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Orioles remain in holding pattern with Schoop

Posted on 30 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles know Jonathan Schoop is ready to be activated, but they’re not in a rush to make it happen.

The second baseman once again worked out at Camden Yards on Tuesday and will continue his rehab assignment at Single-A Frederick in the next day or two. What happens after that remains to be seen as Schoop’s assignment is scheduled to expire on Friday and the Orioles are discussing their options, including sending him down to the minor leagues temporarily.

A well-documented surplus of outfielders on the 25-man roster remains a sticking point as executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are currently using a six-man bullpen and will need to make space for Kevin Gausman to start Thursday’s series finale against the Texas Rangers. Schoop is not expected to travel with the Orioles to Chicago for the weekend series against the White Sox.

“Obviously, he can be optioned. There are a lot of things there for us,” Showalter said. “Jonathan will benefit by every day he can get the knee that much stronger. It’s a pretty significant injury, so I want to keep that in mind, but we feel like Jon — if we had to — could be activated [or] he could benefit by playing in the minor leagues.”

While many have questioned the Orioles’ hesitation in activating Schoop, there is a baseball argument in favor of optioning him to the minors that goes beyond the roster crunch and wanting to take it slow with his rehabilitated right knee. Few would dispute Schoop’s potential or standing as the second baseman of the future, but the Orioles have received better-than-expected play from Ryan Flaherty at second base this season.

It was easy to get caught up in Schoop’s hot start to 2015 with three home runs in 29 plate appearances, but the young infielder is far from a finished product after hitting .209 with a .598 on-base plus slugging percentage as a rookie. Entering Tuesday, Flaherty was hitting .254 with a very solid .734 OPS, which ranked seventh in the American League among second basemen with at least 150 plate appearances.

To be clear, there is no second base controversy, but the position has been in good hands during Schoop’s recovery and will remain that way while the Orioles bide their time with the roster crunch and making a decision on when to activate the 23-year-old. Once Schoop returns, Flaherty has earned the right to remain in the mix at second base while also occasionally spelling J.J. Hardy at shortstop.

“He’s a lot more than a safety net,” said Showalter of the utility infielder and former Rule 5 pick. “He’s a guy you can run out there at about six positions that I feel comfortable with him. You don’t really appreciate those guys until you don’t have them. Everybody’s always looking for that guy.

“Ryan’s showing some things that you look for in an everyday player too. He’s made some adjustments in his swing and mentality that have been very evident. Some guys figure it out at 28 or 29. He’s a guy that’s easy to trust.”

NOTES: Right-handed pitcher Jason Garcia is expected to begin a rehab assignment in the near future after a couple more bullpen sessions. The Rule 5 selection was placed on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis on May 15. … Chris Davis was making his fourth start in right field in the last five games with Chris Parmelee back at first base on Tuesday night. … Manny Machado entered Tuesday ranked sixth in batting average (.307), fifth in hits (91), and ninth in OPS (.891) in the American League.

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Orioles prospect Bundy unlikely to pitch again this year

Posted on 29 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, Orioles pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is unlikely to pitch again in 2015 due to right shoulder inflammation.

After being assigned to Double-A Bowie at the start of the season, Bundy was shut down after a start on May 21 due to right shoulder tendinitis and hasn’t thrown since. Buck Showalter chose not to reveal specific details about Bundy’s visit to renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, but the manager made it clear the 22-year-old won’t be pitching anytime soon.

He is 0-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 22 innings for the Baysox this year.

“I’m not going to elaborate on doctors’ evaluations and whatever, but I know Dylan throwing again is not imminent,” Showalter said. “I haven’t heard surgery mentioned — not at this point. He’s just kind of shut down for the near future. Kind of let everything calm down and see where we are.”

According to The Sun, Bundy is dealing with calcification in the back of the right shoulder that is causing the inflammation. Surgery is not being discussed as an option at this point.

The news is concerning for Bundy and the Orioles as he is out of minor-league options next year since he signed a major league contract when he was selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft. Continuing health problems are concerning enough, but the right-hander has missed valuable experience in only making 40 professional starts in four years and would need to be on the 25-man roster next season if he’s healthy.

Bundy has been coveted by other clubs in potential trades over the last few years, but the Orioles were always hesitant to part with him because of his potential to become a top-of-the-rotation starter. This latest setback makes that projection feel even more tenuous as many have pointed to his past workout habits and heavy workload in high school as factors that have contributed to his ailments as a professional.

