Tag Archive | "Jim Johnson"

Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

 

 

Comments (2)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

Comments Off on Orioles’ success mirrors their anchor in ninth inning

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , ,

Orioles avoid arbitration with J. Johnson, Hammel

Posted on 08 February 2013 by WNST Staff

The Orioles have avoided arbitration with closer Jim Johnson and starting pitcher Jason Hammel by agreeing to one-year deals just days before the start of spring training.

The Johnson deal is reportedly worth $6.5 million and the right-handed reliever could earn an additional $50,000 based on games finished, according to The Sun. This winter was Johnson’s third time being arbitration-eligible, but the reliever will not become a free agent until after the 2014 season.

The 29-year-old posted a 2.49 earned run average and led the big leagues with 51 saves last season as he earned his first trip to the All-Star Game.

The 30-year-old Hammel was 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts for the Orioles and fought back from knee surgery to pitch in the postseason.

Right-handed relief pitcher Darren O’Day is the Orioles’ only remaining arbitration-eligible player that hasn’t yet signed a contract for the 2013 season.

Comments Off on Orioles avoid arbitration with J. Johnson, Hammel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Orioles beaten at own illogical game in devastating 3-2 loss

Posted on 11 October 2012 by Luke Jones

NEW YORK — Sixteen straight wins in extra-inning games.

A 76-0 record when leading after seven innings this season.

Both streaks finished.

All season long, the Orioles have defied logic in completing a 24-game turnaround to win the American League Wild Card to meet the New York Yankees in the Division Series.

Their 3-2 loss in 12 innings at Yankee Stadium was as illogical as anything from which they benefited in the 2012 season. And the crushing defeat leaves them on the verge of elimination as veteran left-hander Joe Saunders will go to the hill to try to keep the Orioles alive in Game 4.

Jim Johnson had faltered only three nights earlier in allowing five runs in the ninth inning of the Orioles’ 7-2 defeat in Game 1. The closer had converted 51 of 54 save opportunities this season to earn his first trip to the All-Star Game. There was no way he’d stumble again with a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning and his work on Monday night reinforced that claim.

He certainly wasn’t supposed to have any trouble against pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez, who Yankees manager Joe Girardi shockingly sent to the plate to bat for the struggling Alex Rodriguez. Lifting the future Hall of Fame third baseman for an admittedly hot-swinging 40-year-old was as bold as any of the curious moves made by the Orioles this season that worked out for no sound reason at all, it seemed.

And Baltimore saw firsthand what it felt like to fall victim to something seeming to be illogical as Ibanez deposited a 1-0 fastball into the right-field seats to tie the game.

“If you make your pitch, it doesn’t really matter,” Johnson said. “That’s what it comes down to. Ibanez, he’s a good low-ball hitter and obviously he has that hook swing. It’s just pitching. You’ve got to pitch down, change speeds and locate.”

The blast meant extra innings, a territory in which the Orioles hadn’t failed since April 11 when they were coming off their second straight loss in extra frames — ironically against the same Yankees — in two nights.

The Baltimore bats remained silent as they had for most of the night before Ibanez stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 12th against left-hander Brian Matusz.

Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it? Certainly not in extra innings where the Orioles have been king?

Ibanez crushed a Matusz fastball into the right-field seats on the first pitch of the inning, sending the Yankees home happy and up 2-1 in the five-game series, pushing the Orioles to the brink of elimination.

It was difficult to believe as the Orioles discussed in the clubhouse what had just happened to them moments earlier.

“You never want to experience a situation like that,” Matusz said. “Whether it’s a game-winning walk-off home run or in the first inning. The ultimate goal is to go out there and throw strikes and put up zeros. It’s not a good feeling, but you have to stay positive and move forward.”

As much as fans will point to the failures of Johnson and Matusz in not being able to subdue Ibanez’s bat, the Orioles’ inability to generate much of anything offensively doomed their opportunity to take a series lead heading into Game 4. New York pitching retired 21 of 22 Orioles hitters at one point Wednesday night and the club has plated just seven runs in the first three games of the series.

