach is dealing.

Bullpen coach Bill Castro will assume the duties of pitching coach while former Orioles left-hander and minor-league instructor Scott McGregor will serve as the interim bullpen coach. Castro has major league experience as a pitching coach after previously serving in that capacity with the Milwaukee Brewers as recently as 2009.

Many reacted to the news by immediately speculating that this was a polite way to dismiss Adair, but the Orioles have been emphatic that the reason for the leave of absence isn’t related to his job performance. We could eventually learn there is more to this story, but it’s also important to remember coaches and players are also human beings with everyday trials just like anyone else.

“We all have some things in our lives we need to take care of that are more important than this, believe it or not,” Showalter said. “We’re just fortunate to be in an organization that is willing to do those things, and we’re fortunate to have people like Billy and Scott that can make it seamless. It has nothing to do with the job Rick is doing. Rick’s been doing a good job. Just some challenges we all have that we need to take some time and take care of.”

Showalter held a team meeting Friday afternoon to inform them of the shuffling along the coaching ranks and to address any rumors that might hear about Adair’s absence. Castro met with Orioles pitchers individually prior to the series opener against Colorado.

Gausman dealing with arm soreness

After top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery earlier in the season, the last thing Orioles fans wanted to hear Friday was that 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman was skipped in the Triple-A Norfolk rotation with some soreness in his right arm.

Showalter made it clear that this isn’t considered to be anything serious, but the club also presented a similar prognosis when Bundy first complained of forearm discomfort. Of course, pitchers frequently deal with sore or tired arms and it doesn’t mean Gausman is facing any type of long-term issue at this time, but it will be something the Orioles will monitor for the time being.

“He feels good. He’s not happy about not pitching, but just had a little soreness,” Showalter said. “[It will] probably be the last time he ever tells us about it. That’s usually how it goes. They don’t seem alarmed about it. There was some give and take about whether they were even going to do it.”

The good news is that Showalter acknowledged the extra rest would benefit Gausman in terms of his workload and referred to the likely scenario of Gausman helping out the major league club in September and beyond.

Gausman last pitched on Aug. 8 when he allowed two earned runs in five innings of work for the Tides.

Changing it up

For the second time over the last week, Showalter flipped first baseman Chris Davis and right fielder Nick Markakis in the batting order as Davis was hitting third and Markakis fifth in Friday’s lineup against the Colorado Rockies.

Showalter admitted there were a variety of reasons for making the change, ranging from a desire to get Davis more at-bats to simply wanting to shake things up in hopes of jump-starting the offense. With both Davis and Markakis swinging from the left side, the change keeps the lineup in order in terms of making it difficult for a bullpen to match up in the late innings as Showalter frequently alternates right-handers and left-handers.

“Nick doesn’t care if he hits ninth, first, second, third, twelfth. He would probably have a problem with hitting twelfth,” Showalter quipped. “It’s just something we feel like is a good approach for today. We’ll see where it takes us.”

While Davis is in the midst of an MVP-caliber year, Markakis’ .282 batting average, .335 on-base percentage, and .372 slugging percentage are all career lows, making an easy argument against the right fielder remaining in the No. 3 slot in the lineup. It will also be interesting to see what it means for Davis with Adam Jones hitting directly behind him in the order compared to either Matt Wieters or J.J. Hardy as we’ve seen for most of the season.

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Time for Buck to Switch Things Up

Posted on 14 August 2013 by WNST Staff

Buck Showalter has been given the ultimate pass for everything he can do as a manager, because he revived the entire baseball community in Baltimore.  Yet he has shown an unyielding stubbornness with his current group of players. Buck has backed the likes of Jim Johnson, Jason Hammel and others, almost to a fault, possibly losing key games throughout the season.

Now this has not always been the case for the O’s skipper, who earned a reputation as a dictator or tyrant in his previous stints.  There is no denying he is one of the most intelligent minds in the sport, but was not always accessible to his players.  He basically wore out his welcome with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers, but left all those franchises in good terms for the near future (especially New York and Arizona, who went on to win championships the year after his departure).

He spent some time with ESPN, where his analysis alone, led people to believe he was ready to take over the helm of another franchise.  And that’s where the young core that Andy McPhail built in Baltimore came in.  Buck was the right manager, at the right time, for a team with a lot of young talent, but little experience.