“Depending on how you look at it, it’s probably as good of news as we could expect,” said Showalter of Bundy’s prognosis. “We’ll see. I obviously know a lot more than I’m going to talk about here. I don’t think it’s good for anybody right now, the timing. But he won’t be throwing for a little while. We’ll see how long that is.”

In other prospect-related news, 2013 first-round pick Hunter Harvey is set to begin a throwing program soon after being shut down with a flexor mass strain earlier this year. Harvey received a platelet rich plasma injection and was prescribed rest when he visited Andrews last month.

Harvey was shut down early last year with the same ailment.

Right-handed pitcher Matt Hobgood, the Orioles’ first-round pick in the 2009 draft, will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, the latest setback in a disappointing professional career. Hobgood will become a minor-league free agent after the 2015 season.

NOTES: Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman remains on track to start Thursday’s series finale against the Texas Rangers. Barring something unforeseen, Showalter doesn’t anticipate the 24-year-old staying with the club after that as the organization wants him to continue pitching every fifth days. … Entering Monday, the Orioles were 10-1 at home and 18-8 overall in the month of June. The last time Baltimore posted 20 wins in a calendar month was September 1999. … In the latest American League All-Star voting update, Manny Machado ranked fourth among third basemen and Adam Jones was seventh among outfielders. The starters will be announced on Sunday night with reserves, pitchers, and the “Final Vote” candidates being unveiled on Monday night. A special will be televised on ESPN both nights. Five Kansas City Royals players remain in the lead to start after eight were leading the voting at their positions earlier this month.

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Orioles move to six-man bullpen to temporarily hold off roster crunch

Posted on 26 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles put a temporary band-aid on their roster crunch Friday by optioning left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for the returning Wei-Yin Chen.

The Taiwanese lefty started the series opener against the Cleveland Indians after being recalled from Single-A Frederick. The decision to demote McFarland means the Orioles will go with a six-man bullpen, a move that will likely only last a day or two.

Faced with a very crowded outfield, the Orioles must decide who to keep among the likes of Delmon Young, Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold, David Lough, Travis Snider, and Chris Parmelee. None of the aforementioned players have minor-league options, meaning any would need to be designated for assignment to be removed from the 25-man roster barring a trade or trip to the disabled list.

The idea of a six-man bullpen has to be an uncomfortable one for manager Buck Showalter as Orioles starting pitchers have failed to complete six innings in 14 of the last 20 games. Baltimore has gone 15-5 over that stretch, but the longevity of the bullpen will become a concern if starters cannot go deeper into games moving forward.

McFarland was recalled from the Tides on Wednesday and pitched two innings in Thursday’s win at Boston, allowing two earned runs and three hits while striking out one.

After controversially being sent to the minors to make room for Parmelee 10 days ago, Chen made one start for the Keys, allowing one hit and striking out two over three scoreless innings on June 20. The 29-year-old carries a 3-4 record with a 2.89 ERA in 13 starts (81 innings) for the Orioles this season.

Decision on Jones likely coming Saturday

Adam Jones was out of the lineup for the eighth time in 10 games, but Showalter hopes the center field has turned the corner after he felt good throwing on Friday afternoon.

The real test will be seeing if the 29-year-old experiences soreness on Saturday. The Orioles manager acknowledged a trip to the 15-day DL likely would be in order if Jones’ right shoulder doesn’t respond well to the activity and he isn’t ready to play in the second game of the Cleveland series.

With Jones having served as the designated hitter for two games in Toronto last weekend, the Orioles would only be able to backdate his DL trip to June 21. This means the four-time All-Star selection wouldn’t be eligible to return until July 6 at the earliest.

“He is different. You bide some time to get six days,” said Showalter about waiting to make a decision for a player of Jones’ caliber. “You don’t want to DL him and two days later he’s ready to go. He means a lot to us.”

Schoop’s return imminent

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop returned to Camden Yards Friday afternoon for a workout with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson before returning to Double-A Bowie for a final rehab game with the Baysox.

In six rehab games, the 23-year-old has gone 6-for-22 with three home runs, two doubles, and a walk. Showalter acknowledged Schoop would likely be the one to take Jones’ place if the latter is placed on the DL this weekend.

Either way, Schoop’s return is considered imminent as he declared himself “ready to go for sure” and expressed great confidence in his right knee.