Their two All-Star hitters, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, are by no means the only ones not hitting, but the pair has combined for just three hits in their first 33 postseason at-bats counting the wild card play-in game against the Texas Rangers. A fielding miscue by Jones that led to a run-scoring triple by Derek Jeter certainly didn’t help matters, either.

The Orioles lineup did little — rookies Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado hit solo homers to account for the offensive production — to support the dominating performance from Miguel Gonzalez, who struck out eight and allowed one run in seven innings of work.

The offense simply hasn’t been good enough, and it’s a major reason why the Orioles find their backs to the wall. And the poor production placed them in a position for Girardi to send Ibanez instead of Rodriguez to the plate with a chance to tie the game with one swing.

Even with Rodriguez’s immense struggles, it didn’t seem to make sense to bench the highest paid player in the game, regardless of his struggles.

But it worked.

As a result, the Orioles now face the colossal challenge of winning two straight win-or-go-home games at Yankee Stadium to advance to the AL Championship Series. We’ll see if they’re ready to answer the bell in the way they have countless times this season, albeit with stakes that were never so high.

“It’s pretty much win or go home tomorrow, isn’t it?” Jones said. “There’s pretty much no turning back. We’re going to have the same attitude, the same mentality we’ve had since the first day of spring training. We’re going to have fun, let it fly, and live with the results.”

 

 

 

Comments (6)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sabathia simply better than Orioles’ top stars in Game 1 defeat

Posted on 08 October 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There’s no magical explanation for why the New York Yankees bested the Orioles in a 7-2 final to take Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Sunday night.

It wasn’t the wrong tactical decision by manager Buck Showalter or bad luck that cost the Orioles against their AL East rival.

The Yankees’ future Hall of Fame starting pitcher CC Sabathia was simply better than anything the Orioles had to offer in return. The burly left-hander delivered when it mattered most while Baltimore’s All-Star trio of Jim Johnson, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters couldn’t get the job done in the game’s final two innings.

Johnson surrendered a leadoff home run to Yankees catcher Russell Martin on a 2-0 fastball up in the strike zone and gave up five runs (four earned) to turn a nail-biter into a laugher by the time the Orioles collected the final out in the top of the ninth inning.

“I made a mistake, obviously to Martin, and a couple of other mistakes over the middle of the plate and we paid for it,” Johnson said. “It’s unfortunate after the effort we got out of everybody else that I didn’t hold my end of the bargain.”

But Johnson wasn’t alone as the Orioles had their chances to surge ahead against Sabathia, but the veteran southpaw made big pitches when he needed them late in the game. Baltimore tried to break a 2-2 tie by getting a runner in scoring position in the fifth, sixth, and eighth innings, but Sabathia was at his best when the Orioles threatened to retake the lead.

Collecting his eighth career win in the postseason, Sabathia held the Orioles to two earned runs over 8 2/3 innings, striking out seven and stranding the potential go-ahead run in scoring position after a leadoff double by J.J. Hardy in the eighth inning.

Jones struck out swinging on a 2-2 cutter for the first out before Wieters fouled out to first baseman Mark Teixeira as the All-Star hitters could not give the Orioles the lead. First baseman Mark Reynolds grounded to short to end the threat before the Yankees’ bats surged ahead in the final inning.

“We had our chances,” Showalter said. “We had some some chances there, some good people up that had solid years for us, and it’s more a tribute to [Sabathia] than any detraction from our guys.”

Despite some exercising 20-20 hindsight after the series-opening loss, there was no reason to preserve Johnson for extra innings because the possibility of a save situation didn’t exist playing extra frames at Camden Yards. Even with his ninth-inning struggles in Arlington, you don’t shy away from your best reliever who allowed just one run over his last 26 innings and gave up only three home runs all year over 68 2/3 innings of work in the regular season.

