Tag Archive | "Jimmy Paredes"

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Orioles lineup continues firing blanks in month of May

Posted on 27 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Buck Showalter rarely dwells on the negatives after a loss.

It’s just not his style — at least publicly anyway — as he prefers focusing on the positive after any given contest over a 162-game schedule. But his reaction to Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros was a little different.

While recognizing the strong performance of starter Chris Tillman that was spoiled by a few suspect pitches in the seventh inning and the failures of reliever Brian Matusz an inning later, Showalter continued coming back to the same theme that has plagued the Orioles throughout the month of May.

“We obviously haven’t been giving our pitchers much margin for error,” Showalter said, “but [Tillman] gave us a real good chance to win tonight. Probably even a little bit better than that.

“Once again, we can sit here and talk about [other factors] and rightfully so, but until we start getting some things going offensively, it really makes for a tough atmosphere to pitch in.”

The Orioles have scored just seven runs over their last 40 innings.

They’ve produced three or fewer runs in 13 of their 23 games this month and two or fewer in 11 of those.

Tuesday night’s cleanup man (Chris Davis) sports a .208 average and the No. 5 hitter (Steve Pearce) is batting .188. Delmon Young — who’s spent plenty of time in the heart of the order — is slugging a paltry .333 despite a respectable .287 average.

Beyond the white-hot Jimmy Paredes, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Caleb Joseph, the Orioles haven’t gotten nearly enough production from the rest of the lineup. And with Jones struggling recently — he was 0-for-3 Tuesday and has just three hits in his last 25 at-bats — the run shortage has been even more magnified.

“I just think we’ve got to slow the game down,” said Davis, who struck out two more times and hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth for the only Baltimore run on Tuesday. “When you’re not scoring a lot of runs, you’re not swinging the bats like you know you can, the tendency is to press and try to overdo it. I think you’ve seen that in the last few games, just guys getting out of their approach, out of their rhythm and trying to do too much with pitches that aren’t good pitches to hit.”

The Orioles were counting on Davis to look more like the force he was in 2013 — or at least in 2012. Instead, he’s looked just like the frustrated hitter we saw a season ago and has struck out 64 times in 170 plate appearances, registering the highest strikeout rate of his career by a substantial margin.

You keep waiting for veterans like of J.J. Hardy and Alejandro De Aza to start swinging the bat like they have in the past and for Young to start showing a little bit of power. Aside from a couple key home runs in the last week, Pearce hasn’t come close to approaching his 2014 production. Travis Snider hasn’t been the young replacement for the declining Nick Markakis that the Orioles envisioned.

The many clamoring for some change are justified, but Triple-A Norfolk doesn’t have many appealing options to even try at the moment. Former Minnesota Twins first-round pick Chris Parmelee has an .818 on-base plus slugging percentage and Nolan Reimold has begun heating up recently, but that’s about it.

Perhaps a returning Matt Wieters provides a spark as early as next week, but can you realistically expect him to offer much more offense than Joseph after not playing in the majors in more than a year?

The Orioles hope Jonathan Schoop can return sometime next month, but there’s no guarantee how soon that will be.

For now, Showalter has little choice but to ride out the storm — or the drought — by continuing to mix and match in hopes of finding some semblance of consistent production beyond the top three spots in the order. And executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette needs to be exploring what might be out there on the trade market over the next two months.

At 20-23, the Orioles still find themselves in the thick of the American League East and are just one game out in the loss column behind first-place New York. There are 119 games remaining in the 2015 regular season for Baltimore.

But much more is needed from the offense than it’s provided all month if the Orioles want to remain within striking distance.

 

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Hot-hitting Paredes continues making his doubters wait

Posted on 20 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — You keep waiting for Jimmy Paredes to cool off, but the Orioles continue reaping the benefits.

He can’t possibly continue this, right?

That sentiment has been uttered over and over for a month now and the 26-year-old hasn’t slowed down yet, going 2-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs in Tuesday’s 9-4 win over the Seattle Mariners. His .346 average is just a few plate appearances shy of officially being ranked third in the American League behind Prince Fielder and Nelson Cruz.

