Tag Archive | "Jim Johnson"

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

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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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Positive signs all around for the O’s

Posted on 03 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

The Orioles earned their 48th win of the season tonight with a 4-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. Tonight’s game was a complete 180 from last night’s 5-2 loss. Tomorrow, the teams will square off at 2:10 p.m. to determine the winner of the series.

Tonight’s game was filled with positive signs. Scott Feldman made his Orioles debut and was as advertised. Feldman went six innings while giving up two earned runs and six hits. Feldman will be able to eat up more innings but the fact that he was thrown into the fire and performed well was impressive to me.

As always, the bullpen was stellar. Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter, and Jim Johnson pitched one inning a piece and gave up just one combined hit through the three remaining innings.

How could there be an Orioles blog without mentioning Chris Davis? The man is crazy good. We are truly watching one of the greatest regular seasons in baseball history! Davis scored a run, knocked in three more, and is now hitting for an average of .331.

Davis has hit nine RBI in his last four games which date back to June 29 against the New York Yankees. Davis’s stats will continue on their record pace and could even improve. If Brian Roberts can be productive at the bottom of the order, he will act as another lead off man which in turn will put more men on base for the offense.

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Roberts likely to be activated over weekend against Yankees

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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

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

Posted on 12 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 — 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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Your Monday Reality Check: No more “aw shucks” for this team of Buck’s

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Your Monday Reality Check: No more “aw shucks” for this team of Buck’s

Posted on 28 May 2013 by Glenn Clark

Do you remember what Baltimore felt like the morning after the 2009 AFC Championship Game?

I most certainly do. After a long, freezing cold night in the upper deck at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Drew Forrester and I hit the airwaves on the show now known as “The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction” the moment we arrived back in Charm City. We fielded a number of calls relating disappointment and frustration about the Ravens’ loss. We fielded a few calls from people who were shuffling to cancel their planned trips to Tampa Bay for the Super Bowl XLIII. We fielded a ton of calls from people who simply hated the idea of losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But more than any of those, we fielded a number of calls along the lines of this.

“Man…that was such a tough way for the season to end. But what a season it was. I never thought the Ravens would make it to their first AFC Championship Game since the Super Bowl year with a rookie quarterback and a first year head coach. I have so much hope for this team moving forward.”

Remember that feeling? Now do you remember what the feeling was like less than 12 months later when the Ravens fell 20-3 to the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC Divisional Playoff game?

I’ll give you a hint. The response wasn’t quite as forgiving. The response was more along the lines of “I’m not sure Joe Flacco is good enough for the biggest moments and John Harbaugh was completely outclassed.”

Three seasons later the reaction seemed a bit humorous but at the time it was undoubtedly genuine.

I wanted to take you for this trip down memory lane for some perspective about the 2013 Baltimore Orioles and the “elephant in the Warehouse” at the moment, closer Jim Johnson.

It’s not hard to remember the feeling surrounding the Baltimore Orioles after their ALDS Game 5 defeat at the hands of the New York Yankees. There was a very similar feeling in Charm City at that point. Hundreds of fans returned to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to welcome back the Birds, fans took to social media to explain how meaningful the unexpected playoff run was for them and others began to imagine what the postseason appearance would do for building the future of the team.

Things are shaping up to be much different in 2013.

What do you think the reaction to the Baltimore Orioles will be if the team again fails to get out of the Division Series this season? What if unlike in 2012 they were to lose the Wild Card Game this time around? What if they were to fall short in the final week of the season?

In case you were wondering, there were no reports of hundreds of fans waiting for the Washington Capitals outside Verizon Center after their Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers this year in the NHL Playoffs despite the fact that the Caps had won the Southeast Division.

The O’s are now under a significantly different microscope than they were a season ago. The panic from O’s fans surrounding this stretch of four blown saves in five opportunities for Johnson isn’t unreasonable…it’s understandable.

It isn’t acceptable for Orioles fans to think that one of those four games could end up being the difference in making the playoffs or not, the difference in going back to the Wild Card Game or winning the AL East. It isn’t acceptable for Orioles fans to imagine the inability (other than Jason Hammel Monday) of Orioles’ starters to get deep in games to be the difference in whether or not the bullpen has anything left for a September push. It’s unacceptable for Orioles fans to imagine the lack of a #1 starter being the reason why a team with a qualified ace like Justin Verlander or C.C. Sabathia could take them out in a five game series.