You can count on one hand the number of times Johnson didn’t come through for the Orioles this season and still have fingers remaining. The latest occurrence just happened to come at the wrong time for his club.

Others — including Hall of Fame shortstop and TBS analyst Cal Ripken — called for Jones to bunt in the eighth inning with Hardy standing on second with nobody out. While it wouldn’t have been a bad play had Showalter called for his center fielder to lay one down, you can understand the decision to allow his best hitter to swing away with a runner already in scoring position and Wieters and Reynolds not exactly sporting stellar career numbers against Sabathia. There’s also the argument Jones had various ways to move the runner to third even if he couldn’t collect a hit.

Jones hadn’t laid down a sacrifice bunt all season and entered the night with a .341 average in 41 career at-bats against the Yankees left-hander. Even if he does advance Hardy to third, critics are then questioning the Baltimore manager for taking the bat out of the hands of the team’s most valuable hitter if Wieters and Reynolds don’t come through. A Jones bunt may have also led Yankees manager Joe Girardi to walk Wieters intentionally, leading to the strikeout-prone Reynolds and the rookie Manny Machado being the ones needing to cash in. It’s not exactly a successful trip through the order with both your No. 3 and 4 hitters having the bat taken out of their hands.

Going to Johnson in a tie game in the ninth and allowing Jones to swing away in the eighth weren’t the wrong moves. You don’t suddenly change who you are and what brought you here just because you’re playing in the postseason.

The Orioles’ top guys simply didn’t come through while Sabathia did.

When the chips were down late in the game, the Yankees pitcher was simply better than the best on which the Orioles have counted all season long.

The home loss makes Monday’s Game 2 that much more critical for the Orioles to win, with rookie left-hander Wei-Yin Chen going to the mound against the 40-year-old Andy Pettitte. There’s plenty of baseball to play in the five-game series, but the Orioles’ failure to come through on Sunday night made their road to the American League Championship Series that much more difficult.

Now faced with the task of winning three of their next four possible games against the Yankees — and the final three being played in the Bronx — to take the series, the Orioles backs are once again against the wall. And in case you’d forgotten, they’re used to it.

In fact, they embrace it.

“That is why we play five games,” Johnson said. “Every time we take the field we are going to compete. We are going to play hard. Obviously, it’s an unfortunate way to lose this first game, especially at home. So like I said, we’ve battled all year. Why would we make it easy now?”

 

Comments (5)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Orioles embrace underdog role like few teams ever have

Posted on 06 October 2012 by Luke Jones

You’d think we would have learned our lesson after 162 games, but the Orioles opened our eyes once again on Friday night.

With few giving them a chance after a deflating series at Tampa Bay that forced them to go to Arlington for the first ever wild card play-in game, the Orioles knocked off the Texas Rangers to advance to the American League Division Series.

We assumed the task was too much for the Orioles to top the two-time defending American League champions after they went 2-5 against the Rangers and were outscored 56-24 in the season series. It didn’t matter that Texas had lost nine of its last 13 games or that Baltimore held the best road record in the American League. The epitaphs had already been written and recited by many over the last two days leading up to Friday’s first pitch.

Manager Buck Showalter’s decision to give the ball to left-hander Joe Saunders was met with more than a few raised eyebrows considering the soft-tossing veteran was 0-6 with a 9.38 earned run average in six career starts at Rangers Ballpark before Friday night. Even those defending the decision assumed a brief outing for Saunders before a 10-man bullpen would match up the rest of the way.

The middle-of-the-road starter couldn’t possibly contain the powerful Rangers bats, could he?

Saunders did just that, using effective off-speed stuff to pitch 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball before turning it over to the bullpen, the group most responsible for landing the Orioles in the postseason for the first time since 1997.

