Tag Archive | "Jim Johnson"

David Hernandez

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Hernandez Could Be A Decent Candidate For Closer

Posted on 07 June 2010 by Corey Johns

David Hernandez

Why not give the guy a shot?  It can’t hurt.

Even though the Orioles snapped their 10-game winning streak with a 4-3, 11 inning win over the Boston Red Sox one thing remained the same: the Orioles did not have a guy that could close out the game for a save.

All season the Orioles have struggled to find a guy to find a guy to close out games.  It started with Mike Gonzalez who blew three saves in four tries early in the season before being put on the 60-Day DL with a straight left shoulder.  It moved to Jim Johnson, who is also on the DL with a shoulder injury.  Then to Cla Meredith who was sent down to the minor league and has a 13.50 ERA in two appearances at Norfolk.  It finally seemed to settle on Alfredo Simon, who recorded six saves and blew just one while shutting out his opponents five out of his seven attempts.  But once again, another Orioles relief pitcher hit the DL as he strained his left hamstring.

While Simon should not be out long, and should get his closer job back when he returns, I would still look at other options if I were the Orioles, in particular David Hernandez.

After Will Ohman blew a save and caused the game to go into extra innings, Hernandez came in and pitched two dominant innings in which he gave up just one run before recording his second win of the season.

Even since last year Hernandez struck me as a guy that could see some success in a closing role.  He has a very strong and powerful arm, but as the innings wore on he tended to slow down a bit.  Managers usually try to let their strong arms start (heck, even Jonathan Papelbon was a starting pitcher for a very brief time), but sometimes the strongest arm is best suited for a short period of time at the end of the game.

Hernandez is a very talented pitcher, but he often lost his quality stuff after he got into the fourth and fifth innings, which is a big reason for his 4.81 season ERA.  But as shown in his two innings against the Red Sox, Hernandez can be incredibly hard to hit in short periods when he does not have to pace himself to stay on the mound deep into games.

I’m not saying he is the answer at closer, because Alfred Simon has, more than anyone, deserved a chance to lock down the spot, but with just 16 wins this late into the season it could be worth a shot to experiment and test him in more last game situations.

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Orioles climb small hill against Red Sox this weekend

Posted on 02 May 2010 by Luke Jones

As the Orioles travel to New York Sunday evening, Dave Trembley will take a deep breath, smile, and maybe even light up a cigar in a brief celebration.

After an exciting weekend at Camden Yards and taking a broom out of the closet to finish off the Red Sox, the Orioles (7-18) will enjoy their first three-game home sweep against Boston since 1974 (a stat that’s a bit misleading as they had a four-game sweep over Boston in 1998, but surprising nonetheless).

“It’s just great for the team, individuals who have gone through a lot of pain and mimicry for 30 days,” Trembley said. “I believe we’ve gotten through the worst. The good days are ahead.”

Maybe so, but reality will set in again Monday morning.

After outplaying a team they went 2-16 against in 2009, the club still finds itself 11 games below .500 and 11 games behind first-place Tampa Bay. As satisfying as the weekend was at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, it was merely a small climb after the Orioles threw themselves off a cliff in the first month of the season.

Make no mistake, it feels good—especially sending the thousands of Boston fans who once again invaded Baltimore home unhappy—but these three wins don’t count any more than the 18 losses accumulated in the first month of the season. As much as we’ll hear the silly claims of being 2-0 in May and it being a new season, the same issues plaguing the club during a 4-18 start—one of the 12 worst in MLB history since 1900—are still there.

Brian Roberts is weeks—or even months—away from returning to the top of the order while Adam Jones struggles to settle into the role. The bullpen remains in flux with the current closer only a year removed from Tommy John surgery and the previously reliable Jim Johnson trying to regain his form at Triple-A Norfolk. And the hitting, while improved, still ranks near the bottom of every significant category in the American League.

The questions surrounding general manager Andy MacPhail’s off-season acquisitions of closer Mike Gonzalez (on the disabled list) and first baseman Garrett Atkins (replaced by minor leaguer Rhyne Hughes) and the front office’s willingness to spend money in free agency are as loud as ever.

Trembley has likely bought himself more time after a very solid week of baseball against the team’s two biggest bullies, but his seat is still too hot to touch.

This is still very much a bad baseball team, weekend sweep or not.

Even with the hope created after sending Red Sox Nation into a mode of panic after being swept by the lowly Orioles, it doesn’t get any easier as the Orioles travel to the Bronx to finish up the current 12-game stretch against the Red Sox and Yankees after going 5-4 in the first nine. Following three at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles travel to brand-new Target Field to take on the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins for four more.

After playing so well against a struggling Red Sox team this weekend, it’s conceivable to think the Orioles might hold their own over the seven-game road trip against two of the best teams in the American League, but they could just as easily go 1-6 without too many batting an eyelash.

If we can take anything away from a fulfilling weekend at Camden Yards, we witnessed an Orioles team finally playing with a pulse and overcoming adversity after coming from behind in two of the three games and winning two extra-inning games.

Veterans Ty Wigginton and Miguel Tejada continue to swing red-hot bats to lead the offense, but Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, and Adam Jones are beginning to shake off the cobwebs of slow starts and play more like the talents so many in Baltimore are excited about. The team continues to get solid-to-good starts from the rotation, even if the starters have little to show for it in terms of wins.

Will it be enough to sustain the current stretch of improved baseball?

“We’re starting to learn how to win a little bit,” said starter Kevin Millwood, who again failed to register his first win of the season Sunday despite pitching eight strong innings. “I think we’re starting to realize that we’re a better team than people give us credit for. It really was a very good homestand.”

The Orioles will have the opportunity to fly under the radar for the foreseeable future—the national media is already talking about Boston’s embarrassment of being swept by lowly Baltimore—so it will be possible to catch some teams napping if they can play good baseball in the process.

A disastrous April cannot be erased, but the club can slowly begin to regain the cautious optimism that existed a month ago by playing inspired baseball like we saw over the weekend against the hated Red Sox.

It won’t be easy and even if they do, it won’t catapult the team to contention or even a .500 record, but it can create a feeling not enjoyed at any point throughout the month of April. A feeling relished by the Orioles fans who walked out of the ballpark late Sunday afternoon.

A tiny bit of pride.

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Notebook: Home runs lead Orioles past Red Sox, 12-9

Posted on 01 May 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With two pitchers returning to the starting rotation for their respective teams, it was clear Saturday night’s game had the potential to become an offensive explosion, especially with the temperature soaring to the mid-80s in downtown Baltimore.

Twenty-one runs, 24 hits, and nine home runs later, the Orioles (6-18) bested the Boston Red Sox, 12-9, in a game filled with offense and short on pitching.

Baltimore’s 12 runs was a season high, besting their eight-run effort against the Oakland Athletics on April 18.

As he has for the entire 2010 season, Ty Wigginton led the offense with two home runs, including a solo blast in the fifth inning that ignited a six-run explosion that put the Orioles in front for good. Wigginton leads the club in nearly every run-producing category imaginable including home runs (8), runs batted in (14), average (.324), slugging percentage (.721), and on-base percentage (.413).

“I’m just executing my plan,” he said. “I try to come up with the best approach [at the plate] and stick with it. I’m executing it more times than I’m not.”

Manager Dave Trembley believes there’s a far simpler explanation, especially with Brian Roberts being on the disabled list for all but four games this season.