That particular scenario is all too familiar.

The struggles of Jim Johnson cannot be dismissed by Orioles fans, nor should they be dismissed by anyone inside the Orioles’ organization. It is honorable that Johnson’s teammates and manager Buck Showalter are standing by him publicly during his struggles,   but they cannot afford to have the “aw shucks” mentality behind closed doors.

This organization has to be approaching a breaking point when it comes to Johnson. They have to be keeping a close eye on whether or not Kevin Gausman is capable of quickly moving past “exciting prospect” and towards “legitimate seven inning starting option.”

What they can’t do is act as though none of these things are legitimate concerns. They’re major concerns. They’re not likely to doom the Orioles at this point in the season, but they could very well make the difference in whether or not this team can surpass their 2012 accomplishments.

There simply won’t be a parade to celebrate “The team that may have made the World Series had it not been for the starting pitching that couldn’t make it deep enough into games and keep the bullpen rested.”

At least I don’t think so.

-G

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Orioles Relievers In Need of Relief

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Orioles Relievers In Need of Relief

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

There are lots of theories about what’s been wrong with Jim Johnson over the last week or so. The analysis (or over-analysis) of baseball can lead us down a lot of different roads, seeking an explanation for why the bottom has dropped out so dramatically on the Orioles’ closer. Sometimes that analysis might lead us to overlook the easiest of answers, but sometimes the easiest answers are the right ones.

The inability of the Orioles starting rotation to simply eat innings has been an issue all season. Now it seems that issue could be taking its toll on the bullpen.

 

It’s not as if last year the O’s did a much better job of covering innings with their starters, but what they were able to do was better hide their issues with a steady stream of arms passing through the revolving door between the big club and its minor league affiliates.

 

This year with fewer players having options remaining, the Orioles have to be more creative with their roster shuffling or risk losing players with promise to the waiver wire when sending them back and forth between the minors and the big club.

 

Last year the Orioles found themselves on the bad side of the run differential equation too. As a result many cast the team as lucky, and deemed their success unsustainable. While they indeed may have been lucky, it was that luck that in large part made them sustainable.

 

This year’s Orioles have a fantastic offense, and are sitting on the right side of the run differential, but they haven’t been able to come up with blowout wins. The blowout losses that fed last season’s run differential debate are gone as well, which hasn’t provided the team with the “luxury” of rolling out the B-bullpen and living to fight another day. As a result, the 3 arms in the bullpen that the O’s seem to trust are being used at an alarming, and likely unsustainable, rate.

 

Jim Johnson

 

Last year Johnson pitched in 71 games in the regular season. That’s 43.8% of the team’s 162.He pitched in 63 wins (67.7%) and only 8 losses (11.5%).

So far this season, Johnson has pitched in half of the team’s 44 games. He’s been in 73.9% of Orioles wins, and also in 23.8% of their losses.

He’s on pace to pitch an incredible 81 games.

 

Darren O’Day

 

In 2012 O’Day pitched in 69 games. That’s 42.5% of the Orioles total. He threw in 48 wins (51.6%) and 21 losses (30.4%).

So far in 2013, he’s thrown in 21 games or 47.7% of the teams total. . He’s been used in 15 wins (65.2%) and 6 losses (28.5%).

O’Day is on pace to pitch in 77 games.

 

Brian Matusz (relief only)

 

Matusz became a member of the Orioles bullpen on 8/24/12, and appeared in 18 games. That’s 47.3% of the 38 games he was available for. He threw in 14 wins (56.5%) and 4 losses (30.4%).

So far in 2013 Matusz has thrown in 21 games or 47.7%. He’s been in for 13 wins (56.5%) and 8 losses (38%).

Matusz is also on a 77 game pace.

 

The absence of Luis Ayala, the ineffectiveness of Pedro Strop, the inconsistency of Troy Patton and Tommy Hunter, and the inexperience of TJ McFarland has left Matusz, O’Day and Johnson to pick up most of the bullpen load when the Orioles are winning. The inability of the starters to pitch deep into games has left more innings to be picked up. And the lack of blowouts, for or against the Orioles, have led those 3 to be used in many more losses than they were last season too.