Arguably the player of the game, reliever Darren O’Day was brilliant over two innings of work to bridge the gap to the late innings. New lefty specialist Brian Matusz blew away Josh Hamilton on three pitches to end the eighth with the slugger representing the tying run. And, finally, Jim Johnson closed the door on the Rangers’ season and sent the Orioles back to Baltimore for the ALDS.

The Baltimore bats were far from fertile but did just enough against Texas starter Yu Darvish to give Saunders and the bullpen a slim lead.

Left fielder Nate McLouth drove in two runs and scored another to lead the offensive attack, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones each knocked in one, and rookie Manny Machado tacked on an insurance run in the top of the ninth with a run-scoring single.

And as McLouth squeezed the final out in left to seal a 5-1 win, there was Showalter watching from the dugout as his players celebrated their unlikeliest feat to date in a season full of head-shaking wonder. At this point, you wonder just how unlikely the Orioles viewed it as they didn’t blink in a place that’s been a house of horror for them in recent years.

Why do we still doubt them?

The response was lukewarm in late August when executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette brought Saunders to Baltimore in exchange for reliever Matt Lindstrom. It wasn’t the impact move for a starting pitcher the Orioles desperately needed to push the Orioles over the hump in their playoff push.

Considered washed up and simply hoping for another chance in the big leagues while playing for Triple-A Norfolk only two months ago, McLouth was summoned to Baltimore as many laughed and rolled their eyes. Those same people then cringed when the thumb injury to Nick Markakis forced him to assume the leadoff spot duties.

Critics said 20-year-old Manny Machado wasn’t ready for the big leagues and certainly couldn’t handle playing third base after playing only two games at the position in his brief minor league career.

O’Day was a castoff from the Rangers who many thought didn’t even deserve a roster spot at the start of the season after being injured for much of spring training. Matusz endured one of the worst seasons in major league history a year ago and was demoted again earlier this season before ultimately being sent to the bullpen.

Yet, the moves worked and those individuals figured heavily into the Orioles’ first postseason win since 1997.

While I wondered if the Rangers could get off the mat after collapsing in the final two weeks of the regular season and losing their grasp on the AL West title, the Orioles emphatically delivered the knockout blow to their 2012 season. Perhaps the Rangers were the better team and would have prevailed in a longer season, but the Orioles were the better team on Friday and that’s all that matters.

Yes, this perfect group of imperfect players comprised of holdovers used to losing, career minor leaguers, has-beens, never-will-bes, and baby-faced rookies may look like a jumbled mess of individual parts, but the unconventional concoction made by Showalter and Duquette is now 11 wins away from a World Series title.

Suggesting that possibility still sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? I thought so.

They’ll undoubtedly be tabbed as the underdogs against the AL East champion Yankees, a team they tied 9-9 in the season series.

But that underdog label doesn’t bother the Orioles. They’ve heard it all year and they’ll just keep playing with their house money, proving more and more people wrong in the process.

We’ll keep waiting for that bankroll to expire while Showalter’s club continues one of the most remarkable baseball stories we’ve seen in a long time for at least another postseason series.

We don’t know when it will come to an end, but few teams have ever embraced the underdog role with such vigor.

And they’ll keep reminding you why you shouldn’t doubt them.

Comments (2)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

After fighting all year long, Orioles’ extra wait to clinch very fitting

Posted on 30 September 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It was unlike any scene we’ve ever witnessed as the Orioles remained on the field after the final out of their 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox Sunday.

An outpouring of raw emotion that better belonged in a storybook or movie script as fans applauded their efforts and hoped for a post-game celebration.

Joining most of the 41,257 spectators who remained in the ballpark in the moments following the game, players and coaches became fans themselves as they watched the top of the ninth inning of the Angels-Rangers game on the video board at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles hoped to celebrate the guarantee of a postseason berth with their home fans on their home field, but the Angels’ dramatic comeback victory against Texas closer Joe Nathan ended those thoughts as the club walked off the diamond with mild disappointment.