He seemed to turn over a new leaf, when coming to Baltimore; being more approachable by his players and communicating his ideas to the entire organization.  The bond he made with rising stars, like Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, is evident on and off the field.  He basically pulled a 180 with his demeanor from his past jobs.  The problem arises now, with a team trying to make a second straight playoff appearance, where he lets his heart and not his mind make some of his decisions.

Buck continually sends Jim Johnson out in the 9th inning, following the save rule to a tee (even if he says he does not believe in it). Johnson now has eight blown saves on the season and is accountable for at least seven losses for the Orioles.  Even in the games which Johnson finishes the job, he has struggled, putting runners on base and giving up runs.  That has all led to his 3.42; which would be great for a starter, but really below average for pitcher who is relied on to finish one inning.  I was a big advocate of Johnson not lasting at the closer spot, for the long-term, and should have moved on in the offseason, while his value was at an all-time high (noted here).

The Orioles acquired Francisco Rodriguez,  who does hold the all-time single season save record (even though that was 2008 with the Angels).  Though he has not pitched up to that prowess since 2009 (his first season with the Mets), he posted stellar numbers in the first half of the season (10 saves 1.09 ERA, 1.054 WHIP) with the Brewers, while switching from set-up man to closer.

Now Rodriguez has not played as well with the Orioles, having issues giving up the long ball, but actually has a lower WHIP (.875) with the Orioles.  He has the “closer mentality” and stuff to strike out players in the pressure situations. It would behoove Buck to at least see what he has in closer spot now, before its too late.

Moving Johnson out of the 9th inning also adds depth to the back end of the bullpen.  Johnson was an excellent set-up man two years ago and could rotate with the likes of Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz late in close games.  This will add rest to some of the most overworked relievers for the Orioles (and all of baseball).  Add in a decision to be made on the 5th starter spot by Sunday (where the team has listed TBA for the starting pitcher spot on Sunday; Scott Feldman’s turn in the rotation), which could add Feldman into the mix in the bullpen for the foreseeable future.

Other options to put into the closer spot include: O’Day, Hunter and a September call-up to Kevin Gausman.  In the end, Buck could go the “Moneyball” route, using a closer by committee, with two or three options to finish games (depending on match-ups and rest).  Either way the time is now to mix up the bullpen; an experiment to put every pitcher on the staff in their best role would suit the Orioles for the stretch run.

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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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Johnson blows seventh save of the year to give Yankees 3-2 win

Posted on 05 July 2013 by WNST Staff

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Roberts likely to be activated over weekend against Yankees

Posted on 27 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 — After no setbacks and some impressive work in his brief rehabilitation stint with Triple-A Norfolk, Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts could make his 2013 home debut this weekend against the New York Yankees.

The 35-year-old was scheduled to play in two games with the Tides on Thursday night — likely serving as the designated hitter in the second one — and is likely to be activated from the 60-day disabled list at some point over the weekend, according to manager Buck Showalter. Roberts was 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored in his first rehab game on Tuesday and walked twice on Wednesday before rain suspended the contest between Norfolk and Columbus.

“I think we have a good chance to see Brian over the weekend,” said manager Buck Showalter, who’s received favorable reports on Roberts’ baserunning and defense from Norfolk manager Ron Johnson. “He’s progressing well.”

The Orioles skipper confirmed what most assumed in terms of Roberts’ role upon returning to action for the first time since April 4. The longtime infielder will be the starting second baseman while the club reevaluate how to handle the roles of Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla. The argument could be made to option Flaherty to Norfolk to allow him regular playing time while Casilla would remain in Baltimore, continuing to serve as the club’s utility infielder.

Casilla would have to give his permission to be optioned to the minors and is a speedy backup off the bench in late-inning situations as a pinch runner.

“We’ll spot [Roberts] here or there,” said Showalter, who added that the club has scenarios in which both Flaherty and Casilla remain on the 25-man roster as they were at the start of the season before Roberts’ injury. “[We view] Brian as the same way it was in the spring.”