 

*Of last year’s 1483 innings pitched by the Orioles, 545.1 were covered by the bullpen. That’s 36.6%.

Of this year’s 385 innings pitched by the Orioles, the pen has covered 142.1. That’s 36.9%, or not much of a difference.

If there is a difference it’s that 60 of the Orioles bullpen innings last season were in extra frames. That’s 11%. This year 6 of the pen’s innings have been in extras. That’s just 4%.

In innings 1-9, the bullpen covered 34% in 2012 and is covering 37% of those innings in 2013.

 

All of this makes Buck Showalter’s decision to pull Freddy Garcia after just 66 pitches on Monday that much more curious as it led to 5 relievers and 76 pitches to cover innings 7-10.

 

For all of the talk of which Orioles the Orioles could least afford to lose, Matusz, Johnson and O’Day should probably be on the list ahead of Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis or anyone else. More concerning it seems only a matter of time before one or more of these guys’ workloads cost them their health,

 

Last but not least, while no one is Mariano Rivera, it’s kind of interesting that baseball’s greatest closer has only pitched in 70 or more games 3 times in his career. In 2001 Rivera pitched 71 times and famously blew the World Series against the Diamondbacks. In 2004 her pitched in 74 games and then blew 3 post-season saves. And in 2005 he pitched 71 times and had 2 appearances in an unremarkable post season.

 

If the great Mariano was made mortal in seasons with 70 or more appearances, how much of Jim Johnson’s post-season struggles could we attribute to overuse? What might happen on his way to 81 appearances this season?

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What’s next for Jim Johnson and the ninth inning?

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What’s next for Jim Johnson and the ninth inning?

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Luke Jones

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

If you weren’t already concerned after consecutive blown saves last week, it’s difficult not be pushing the panic button after Orioles closer Jim Johnson failed to protect another ninth-inning lead in a deflating 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Monday night.

In a week’s time, Johnson went from holding a franchise-record 35 consecutive save conversions to facing questions over whether manager Buck Showalter needs to look elsewhere in the ninth inning after three consecutive blown saves. Of course, the current six-game losing streak isn’t making things any easier as the Orioles have now dropped to 23-21 in the American League East.

Johnson has blown as many saves over the last seven days as he did in the entire 2012 season, so what do you do if you have a lead in the ninth inning the next time out? The Baltimore skipper was asked whether he’d hesitate to go to the 2012 All-Star reliever in the next save situation and his answer wasn’t surprising.

“Come back tomorrow and watch it again,” Showalter said.

Showalter clearly needed to offer unwavering support and by no means should the Orioles bury the right-handed reliever who played a critical role in their first postseason appearance in 15 years last season, but you wonder if a temporary adjustment needs to be made in how the club views the ninth inning. The location of Johnson’s pitches has been a major concern as his normally-dominating sinker that typically induces plenty of ground balls has too often been left up in the strike zone.

Johnson acknowledged he’s been working to make a few adjustments in his delivery, which has looked rushed and has given off the appearance that he’s overthrowing at different times over his last three outings.

“First, [I'm adjusting] a little bit of mechanics,” said Johnson, whose earned run average has ballooned from 0.95 to 4.22 over the three-game period. “Obviously, I’m not getting the ball where I need it to be. I’ve watched a lot of tape, and we’re working on certain things. Staying tall over the rubber a little longer. I’ll figure it out. There is no other option.”

To suggest Johnson should lose the job entirely would be an absurd tactic after he converted 51 of 54 opportunities to set a franchise record last season. Beyond that, Johnson has been a mainstay in the Orioles bullpen since 2008 except for a 2010 campaign partially derailed by an elbow injury.

It’s very possible we’ll look back at this current three-game stretch as an aberration, which is supported by the fact that Johnson reeled off 14 straight saves to begin the season and put the bad taste of a difficult 2012 postseason behind him.

However, closing out ballgames in the major leagues is a difficult task and history shows countless relievers having brilliant stretches as closers that couldn’t be sustained over multiple seasons. It’s also fair to point out that Johnson’s style of pitching to contact is unconventional compared to most strikeout-minded closers and would suggest his unbelievable 2012 campaign might be difficult to repeat when so many balls are put in play.

Truthfully, Johnson hasn’t held the closer role for such a long period that would deem him untouchable no matter how prolonged the struggles might be.