“You ask Ty and he’ll tell you if he gets his at-bats, he’ll put his numbers up. He’s getting his at-bats.”

It was Wigginton’s second multi-homer game of the season and the 11th of his career.

Markakis, Wieters connect

While both have been criticized for failing to connect for the long ball, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters both connected for three-run blasts.

Markakis hit his against Tim Wakefield in the sixth inning to extend the Baltimore lead to 11-4. He matched his career high of five runs batted in, a feat he accomplished twice before and most recently against Boston on April 17, 2009. The right fielder has now reached base safely in 22 of 24 games this season and is 22 for his last 63 (.349).

“Nick Markakis is a pure hitter,” said Trembley. “He can hit, always has. Nick’s a guy that I don’t really concern myself with. Nick will be there at the end of the year with the numbers that he always puts up, and he’ll probably put up better numbers.”

While Markakis had the bigger night overall, Wieters’ opposite-field, three-run blast off Daisuke Matsuzaka broke a 4-4 tie in the fifth. It was the phenom catcher’s first home run since connecting off James Shields on Opening Night in Tampa Bay on April 6.

Bergesen returns to Baltimore

It wasn’t pretty, but Brad Bergesen notched his first victory of the season in his return to the starting rotation on Saturday night. After looking completely lost in his first three starts with a 12.19 ERA and seemingly falling apart mentally, Bergesen spent 11 days at Triple-A Norfolk, making one start last weekend for the Tides.

His sinker lacked the downward movement it showed last season, but Bergesen battled through five innings, giving up four runs, seven hits, two home runs, and striking out two.

“I’ve made some progress,” said Bergesen, who feels much better about his mental approach. “It’s still not quite where where it needs to be, but it’s going in the right direction right now.”

Bergesen improved to 1-2 and actually lowered his ERA to 10.57.

Simon Says: Save No. 2

Alfredo Simon received his second save opportunity Saturday night, and the new closer looked far more comfortable than he did in his prior two appearances this week.

After walking leadoff man Marco Scutaro, Simon struck out Dustin Pedroia and recorded the final two outs to pick up his second save and give the Orioles their first series win of the season.

“He didn’t overthrow like he did [Friday] night,” said Trembley. “[Friday] he was flying off that mound. Tonight he stayed back over the rubber, his split was a lot better. He didn’t try to throw it as hard.”

Beating Boston? Really?

After going just 2-16 against the Red Sox in 2009, the Orioles have already eclipsed that total in 2010 with their third straight win over Boston on Saturday night, the first coming at Fenway Park last Sunday. The Orioles lead the season series, 3-2.

Baltimore will go for its fourth straight victory over the Red Sox on Sunday, a feat it hasn’t accomplished since 2004.

“We got April behind us, which wasn’t the most pleasant of circumstances, but you have to put it behind you and keep fighting,” said Trembley.

In addition to securing their first series win of the season after dropping their first seven, the Orioles can complete a three-game sweep of Boston in Baltimore for the first time since Sept. 1974.

Check out the final box score here and the pre-game notes below, including details behind the demotion of reliever Jim Johnson to Triple-A Norfolk.
____________________________________________________

BALTIMORE — Good afternoon from Oriole Park at Camden Yards as we await the second of a three-game set between the Orioles and Boston Red Sox at 7:05 p.m.

With last night’s dramatic 5-4 victory, thanks in large part to the bat of Miguel Tejada, the Orioles have already equaled last season’s win total against the Red Sox (2-16 in 2009) and have an opportunity to win their first series of the season if they can grab one of the next two games at Camden Yards.

The big news this afternoon is the demotion of reliever Jim Johnson to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for the return of Brad Bergesen to the starting rotation. The right-hander  struggled mightily in April with a 6.52 ERA and three blown saves in 10 appearances. I’ll have more on Johnson in a bit.

Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

Boston
SS Marco Scutaro
2B Dustin Pedroia
C Victor Martinez
1B Kevin Youkilis
RF J.D. Drew
DH David Ortiz
3B Adrian Beltre
LF Darnell McDonald
CF Jonathan Van Every

SP Daisuke Matsuzaka (first start of 2010)

Baltimore
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
C Matt Wieters
3B Miguel Tejada
DH Luke Scott
2B Ty Wigginton
1B Rhyne Hughes
LF Nolan Reimold
SS Cesar Izturis

SP Brad Bergesen (0-2, 12.19 ERA)

As we do for every Orioles game, please join us in the Orange Crush chat at 7:00 p.m. to discuss tonight’s happenings from Camden Yards. For the quickest updates and analysis of tonight’s game, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@WNST).

Continue to check right here for more updates (time-stamped below) leading up to first pitch at 7:05 p.m.

________________________________________

5:45 p.m. — The other piece of news to pass along from Trembley’s pre-game comments was a slight adjustment in the appearance schedule for Koji Uehara at Triple-A Norfolk. The Japanese hurler will pitch in back-to-back games on Sunday and Monday, easing the burden of pitching on consecutive days by allowing him to pitch in a day game followed by a night game on Monday.

The skipper was adamant that it had nothing to do with any injury or health-related concern.

Personally, I’m not sure where he would have gotten the idea that we’d be wondering if it were. (Insert your favorite hamstring joke here.)

The club will assess where Uehara is at following Monday’s outing and decide whether it wants to activate him from the disabled list. Of course, that would mean a corresponding roster move after already optioning Johnson to Norfolk this afternoon.

There was no update on the timetable for Mike Gonzalez’s concern, but Trembley went on to say the pitcher is still pain-free in the midst of a strengthening program for his injured pitching shoulder.

5:35 p.m. — If you’ve been following my blog (and if you haven’t been, why not?), I’ve made my thoughts abundantly clear on the quick return of Brad Bergesen. In the club’s defense, it sounds as though it was planned all along for the young pitcher to make only one start in Norfolk before being recalled.

All parties involved seem to think his problems—both mechanical and mental—are solved, and we’ll now see the Bergesen who emerged as the team’s best starter in 2009 before missing the final two months of the season after taking a wicked line drive to the shin. If so, much credit belongs to the coaching staff at Triple-A Norfolk.

We can only hope, or the Orioles will find themselves right back where they were when Bergesen was sprinting off the mound, visibly shaken following a disastrous outing in Seattle less than two weeks ago.

4:55 p.m. — Speculation began flying Friday night about the possibility of Jim Johnson being demoted, especially after the right-hander pitched so poorly and Matt Albers followed it up with another good outing while picking up the victory in the 5-4 final. Johnson gave up three hits, walked two, and gave up a home run in his one inning of work Friday.

Most assumed earlier in the week that Albers would be the one to go with Bergesen returning to the big club, but three straight strong outings—not to mention the fact that he’s out of options—saved him from the chopping block and hoisted him back into Trembley’s good graces for now.

Johnson, who spent time as the team’s closer last season following the trade of George Sherrill, struggled to find any consistency in April. He failed in the closer role after Mike Gonzalez went on the disabled list and has struggled with his command, pitching to a 6.52 ERA and 1.97 WHIP in 2010.

“[It] was a tough decision, but it’s the best thing to do for Jim Johnson,” said Trembley. “We now have to have other guys step up.”

Trembley does not anticipate Johnson being in Norfolk for long but would not elaborate on any specific adjustments needed to be made after pitching coach Rick Kranitz and Trembley sat down with the reliever. The manager did say Johnson simply needs to find his “comfort zone” that has made him so dominant at times in his brief career.