Weather keeps Gausman in limbo

Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman was scheduled to start for Triple-A Norfolk on Friday, but an ominous forecast for Saturday’s game prompted the Orioles to hold him back.

In the event of a postponement for the second game of a three-game set with the Indians — their only trip to Baltimore this season — the Orioles would likely recall Gausman to serve as the 26th man for a possible doubleheader on Sunday. Because the club doesn’t have another day off until July 9, Gausman would be a candidate to start one of the games to avoid upsetting the current rotation in the days following the twin bill.

Gausman was optioned to the Tides after making his first start of the season for the Orioles last Saturday, but he would not need to stay in the minors for the required 10 days to serve as the 26th man for a potential doubleheader.

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Road improvement big part of Orioles turnaround

Posted on 23 June 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated 10:25 p.m.)

Many reasons have been discussed for the Orioles’ June turnaround, but one of the biggest has been a revitalization away from Camden Yards.

Upon losing their fifth straight game and dropping their third in a row in Houston on June 3, the Orioles had not only fallen a season-low six games below .500 but sported an 8-17 record on the road, tied for the second-worst mark in the majors. A 3-2 victory over the Astros the following afternoon started a run of 14 wins in 18 games that continued with a 6-4 victory over Boston at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.

Their current 15-20 road record is still no shining achievement, but the Orioles have won seven of their last 10 away from home including this past weekend’s important series win against Toronto at Rogers Centre, a place where they were swept in April.

The Orioles entered Tuesday tied with Kansas City for the second-best home record in the American League at 22-13, but continued improvement on the road will be critical to their ability to contend in the tight AL East. In running away with their first division title in 17 years last season, manager Buck Showalter’s club sported a 46-35 record on the road, which was tied for second in the AL.

You can simply look at the previous three seasons to see how critical road performance has been to the Orioles’ postseason aspirations. In making trips to the playoffs in 2012 and 2014, the Orioles sported matching 46-35 regular-season records away from Camden Yards. Two years ago, they finished a strong 46-35 at home, but an underwhelming 39-42 road record led to an 85-77 mark and third place in the AL East.

July will bring a major test to the Orioles’ mettle as they’ll play 15 of 22 games on the road.

Pondering Schoop and Flaherty

After beginning his rehab assignment going 1-for-11 in his first three games for Double-A Bowie, second baseman Jonathan Schoop exploded Monday night with a home run and two doubles.

The Orioles have made sure that Schoop has taken his time in rehabbing a right knee injury suffered in mid-April, but the 23-year-old’s return and potential will be welcomed at the bottom of the lineup. What this means for Ryan Flaherty remains to be seen, however, as he had a very solid .744 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Tuesday.

Schoop clearly possesses more upside, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Showalter continue to give the 28-year-old Flaherty some playing time as he can spell the young second baseman as well as veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy to keep them fresh. With Hardy’s well-documented back issues and Schoop’s knee, Flaherty should continue to receive at least two or three starts per week.

And he deserves it with his improvement at the plate this season.

Another outfield option on the horizon?

As the Orioles ponder how to figure out a crowded outfield picture, another potential option at Triple-A Norfolk has begun emerging recently.

Dariel Alvarez has been on the organization’s radar for quite some time, but the 26-year-old Cuban outfielder has collected multiple hits in 11 of his last 14 games entering Tuesday. Over that time, the right-hander is batting .410 with four home runs, five doubles, and 12 RBIs over 61 at-bats.

A call-up probably isn’t imminent with the 25-man roster already too crowded, but Alvarez possesses an electric throwing arm and has improved his average to .282 with 11 homers, 38 RBIs, and a .761 OPS. If he continues his recent trend at the plate, the Orioles will certainly be tempted to take a look at him in the second half of the season.

All-Star Game voting fix

Much has been said — including from this writer — about the All-Star Game voting that currently features seven Kansas City Royals in line to start for the AL, but ESPN’s Jayson Stark pointed out one of the biggest — and easily correctable — problems with the system.

A simple visit to the voting website illustrates how one can mindlessly vote for every player on their favorite club by simply clicking the team’s logo at the top of the page. If you give people an excuse to be lazy, many will take the bait to save even a minute or two of time.

To be clear, the Royals, Orioles, or any major league team can campaign for their players to be All-Star selections as much as they’d like, but can we at least make homers hellbent on only voting for their own players — in Kansas City or anywhere — to put in some effort by voting manually for each position?