Some will point to Johnson’s heavy workload — he’s appeared in 22 of the Orioles’ 44 games this season — and suggest a mental and physical respite could be the perfect elixir while providing him with time to work on his mechanics in side sessions. However, any attempt to do so would put even more strain on Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz, the club’s other primary late-inning options.

“We are not worried about Jim,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “We need to play better as a team. Once Jim gets rolling again, he will be [fine]. The whole team is not playing well right now, and there were things we could have done earlier in the game to give him a two or three-run cushion.”

The Orioles have no choice but to keep their faith in Johnson for the long haul, but in the meantime, it may not hurt to temporarily return to the mantra that Showalter used upon arriving in Baltimore in 2010. Famously proclaiming he was more interested in the win rule than the save rule, the manager could look more closely at opposing hitters due up in the ninth inning and match up a bit more using O’Day and Matusz in addition to Johnson.

For example, the first four hitters due up in the ninth inning of Monday’s game were left-handed, which suggests that could have been a time to allow the lefty specialist Matusz to start the inning with Johnson warming in the bullpen and ready to enter against any right-handed pinch-hitters.

Such a strategy wouldn’t need to be permanent but would take some of the ninth-inning burden off the 29-year-old until he’s once again confident in his mechanics and pitch location. Or, perhaps it’s as simple as the Orioles benefiting from a couple blowout games — preferably on the winning end, of course — in which the reliever could enter in a low-pressure situation to do some fine-tuning on the mound.

But a luxury such as that is difficult to plan for in the midst of the Orioles’ longest losing streak in almost a year.

“Three of [the losses] are my fault,” Johnson said. “The other guys do their job. If I do mine, we’re not standing here. I think everyone is doing a great job. I’m not pulling my weight, but I’ll figure it out.”

Regardless of how the ninth inning is handled in the immediate future, the Orioles need Johnson to figure it out.

And quickly.

 

 

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Orioles’ success mirrors their anchor in ninth inning

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Orioles’ success mirrors their anchor in ninth inning

Posted on 11 May 2013 by Luke Jones

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

There was a time not long ago when many doubted that Jim Johnson held the right mindset or ability for the Orioles’ closer role.

The 29-year-old right-hander certainly doesn’t fit the description of most ninth-inning men. Not only does Johnson strike out fewer batters than the typical closer but he fanned fewer hitters per nine innings (5.4) than any regular member of the Baltimore bullpen last season.

But that didn’t stop Johnson from collecting a club-record and major league-leading 51 saves and being named to his first All-Star team in 2012 as the Orioles advanced to the postseason for the first time in 15 years. His heavy sinker that induces ground ball after ground ball has allowed him to convert 35 consecutive save opportunities, breaking Randy Myers’ franchise record in Friday night’s remarkable 9-6 comeback victory in 10 innings.

In many ways, Johnson’s success mirrors the Orioles’ prosperity as it was late in the 2011 season when he took over the closer role for good after mixed results in brief stints prior to that. The club finished that season going 14-8 in what’s now viewed as a precursor to the remarkable 2012 season. Since Sept. 7, 2011, Johnson’s 72 saves are the most in baseball and the Orioles have gone 129-91. Many have struggled to explain the success both have found, but that’s just fine with Johnson.

“I think it is more about knowing what kind of pitcher you are,” Johnson said. “I do it differently than other people. When I first started, I tried to be something I wasn’t. I tried to be a typical closer and strike guys out all the time and that is not who I am. Then, I reverted back to pitching how I normally do and good results followed.”

Johnson’s journey to become arguably the best closer in baseball hasn’t been a smooth one as it was only in 2010 when his career appeared to be at a crossroads. Struggling out of the gate with a 6.52 ERA in 10 appearances, Johnson was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk before it was discovered that he was dealing with right elbow inflammation.

It was during a rehabilitation stint in August of that season when Johnson first met new Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who had traveled to Bowie to see how the reliever was progressing. In one of his favorite stories to tell about his closer, Showalter explained how he saw Johnson give up a home run on a changeup that was clocked at 88 miles per hour.

Upon seeing his new manager when getting back to the dugout, Johnson asked Showalter what he thought. The manager quipped that he needed to work on that pitch, fully understanding the right-hander was working on his array of pitches during the outing against Double-A hitters who were otherwise overmatched. Even then as Johnson was just working his way back to form, Showalter knew he had something special to work with out of the bullpen.