Dating back to last season following the Sherrill trade, Johnson has pitched 31 1/3 innings with a 6.32 ERA. It’s clear something is off with the setup man, so perhaps a return to Triple A will allow him to clear his head and regain the form he displayed in 2008 and the first half of last season.

The Orioles certainly hope it works with Bergesen tonight.

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Bullpen implodes as Orioles fall 8-6 to Tampa Bay

Posted on 13 April 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles looked to be cruising toward their second win of the season behind the left arm of Brian Matusz, leading 3-0 in the top of the eighth and the left-hander in control of the game.

However, after striking out Willy Aybar to start the eight, Matusz gave up four straight singles, losing the shutout and turning the game over to the Baltimore bullpen with the based loaded and one out.

From there it completely fell apart.

Despite 7.1 sparkling innings from Matusz—striking out eight, walking one, and surrendering six hits—the bullpen imploded, allowing all three inherited runners to score and giving up four runs of its own as the Orioles fell to the Rays in 10 innings, 8-6.

“Tonight was similar to what we’ve been seeing for the last week,” said manager Dave Trembley. “We’re not closing the games out out of the bullpen. We’re not getting outs when we need to get outs. It’s no one guy [alone].”

The Orioles (1-7) have now given up at least one run in the eight or ninth inning in every game this season, a dubious stat playing a large part in why they’re already six games below .500 a little over a week into the season. The club has now allowed an astonishing 21 runs in the eighth inning or later in just eight games.

While Mike Gonzalez’s two blown saves have earned him the most notable goat horns to begin the season, the lefty hasn’t thrown a pitch since Friday. And the Orioles have lost all four games in which he hasn’t appeared since.

Jim Johnson, the man some have called to replace Gonzalez as the closer despite struggling in the role late last season, pitched just a third of an inning before giving up a two-run single to Evan Longoria to complete the Tampa Bay comeback, tying the game at 3-3. Lefty Will Ohman followed Johnson and gave up two more hits, allowing the go-ahead runs to score as the Orioles fell behind 5-3 entering the bottom of the eighth.

A tremendous night from the talented young starter was completely wasted, because the bullpen could not pick him up.

The pen even received a chance at redemption as Luke Scott’s clutch, pinch-hit two-run homer tied it in the bottom of the eight as the game eventually moved to an extra inning.

In the 10th, despite having a fresh Jason Berken available to pitch, Trembley again went with a struggling Matt Albers, pitching in his third consecutive game after giving up a run on Monday. Albers did not retire a better, walking two before giving up a three-run shot to Carlos Pena, sealing the Orioles’ fate of a fifth straight loss and a 1-7 record.

Since his impressive Opening Day performance at Tropicana Field last week, things have fallen apart quickly for the long reliever, who was considered a question mark to make the team entering spring training before an injury to Koji Uehara opened a spot for him. Albers has walked five in 4.1 innings, pitching to a 10.38 ERA.

“The ball’s not down, and his curveball is just being taken,” said Trembley about Albers, who is out of options. “It’s not being thrown for a strike.”

The collective implosion of the bullpen is just another problem to add to the pile plaguing the Orioles as they complete the home stand Wednesday afternoon before traveling to Oakland Thursday to begin a seven-game West Coast trip (and finishing the road trip with three in Boston).

The little things continue to build up. An ineffective bullpen, failure to hit with men in scoring position, and critical errors have all contributed to heartbreaking losses for the Orioles over the last week.

You only begin to wonder how long the starting pitching is going to hold up. It’s arguably the one bright spot for this club right now.

“We’re playing hard one through nine,” said Matusz. “You could see it with Luke’s homer. We’re just coming up short and have to battle through this.”

– The Orioles went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position Tuesday night and are just 10-for-63 (.159) on the season. The club is even worse with two outs, hitting just 1-for-29 (.034) in the first eight games.

– Longoria’s two-run single that tied the game in the eighth inning gave him eight RBI on the season, all of which have come against the Orioles.

– Scott’s pinch-hit home run was the first for the Orioles since Ty Wigginton did it on Sept. 30, 2009 against James Shields of the Rays.

Five of the club’s eight homers have either tied the game or given it a lead.

– The Orioles will send Brad Bergesen to the hill looking to avoid the sweep tomorrow afternoon at 1:35 p.m. Lefty phenom David Price will take the ball for Tampa Bay.

Check out the final box score here and the pre-game notes below.

________________________________________________

Good evening from a cold, rainy Oriole Park at Camden Yards as the Orioles (1-6) prepare to face the Tampa Bay Rays (4-3) in the second of a three-game set, scheduled to get underway at 7:05.

The major news of the day is the new lineup filled out by Dave Trembley in hopes of pumping a pulse into an offense that has scored only three runs in its last three games and is 1-for-17 with RISP over the same stretch.

Miguel Tejada will hit second, Matt Wieters will slide into the cleanup role, and Adam Jones will now hit from the No. 5 spot in the order. The move comes as no surprise as the Orioles manager said in his post-game press conference last night that he had to “show a different look” to get things going.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

Tampa Bay
SS Jason Bartlett
2B Sean Rodriguez
RF Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
1B Carlos Pena
CF B.J. Upton
DH Willy Aybar
C Dioner Navarro
LF Gabe Kapler

SP Jeff Niemann (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Baltimore
LF Felix Pie
3B Miguel Tejada
RF Nick Markakis
C Matt Wieters
CF Adam Jones
DH Nolan Reimold
1B Garrett Atkins
2B Ty Wigginton
SS Cesar Izturis

SP Brian Matusz (1-0, 3.60 ERA)

The tarp is currently on the field, but the weather forecast does look promising in terms of seeing baseball this evening. How many people will be in the stands is an entirely different story.

Tonight is Matt Wieters T-shirt night, so I would imagine the promotion gave a boost to advanced sales for tonight’s game.

As always, please join WNST.net’s Orange Crush chat, beginning at 7:00 p.m. with Comcast Morning Show host Drew Forrester hosting and a variety of other WNST.net personalities chiming in throughout the evening. Also, remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest news and updates from Camden Yards.

Check back right here for updates (time-stamped below) leading up to the scheduled first pitch at 7:05. At that point, I’ll be switching over to the Orange Crush to provide my thoughts.
__________________________________________________________

6:55 p.m. — I’m about to move over to the Orange Crush chat, but I thought I’d leave you with this surprising nugget of information.

The Orioles’ .158 average with runners in scoring position ranks 30th out of 30 teams in the big leagues.

I’m floored.

Things HAVE to turn around tonight, don’t they? See you in the live chat.

6:50 p.m. — While Brian Roberts has been the focal point on the injury front, we received word today that Koji Uehara was scheduled to throw another bullpen session in Sarasota this afternoon. As he did on Sunday, the Japanese righty was expected to throw 25 pitches in the session as he works his way back in shape after a left hamstring injury sidelined him during spring training.

6:30 p.m. — In an effort to change up their luck, the Orioles will wear their orange batting practice jerseys for tonight’s game. Let’s hope it works.

Of course, it’s not quite the same look as this:
Orioles

It’s sad to think three of the four 20-game winners are no longer with us.

5:56 p.m. — The grounds crew is currently removing the trap from the field, so it looks like we’ll have baseball tonight as expected.

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, tonight’s game provides an attractive pitching duel as Brian Matusz gets the ball in his second start against right-hander Jeff Niemann. Matusz was uncharacteristically wild in his first start in Tampa, walking five batters while striking out seven in five innings. However, the young lefty finished strongly and secured the only victory of the season for the club.