His 22 RBIs rank second on the club behind Adam Jones (25) and his 1.001 on-base plus slugging percentage is the best on the roster. A two-run single in the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s game was of the “seeing-eye” variety, but 15 of his 36 hits this season have gone for extra bases, including an opposite-field two-run shot in the sixth inning.

Of course, Paredes won’t continue hitting at a near-.350 clip, but the switch hitter — who entered spring training out of options — isn’t merely getting lucky by dinking and dunking singles into the outfield as even the poorest hitters can do over a short period of time. He continues making contact and hitting the ball hard with regularity while serving as the club’s everyday designated hitter.

“Jimmy’s such a sincere guy,” said manager Buck Showalter, who has repeatedly joked that he tries to say as little as possible to Paredes in fear of jinxing him. “Those guys give themselves such a chance to be successful because he never gives in in the effort department. I was watching him during the last out. He’s in every pitch.”

He’s currently hitting 86 points higher than Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, a fellow Dominican who has worked out with Paredes in past offseasons. Results aside, you don’t have to watch Paredes for long to see how he tries to copy elements of the six-time All-Star selection’s swing. With a career .752 on-base plus slugging percentage in parts of nine minor league seasons, Paredes is seeing years of hard work — which included plenty of failure in the minors and in the majors — pay off with a run of success he hasn’t experienced at any level of professional baseball.

After watching him bat .302 in the final month of the 2014 season and continue hitting this spring, the Orioles are quietly becoming more confident that they’ve found an everyday player. Of course, no one expects Paredes to continue to produce these video-game numbers, but his ability to keep the barrel of the bat square through the hitting zone has been impressive to watch. If he continues to prove he belongs in the majors as a regular, the next step is finding him a position in the field, which likely wouldn’t occur until the offseason with a plan to have him learn a corner outfield spot to utilize a strong throwing arm he’s shown off — erratically — at third base on occasion.

His 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame alone makes it easy to understand why the New York Yankees, Houston, Kansas City, and the Orioles each wanted Paredes in their organizations at one time. But now he’s offering the Orioles the justification for keeping him.

“He is so upbeat and I’m always pulling for the underdog,” said catcher Caleb Joseph, who spent seven years in the minors and lockers next to Paredes in the home clubhouse at Camden Yards. “For a guy to get claimed and [designated for assignment] and get claimed again and find a home, it’s big and we’re glad he’s on side. He’s real stable for us in the [No. 2 spot] right now.”

There’s no telling how long Paredes’ current hot streak will last as pitchers will adjust and teams will look for his weaknesses at the plate. He’s not particularly patient as he’s walked only five times in 109 plate appearances this season, but he’s been able to adjust to different pitch sequences in impressive fashion. He saw several changeups from Mariners starter Taijuan Walker on Tuesday night before he was able to slap one between third and short for his fourth-inning single.

Everyone keeps waiting for Paredes to come back to earth and understandably so for a player with no track record and such little fanfare. But watching him hit safely in 22 of his 25 games this season and reaching base in 20 straight contests makes it surreal to think how few would have predicted him to even make the club, let alone become one of the Orioles’ best players when spring training began three months ago.

Where would the Orioles be without Paredes over the last five weeks?

“You never know,” Showalter said. “We’ve seen so many guys do good things in spring training and the season starts and it doesn’t happen for them. We’ve seen guys that struggle like heck in the spring and then the season starts and the light goes on. Jimmy was not only trying to make the club and be a part of this, but he knows how you stay here because he’s been down this road before.

“He’s not playing like a guy that’s out of options.”

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Orioles surprises from first month of 2015 season

Posted on 06 May 2015 by Luke Jones

One month into the 2015 season, the Orioles have hovered around the .500 mark while remaining firmly in the American League East hunt.