“It was the first time I saw him,” Showalter said. “But that’s what [the good ones] look like.”

For years, the debate continued whether Johnson would be better suited to start or relieve as even Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer believed his four-pitch repertoire — the sinker, a nasty curveball, an underrated changeup, and a four-seam fastball — would make him a successful starter. Coming up through the Orioles system as a starter, Johnson was named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year as well as the Carolina League pitcher of the year for the 2005 season.

Showalter can’t help but draw comparisons between Johnson and future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, whom he managed at the end of his tenure as Yankees manager. Rivera followed a similar progression in beginning his career as a starter before moving to middle relief and eventually closing out victories for a winning club. Before briefly reconsidering Johnson’s role two years ago, Showalter decided the ninth inning would be the perfect place for him.

“Jimmy’s been through all those same processes,” said Showalter in comparing him to Rivera. “I thought it was the best for him to stay healthy with a lot of the things that go on with pitchers. The biggest thing is his ability as a pitcher. He has multiple ways to get you out.”

The Orioles saw their faith in Johnson rewarded in 2012 as he saved 51 of 54 opportunities to become the first Baltimore closer since George Sherrill to make the All-Star team. He began his current streak of 35 straight save conversions on July 30 of last season, but it was his postseason failure that stung the most for Orioles fans after Johnson had been so outstanding all year.

In Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Johnson entered in the ninth inning with the game tied 2-2 before allowing the go-ahead home run to Yankees catcher Russell Martin and five runs total in the inning as the Orioles fell 7-2. Game 3 brought an even more painful result as Johnson came on in the ninth inning with the Orioles holding a 2-1 lead at Yankee Stadium and gave up the game-tying home run to Raul Ibanez. Baltimore lost the game in extra innings as it was the only time since Aug. 8, 2011 that the Orioles have lost a game in which they held a lead at the end of seven innings.

Johnson took full responsibility for the postseason struggles by waiting at his locker for reporters after both losses. Instead of dwelling on those failures and allowing the disappointment to linger into the 2013 season, the closer has converted all 14 save opportunities and entered Saturday tied for the major-league lead in saves.

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Drew’s Morning Dish — Mon., April 29

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Drew’s Morning Dish — Mon., April 29

Posted on 29 April 2013 by Drew Forrester

I refrained from reading any national or local re-caps of the 2013 NFL Draft over the weekend.  Why?  Mainly because I didn’t want to hear or see what folks thought about individual teams and how “well” they did in picking players who have never played a game in their life that mattered.

I laughed right along with everyone else on Thursday night when the Bills stumped all the talking heads by going with E.J. Manuel instead of Ryan Nassib.

You probably giggled too, right?

“The Bills…” you said.  ”What on earth do THEY know about picking a quarterback?  Geez, just go back and look at their recent list of failures.  J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick…”

My guess is that most people were saying the exact same thing about the Ravens in 2008 when they took that Flacco kid out of Delaware in the first round.

“The Ravens…what on earth do THEY know about picking a quarterback?  Geez, just go back and look at their recent list of failures.  Kyle Boller, Chris Redman, Derek Anderson, Anthony Wright, Steve McNair.”

See what I mean?

There’s no sense in judging any of these picks until we see how they all play out, including guys like Manuel and Geno Smith and Manti Te’o.

Just let ‘em play.  We’ll see who knew what they’re doing in this year’s draft in 2015.

And save the silly draft report cards for the experts who have to give grades so it looks like they know what they’re talking about.

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Caps and Rangers again, huh?

Fourth time in five years, I believe.

It’s getting to be old hat, but the two teams usually provide for some interesting hockey in the post-season.

I’m taking the Caps in five games.  I know, I know, that’s very risky considering the Capitals are perennial playoff gaggers.  But I don’t think this Rangers team is any good and, particularly without Marian Gaborik, I just don’t think they have the firepower to overcome this suddenly offensive-minded Washington squad.

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That Billy Horschel guy who won this week’s PGA Tour event in New Orleans is the real deal.  Watch and see…he’ll be on the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team.  Dude’s a player.

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Buck’s obviously a little concerned about bullpen overuse already and it’s only April 28.