On the opposite side, Niemann was knocked out in the second inning after taking a line drive to the pitching shoulder from Tejada. It was a scary scene at the time, but the Rays pitcher sustained only a bruise and is not expected to be limited tonight. Niemann had a successful 2009, going 13-6 with a 3.94 ERA. The 6-9 righty will definitely provide a challenge to the Baltimore lineup, as if it needed one currently.

Much has been said about the high hopes for Matusz as a potential No. 1 in the future, but the Orioles will need him to pitch like an ace tonight. At 1-6 and a seven-game West Coast trip looming after the series finale against Tampa Bay tomorrow afternoon, the club needs something to feel good about to hopefully build some momentum.

If not, things could spiral even further out of control.

No pressure on the 23-year-old though, right?

5:23 p.m. — Mike Gonzalez is back with the team after traveling back to Arizona to be with wife for the birth of his daughter, so the big question on everyone’s mind is whether he’ll received the ball in the ninth inning in a save situation.

Trembley has implied that Gonzalez will be eased back into the closer role while working on his mechanics with pitching coach Rick Kranitz, citing a preference for the team to have a big lead in the final inning.

Any lead in the ninth inning would be acceptable at this point, but that’s just me.

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Gonzalez quickly sculpting unnerving image in Baltimore

Posted on 09 April 2010 by Luke Jones

If we can take anything from the opening series of the 2010 season, we know it’s going to be interesting in the final inning.

Unnerving.

Agonizing.

Hold on for dear life.

New closer Mike Gonzalez atoned for his Opening Night debacle by preserving the first win of the season Thursday night, but the performance was anything but routine in the Orioles’ 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay.

After striking out the first two batters of the ninth and appearing poised to retire the side in order, Gonzalez loaded the bases before finally enticing Ben Zobrist to fly out to right, thankfully ending a 26-pitch, 12-strike inning as Orioles fans finally breathed a sigh of relief and somewhere Earl Weaver burned through an entire pack of cigarettes. At least that’s the rumor.

Gonzalez made it very clear he was anxious to return to the mound following his blown save on Tuesday night, and to his credit, he got the job done, but it couldn’t have been any shakier. It’s quickly becoming pretty apparent why few teams were beating down Gonzalez’s door last December to sign him up as their fireman.

With just 54 career saves, Gonzalez had rarely been used as a primary closer in his first seven seasons in the big leagues. The 31-year-old lefty went 10-for-17 in save opportunities for the Braves last season and had saved no more than 24 (2006 with Pittsburgh) in any season.

But it was enough for Andy MacPhail to ink Gonzalez to a two-year, $12 million contract, designating him the replacement for George Sherrill and ending the short-lived Jim Johnson experiment at closer.

Gonzalez battled tightness in his back and hesitated to go all out in his spring outings, insisting he would be in top form for the regular season. You have to wonder how much that’s impacted his shaky start. For better or worse, Gonzalez is Dave Trembley’s closer. There is no other viable option in the bullpen.

The Orioles will live and die in the ninth inning as violently as Gonzalez delivers his fastball.

Few players have made such an impression—good or bad—in their first two appearances as an Oriole. It’s scary to think what the crowd’s reaction might have been at Camden Yards on Friday had he blown a second straight save and the 0-3 Orioles limped home to Baltimore for the home opener.

I’m guessing Aubrey Huff probably would have placed a call from San Francisco to offer moral support—hopefully without sharing his thoughts on the city.

But Gonzalez nailed down the victory, protecting Brian Matusz’ first victory of the season and allowing the Orioles to return home feeling better about themselves after the disappointment of dropping two winnable games against the Rays.

There’s no doubting his talent—chaotic mechanics and all—and a 2.63 career ERA shows he’s had plenty of success at the big-league level. Even Sherrill came to the Orioles as a little-known setup man with four career saves before becoming an All-Star closer.

In fact, when you look at the franchise’s history of closers, Gonzalez’s early tightrope act fits right in with a plethora of characters.

Don Stanhouse didn’t earn the nickname Fullpack for 1-2-3 innings but still managed to make the 1979 All-Star team.

Randy Myers may have set a club record for saves in 1997, but anyone following his career knows it wasn’t a Myers outing unless at least one man reached base in the process.

And Sherrill’s two seasons were anything but routine as he racked up 51 saves in two years for the Orioles before being dealt to the Dodgers last summer.

However, Armando Benitez, Mike Timlin, and Jorge Julio sit on the opposite side of the spectrum.

Need I say more?

It’s too soon to determine into which camp Gonzalez will ultimately settle, but the early return suggests fans might want to stock up on the Rolaids and Pepto-Bismol—or maybe something stronger—this summer.

At the very least, he should keep things entertaining.

***Don’t forget WNST.net is your source for Opening Day coverage as I’ll be at Camden Yards for all Opening Day festivities. Follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates and join us every game for our Orange Crush live chat to talk Baltimore baseball.***

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Orioles let first one slip away to Tampa Bay 4-3

Posted on 06 April 2010 by Luke Jones

The Orioles’ two biggest pitching acquisitions insisted they would answer the bell for the regular season after struggling in the spring.

One did while the other could not as new closer Mike Gonzalez surrendered a two-run single to Carl Crawford in the bottom of the ninth, and the Orioles fell to the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Night at Tropicana Field, 4-3.

Kevin Millwood wasn’t brilliant but was certainly good enough in his Orioles debut, pitching five-plus innings and giving up two earned runs before leaving the game in the sixth with a 3-2 lead. The 35-year-old scattered nine hits but struck out five in his seventh career Opening Day start.

The Orioles appeared poised to start the season on a positive note behind Millwood and three solo home runs from Adam Jones, Luke Scott, and Matt Wieters. And despite lingering questions about the bullpen, Matt Albers, Will Ohman, and Jim Johnson tossed three outstanding innings of relief, putting the Orioles in prime position to win their opener before Gonzalez took the hill in the ninth.

It promptly fell apart from there as the 31-year-old could record only one out and loaded the bases before Crawford singled down the right-field line to win it for Tampa Bay.

After battling a stiff back and downplaying the significance of his decreased velocity in the spring, Gonzalez received his first save opportunity of the season—and a chance to silence any doubters—but couldn’t deliver. The velocity may have been there, but the command and results were not. It couldn’t have been a worse debut after Andy MacPhail signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal in December.

In Gonzalez’s defense, the Orioles had opportunities to add to the lead but went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position, including stranding runners at 2nd and 3rd with none out in the fourth when Rays starter James Shields retired Garrett Atkins, Cesar Izturis, and Brian Roberts. Baltimore left 10 men on base in the game.

Simply put, it was the type of game good ball clubs win—the kind the Orioles haven’t won nearly enough of in the last decade. The Orioles were better than the Rays for eight and a half innings, but they couldn’t put them away despite several opportunities.

So they lost.

Of course, as disappointing as it might seem, this IS only the first of 162 games. Perhaps Gonzalez will save 35 games this season, and this will only be one of a few blips on the radar for the new closer. Maybe Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz toss gems the next two nights and the Orioles still take the opening series of the season.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to ignore the sense of déjà vu seeping into our collective consciences. That “here we go again” mentality has been burned into our collective sports souls over the last 12 years. Time for year 13.

Win or lose, everything is magnified on Opening Day, especially when you’re coming off 12 straight losing seasons and looking for a shred of optimism on Day 1.