Below is a look at the biggest surprises of the first month of action:

1. Ubaldo Jimenez becoming the Orioles’ best starting pitcher

Much of the starting rotation and bullpen struggled over the opening month of the season, but the maligned Jimenez was the club’s best starter, posting a 2-1 record with a 1.59 ERA in his four starts. After simplifying his mechanics late last season, Jimenez steadily improved during spring training and saw that continue into the regular season where he’s walked only eight batters in 22 2/3 innings, a significant improvement from the 5.5 walks per nine innings he issued last season. It was an unusual month for the 31-year-old as he was inexplicably ejected from a start at Fenway Park and pitched in the first empty-stadium game in major league history, but the results have been a pleasant surprise for manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles.

2. Jimmy Paredes emerging as a key member of the lineup

It was one thing to see Paredes hit well last September when the Orioles enjoyed a comfortable lead in the AL East and to follow that up with a strong spring, but who would have guessed the 26-year-old would become the everyday designated hitter and occupy the No. 2 spot in the order? Paredes’ .994 OPS is second on the club behind the scalding-hot Adam Jones, and he has collected nine extra-base hits in 56 plate appearances. Showalter has credited Paredes’ aggressive but professional approach — he’s walked only once this season — at the plate and will continue to pencil his name into the lineup until Paredes proves he shouldn’t. His defensive limitations hinder lineup flexibility, but the Orioles aren’t complaining about the offense Paredes has provided, especially with key contributors sidelined.

3. Matt Wieters still not being close to returning — and that being OK

The three-time All-Star selection caught six innings in an extended spring training game Tuesday, but he still isn’t catching on consecutive days, leading you to believe his return will be much closer to June than anyone would have expected a couple months ago. The good news is Caleb Joseph hasn’t made the Orioles miss Wieters too much as he’s hitting .286 with two home runs, seven RBIs, and an .836 on-base plus slugging percentage. Despite a slow start trying to control the running game, Joseph has stopped 33 percent of stolen-base attempts after gunning down 40 percent in 2014. I wrote before the season that it would be problematic if Wieters returned as a shell of himself defensively, but it’s clear the Orioles have slowed the pace of the veteran catcher’s rehab and Joseph’s strong play has made it easier to endure.

4. Steve Pearce starting games at second base

The 32-year-old has yet to approach his 2014 level of production, but Showalter using Pearce at second base illustrates how badly the injury bug has bitten the middle infield with J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, and Ryan Flaherty all on the 15-day disabled list. Fortunately, Hardy and Flaherty appear primed to return as early as this weekend, which will bring normalcy to the shortstop and second base positions. With Pearce and Jimmy Paredes seeing time at second base, Everth Cabrera may find himself in the minor leagues after posting a .464 OPS as the everyday shortstop in Hardy’s absence. Considering they’ve gotten below-replacement-level offense at shortstop and have used a carousel of options at second base, the Orioles should probably feel pretty good about their 12-12 record over the first month.

5. The Orioles playing an empty-stadium game and a “home” series at Tropicana Field

The unrest in Baltimore certainly disrupted the Orioles’ schedule, but Showalter, Jones, and the rest of the club handled the distractions with appropriate perspective while reflecting on the bigger issues facing the city. Playing a game in an empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards and then traveling to Tropicana Field for a “home” series against the Tampa Bay Rays was less than ideal for all parties, but the Orioles went 3-1 over that stretch. It’s the latest example of how prepared and focused Showalter has kept his players over the last few years, a major reason why the Orioles are aiming for their fourth straight winning season and third playoff appearance in four campaigns. You only hope a packed Camden Yards welcomes the Orioles back to town on May 11.

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Schoop out indefinitely with partially-torn PCL, sprained MCL

Posted on 18 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The injury bug continues to bite the Orioles as second baseman Jonathan Schoop has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right knee injury suffered in Friday’s loss to Boston.

The 23-year-old suffered a partial tear of the posterior cruciate ligament and a mild sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee when he tripped over first base running out a grounder. Fortunately, he did not suffer any damage to his anterior cruciate ligament.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Boston that Schoop’s injury was not caused by the hard slide of Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval trying to break up a double play in the second inning.