At the very least, this would force fans to look at other names in the process, which isn’t too much to ask if we’re going to let them vote for the players participating in a contest that determines home-field advantage in the World Series.

 

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Orioles preparing to call up Parmelee from Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 15 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Mulling ways to improve their corner outfield situation, the Orioles are preparing to select the contract of Chris Parmelee from Triple-A Norfolk as early as Tuesday.

The 2006 first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins joined the Orioles in Baltimore prior to the series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies, but manager Buck Showalter confirmed he would not be activated for Monday’s game. Parmelee had a June 15 opt-out clause in the minor-league contract he signed with the club in the offseason and had already extended it once earlier this season.

Seeing time at both corner outfield spots as well as at first base with the Tides, the 27-year-old was hitting .316 with six home runs, 32 RBIs, 13 doubles, and an .826 on-base plus slugging percentage in 265 plate appearances this season. Parmelee was a career .249 hitter with 24 homers, 85 RBIs, and a .709 OPS in 901 plate appearances for the Twins over four major league seasons.

“We like him. He’s having as good of a year as anybody in Triple A for our team and for the other teams,” Showalter said. “He’s played the outfield well and first base. He can do a lot of things.”

Parmelee was in the clubhouse and took batting practice, but he was not permitted to be in the dugout during Monday’s game.

The Orioles hope he can offer some offensive production from the left side of the plate that they haven’t received from lefty outfielders Travis Snider and David Lough so far this season. It will be interesting to see how the club makes room for him on the 25-man roster since Snider, Lough, and Steve Pearce are all out of minor-league options.

Parmelee hopes the success he had in the International League will translate to helping the Orioles continue their recent winning ways.

“I’m just trying to stay as consistent as possible,” Parmelee said. “It goes from the routine in the cage and coming out and running every day and having a routine and staying with it. Staying positive is one of the most important things. The decision was made, and I’m happy to be here.”

Schoop back in Baltimore

Returning from a lengthy stint at extended spring training in Sarasota, second baseman Jonathan Schoop was back on the field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Monday afternoon, fielding grounders and taking batting practice.

Schoop has been sidelined with a right knee injury for the last two months, but he is currently scheduled to begin a minor-league rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie on Friday.

“That was encouraging. That was fun to watch,” said Showalter of Schoop’s on-field workout. “He looks good. He should. He was pretty excited to get out of [Florida].”

Schoop has received plenty of at-bats in extended spring games, but the last hurdle to clear for the 23-year-old was decelerating when running, according to Showalter. The infielder hadn’t been playing the field in those extended spring games, but vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson traveled to Sarasota last week to work out Schoop to gauge where he was from a physical standpoint.

Simply rejoining his teammates in Baltimore and knowing he’ll be traveling with them to Philadelphia later this week has Schoop excited about his pending return. Showalter has stressed that the Orioles will be cautious in making sure the young infielder is completely ready before activating him from the disabled list.

“I want to play. I feel strong and I’m not thinking about [the knee],” Schoop said. “I feel stronger than before.”

Machado named AL Player of the Week

Third baseman Manny Machado was named American League Player of the Week from June 8-14 while helping the Orioles to a season-high six-game winning streak.

The 22-year-old collected four multi-hit games and batted .458 (11-for-24) with two homers, five RBIs, and a 1.269 OPS. Machado entered Monday’s game sporting an eight-game hitting streak.

“It feels good. It was a good week for the team and it was mostly a team thing,” said Machado of the award. “The team was playing well and we were all hitting well. If it wasn’t for my teammates and my guys being on base, I wouldn’t have been here.”

W. Wright to begin rehab assignment

Left-handed relief pitcher Wesley Wright will begin a minor-league rehab assignment on Tuesday and is scheduled to pitch one inning for Triple-A Norfolk.

The 30-year-old has been on the disabled list with a left trapezius strain since the first week of the regular season.

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Gonzalez expected to miss Sunday’s start against Yankees

Posted on 10 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez is expected to miss his next scheduled start against the New York Yankees on Sunday.

The right-handed starter left Tuesday’s game with a right groin strain and will likely be placed on the 15-day disabled list, but manager Buck Showalter said a roster move was unlikely to come before Thursday at the earliest. Gonzalez said he was still sore prior to Wednesday’s game against Boston.