A win on Tuesday night wouldn’t have turned the Orioles into an instant contender or changed anyone’s mind about their fortunes in 2010.

But—for one night anyway—it sure would have felt nice.

**Check out the box score right here, and don’t forget to join us every night for our Orange Chat, the newest way to watch the game and interact with your favorite WNST personalities!**

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Orange Chatter: 10 Questions for 2010 (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on 03 April 2010 by Luke Jones

In Part 1 of my 10 Questions for 2010, we pondered the health of Brian Roberts, the status of Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Tillman, and the platoon of Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold.

Here are my second five of 10 questions entering the 2010 season:

6. Is the bullpen up to par?

Following the trade of George Sherrill last summer, it was clear the Orioles struggled in the late innings with Jim Johnson better suited in his previous role as a setup man. Andy MacPhail responded by signing free agent closer Mike Gonzalez to a two-year, $12 million contract, the club’s largest signing of the offseason.

Gonzalez has 54 career saves in a seven-year career, including 10 last season in Atlanta. While the lefty seems capable of closing games–keep in mind Sherrill was never a closer before the trade to Baltimore–Gonzalez battled a stiff back and appeared hesitant to cut it loose in Sarasota until recently. He closed out the spring with a perfect outing against the Mets on Saturday, striking out two and lowering his spring ERA to 5.14.

Gonzalez is joined in the bullpen by two mainstays in Johnson and lefty Mark Hendrickson, who thrived in the bullpen (3.44 ERA) after being moved out of the starting rotation (5.40 as a starter) last season.

However, after these three, the bullpen becomes a bit murkier, especially with Koji Uehara on the disabled list (hamstring) to begin the season. Cla Meredith had a tremendous spring (0.84 ERA) and pitched well in Baltimore after being acquired from the Padres last season but is certainly not a household name with a track record. Newcomer Will Ohman figures to provide plenty of laughs, but Trembley would like to see him evolve into an effective left-handed situational arm (a career 4.25 ERA in seven seasons).

And with three pitchers 25 or younger in the starting rotation, the club will go with two long men in Matt Albers and Jason Berken. Albers was very effective in 2008 (3.49 ERA), but a shoulder injury (torn labrum) and questions surrounding his conditioning led to an abysmal 2009 season in which he pitched to a 5.51 ERA and was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk on three different occasions.

Berken shifts to a long-relief role after starting 24 games last season (6.54 ERA). While the 26-year-old lacks the stuff of an effective starting pitcher, Trembley will look for him to eat innings should a starter be knocked out early. Of course, Berken could find himself back in the starting rotation should there be an injury or two over the course of the seaosn.

A player to keep an eye on at Norfolk is Kam Mickolio, a hard-throwing righty (part of the Erik Bedard trade with Seattle) who appeared to have a good chance of making the 25-man roster before a groin injury limited his opportunities in the spring. He projects as a late-inning man with closer potential.

As is the case with any bullpen on any team, the starting pitching will ultimately decide its fate. If starters are unable to reach the sixth or seventh inning on a consistent basis, this bullpen will inevitably wear down as we’ve seen just about every summer over the last 12 years. Improved starting pitching will hide the weaknesses in the bullpen and allow more opportunities to finish games.

7. Will Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins prove to be capable stopgaps?

The corner infield positions were two of MacPhail’s biggest priorities to address in the offseason, and he responded by adding two veterans accustomed to playing different positions than they will in 2010.

Tejada’s return to Baltimore was a controversial decision, but his ability to adjust to third base will be critical to the infield defense and pitching. Most seem to think Tejada will become a capable third baseman, but it’s hard to forget the initial struggles of both Cal Ripken and Melvin Mora when they shifted to the hot corner. One would expect Tejada to struggle in the first month or two of the season before settling in to be an average third baseman.

Tejada will also be asked to handle the cleanup spot in the order, at least until Matt Wieters is ready to grab the reins. While no longer capable of hitting 25 home runs per season—he hit just 27 in two combined seasons in Houston—Tejada led the National League with 47 doubles in 2009.

Across the diamond, Atkins shifts to first base after primarily manning the hot corner in his seven seasons in Colorado. Atkins has played 105 career games at first, so the transition should not be as drastic as Tejada’s.

The acquisition of Atkins was a curious one with the 30-year-old coming off the worst season of his career (.226, 9 home runs, 48 RBI) and safer options such as Adam LaRoche available. The club hopes Atkins can regain his pre-2009 form when he averaged 25 home runs and 110 RBI over three seasons.

Neither player figures to be in the fold when the Orioles aim to contend in the next few years—both signed one-year deals—but with prospects Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder likely a year away from the big leagues, Tejada and Atkins will be depended on for offense and steady defense on the corners. At the very least, neither contract will come back to haunt the club should either player prove ineffective.

8. How good will Brian Matusz be?

Though the hype hasn’t rivaled the insane expectations for Wieters, Matusz appears set to contend for the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year after starting eight games down the stretch, going 5-2 with a 4.63 ERA.

His 2009 minor league numbers look like something out of a video game, as he went a combined 11-2 with a 1.91 ERA at Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. In fact, Matusz was even better after being promoted to Bowie, going a perfect 7-0 record with a 1.55 ERA in eight starts.

Matusz was fantastic in the spring, finishing with a 2.59 ERA while striking out 21 and walking just three in 24.1 innings.

There’s a reason why he’s on every top-10 prospect list you’ll find this spring. Though Matusz would be hard-pressed to match Mike Mussina’s numbers in his first full year in 1992, don’t be shocked if he’s the Orioles’ best pitcher by mid-season. He might be already.

A scout was recently asked about Matusz in Baseball Prospectus: “He might have been the best pitcher I saw all spring, and I’m not just talking about prospects.”

Need we say more?

9. Is Dave Trembley managing his last season in Baltimore?

While many wondered about Trembley’s job security as the Orioles collapsed down the stretch last season, which included a 13-game losing streak that nearly pushed the club past the 100-loss mark, MacPhail retained Trembley while also declaring the 2010 season would be judged more critically on wins and losses.

It’s clear Trembley has had a near-impossible task trying to win with inferior talent in the AL East, but the skipper cannot expect a free ride either. Baserunning gaffes, poor fundamentals, and questionable bullpen management were major issues in 2009, regardless of who was on the field. It’s no secret the Orioles lack the talent of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, so playing fundamentally-sound baseball is an absolute necessity if the club wants to improve in 2010.

Trembley’s supporters continue to claim he hasn’t had a chance to compete in his three seasons as manager, but the lack of talent cannot excuse some of the problems witnessed in 2009. Having bad players doesn’t mean you’re a bad manager, but it doesn’t mean you’re a capable manager either.

It’s imperative for the club to make significant improvement in 2010, or Trembley will be shown the door at the end of the season—if not sooner.

10. Will the Orioles make it an unlucky number 13?

Twelve years.

Twelve painful, long years.

The Orioles begin the new decade after closing out the first 10 years of the century without a winning season, their last winning campaign coming in 1997.

But unlike most of the last 12 years, it really looks as though the team will improve from where it was a year ago, though it’s difficult to go any direction but up after a 98-loss season. The problem is even a 15-game improvement–a tremendous accomplishment—would only create a 79-83 mark and a 13th straight losing season.

If the Orioles have any hope of a .500 season, they not only have to thrive against the AL Central and West but must find a way to avoid the utter embarrassment experienced last year against the Yankees and Red Sox.