How else can you explain his decision on Sunday for not bringing in Jim Johnson to close the 8-6 lead in the 9th inning?

I’m not criticizing him for it, mind you.  I think it was the right thing to do.  He knows a lot more about these guys and their durability than we do.  Plus, if you really like to pin losses on people, go ahead and put the blame for Sunday’s debacle on Pedro Strop.  He inherited a 4-run lead on Saturday and, per his typical form, put enough guys on base that Buck had no choice but to go with J.J. to close the game out.

So, what you saw on Sunday was a by-product of the manager simply not wanting to go back to the well for the 6th time in seven games and use his closer.

Nothing would wreck the season – as evidenced by the display produced by Brian Matusz and Strop on Sunday in Oakland – like an injury to Jim Johnson.

If you have to almost-intentionally eat a loss in late April and then perhaps again once every 6-8 weeks just to keep your best pitchers fresh and healthy, go ahead and do it, I say.

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Greg Norman blasted golf’s drug testing procedures over the weekend during a trip to Australia.  Rather than subject players to urine tests, as is the case now, Norman is demanding blood tests for golfers on the PGA TOUR.  He’s adamant about it.  The 2-time British Open champion even went as far to say, “Anyone who uses an illegal substance to improve their performance or their physical well-being is cheating, period.  And there’s no room in the game for that.  It sickens me.”

Sounds to me like a guy who knows something’s going on with someone, in particular, and it’s The Shark’s way of putting him on notice.

As I read through the quotes, he was just a little too emphatic about it for someone who is “just trying to send a message” about fair play.

Norman knows someone’s cheating.  He won’t say who.  But he knows.

 

 

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Familiar predicament emerging in back end of Orioles rotation

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Familiar predicament emerging in back end of Orioles rotation

Posted on 24 April 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The writing was on the wall for the Orioles after starting pitcher Jake Arrieta’s early struggles made it apparent he wasn’t going to stick in Baltimore.

As was the case for large portions of last season, the rotation carousel is in full motion as right-hander Josh Stinson was the first to receive an opportunity just a few weeks after being claimed off waivers from the Oakland Athletics. The 25-year-old had gone through that process two other times in the last year, giving off the impression that he’s talented enough to want but not good enough to keep for the long haul.

Manager Buck Showalter chose Stinson over other candidates Zach Britton and Freddy Garcia — citing positive reviews from Triple-A Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin — and was asked whether this was a one-shot opportunity for the right-hander or if he would receive an extended look spanning a few starts. The Baltimore skipper’s response was familiar, especially when remembering the Orioles used 12 different starting pitchers last season.

“I’m looking at it as, ‘We’ll see,’” Showalter said. “Ask me after Wednesday if it was one shot. Would you like to have [only] one shot in the big leagues? I hope not. I hope he pitches well and he pitches again Monday in Seattle.”

It didn’t happen as Stinson was immediately optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk following the 6-5 extra-inning loss to Toronto to end a 6-3 homestand. Stinson showed a few impressive breaking pitches at different points but allowed four home runs and was lifted in the sixth inning. Another opportunity in Baltimore could lie ahead, but it’s clear Stinson will have to work his way back up the pecking order to do so.

Next man up to the plate — or to the hill, in this case.

As for Monday’s start, the Orioles will likely be looking at the same candidates they did this time around as these decisions are often based strongly on the timing of the start and how it coincides with the schedule of the Norfolk rotation. The club will call up an extra arm to pitch out of the bullpen for the next few days, but Mike Belfiore, their only reliever at Norfolk who is currently on the 40-man roster aside from Alex Burnett, hasn’t pitched well to begin the season. Burnett was optioned on Wednesday and isn’t allowed to be recalled for 10 days unless he is replacing a player sent to the disabled list.

Considering they’d only be bringing up a reliever for a few days, the Orioles would like to avoid making a 40-man roster move if possible.

The Orioles could also elect to simply recall Britton or select the contract of fellow Norfolk starter Jair Jurrjens and give that pitcher a couple innings on either Thursday or Friday, which would prevent an additional roster move and serve as a vessel to adjust their scheduled day to start to fall on Monday in Seattle. Garcia pitched on Tuesday night and would be going on only one extra day of rest if he’s deemed the guy for Monday, but he wouldn’t provide the same flexibility to pitch out of the bullpen for at least an additional day.