There is no timetable for Schoop’s return, but Showalter expressed optimism that the young infielder will return at some point this season. His injury will not require surgery and is apparently not as serious as the PCL tear suffered by veteran infielder Wilson Betemit in spring training two years ago. Betemit did not return until late August of that season and appeared in only six games before being released a few weeks later.

Schoop is expected to travel to Sarasota to begin rehabbing the injury. This is the third significant knee injury suffered by an Orioles infielder under age 24 in less than two years after third baseman Manny Machado suffered serious knee injuries in each of the last two seasons.

Infielder Jimmy Paredes was activated from the 15-day DL to take Schoop’s place on the 25-man roster. With Schoop joining shortstop J.J. Hardy on the DL, the Orioles’ decision to sign veteran infielder Everth Cabrera appears that much wiser less than two months later. Cabrera was starting at shortstop with Ryan Flaherty playing second base in Saturday’s game against the Red Sox.

The Orioles will clearly miss Schoop’s strong defense at second base, but his strong start offensively had fans salivating at his potential in his second full season as he was batting .259 with three home runs, seven RBIs, and a .940 on-base plus slugging percentage in 29 plate appearances.

 

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Orioles remain in holding pattern with Wieters

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles catcher Matt Wieters continues to increase his activity level in Sarasota, but it remains unclear when he’ll be ready to go on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Nearly 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery and almost a month after being shut down with right elbow tendinitis in the middle of the Grapefruit League schedule, Wieters still hasn’t caught, but he had five at-bats serving as the designated hitter in an extended spring training game on Tuesday. The 28-year-old also threw from 150 feet and hasn’t experienced any further setbacks since he began throwing again.

“You can tell he’s feeling pretty good,” manager Buck Showalter said prior to Tuesday’s game against the New York Yankees. “He had some of that normal soreness (from throwing) that wasn’t there today.”

Showalter said he wouldn’t be surprised if Wieters were to begin a rehab assignment by the end of the month, but it’s clear the organization and the three-time All-Star selection are thinking over the long-term scope of a 162-game season after the original hope of him being ready for Opening Day did not come to fruition.

The Orioles hope Wieters could still be back in early May, but it’s too soon to tell until he gets behind the plate to start catching again in live-game situations. The disappointment of the mid-March setback aside, the 28-year-old is still on a faster track than many pitchers who come back from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery.

“I know what Matt thought when I left spring training. He gave me an idea date-wise,” Showalter said. “I’m not going to give that up, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was potentially earlier than that. But he and J.J. [Hardy] both, we want to get it right the first time.”

Hardy is still experiencing a “little catch” in his left shoulder when he extends the follow-through of his swing, something the Orioles want to remedy before he goes on a rehab assignment. The shortstop could be ready to go later this week along with utility player Jimmy Paredes (lower back strain), who played seven innings in an extended spring game on Tuesday.

The Orioles are hoping both could report to Double-A Bowie as early as Thursday or Friday if all goes well between now and then.

Lefty reliever Wesley Wright is expected to report to Sarasota on Wednesday and will be shut down completely for a week after a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed left shoulder inflammation. The Orioles are projecting him to miss four to six weeks after he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left trapezius strain on Saturday.

Below are Tuesday night’s lineups:

NEW YORK
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
3B Chase Headley
RF Carlos Beltran
1B Mark Teixeira
C Brian McCann
DH Garrett Jones
LF Chris Young
2B Stephen Drew
SS Didi Gregorius

SP CC Sabathia (0-1, 6.35 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

BALTIMORE
SS Everth Cabrera
3B Manny Machado
CF Adam Jones
1B Steve Pearce
RF Delmon Young
DH Chris Davis
2B Jonathan Schoop
C Caleb Joseph
LF Alejandro De Aza

SP Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 1.59 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

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Orioles place left-handed reliever Wright on DL

Posted on 11 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Faced with a crowded bullpen to begin the 2015 season, the Orioles will now have that problem alleviated in a way they didn’t anticipate.