Flaherty’s ability to play multiple infield positions as well as the corner outfield spots makes him more attractive as a bench piece should the Orioles want to keep him on the 25-man roster, but that would create a potential crunch once outfielder Nolan Reimold is expected to be activated from the DL sometime on the next road trip. That could push platoon DH Danny Valencia back to Norfolk.

For now, Reimold has extended his rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie — it can last up to 20 days but a player must approve it beyond 10 — though Showalter said he could rejoin the Orioles as early as the Chicago series next week. The 29-year-old is just 5-for-33 with 12 strikeouts in nine games with the Baysox.

“The good news is his leg feels really good,” Showalter said. “He’s not having any problems with the hamstring. It’s just getting comfortable at-bat wise.”

Veteran pitcher Freddy Garcia has elected to remain with the organization after weighing his options around the rest of the league over the last 72 hours. Technically, the 36-year-old opted out of his current contract, allowing the Orioles to sign him to a minor-league deal and assign him to Norfolk. This frees up a 40-man roster spot that will likely be used when Roberts is activated from the DL.

Showalter said the right-hander could be used in either a starting or relief role with the Tides, but it appears he will move into the Norfolk rotation for now.

“We were hoping he would [stay],” Showalter said. “It worked out good for both sides and presented some depth for us and we like the way Freddy’s handled himself professionally and pitching at times at both levels.”

The Orioles hadn’t named a starter for Friday’s game prior to the series finale against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night. Showalter acknowledged rookie Kevin Gausman had a light workday earlier this week to account for him not pitching in a game since last Wednesday when he was still with Norfolk, but the manager still wouldn’t give the official word Thursday afternoon.

Lefty long man T.J. McFarland has also remained an option to make the start in the series opener against the Yankees, but Showalter appeared to tip his hand in reference to most media and fans assuming that Gausman would get the ball before ultimately tabbing McFarland as the stater after Thursday’s game.

“You guys know who’s pitching tomorrow,” the manager said coyly at the end of his pre-game media session.

In five starts with the Orioles this season, Gausman is 0-3 with a 7.66 earned run average but fared very well against Detroit and Boston in two of his last three starts prior to being optioned to Norfolk due to needs in the bullpen. He was recalled on Monday to serve as a long man in the bullpen but wasn’t needed in the first three games of the Cleveland series.

Pitching prospect Dylan Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery in Florida at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, but Showalter hadn’t received an update when he spoke with reporters. The surgery was performed by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.

Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia was promoted from Bowie to Norfolk on Thursday, a day after being named to the MLB Futures Game at Citi Field during the All-Star break. He is hitting .365 with seven homers, 37 RBIs, and a .983 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and his defense in the outfield is improving drastically, according to Showalter.

The 26-year-old hadn’t played competitive baseball over the last couple years as he defected from Cuba but was named an Eastern League All-Star as many within the organization think he could present himself as a real option for the major-league roster before season’s end.

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

Posted on 12 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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BALTIMORE — It’s only getting worse for Orioles relief pitcher Pedro Strop.

Fresh off a stint on the 15-day disabled list with what was labeled a lower back strain — many have drawn their owns conclusions on the injury — Strop displayed the same form seen over the first two months of the season Wednesday as he allowed four earned runs and saw his ERA balloon to 7.58 while retiring just one batter in the seventh inning. The implosion turned what was a 4-2 Orioles lead into an eventual 9-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

Despite a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a slider with good movement that enabled him to serve as an elite member of the Baltimore bullpen through the first 4 1/2 months of the 2012 season, Strop is looking more and more like a pitcher whose time with the Orioles is running out.

“Not good,” Strop said in an interview with MASN before leaving the clubhouse as the rest of the media talked to manager Buck Showalter. “Only thing I can say. I couldn’t do the job.”

The Orioles aren’t hiding from Strop’s problems, evident by their decision to place him on the DL and circumvent the reality of the right-hander being out of options. Manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair used the 15-day period as a way for Strop to work on his mechanics in hopes of improving his command after he walked 14 batters in 17 2/3 innings through his first 22 appearances.

However, the organization decided not to send Strop on a minor-league rehab assignment that could have lasted up to 30 days and would have allowed him to continue working on adjustments to his mechanics while rebuilding his confidence against minor-league hitters. There was some thought of that possibility before last week’s oblique injury to Steve Johnson, which prompted the club to activate Strop instead of looking to Triple-A Norfolk for another option.