“I would say his start Sunday is definitely in jeopardy, which is a nice way of saying he ain’t making it,” Showalter said. “Unless something really strange happens from the time he came in, it looks like we’re going to need a starting pitcher for Sunday.”

Triple-A Norfolk starters Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson are the top candidates to make Sunday’s start, but the maneuvering could be tricky if the Orioles want to recall the former to pitch against New York. Optioned to the minors last Friday, Wright would only be eligible to return for Sunday’s start if he is the one to replace Gonzalez — or another player — in a DL move since he hasn’t been in the minors for the required 10 days. However, the Orioles would probably prefer to go back to their customary seven-man bullpen as they continue to play a man down with Brian Matusz serving the four remaining games of his suspension.

If the Orioles were to place Gonzalez on the DL and recall another pitcher such as left-handed reliever Cesar Cabral, that would likely signal Tyler Wilson as Sunday’s starter. Baltimore could also elect to recall Wright as a reliever to replace Gonzalez with the idea of keeping him on track to start Sunday if he isn’t needed out of the bullpen in the meantime.

In four starts for the Orioles this season, Wright is 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 24 1/3 innings, striking out 16 and walking four.

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop practiced sliding for the first time Wednesday in Sarasota as he continues to recover from a Grade 1 tear of the posterior cruciate ligament and a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered on April 17. With extended spring training wrapping up this week, the 23-year-old is expected to return to Baltimore to continue working out with the Orioles before potentially beginning a rehab assignment.

Showalter said Schoop has still not been cleared to play the field in extended spring training games — he has been working on fielding elements in controlled settings — but the Orioles are still projecting him to be activated before the All-Star break. The Baltimore manager added that Schoop is now faster running straight ahead than he’s ever been, a reflection of how hard he’s worked over the last two months.

“It’s a pretty major injury he had, a pretty serious injury,” said Showalter, who reiterated that surgery is not an option being considered for Schoop. “There are things he’s going to have to do the rest of his career. There are guys playing in the NFL with that same injury who never had surgery. It’s going to be a challenge for him and the people around him. He’s going to have to continue to do some things and strengthen some things to play at the level he’s capable of.”

Lefty relief pitcher Wesley Wright (left trapezius strain) will pitch in an extended spring game Friday before being sent out on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Scheduled to make his next rehab start at Double-A Bowie on Thursday, right-hander Kevin Gausman said he felt great after Saturday’s start for Single-A Frederick and is feeling no effects of the shoulder tendinitis that landed him on the DL last month. He is expected to be kept to 65 pitches in his second rehab start.

Yankees closer and ex-Oriole Andrew Miller was placed on the DL with a strained flexor mass in his left forearm on Wednesday, meaning he won’t be available for the weekend series in Baltimore.

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Orioles activate infielder Cabrera from 15-day DL

Posted on 22 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Prior to the start of a three-game series in Miami, the Orioles activated veteran shortstop Everth Cabrera from the 15-day disabled list and optioned infielder Rey Navarro to Triple-A Norfolk.

Cabrera was hit on the left foot by a pitch on May 6 and sent to the DL to make room for the returning J.J. Hardy a day later. In 23 games filling in for the injured Hardy at shortstop, the switch-hitting Cabrera batted .205 with two doubles, four RBIs, and two stolen bases.

The 25-year-old Navarro was batting .276 with one home run, two doubles, and three RBIs in 10 games with the Orioles.

Cabrera will likely receive some opportunities at second base with Steve Pearce and Jimmy Paredes also in the mix. Because the Orioles do not have the designated hitter this weekend against the Marlins, Paredes was starting at second base on Friday night.

It remains to be seen how long Cabrera will remain with the Orioles as he has now accumulated enough major league service time that he cannot be optioned without his consent. Infielder Ryan Flaherty remains on the disabled list with a groin injury, but he is expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment with Triple-A Norfolk by the end of the weekend.

Despite being a 2013 All-Star representative of the San Diego Padres, Cabrera has shown little from an offensive standpoint, posting a .456 on-base plus slugging percentage in 89 plate appearances. Flaherty carries more experience at second base and possesses more power potential while starter Jonathan Schoop continues to work his way back from a right knee injury in Sarasota.

Cabrera signed a one-year, $2.4 million contract with Baltimore in late February.

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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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Five questions pondering Joseph, Garcia, others

Posted on 17 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Orioles or Ravens (or a mix of both).