Left-handed pitcher Wesley Wright has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left trapezius strain. The reliever disclosed the injury after pitching 1 1/3 innings in Friday’s 12-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

“After we see the [doctor], we’ll know what the next step will be,” said Wright, who revealed Friday that he’s been dealing with the issue for a few days. “I’m hoping that it’s something that can get taken care of kind of quickly and hopefully I can be back on the field soon. It wasn’t worse, so I’ll take that aspect of it. I knew the way I felt yesterday, it was going to take something dramatic for me to feel a lot better this morning. When I woke up, I felt basically the same.”

In two appearances, Wright has allowed one earned run and two hits in 1 2/3 innings with his new club.

It remains unclear how long Wright will be sidelined, but the Orioles recalled pitcher Eddie Gamboa from Triple-A Norfolk to take his place in the bullpen just in time for Saturday’s game. Outfielder David Lough (hamstring) is expected to be activated from the DL in the coming days, but the Orioles intend to send him on a brief minor-league rehab assignment with Single-A Frederick beginning Sunday.

Unlike other options on the 40-man roster who had pitched in the last day or two, Gamboa is fresh and can provide the Orioles with length in the bullpen for however long he remains in Baltimore. The 30-year-old knuckleballer is scheduled to start for the Tides on Monday, but that will depend on whether manager Buck Showalter will need to use him over the next couple days.

In 2014, Gamboa went a combined 5-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 108 2/3 innings split between Norfolk and Double-A Bowie. He has never appeared in the majors in his seven-year professional career.

Left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland could have been recalled as he was the scheduled starter for Norfolk on Saturday, but the Orioles prefer giving him some regular work in Triple A to begin the season. Right-hander Mike Wright remains on the club’s radar, but he started for Norfolk on Friday and touched 99 miles per hour at one point, according to Showalter.

In other injury-related news, catcher Matt Wieters (elbow tendinitis) took batting practice from both sides of the plate in Sarasota on Saturday. He is expected to throw from 120 feet and catch batting practice on Sunday.

“That was all encouraging to hear,” Showalter said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow, but that’s kind of moving [forward] a little bit.”

Shortstop J.J. Hardy continues to progress but is feeling slight discomfort in his left shoulder at the very end of his follow through when swinging. Showalter doesn’t want him to be thinking about that when he’s hitting, which means the Orioles won’t rush him to go on a rehab assignment until he’s fully ready.

“I want to get it right the first time. I don’t want him to feel like he has to rush,” Showalter said. “It’s like Matt — I want to get it right the first time and not have to look back and worry about it. But I like where he is with it right now.”

Infielder Jimmy Paredes (lower back) is expected to play in an extended spring training game on Monday. If that goes well, he could go on a minor-league rehab assignment in Frederick next week.

Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey (broken fibula) completed two sets of 25 throws from 60 feet on Saturday. He hasn’t pitched since he was struck in the ankle with a comebacker in minor-league spring training late last month.

Below are Saturday night’s lineups:

TORONTO
SS Jose Reyes
CF Dalton Pompey
RF Jose Bautista
DH Edwin Encarnacion
3B Josh Donaldson
C Russell Martin
1B Justin Smoak
LF Kevin Pillar
2B Devon Travis

SP Aaron Sanchez (2014 stats: 2-2, 1.09 ERA)

BALTIMORE
LF Alejandro De Aza
RF Steve Pearce
1B Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
DH Travis Snider
3B Manny Machado
2B Jonathan Schoop
SS Everth Cabrera
C Caleb Joseph

SP Ubaldo Jimenez (2014 stats: 6-9, 4.81 ERA)

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Webb reportedly clears waivers, Paredes likely heading to DL

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles needing to finalize their 25-man roster for the start of the 2015 season by Sunday, two more outcomes became evident on Friday afternoon.

According to The Sun, right-handed relief pitcher Ryan Webb has passed through waivers, which will likely lead to his departure from the organization. Meanwhile, the red-hot Jimmy Paredes is expected to be placed on the 15-day disabled list after injuring his lower back while lifting weights earlier this week.