The standing ovation they received while walking to the dugout felt like the perfect ending for an imperfect finish to the day. Everything started so promising for the Orioles, who held up their end of the bargain by completing a three-game sweep of Boston. But as they’ve learned all season long, little comes easy as the teams they needed to lose didn’t on Sunday afternoon.

Entering the day tied for first place with the Orioles, the Yankees bounced back from an early deficit to win in Toronto. The Angels’ win in the first game of a doubleheader in Arlington kept the Orioles’ magic number at one for clinching a postseason berth as they boarded a plane to St. Petersburg for the final three-game series of the regular season.

The Orioles would finally clinch their first postseason berth since 1997 late Sunday evening as the Angels dropped the second game of the doubleheader in Arlington.

“It would have been a neat moment to share had it worked out, but you can’t really expect anybody to lose,” left fielder Nate McLouth said. “You’ve got to kind of take care of your business, but it was nice to kind of wave goodbye to the fans. It would have been neat to have clinched right there, but it was kind of a cool moment, anyway.”

There was nothing phony about the on-field viewing party as the Orioles planned to watch the conclusion of the Angels game together and thought it appropriate to watch with the fans. Players and fans hung with every pitch before Torii Hunter’s two-run double with two outs sent players toward the clubhouse and fans toward the exits for an anticlimactic finish to an incredible scene.

As special as it would have been to see the Orioles clinch at home and celebrate on the field at Camden Yards, you’re reminded of what this club is all about. Scratching and clawing their way to victories in 28 one-run games and 16 straight extra-inning games over the course of the season, there’s something fitting about the Orioles — and their long-suffering fans — having to wait just a bit longer to secure their first postseason spot in 15 years.

“It definitely was a little awkward because everything was kind of working [our] way, but we’ve had to fight for everything this year,” closer Jim Johnson said. “With the way that game finished up, this [race] is going to come down to the wire. Look at how last year finished; it was ‘March Madness’ in September. This game’s crazy. You never know what’s going to happen, and that’s the way this team’s been fighting all year.”

For manager Buck Showalter, the post-game scene was a reminder of just how far the Orioles have come since he arrived in Baltimore late in the 2010 season. He’s continually preached the need to win back fans by putting forth a product they’ll want to see over and over.

The Orioles have done that and then some — even if the crowds haven’t always reflected that — but the manager isn’t interested in taking any of the credit. Showalter wants the focus on his players, even if we all know how big a part he’s played in restoring that pride in the organization.

“I spent more time watching the players and their reactions,” Showalter said. “As I’ve gotten older, I try to really step back and take in a moment. I took a couple of scans around behind me in the stands. We want to keep that. That’s our responsibility. It’s our responsibility to play good enough baseball and conduct ourselves in a way that people want to come back and see what’s going on here with our team.”

The post-game clubhouse was what you’d expect as plastic tarps were folded up on top of lockers for a champagne celebration that wasn’t to be. To call it a letdown would be an overstatement with players aware they would clinch a postseason berth late Sunday evening if the Angels dropped the second game of the twin bill against the Rangers.

To clinch at home would have been exciting, but to clinch anywhere is what’s really important. And the Orioles were so close, they could taste it before departing for their series against the Rays..

“Who cares? If you’re in, you’re in,” said center fielder Adam Jones about not being able to clinch a spot at Camden Yards. “Nobody cares. I don’t care. You can do it home, road. We can clinch on the plane. We’re going to party somewhere.”

If Sunday was the final day of baseball at Camden Yards this season, the spontaneity of that scene between fans and players will go down as one of the most memorable moments in the history of the franchise.

And it was just the latest example of how far the Orioles have come by owning a Sunday in late September — even if the Ravens weren’t playing this weekend.

The Orioles hope they haven’t seen the last of Camden Yards this season, but the next few days will determine their fate.