Five questions

1. Does Caleb Joseph make it easy to wait for Matt Wieters to take his time to return?
No, I don’t expect the former to continue hitting .375, but it’s difficult to argue how good his defense has been as Orioles pitching posted a 3.00 ERA with him behind the plate in 2014, he threw out 40 percent of runners trying to steal, and his pitch framing rates better than Wieters’ did in either of his his last two full seasons. The question isn’t whether Joseph is better than or as good as the pre-injury Wieters — he’s clearly not — but it remains to be seen if the post-surgery Wieters will be the same defensively and whether he’ll provide enough offense to justify being the undisputed starter if he’s a shell of his old self behind the plate.

2. Does Buck Showalter need to figure out exactly what he has with Jason Garcia sooner rather than later?
I know the Orioles love the Rule 5 pick’s arm and he has nice potential at age 22, but they can’t afford to carry him if it means they essentially have a 24-man roster. If his arm is special enough to warrant keeping him, he should be able to get some meaningful outs along the way. The early-season struggles of Tommy Hunter and and the rest of the bullpen have magnified the situation, of course, but Showalter needs to be able to use Garcia in some legitimate situations, especially if he’s not going to give the Orioles length in the same way that T.J. McFarland did as a Rule 5 pick in 2013.

3. Should third base coaches take more chances around baseball?
I thought about this at different times this winter after Kansas City elected not to send Alex Gordon home as the potential tying run in Game 7 of the World Series, and the question returns with Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson drawing the ire of fans with some questionable sends at the start of the season. Historically, a runner standing on third base with two outs will score only 27 percent of the time, but data shows only five percent of runners being sent home from second base on a single with two outs are thrown out at the plate. Yes, that success rate looks great, but how many potential runs are ultimately being stranded at third base to avoid the chance of a runner being thrown out in favor of the potentially lower-percentage chance of the next batter driving him in. Of course, there are many variables involved such as the speed of the runner, the location of the ball, and the arm strength of the fielder, but it’s still interesting to ponder how many potential runs are lost due to the fear of failure and the criticism that a third base coach can face.

4. Is the exuberant friendship between Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop a joy to watch?
I first watched these two play together when they were at Single-A Frederick in 2011, and it’s scary to think how young both still are with so much untapped potential. Of course, scenes like this don’t hurt, either:

5. Do we still not appreciate Jim Palmer enough? The Hall of Fame pitcher celebrated the 50th anniversary of his major league debut Friday and he continues to remain a fixture on Orioles telecasts five decades later. As someone who only remembers Palmer the broadcaster, I marvel at his numbers, which included a period of nine times in 10 years from 1969-1978 in which he posted an ERA below 3.00 and at least 4.1 wins above replacement. His 211 complete games, 53 shutouts, and four seasons of 300 or more innings are numbers we don’t even see in video games today.

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Early thoughts on Orioles lineup

Posted on 16 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Providing the ever-popular caveat that “it’s still early” in making any observations, below are some thoughts on each regular member of the Orioles lineup — with an additional nod to Delmon Young coming off the bench — through the first nine games of the 2015 season.

While many are understandably pining for former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz with him homering in five straight games, Baltimore leads the majors in home runs and has had few problems scoring runs so far.

Each player’s slash line, which includes batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, is noted in parentheses.

1. Alejandro De Aza (.314/.333/.571)

The left fielder’s .905 on-base plus slugging percentage is impressive, but he’s walked only once and has struck out 13 times, second on the club to only Chris Davis. He is the most experienced option that Buck Showalter has for the leadoff spot and he’s seen 4.28 pitches per plate appearance so far this season (the major league average is 3.81), making you think he’ll begin to draw more free passes as the year goes on. The high volume of strikeouts (36.1 percent of plate appearances) sticks out, but De Aza’s 21.2 percent career strikeout rate makes you believe this is more an early-season aberration.

2. Steve Pearce (.161/.278/.355)

Drawing starts at four different spots already (first base, left field, right field, and designated hitter), Pearce looked like he was picking up where he left off in 2014 by hitting a home run in each of the first two games. Since then, however, it’s been a struggle as he’s been mired in a 2-for-26 slump with eight strikeouts over that time. Showalter gave Pearce the night off Wednesday, so hopefully that coupled with Thursday’s off-day will allow the 32-year-old to clear his head. The Orioles don’t expect him to repeat his .930 OPS from a year ago, but they are counting on him to provide above-average offense.