Out of minor-league options and owed $2.75 million, Webb cannot be sent to Triple-A Norfolk without his consent and is still guaranteed his salary if he refuses to go to the minors. This means the Orioles will likely need to decide to either make room for him on the 25-man roster or to part ways with the 29-year-old while still paying him his money.

Asked about the matter on MASN Friday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would not expand on Webb’s future with the organization.

“Waivers are [supposed to be] confidential,” Duquette said. “Ryan Webb is still on our roster.”

Signed to a two-year, $4.5 million contract two offseasons ago, Webb pitched to a 3.83 ERA last season before he became the odd man out when the Orioles acquired lefty reliever Andrew Miller in late July. Webb hasn’t helped his cause this spring by pitching to a 6.75 ERA in 6 2/3 innings.

News of Paredes’ injury is disappointing after the switch-hitting infielder batted .364 with 10 extra-base hits, 12 RBIs, and a 1.005 on-base plus slugging percentage this spring. With shortstop J.J. Hardy and outfielder David Lough also expected to begin the season on the DL, Paredes was expected to make the roster out of spring training.

The Paredes injury may open the door for outfielder Nolan Reimold to make the club after being a non-roster invitee. The 31-year-old has hit two home runs and posted a .928 OPS this spring.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what can’t go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2015 after we looked at what factors must go right on Thursday. In an effort to avoid being redundant in the wake of the first piece, I avoided the polar opposites of the factors already discussed.

1. The worm turns on the health of the pitching

In addition to recapturing the success from last season, Orioles pitching would desperately like to extend its run of good fortune in the health department as only four pitchers — Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez –visited the 15-day disabled list in 2014. Of those four, only Jimenez spent more than 18 days on the DL and there was plenty of external debate over the severity of his ankle injury as he was in the midst of a disappointing season.

Injuries are a part of the game and it’d be difficult for the Orioles to expect that same level of health, but you can only hope the baseball gods don’t decide to exact revenge in 2015. Baltimore was one of only 10 teams in the majors last year to have four pitchers make 25 or more starts while only two clubs — Kansas City and Washington — had five pitchers make 25 or more.

The odds are not in the Orioles’ favor to repeat last year’s injury-light run as any given club has a 65 percent likelihood of having two starters ailing at the same time at some point in a season, according to FanGraphs. That reality makes it clear why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was so hesitant to part with any of the club’s top six starters this winter.

While many focused on the misfortune of the injuries suffered by Wieters and Machado last season, the rotation and the bullpen were as healthy as you could have hoped for on the way to 96 wins.

2. Corner outfield spots become a wasteland

It’s been impossible to escape the lamenting over the departure of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason as the Orioles weren’t willing to invest the combined $101 million that the pair received elsewhere in free agency. The veterans accounted for a total of 207 starts at the corner outfield spots that others will need to assume in 2015.

No two individuals will be expected to fill their roles exclusively as some combination of Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Travis Snider, David Lough, and possibly Nolan Reimold will receive early opportunities. Even if you thought Cruz and Markakis were overpaid, the Orioles still need to account for the 116 extra-base hits the two produced last year.

Of course, the club can reasonably expect better offensive returns from the likes of Davis, Machado, Wieters, and J.J. Hardy at their respective positions, but there’s a lot of unknown that Showalter will be facing in trying to pull the right strings with a cast of unproven or flawed characters flanking center fielder Adam Jones.

The Orioles don’t necessarily need the overwhelming success of platoons resembling the best days of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke, but poor production from the corner outfield spots is a recipe for a lineup likely struggling to score runs.

3. Matt Wieters is a shell of his old self defensively

There was a reason why I didn’t include Wieters having a bounce-back year as one of the things that must happen for the Orioles. The truth is they proved they could win without him last season.

Make no mistake, the Orioles would benefit from a better offensive catcher than Caleb Joseph, but a more uncomfortable proposition might be a Wieters behind the plate who is a shell of what he used to be defensively. If Wieters is fully cleared, Showalter will immediately reinstall him as the starter, but that doesn’t guarantee his defense will warrant him being the overwhelming regular, potentially creating an awkward situation.