“Hopefully, we can bring them something fun,” said Johnson, who’s noticed fans becoming more and more involved without being prompted by the scoreboard or public address system. “They’re into the game. They understand the situations, they stand up by themselves, they start their own chants, they’re into it. It puts more pressure on the other team, but it also gives you a little boost of adrenaline at the same time. If you can harness that, that’s a huge advantage.”

It’s an advantage the Orioles haven’t had — or needed to have — in a very long time.

And we’ll have to wait a little longer to see if they can take advantage of it in October.

Comments (3)

Tags: , , , , , ,

Most Valuable Oriole Jones continues adding to memorable 2012

Posted on 30 September 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After being locked up long-term with a six-year, $85.5 million contract earlier this season, it was already safe to say 2012 would be a memorable season for Orioles center fielder Adam Jones.

But with the club on the verge of clinching its first postseason berth since 1997 and Jones setting new career highs in multiple categories, the 27-year-old was asked if the year could have gone any better for him — to this point, anyway — after being named the 2012 Most Valuable Oriole, the second straight year he’s received the honor.

“What more can you ask for? We’re not done yet though,” said Jones prior to Sunday’s series finale against the Boston Red Sox. “We’ve got four games left and it’s four games deciding it. There’s not one team that’s clinched an AL playoff berth, so we’ve still got four games to get it done. It doesn’t get any easier.”

In a season of unlikely heroes and a degree of success no one outside the Orioles clubhouse anticipated, Jones is the first to tell you there were many deserving candidates for the honor. But whenever the Orioles have needed a big hit late in the game, Jones has topped the list of many players to deliver in key spots.

In addition to setting new personal bests in home runs (32), doubles (39), hits (183), runs (102), extra-base hits (74), stolen bases (15), and OPS (.846), Jones became the first major league player in the last 40 years to club three game-winning home runs in the 12th inning or later in one season. With one more double in the season’s final four games, Jones will become the fifth player in franchise history to hit 30 home runs and 40 doubles, joining Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada, and Aubrey Huff.

The individual recognition is appreciated by Jones, but the 91 wins next to the club’s name in the American League East and his teammates’ contributions are much more important to him.

“I think there are some other deserving guys,” said Jones, who also mentioned Matt Wieters and Chris Davis as worth candidates. “Like I said, I’ve lobbied for Jim Johnson and our whole entire bullpen pitching staff. I appreciate it, but I can’t do any of this without my teammates. There’s the reason why we’re all out here and where we’re at. It’s getting named to me, but it is a team award. I think the whole team deserves it.”

Jones has played in all 158 of the Orioles’ games entering Sunday, which is a new career high in his fifth season in Baltimore.

His impressive numbers at the plate and stellar defense in the outfield earn most of the publicity, but Jones’ dependability is what manager Buck Showalter values most. Finding the rare player that you can trust in the long haul is a difficult task, but Jones fits the description, according to the Orioles manager.

Instead of talking about Jones’ game-winning homers or acrobatic catches this season, Showalter pointed to Saturday’s game against the Red Sox, a night in which he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. In the bottom of the fourth, Jones’ hustle down the line allowed him to reach on an errant throw by Boston shortstop Mike Aviles. Two batters later, Davis hit a two-run homer into right to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead.

“Last night was a great example why he’s a deserving guy,” Showalter said. “For me, it’s running out that ground ball and getting us [an extra] run. When you think about that sticking out, it tells you how hard it is to do for some people. I think that’s what I’ve been proud of [with] Adam. Not only posting up [every day], this guy played in the All-Star Game. He plays. He’s there, you can count on him.”

Anyone who’s followed Jones’ time in Baltimore has seen the maturity. Early in his career, the young outfielder desperately wanted to be the clubhouse leader but simply wasn’t ready.

Leadership cannot be forced, but five years into his Orioles career, Jones has grown into the unquestioned leader of the team. His burning obsession to win complemented the managerial guidance of Showalter that contributed to the Orioles growing up faster than anyone could have imagined this season.