Even before Wednesday’s implosion, it was perplexing to see the Orioles forgo that strategy with nearly everyone concluding his DL stint was more about ineffectiveness than any legitimate health concern.

It’s understandable to not want to give up on a talented 28-year-old who only became a pitcher in 2006 after beginning his professional career as a shortstop. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette knows at least a few clubs would take a chance on Strop should he be placed on waivers in hopes of getting him to the minor leagues, but the Orioles are also a contending club in the American League East that needs production from every player on the 25-man roster.

“He’s just not getting results,” Showalter said. “He understands it. Nobody cares more about pitching well for this team than Pete.”

It’s easy to criticize Showalter for turning to the volatile Strop after starter Jason Hammel allowed a single to Alberto Callaspo and walked Brad Hawpe on four pitches to begin the seventh inning, but a quick inventory of the bullpen made it easy to see Showalter’s options were limited at best as he acknowledged “two or three” relievers were unavailable without revealing names. Closer Jim Johnson had pitched in three straight games and Tommy Hunter had thrown a total of 51 pitches on Sunday and Monday.

Showalter wouldn’t reveal his late-inning plans when asked, but that presumably left Darren O’Day available for the ninth inning and lefty Brian Matusz to pitch the eighth. As a result, Showalter faced the prospects of sending a tiring Hammel out for the seventh with 94 pitches under his belt and having Strop and lefty Troy Patton — who’s also struggled this season — as his options if the starter ran into trouble. Showalter was rolling the dice for a quick inning by Hammel, but the right-hander was obviously gassed before being replaced by Strop.

Perhaps the Orioles manager could have resisted the urge to use Hammel — who wasn’t exactly dominating hitters despite a statistically-effective outing through six innings — with the thought of a fresh inning with the bases empty being more conducive to Strop having success, but that’s looking with 20-20 hindsight. The reality is Showalter didn’t have great choices at his disposal in the seventh.

“I was hoping [Hammel] could get us through seven, but it wasn’t there,” Showalter said. “That’s kind of where we were. We keep a pretty good log on innings pitched and [pitchers warming up in the bullpen], and I’m not going to put anybody in harm’s way.”

The real issue with the Orioles bullpen is more concerning than the individual struggles of Strop. Beyond the reliable quartet of Johnson, O’Day, Matusz, and Hunter, the Orioles have three other pitchers in the bullpen — Strop, Patton, and Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland — that they can’t really trust in important situations. All have long-term potential to varying degrees, but none can be moved off the 25-man roster without significant risk of losing them.

In fairness, McFarland has pitched respectably as a long reliever in blowout situations, but that’s a role typically held by a pitcher who can easily be moved on and off the roster to address a club’s needs at a given point in the season. It’s a major reason why we saw the one-and-done approach applied with several ineffective starting pitchers earlier in the season and it has further hamstrung the roster flexibility that Showalter and Duquette enjoy having.

The Orioles’ problems in middle relief have led to a heavier dependence on their best relievers, which jeopardizes the club’s long-term viability for the second half of the season. It’s not uncommon for even the best teams in baseball to have shaky options beyond the top three or four pitchers in the bullpen, but the keystone of the Orioles’ 2012 success included the effectiveness of middle relievers like Luis Ayala and Patton in the sixth and seventh innings that spared other late-inning options on occasion.

Baltimore needs improvement from its middle relievers or starting pitching — preferably both — to improve its chances in a tight division in which fourth-place Tampa Bay trailed first-place Boston by only four games entering play on Wednesday.

“We can’t pitch the same guys every night,” he said. “It just doesn’t work, and [Strop] was one of those guys for us last year and has been at times this year, and we hope that he will again. He pitched well and got physically fine and had a couple really good outings, as you saw. It just wasn’t there for him today.”

Bullpens are typically quite fluid over the course of a season, but the Orioles currently have just two pitchers (Matusz and O’Day) with remaining minor-league options and they obviously aren’t going anywhere. That means time is running out for Strop — you can say the same for Patton — to right himself after roughly four months of struggles going back to last year’s regular season.

The talent is there, but the Orioles need last year’s effectiveness to resurface.

They don’t have the flexibility to wait much longer.

 

 

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