3. Chris Davis (.226/.273/.387)

The cries have already started for Davis to be lowered in the order as he’s struck out in 45.5 percent of his 2015 plate appearances, which is alarming even for the first baseman’s standards. That said, he’s still found a way to contribute offensively, including three RBIs in Wednesday night’s win. It’s difficult to know what to expect from Davis at this point, but Showalter will — and should — keep writing his name in the lineup. You can happily live with him striking out 30 percent of the time like he did in 2012 and 2013 if he hits 35 home runs, but his contact rate continues to trend in the wrong direction.

4. Adam Jones (.406/.459/.844)

The Orioles may need to drag Jones onto the plane to Boston as he just finished one of the best homestands of his career by going 12-for-21 with four home runs and nine RBIs while hitting safely in all six games. As Showalter noted, several of those big hits came on pitches outside the zone as Jones was completely locked in. We know the drill as Jones will go through stretches where he’s not producing and many will complain about him failing to draw walks and expanding the zone. You take the good with the bad, and Jones has certainly provided much more of the former with a 1.303 OPS.

5. Travis Snider (.333/.467/.500)

We haven’t seen Snider in the outfield since a critical three-run error against Toronto on Sunday, but he leads the club with six walks and a stout .467 on-base percentage so far. He won’t continue to draw walks in 20 percent of his plate appearances, but Snider does give the Orioles more patience in the lineup, which is something they’ve obviously lacked over the last few years. Even with the rough defensive day against the Blue Jays, the left-handed hitter has given the Orioles everything they could have asked for so far and should continue to see regular at-bats.

6. Manny Machado (.161/.250/.290)

A .161 average would suggest we should be asking what’s wrong with the young third baseman, but he’s hit a number of balls hard for which he didn’t receive a return. Machado connected on his first homer of the season in Wednesday’s win, but the part of his offensive approach that’s been most impressive has been the willingness to take pitches. Machado walked in just 4.1 percent of his 2013 plate appearances, increased that rate to 5.7 percent last year, and has drawn free passes in 11.1 percent of his trips to the plate in 2015. It’s only a matter of time before good at-bats produce good results.

7. Jonathan Schoop (.292/.346/.708)

Jones has been the Orioles’ best offensive player, but Schoop has taken the largest step forward so far as he’s second on the club in home runs (three) and RBIs (seven). He’s only drawn one walk, but his power has been impressive as four of his seven hits have gone for extra bases. Showalter complimented Schoop’s approach in his final at-bat Wednesday that followed his home run to jump-start the five-run sixth inning. He didn’t get a hit, but Schoop drove a ball hard to right-center that was flagged down by Jacoby Ellsbury. The second baseman has a long way to go, but he has scary potential at age 23.

8. Everth Cabrera (.269/.310/.269)

Cabrera has filled in nicely for Gold Glove shortstop J.J. Hardy by playing strong defense and offering a few singles here and there at the plate. The interesting question will be what the Orioles decide to do with Cabrera and utility player Ryan Flaherty once Hardy is ready to return to his starting role. Cabrera has been solid at shortstop and provides speed, but he hasn’t played any other positions and we know Flaherty can play good defense at more than one spot. Of course, both players have options, making this a good problem to have once Hardy is ready to be activated from the disabled list.

9. Caleb Joseph (.375/.444/.542)

It remains unknown when Matt Wieters will be ready to return, but Joseph has held his own in the three-time All-Star catcher’s absence and even picked up the Orioles’ first triple of the season. He is 0-for-4 throwing out runners trying to steal, but his 40 percent success rate from last season proved he can do the job defensively. The offense has been a nice development after Joseph posted a .618 OPS as a rookie. Showalter reminded reporters this week that the 28-year-old had a career .753 OPS in the minors, suggesting the Orioles might be able to expect a little more from him with the bat this year.

PH – Delmon Young (.333/.375/.333)

Young hasn’t played as much as some might have expected so far, but he recaptured his 2014 magic coming off the bench with a pinch-hit RBI single in the Orioles’ comeback win over the Yankees on Wednesday night. The 29-year-old will receive plenty of opportunities as the DH against left-handed pitching and the occasional start in the outfield, but Showalter loves having his bat as a weapon off the bench. The likes of De Aza, Snider, and Pearce producing in regular roles for this club will allow that to continue to happen.

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