The Orioles were 5-13 against the Bronx Bombers, and the results were even worse with the Red Sox, as Baltimore was an egregious 2-16 against Boston. Another 7-29 mark—far and away their worst record against the two AL East powers over the last 12 seasons—is unacceptable, if not unfathomable.

Forget about money, competitive imbalance, or recent history. A .194 winning percentage over 36 games against the Yankees and Red Sox should never happen.

When it all adds up, the Orioles can make significant improvement in 2010, but it looks like a 13th consecutive losing season is almost inevitable.

A record in the neighborhood of 77-85 will not rejuvenate the fan base immediately, but it would be a sizable step in the right direction.

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Wednesday's PM Crab Cakes and Light Beer

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Wednesday’s PM Crab Cakes and Light Beer

Posted on 31 March 2010 by Chris Bonetti

The Swinging Bunt

Eagles falling apart in Philly.  You know, I guess I can understand the Eagles’ hesitance in trading Donovan McNabb.  Over the last decade the Philadelphia Eagles have been, if nothing else, one of the most consistent franchises in the National Football League.  Coming off a 3-13 record in ’98, team owner Jeffrey Lurie finally put in place the integral pieces of a puzzle that would result in 5 NFC East Titles, and 8 Playoff births over the next 12 years.  He hired Andy Reid as Head Coach, who in turn hired Jim Johnson as Defensive Coordinator, and the organization selected Donovan McNabb with the #2 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.  By 2001 Brian Westbrook was an undrafted rookie making an impact and the Eagles were on their way to 5 NFC Championship Games.  On January 18th, 2008 it seems the Eagles franchise officially began their rebuilding faze.  They lost 32-25 to the Arizona Cardinals that day in the desert and a tumultuous two year time span has ensued.  In the summer of ’09 Jim Johnson, after 40 years of service to the game of football, passed away after a bout with cancer and Brian Westbrook, due to continuous concussion issues, was released by the team this off-season after 10,000 yards and 66 TD’s combined rushing and receiving.  Andy Reid is still the head coach; and yes, he and McNabb are still attached at the hip… for the moment.  But as rumors, speculation, and proposed ‘front’-runners’ for McNabb’s services continue to emerge, it seems all the more likely his football marriage with Philadelphia appears headed for divorce.  It’s a shame, too.  If Jeffrey Lurie hadn’t decided to bring Michael Vick back into the league as his third-string quarterback and paid his $1.5M roster bonus this off-season, McNabb might stand in a better position with the only team he’s ever played for.  But as it stands now, Jeffrey Lurie, the man who facilitated bringing in the foundation of Reid, Johnson, McNabb, and Westbrook in the first place, may now have to hammer home the last spoke to break apart the final two, all by trading the best QB in Eagles franchise history.  Must be a tough trade trigger to have to pull.

Suggested Reading

Pittsburgh Post Gazette: “Steelers are no better than the Bengals.” Strong headline from Ron Cook, who’s not talking about talent, or even winning games, on the field.

Deadspin: Editor Will Leitch takes a look at Baltimore’s very own Orioles in, “The Stacked Deck.” While the title gives the impression of a very positive, upbeat write-up, Leitch comes to this by the end, “Is this what this new plan is leading to? A 78-win season in 2013? That’ll sell some tickets.”  Haha.

SI.com:  Thirteen Sports Illustrated Baseball Experts give their predictions for the 2010 season in their very appropriately named, “2010 MLB Preseason Predictions.” In case you’re wondering, Matusz was named as A.L. ROY on 7 of 13 ballots.

New York Post:  More Tiger details from David K. Li in, “The naked truth on tomcat Tiger.” Apparently we’ll have a long ‘Vanity Fair’ cover story on Tiger’s mistresses coming up very soon.  The Post scoops in for a preview.

Deadspin: Barry Petchesky looks at, “The (other) Least Desireable Gig in College Basketball.” I gave St. John’s a hard time, but it seems they ended up doing decently for themselves with Lavin.  Who does DePaul turn to?

Video of the Day

Who doesn’t love ‘Ridiculous Shots That Don’t Count’ videos?  Here’s Flip Murray’s from last night… pretty incredible.

Tweets of the Day

WNST Comcast Morning Show Producer, Glenn Clark – WNST

GMC: #Ravens vs. #Carolina 8/12 on #ESPN; @ #Skins Aug. 20 or 21; vs. #Giants 8/27 or 8/28; @ #Rams 9/2 in preseason

WNST NFL Correspondent, Chris Pika – WNST

Chris Pika: Former #Maryland hoops player/asst. coach Dave Dickerson is out as #Tulane head coach after 5 seasons, according to media reports.

New York Times College Basketball Columnist, Pete Thamel – PeteThamelNYT

Theme song from Indy: “Its the end of the world as we know it.” Jim Delany (Big Ten Commissioner) tells USA Today that expanded tourney “probable.”

ESPN College Basketball Insider, Andy Katz – ESPNAndyKatz

News conference at Pitt this afternoon to announce coach Jamie Dixon — getting an extension. Not leaving for Oregon as expected.

D1scourse Blogger, Patrick Stevens – D1scourse

So, if Carolina wins tomorrow, will the banner in the Dean Dome read “NIT champion” or “A-10 semifinalist”?

Baltimore Sun National Baseball Writer, Dan Connolley – danconnollysun #Orioles getting clubbed in 5th inn by Red Sox, 9-1. Lester has allowed 2 hits. Maybe both clubs are ready for the season

ESPN NFL Insider, Chris Mortensen – mortreport

Next QB Class: Washington’s Jake Locker, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett could all be top 5 picks in 2011.

ESPN NFL Insider, Adam Schefter – Adam_Schefter

Waiting on Donovan McNabb gives us something to do while we’re waiting on Brett Favre.

Sports Illustrated Soccer Columnist, Grant Wahl – GrantWahl

Wayne Rooney out 2-4 weeks w/ankle sprain. Could impact ManUtd in Prem/CL, but not England for WC. http://bit.ly/9sIbeJ

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Gonzalez is a good sign

Posted on 20 December 2009 by dansoderberg

I’ve been very critical and skeptical of the Orioles over the past few months, but I’m willing to give credit where it’s due. The Orioles signing of relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez was a good one and significant for a number of reasons.

1) The fact that the team spent some money and a draft pick on a free agent closer rather than selling us on the idea of “Koji for closer” signifies that they are at least attempting to be relatively competitive in 2010.
2) The Orioles forfeited the rights to their 2010 2nd round draft pick to the Braves as compensation for signing Gonzalez. I’ve heard some people question the wisdom of giving up a second rounder to sign a closer to a team that just lost 98 games. I understand that reaction at first glance, but upon further review if the Orioles weren’t concerned about losing the pick then the fans shouldn’t be either. The team has gone over MLB’s slot recommendations to sign draft picks over the past 3 years and we shouldn’t expect the 2010 draft to be any different. The Orioles can afford to lose a 2nd rounder for Gonzalez because they’re developing a reputation for drafting and signing top talents to above slot contracts.
3) The 2010 Oriole bullpen figures to be stocked with power arms. Jim Johnson was often a man on an island last season, especially after the trade of George Sherill. Add Gonzalez to Johnson, and sprinkle in youngsters Kam Mickolio and David Hernandez (who figures to be converted to a reliever) and you have 4 legit power arms. A finesse bullpen will be eaten alive in the AL East, as we’ve seen far too frequently over the years. The combo of Gonzalez, Johnson, Hernandez and Mickolio features the kind of pure stuff that can get out of any jam.