Last season, Joseph produced 1.5 defensive wins above replacement — a better mark than Wieters in either of his last two full seasons — and the Orioles allowed the eighth-lowest total of stolen bases in the majors. For a club that prides itself in controlling the opponent’s running game, Wieters’ defense is more important than his offense.

Yes, it’s important to have Wieters back, but him returning as a defensive liability while also remembering that his on-base plus slugging percentage steadily declined from 2011 through 2013 would be worrisome. With a small number of catchers having undergone Tommy John surgery at the major league level over the years, it’s impossible to truly know what to expect.

4. Injuries continue to zap J.J. Hardy of his power

A back injury that lingered for much of the 2014 season limited the three-time Gold Glove shortstop to just nine home runs and a .372 slugging percentage, which is what made the news of a shoulder injury last week disheartening for the 32-year-old.

Hardy isn’t expected to miss much time, but the Orioles are counting on him to be part of the equation to fill the power void left behind by Cruz. Before Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract last fall, the organization had to be expecting a return to power numbers similar to what he posted in his first three years in Baltimore.

Back and shoulder issues for a shortstop on the wrong side of 30 are worrisome, especially when you’re counting on Hardy to hit a few more out of the ballpark this season. His defense is his best asset, but the Orioles need more than that while paying him an average of just over $13 million per season over the next three years.

5. The underwhelming offseason and the reality of 11 pending free agents create a tight clubhouse

Several players made no secret about their disappointment in this past offseason in watching the departures of Markakis, Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller while seeing minimal additions for the 2015 season. Duquette has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but it’s human nature for veterans to be disappointed to see a longtime Oriole like Markakis depart.

On top of this, the club has 11 players currently slated to become free agents next offseason including position players such as Davis, Wieters, Pearce, De Aza, and Young and starting pitchers Norris and Wei-Yin Chen. That’s why many are viewing 2015 as the Orioles’ last chance to seriously contend for at least a couple years.

Showalter is as good as any manager in baseball in cultivating a loose clubhouse and strong player leadership remains despite Markakis’ departure, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if players might be too tight this season, especially if the club were to get off to a slow start.

And the memory of a disappointing four-game sweep in last year’s American League Championship Series could creep back into players’ psyche in the process.

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2015 Orioles preview: Jimmy Paredes

Posted on 02 April 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day now only days away, we continue to take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter
March 20 – Manny Machado
March 21 – Brad Brach
March 22 – Steve Pearce
March 23 – Darren O’Day
March 24 – Caleb Joseph
March 25 – Wesley Wright
March 26 – Delmon Young
March 27 – Miguel Gonzalez
March 28 – Ryan Flaherty
March 29 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 30 – Everth Cabrera
March 31 – Bud Norris
April 1 – Matt Wieters

UTI Jimmy Paredes

Opening Day age: 26

Contract status: Under club control through the 2019 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: .286/.308/.444, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 12 R, 4 SB, 65 PA

Why to be impressed: Building on a strong finish to the 2014 season with the Orioles, Paredes has produced a terrific spring with a 1.005 on-base plus slugging percentage in 55 at-bats to all but guarantee himself a roster spot to begin the season. His ability to hit from both sides of the plate makes him a viable offensive piece to come off the bench in late-inning situations.

Why to be concerned: Despite his potential with the bat, Paredes is very limited defensively no matter where manager Buck Showalter might put him in the field. The injury to David Lough has created roster space for the time being, but Paredes will need to really contribute with the bat to justify his place on the club for the long haul.

2015 outlook: He could take some at-bats away from Delmon Young as an occasional designated hitter, but Paredes wouldn’t figure to see much playing time unless the Orioles are dealing with a slew of injuries. It remains to be seen how long he will stick on the roster, but his strong showing last year and fantastic spring make him deserving of an opportunity. Even if Paredes cools off and the Orioles decide they can’t continue to carry him on the 25-man roster in the coming weeks, they’d like to keep him in the organization for depth, but he’d have to pass through waivers to make it back to the minors.