“We’re all in it together,” Jones said. “This is one great year for us all, and it’s not just me who’s the most valuable player. I think there’s a lot of other guys here who’ve contributed in large amounts and they could be named this just as well as I could.”

NOTES: Wieters and Johnson were the only other players to receive first-place votes, with Johnson finishing second and Wieters third. Pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and right fielder Nick Markakis also received votes. … Jones is the seventh player in team history to win the award in consecutive season, joining Frank Robinson (1966-67), Boog Powell (1969-70), Jim Palmer (1972-73), Eddie Murray (1981-85), Cal Ripken (1990-91) and Rafael Palmeiro (1995-96). … He is the first Orioles player to reach the 100-run plateau since Brian Roberts in 2009. … The center fielder is the first player since Mark McGwire in 1988 to homer in the 15th inning or later twice in the same year. … Jones had a career-long 20-game hitting streak in May.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear Jones’ reaction winning the 2012 Most Valuable Oriole award HERE.

Comments (2)

What About Jim Johnson?

Tags: ,

What About Jim Johnson?

Posted on 31 July 2012 by WNST Staff

The trade deadline will pass and the Orioles will have only made a select few minor trades.  They have already brought in veteran depth with Jim Thome and Omar Quintanilla; never looks to be more than bench help for 2012.  These trades will definitely help the team for the rest of the season but nothing to change the course of the future.   Dan Duquette has stood strong, with his feet deeply planted in the ground about Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado are untouchable.  Adam Jones joined them in that non-movable class, with his mega contract.

Talks circle around Joe Blanton heading to Baltimore, but his contract is up after the season and he is nothing more than a veteran, back of the rotation, innings eater.  His impact will help a team like the O’s, because of their lack of experience and consistency but is not the star the fans in Baltimore have been clamoring for. 

But what’s the rush?  The Orioles are going to finish with their best season since their back to back playoff appearances in the 90’s.  If they finish out the season playing 500 ball, they will have their first winning record for everyone that has come up through the organization.  They also remain in a playoff hunt; trying to catch the A’s, who probably have even less talent than our Orioles.

So in the offseason, the front office will have plenty to work with.  They will have a winning team in a great season to sell to free agents and added revenue, if the fans continue to increase ticket sales for the next couple months and plenty of parts to consider moving.

If you have paid attention to my past articles, you will know my stance on Matt Wieters and why he should be moved.  He could bring back a mix of young talent and major league ready pitchers from teams like the Angels, Pirates or Dodgers.  But that isn’t the only All-Star the Orioles should move on from during the offseason.

What about Jim Johnson?  He is clearly having a career year, is one of the league leaders in saves and been the anchor to one of the best bullpen’s in the league.  But he has really struggled lately, giving up a couple hits last night versus the Yankees, enough to tug out our heart strings before eventually finishing the game off.   He had his worst appearance last Friday, allowing 6 runs to blow the save after a thrilling comeback by the O’s.  Did anyone really believe Johnson would perform this well this season?  Does anyone really believe he will consistently be dominant closer for the rest of his career?

Now it is probably to move Johnson before the deadline and he will not clear waivers to trade him in August but a move in the offseason should be possible.  Plenty of teams overpay for closers (just look at what Philadelphia gave Jonathon Papelbon last year), and Johnson now has an All-Star appearance to add to his resume.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Johnson is a good relief pitcher that would definitely help the team in the immediate future.  But I think the haul of players Baltimore would receive back for him will outperform anything Johnson can provide.

The other piece to the equation is Pedro Strop and his dominance in the “Set Up” role this year.  After a full year in the bigs, he could be ready to take over as the closer next season.  His stuff is definitely more similar to the average MLB closer than Johnson, and has the fiery mentality you also look for.  To a have a replacement like Strop, I think the Orioles could be satisfied in moving on from the Jim Johnson era in the back end of the bullpen; even if it only lasted one season

Comments Off on What About Jim Johnson?