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Machado receives four-game suspension, will appeal

Posted on 09 June 2016 by Luke Jones

The punishment is in for Orioles infielder Manny Machado for his role in Tuesday’s brawl with the Kansas City Royals.

The 23-year-old will receive a four-game suspension and $2,500 fine for charging the mound and punching Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura, who was suspended nine games and fined for hitting Machado in the ribs with a 99 mph fastball in the fifth inning and had twice thrown inside to the shortstop in the previous at-bat. Both benches emptied before order was restored and both Machado and Ventura were ejected from the game.

Machado will appeal the suspension and was in Thursday’s lineup as the Orioles began a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Veteran center fielder Adam Jones said after Tuesday’s game that he intended to pay Machado’s fine, a clear show of support for his teammate’s actions.

It’s not the first time that Machado has been disciplined by Major League Baseball as he was suspended five games for throwing a bat two years ago in a weekend-long conflict with the Oakland Athletics. Unlike that incident, however, Machado’s actions on Tuesday have generally been viewed with more understanding while Ventura has been perceived as the main culprit.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-0 win over Royals

Posted on 09 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-0 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 58th game of the 2016 season.

1st Chris Tillman wasn’t sure when asked if he was carrying his best stuff of the season, but it looked like it as he pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings while allowing eight hits and matching a career high with nine strikeouts without walking a single batter. The right-hander commanded all of his pitches and was particularly good locating his fastball throughout the night. Not only did Tillman throw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 29 hitters he faced, but he got an impressive 19 swinging strikes as a struggling Royals lineup struggled to make contact and hit the ball hard. Though he entered Wednesday’s game averaging 3.7 walks per game and can struggle with command from time to time, Tillman went to three-ball counts on just two hitters and threw just 29 balls out of his 110 pitches. Simply put, Tillman was exceptional in his longest start of the season.

2ndRyan Flaherty is known for his versatility in the field but not for his bat, making his recent contributions at the plate a pleasant development. With the bases loaded and the game scoreless in the fifth, Flaherty doubled to right off Edinson Volquez to score two, which would be all Baltimore needed to earn its first three-game sweep of the Royals since 2011. The third baseman has now hit safely in eight of his last 10 games, batting .308 with two doubles, a home run, seven runs, and seven RBIs. Flaherty also turned a terrific double play in the second, catching a Jarrod Dyson bunt in the air and immediately firing to second to double off Cheslor Cuthbert.

3rdBrad Brach took over for Tillman with two men on and one out in the eighth and eventually escaped with the potential tying run at the plate after he had issued a two-out walk. The right-hander lowered his season ERA to a remarkable 0.84 by pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings with three strikeouts to close out the victory. The performance gave Brach his second save of the season as he now has 37 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings.

HomeHyun Soo Kim knocked in the final run of the night with an RBI single and also collected the first stolen base of his major league career in the fifth. He is now hitting .372 on the season. … The Orioles improved to a season-best 12 games above .500 and finished a 7-3 homestand to increase their lead in the AL East to 1 1/2 games entering Thursday. … Losers of seven straight, the Royals scored just two runs over the three-game series at Camden Yards and have plated only four in their last six contests. … Though he struck out a season-worst four times, Mark Trumbo made his first start of the year at first base as Chris Davis missed his first game of 2016 with a couple physical issues, according to Buck Showalter. … The Orioles recorded their third shutout victory of the season. … Tyler Wilson will go to the hill to open a four-game set in Toronto while the Blue Jays will start right-hander Marcus Stroman on Thursday night.

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Nothing good comes from Tuesday’s brawl for Orioles

Posted on 08 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Yordano Ventura was the culprit in Tuesday’s brawl between the Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, but don’t be fooled by the crowd’s chants for Manny Machado after he charged the mound.

There was nothing to be proud of from the confrontation. Nothing good comes from this for Machado or the Orioles, even if they weren’t the ones at fault. And let’s not sing the 23-year-old’s praises when it was just two years ago that he embarrassed himself and the organization by being on the wrong side of another conflict by flinging a bat at the opposition. He has his own reputation for being a bit of a hothead, which may or may not have made him a prime target for Ventura’s behavior.

If you want to see a fight, check out a UFC pay-per-view or even WWE Monday Night Raw, which offers more believable grappling than what you’ll find in 90 percent of baseball brawls. I’d much prefer using this space to focus on a 9-1 victory in which the Orioles clubbed four home runs to improve to 11 games over .500 and remain in first place in the AL East instead of the rubbish we witnessed on Tuesday — no matter who’s to blame.