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RAVENS, RANTS & RANKINGS – week 4

Posted on 08 October 2009 by kevinpb

Ravens

Patriots 27 – Ravens 21. The sky is not falling, everybody relax. The Ravens are 3-1 and still in first place with a big showdown with the surprising Cincinnati Bengals coming up this Sunday at home..

Offensively the Ravens got better as the game went on. I thought or biggest advantage on the Patriots would be on the offensive line and I thought they would run the ball more then they did. It makes sense that an effective running game would help control the clock and help stifle the Patriots offense in the process. The Patriots defensive line gave us fits early, but we did wear them down in the second half. We still didn’t run the ball enough throughout the game. The Ravens need to do whatever they need to so that Ray Rice has the ball in his hands 20-25 times a game, whether it be by run or throwing him the ball. He is electric. It is quite clear that Harbaugh and Cameron has complete confidence in Joe Flacco throwing the ball early and often. I like the idea of opening the offense up and I think the confidence in Flacco is warranted, but I feel that ball control would have been a more prudent approach on this afternoon. As of this writing it appears that Jared Gaither is going to be OK and will be back sooner then later. That is terrific news. I heard on the radio, that Mark Clayton was 1 of only 2 NFL receivers not to drop a pass in 2008. He picked a heck of a time to drop his first one in 2 years.

Defensively, the Ravens stopped the run as they always do, but if they did not get pressure on Tom Brady they usually paid the price. The coverage was inconsistent to say the least. On the Randy Moss touchdown, Dominique Foxworth has got to understand with the safety blitz he needs to stay up on Moss and look for the quick pass. Brady basically threw the ball up in the air and Moss was not challenged at all on the catch. For most of the day the Ravens bracketed Moss under and over with the safety and he was not a factor. Wes Welker hurt the Ravens on crossing patterns, and the backs gashed the Ravens on check downs and dump offs. Dawan Landry struggled mightily covering the tight end and slot receivers. He has to be able to cover the tight end better. Both Foxworth and Washington cannot tackle. Their idea of making a tackle is throwing their shoulders at the legs of the ball carrier. I can think of three separate occasions when if either corner would have made the first tackle they would have forced the Patriots to punt. The pass rush was inconsistent but they did succeed in making Brady move in the pocket. Suggs sack and strip of the football was a thing of beauty and completely changed the momentum of the game. Has anybody seen Ed Reed?

Special teams has covered well the lat 2 weeks, but we are sorely lacking on our return game. Chris Carr has not worked out. In the preseason, it was clear that Carr was the choice because the Ravens were more comfortable with his ball handling and ball security, but if he is going to put the ball on the ground, let’s go with the more dynamic Ladarius Webb.

Final thoughts on the game, the Ravens made mental and physical mistakes all day long and still had a chance to win the game at the end. As we were discussing in the final moments of the game, it would have been nice for Joe Flacco to get that signature come from behind win against a real tough team; but it was not to be. I don’t give to much credence to the thought that the roughing penalties killed the Ravens. We got a roughing call in much the same manner when Flacco was hit on one occasion. The calls that killed me were the interference calls, one on Derrick Mason and one on Chris Carr that were just terrible calls! The defensive call was a third down play that extended a Patriots drive. The offensive call stalled a critical Ravens drive.

Rants

College Football Officials or Major League Umpires? It is getting harder to tell the difference. In the LSU-Georgia game this past weekend, the officials had a bearing on the outcome of the game. Georgia scored late on a touchdown pass to AJ Greene to go ahead and he was promptly penalized for excessive celebration. The penalty was assessed on the kick off which led to great field position for LSU who then scored to go ahead. Charles Scott ran 33 yards for a score and was penalized for excessive celebration. And as you might have guessed, this was penalized on the ensuing kick off which led to good field position. Now Georgia did not score, and I really have no vested interest in who one this game; but my concern was the penalties and why they were called. AJ Greene did not approach anyone on the other team, and only celebrated with his teammates. Charles Scott just raised his fingers to the sky and bumped his chest. As touchdown celebrations go these days they were very tame. I detest the “look at me” celebrations on the football field and support penalties for those in excess, but in this case the referees changed the course of this game. For a minute I forgot that I was watching a college football game, and thought I was watching a Major League Baseball game.

Heisman Trophy – Most experts would rank the Heisman Trophy finalists as Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Jahvid Best. I think a fourth name needs to be added to the mix, Jimmy Clausen. There is no question that Clausen plays for the weakest team of the bunch (even though Notre Dame is 4-1), but his numbers are off the charts. This year Clausen has a 4-1 record. He is 100-148 passing for 1544yds with 12 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. His quarterback rating is 179.25. His completion percentage is 67.5%. In his last 3 games he has led the Fighting Irish on late drives that have positioned the team to win. The golden boys of the 2009 quarterback class are commonly thought to be, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy, but ask NFL talent evaluators and they rave about Clausen and Jake Locker of Washington. Of course both Clausen and Locker are juniors

I smell Pay per View – Braylon Edwards and LeBron James put them in the Octagon or put them in the ring, I don’t care, can you imagine the buy rate on that one. I think I should get a percentage since it is my idea.

So that is what Major League Baseball is suppose to be like – It wasn’t a classically played baseball game, but for sheer drama, excitement and finality it was a classic baseball game. The Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers in 12 innings for the right to face the Yankees in the playoffs. Both teams left everything on the field. As the game wore on the intensity picked up and the Metrodome was electric. It was clear that the players on the field were giving it everything they had. God, I miss good baseball! With that being said…