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Orioles hoping hot corner doesn’t burn chances in October

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles may not be sounding an alarm, but all you need to know about their concern at third base was signaled with the insertion of veteran Alexi Casilla at the hot corner in Saturday’s lineup against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Yes, Casilla brings major league experience and manager Buck Showalter wanted to take a look at him after he was rehabbing a hamstring injury in Sarasota earlier this month, but how many games did the 30-year-old play at third base for Triple-A Norfolk this season you might ask?

None.

In fact, Casilla had made just two career starts at third and appeared at the hot corner just 10 times in his eight major league seasons before Saturday’s game at Rogers Centre. But it reflects the level of uncertainty the Orioles face at the position as Casilla became the fourth different player to start there since the announcement of Chris Davis’ 25-game suspension on Sept. 12.

The concerns at third base have been very real since 2013 Gold Glove winner Manny Machado went down with a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 11, but the Orioles appeared to find an acceptable solution in Chris Davis before the slugger’s 25-game suspension was announced on Sept. 12. Since then, Showalter has shuffled candidates with the results being mixed at best.

Though the Orioles have been playing out the relatively-meaningless regular-season string since clinching the division title on Sept. 16, they’ve committed five errors in their last eight games at third base entering Saturday.

The switch-hitting Jimmy Paredes has shown offensive promise with a .308 average in 54 plate appearances, but the 25-year-old has also displayed poor hands and an erratic arm, committing three errors in 13 games and looking shaky on a number of other plays at third base. Showalter has given Paredes the most extensive playing time at third, but his defense has often led to him being pulled in the late innings.

Veteran Kelly Johnson has shown decent hands, but his throwing arm hasn’t inspired confidence to throw out speedier runners at first base. The left-handed hitter also sports a .215 average in time split among the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Orioles this season.

Considered the strongest defensive option on the current roster, Ryan Flaherty has even shown recent struggles at the hot corner with two errors in his last four starts at third base this past week. And though he’s hitting over .300 in the month of September, Flaherty’s appearance at third creates another hole at the bottom of the order — he’s a career .222 hitter with a .654 career on-base plus slugging percentage — to go with rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop and one of Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley behind the plate.

It’s unlikely that Casilla makes the postseason roster, but the simple fact that he’s getting a look at third base speaks volumes about Showalter’s lack of confidence in any of the candidates at the position.

The Orioles knew they wouldn’t be able to find an option with the all-around ability of Machado when he was lost for the season, but they appeared to be able to live with Davis’ solid defensive play while knowing the offensive upside he brings despite his .196 average in the 2014 regular season. But his suspension lasting until the ninth game of the postseason leaves the Orioles flapping in the wind at third for at least the American League Division Series and some of the AL Championship Series before Davis is an option.

None of their current options provide enough upside with the bat to endure such shaky defense and only Flaherty — if you’re willing to overlook the recent shakiness — appears to provide steady-enough defense to Showalter’s liking. That’s what makes the 2012 Rule 5 selection the most palatable option over Paredes, Johnson, or the recently-summoned Casilla until Davis can potentially return.

Looking for an answer since Machado crumpled to the ground on Aug. 11 and then again when Davis was banned on Sept. 12, the Orioles have yet to find a solution with the Division Series beginning in less than a week.

While many look at the Orioles’ league-leading home run total and improved pitching numbers, defense remains the heart of their success over the last three seasons. Baltimore ranks third in the AL in team ERA but only 10th in strikeouts, a simple reflection of how hurlers pitch to contact and how important the defense has been. Entering Saturday, the Orioles were tied for first in fielding percentage and had committed the second-fewest number of errors in the AL.

In October when such a premium is placed on pitching and defense in typically low-scoring games, the Orioles defense will need to be at its best as they begin a journey to try to win their first World Series since 1983.

You just hope the uncertainty at the hot corner doesn’t burn their chances.

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