Right-hander Steve Johnson would earn strong consideration for the start under normal circumstances, but he just started a rehab assignment in Triple A on Wednesday, allowing four earned runs in five innings of work against Charlotte.

The options are there, but finding a good one is the real challenge. If any of these pitchers were proven solutions, they’d likely already be part of the Baltimore rotation or pitching elsewhere in the big leagues.

Despite the improved stability of the starting rotation entering spring training, you knew the Orioles would find themselves in this spot sooner rather than later. Their best hope is that one of the many candidates they have in the farm system can emerge in the way Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman did last year.

Until then, let the plethora of roster moves begin.

End of extras streak

An incredible stretch of 17 consecutive wins in extra-inning games in the regular season came to an end on Wednesday as closer Jim Johnson walked in the go-ahead run in the 11th inning.

It was the third straight day Johnson had pitched, but his outing started strongly enough by recording three straight outs. With two outs in the 11th, he allowed two soft singles and plunked Brett Lawrie before completely losing his command and walking Maicer Izturis on four pitches to force in Toronto’s sixth run.

Some questioned whether Showalter should have sent Johnson to the mound, but the reliever had experience pitching on three straight days — doing it on a couple occasions last year — and his previous pitch counts (14 on Monday and 13 on Tuesday) were reasonable enough to put him in the game in an extra-inning situation. Perhaps Showalter is only guilty of not having Brian Matusz ready to go sooner than he did when Johnson ran into trouble.

Regardless of Wednesday’s disappointment, the streak is a reflection of the outstanding bullpen work this club has received for more than a year. Many will focus on the All-Star performance of Johnson as well as setup men such as Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz, but a variety of contributors — from long relievers to current first baseman Chris Davis — have taken the hill in extra innings and performed at a high level since last April.

The 17-game winning streak in extra frames — which didn’t include their 12-inning loss to the New York Yankees in last year’s American League Division Series — left them tied with the 1949 Cleveland Indians for the second-longest run in major league history.

Setting up for the ninth

Johnson leads the major leagues with 66 saves since Sept. 7, 2011, but he can thank O’Day and Matusz — particularly the former — for playing such pivotal roles in getting him there.

O’Day is 2-0 with a 0.36 earned run average covering his last 23 appearances (including the postseason) that spanned 25 innings. The Orioles were 19-4 in those 23 games. Opponents are hitting just .111 (9-for-81) with one home run and eight singles over that stretch.

Those numbers are a major reason why the Orioles awarded O’Day with a two-year, $5.8 million contract in the offseason.

Matusz has also thrived in a relief role since being recalled last August, excelling when it comes to cleaning up messes created by his teammates.

The left-hander relieved Johnson in the 11th and retired Rajai Davis to strand the bases loaded and leave the Orioles trailing by only one. Remarkably, he hasn’t allowed an inherited runner to score since moving to the bullpen last August. He’s stranded 10 inherited runners on base this year and has prevented all 24 inherited runners he’s encountered since the start of the 2012 season from scoring.

Many — including me — wondered whether the Orioles were making the right decision in immediately sending Matusz back to the bullpen after failing to earn a starting job in spring training. With the overall uncertainty in the back end of the rotation, it seemed wise to keep Matusz stretched out in case you needed him as a starter, but it’s difficult to argue with the overwhelming results in his late-inning role.

Odds & ends

Showalter clarified that right-hander Dylan Bundy will not see Dr. James Andrews until next Monday. The 20-year-old will be examined by team orthopedic Dr. James Wilckens in Baltimore on Thursday. He examined Bundy back on April 2 and the initial MRI came back clean in regards to his right elbow. … The Orioles bullpen threw 9 2/3 scoreless innings in the series before Johnson issued the two-out, bases-loaded walk in the 11th inning to break a 5-5 tie. … The four homers allowed by Stinson were the most ever surrendered by a pitcher making his club debut. The last Baltimore starter to give up four home runs in an outing was Jason Hammel against Toronto on May 30, 2012. … Center fielder Adam Jones went 1-for-5 and has reached base safely in 20 of the club’s 21 games to begin the 2013 season. He has at least one hit in 19 of those contests. … The Orioles are now 4-4 in one-run games after finishing with an incredible 29-9 record in that department last season.

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