An open letter to Andy McPhail – Here is how you make the Orioles relevant again; I don’t want the credit, I just want good baseball. First the good, you know the Orioles get beat up pretty good and in most cases it is well deserved, so let’s give them a little credit. They have the best young pitching I have seen in this organization since I was a little kid, and that is a long time ago. Barring injury, Matusz is going to be a top of the rotation guy for a long time. Bergesen was a pleasant surprise. He is the poster boy for the old Oriole mantra, “work fast, change speeds and throw strikes.” Tillman has shown enough that I think he is going to be an effective starter in this rotation for some time. I can’t get passed the fact that the first time I saw him he reminded me so much of Jim Palmer it was scary. I am not trying to put that type of expectation on him, but his physical presence on the mound and his delivery are very similar. Jeremy Guthrie had a bad year, but he is not the only one. I don’t think that his contract issues and the World Baseball Classic did him any favors. So there is 4 fifths of your rotation; and that leaves one spot open in the rotation. While I think Matusz is going to be a stud, I don’t think it is fair to saddle him with that expectation this early. So it is time to sign a front of the rotation guy. The best pitcher out there is John Lackey. Call his agent the moment the Angels are done playing, don’t skimp on the money and bring him to Baltimore. With the rotation set, that leaves us with a woeful bullpen. Let’s face it, as a whole they were God awful. Mark Hendrickson was a real pleasant surprise in the pen and once through a batting order he was very effective. Koji Uehara showed flashes and previously made his living as a reliever. I don’t think he is strong enough to start for a full year, so move him to his comfortable role in the pen. With those two you have your left handed relievers taken care of, in addition to the fact that both can spot start if you need an emergency starter.
Jim Johnson returns to being one of the best set up men as he did for the previous 2 years. Cla Meredith is effective as a side arm situational reliever. Kam Mickolio shows tons of promise and pitched well when used correctly. but he is not yet ready to be a closer. Danys Baez, Matt Albers, Brian Bass and the rest of those cast of characters need to go.
The only spot open is closer. The guy they ought to give the first shot to close is David Hernandez. I like Hernandez, he throws a hard and heavy ball, and he has a bulldog mentality. Next year is the perfect year to try and invent yourself a closer. There is no pressure to win and if we show improvement then it is a win-win situation for all involved. If the team exceeds expectations and you want to make a move you can always make a trade before the deadline.
Offensively, there are a lot of very nice pieces. Up the middle they are solid with Weiters behind the plate, Roberts and Izturis at the middle infield positions and Jones in centerfield. Weiters is getting better behind the plate and he was our hottest hitter in the last month. He will have a monster year in 2010. Roberts in a really good lead off hitter and Izturis is the best defensive shortstop we have had around here is a while, plus his speed and bat in the 9 hole was a pleasant surprise. Adam Jones is a mercurial talent and one of these years will be his breakout year. The corner outfielders with Markakis and Reimold are very capably manned. Nolan Reimold was such a great find. I hope Reimold continues to improve on his play and Markakis is as steady as can be. So the only positions we have open are 1st base and 3rd base. Offensively we are in desperate need of a home run hitter. At third base, we need to move past Melvin Mora. The player they need to sign is Chone Figgins. Now he is not a power hitter but he is an excellent defensive 3rd baseman. He also hits for a high average and is a disruptive force on the base paths. I can’t imagine the chaos that Roberts and Figgins can cause at the top of the Oriole lineup. So the only thing missing is a big time power hitter. The one guy that they should pursue; and in fact, should have signed him last year, is only 50 miles down the road. The Washington Nationals are quietly shopping him around. Go get Adam Dunn. The guy hits 40 home runs a year and drives in 100. He is not a great outfielder or 1st baseman, but we don’t currently have a first baseman of that caliber anyway. I don’t see the downside here. You let him play half the time in the field and DH the rest of the week. He is a proven commodity who has a nasty streak. He is perfect for what this team needs. Ladies and Gentleman if I was the general manager of the Baltimore Orioles below would be the 2010 version.

Batting Lineup

1. Brian Roberts – 2B
2. Chone Figgins – 3B
3. Nick Markakis – RF RESERVES:
4. Adam Dunn – 1B/DH Felix Pie, Ty Wigginton,
5. Adam Jones – CF Robert Andino, Chad Moeller
6. Matt Weiters – C
7. Nolan Reimold – LF
8. Luke Scott – DH
9. Cesar Izturis – SS

Pitchers

John Lackey – SP Mark Hendrickson – RP
Brian Matusz – SP Koji Uehara – RP
Jeremy Guthrie – SP Jim Johnson – RP
Brad Bergesen – SP Kam Mickolio – RP
Chris Tillman – SP Cla Meredith – RP
Jason Birken – RP
David Hernandez – Closer

The only two things left are finances and field management. Let’s take the easy one first, finances. Committing to Lackey, Figgins and Dunn would take money. Dunn already is under contract, and if my numbers are right, he makes somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 million a year. With the shedding of the contracts of Melvin Mora, Danys Baez and Aubrey Huff that should clear roughly 20 -22 million per year. So making a quick calculation we would still be 12 million to the good after adding Dunn’s contract. Considering that we will have to over pay to sign both Lackey and Figgins we should figure on committing 27-30 million in additional payroll to sign both players. Again after applying the additional 12 million in savings, this would mean that we would only add approximately 15-18 million in gross payroll. Increasing our payroll by 18 million from 2009 to 2010 and adding 3 impact players is a bargain.

I have to admit I am all over the map with regards to Dave Trembley. The Orioles wasted no time in committing to bring him back in 2010. I sometimes scratch my head at his in game moves, but it appears he has the support of the players and he has admirably steered this organization through its most turbulent era. He is rock steady and a real company man. He has taken enough bullets for the organization and always comes back for more. It is amazing to me that this man did not completely wig out during this past season. To make all the changes I have outlined above would require some stability at the top. It will also take some time for the new parts to gel. Having veteran stewardship will help the new pieces gel, plus for all he has put up with he deserves the chance to compete on a more even playing field. Basically by bringing Tembley back so quickly, McPhail has taken a mulligan for the 2009 season.

Ok, now I have that off my chest, on to the NFL Power Rankings.

Rankings

1. New York Giants – meet the new boss, same as the old boss… But if Eli is hurt how long will this last.
2. New Orleans Saints – Darren Sharper is doing his best Ed Reed impersonation, or maybe that is Ed Reed, because he hasn’t registered on the Ravens field yet.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Tick…they have been impressive, tick…the defense is tough, tick…Petersen is a beast, tick…when will Brett blow up.
4. Indianapolis Colts – Peyton v. Eli in the Superbowl, what would be the over –under on Manning commercials.
5. Denver Broncos – I still don’t believe they are this good, but hey you have to give then there do.
6. New England Patriots – someone is going to have to put a stake through their heart. Still a good football team.
7. Baltimore Ravens – We didn’t expect them to go 16-0 did we? Big game this week against Bengals.
8. Philadelphia Eagles – McNabb comes back, can he be much better then Kolb the last 2 games?
9. Chicago Bears – Cutler is paying dividends. By the end of the year this might be a real tough team.
10. San Francisco 49ers – I think this team is really underrated. Singletary has made them a good team.
11. New York Jets – Sanchez hit a little bump in the road, let’s see if they can right the ship this week.
12. Cincinnati Bengals – I would feel a lot better about this team if they didn’t almost choke it up against Cleveland last week.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers – Got a big win against the Chargers, it appears Polumalo is coming back. They might be ready to go on a run.
14. Atlanta Falcons – coming off a bye, let’s see if they get back to winning after New England set back.
15. Green Bay Packers – walked into a buzz saw on Monday night. That offensive line might get Aaron Rodgers killed.
16. San Diego Chargers – GM calls the team soft…is there a Norv Turner watch in San Diego.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars – very impressive win against the Titans. Gerard’s best game in 2 years.
18. Houston Texans – Maybe they are beginning to turn the corner, still not sold on Schaub however.
19. Tennessee Titans – It is hard to believe that they are this bad a football team.
20. Arizona Cardinals – they have done nothing to warrant being ranked this high but still a lot of talent. Is Warner done?
21. Seattle Seahawks – Losing Hasselback has kind of derailed them. Still think they are better then their ranking shows.
22. Dallas Cowboys – Wade Phillips is in trouble, the Cowboys are soft.
23. Miami Dolphins – I route for Chad Pennington, but let’s see if Chad Henne is ready to step up.
24. Washington Redskins – think Jim Zorn is feeling any pressure? What the heck are they hiring Sherm Lewis to do?
25. Buffalo Bills – When does T.O. explode. He must feel like he is in Siberia playing for the Bills.
26. Detroit Lions- played Bears tough for a half. They were making strides, let’s hope Stafford does not miss much time.
27. Oakland Raiders – they wouldn’t be bad if their quarterback could make a play.
28. Carolina Panthers – hard to understand why they are winless. They have talent, John Fox is a decent coach, where is the weak link?
29. Kansas City Chiefs – tied for last place
30. St. Louis Rams – tied for last place.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – tied for last place
32. Cleveland Browns – Eric Mangini is determined to completely destroy this team.

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