In a perfect world, Machado bites his tongue in anger and walks to first base as the Royals starter is ejected for the deplorable act of using a 99 mph fastball — his fastest pitch of the night — as a weapon, but you can understand an emotional reaction when your livelihood is being threatened. The 23-year-old shortstop wasn’t entirely blameless and did play a part in escalating the hostility in the previous at-bat when Ventura twice came inside without hitting him, but no amount of jawing warranted being hit in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The real problem is Major League Baseball’s willingness to allow these types of incidents to continue with little consequence. Instead of pimping highlights of the skirmish via social media, the league should crack down on pitchers who decide to punish someone because they were terrible at their job in the way Ventura was on Tuesday night.

With his own past likely being considered, Machado will be suspended for a handful of games and should be for charging the mound and throwing a punch, but what will the consequence be for Ventura, who committed a more dangerous act and already has a concerning history in his brief career? A suspension that will likely amount to one or two missed starts?

Give me a break with that slap on the wrist.

Adam Jones may have made the most cogent point of the night when citing how Ventura faces no threat of stepping to the plate to face the same music that he dished out. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but at least it’s a deterrent that exists in the National League to help offset baseball’s lack of a backbone over matters such as these.

Manager Buck Showalter said after Tuesday’s win that there were no apparent injuries stemming from the brawl, but we’ve seen them occur before, including one that nearly cost Cal Ripken his consecutive games streak in 1993. Machado’s anger was understandable, but he also put himself in further danger and his teammates in harm’s way when he charged the mound and the playoff-hopeful Orioles will now be without their best player for some number of games in the near future.

But more importantly, Machado could have been seriously injured by a 99 mph missile from Ventura, a reality that needs to be taken more seriously by the league’s decision-makers. More extreme consequences for pitchers intentionally hitting someone would go a long way in not only making the game safer but also putting players’ minds at ease that they don’t have to take matters into their own hands.

There just has to be a better way than players and teams policing themselves because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

Perhaps everyone would be a little more cordial if they knew they’d be banned for many more games and lose much more money when getting caught up in such nonsense.

Make no mistake, Ventura was the villain and the big loser on Tuesday night.

But that doesn’t make Machado the winner, either.

And we primarily have baseball to thank for that.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-1 win over Kansas City

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Monday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 56th game of the 2016 season.

1st Mike Wright took full advantage of the mulligan from his minor-league demotion last week with seven strong innings in which he allow one unearned run and five hits while striking out four and walking two. The right-hander did have a favorable matchup against an injury-depleted Kansas City lineup missing two impact lefty bats, but he did a superb job keeping his fastball down in the zone and Royals hitters were just 2-for-8 with a walk in Wright’s third trip through the order, which has been very problematic for him this year. His hold on a rotation spot entering Monday was tenuous at best, but Wright turned in his best outing of the year for his fourth quality start of 2016.

2ndMatt Wieters wasn’t quite tired and ready to go home in the seventh, but he was more than eager to help his starting pitcher get a win by homering to dead center off Royals starter Danny Duffy, who had shut down Baltimore over his first six innings of work. The blast would prove to be the winning run as Wieters slugged the 100th home run of his career as a catcher and is now batting .362 with 17 RBIs over his last 19 games. He also did an excellent job behind the plate with a young starter who was pitching for his job on Monday night.

3rdMark Trumbo was the first Orioles batter to solve Duffy on Monday by homering on the third pitch of the bottom of the seventh after the Royals had taken a 1-0 lead on Jonathan Schoop’s error in the top half of the inning. Trumbo now leads the majors with his 19 homers, just three shy of his 2015 total in 307 fewer plate appearances this season. It was the 150th long ball of his career.

HomeBrad Brach continued his brilliant season by striking out the top three hitters in the Royals order in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He extended his scoreless streak to nine games covering 10 2/3 innings to lower his season ERA to a microscopic 0.88 in 30 2/3 innings. … Zach Britton induced three quick grounders on just eight pitches to earn his 18th save in as many tries and extend his scoreless streak to 14 games spanning 15 1/3 innings. … Adam Jones’ RBI double in the seventh tied Brady Anderson for first place in extra-base hits (243) in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. … In the eighth, Manny Machado clubbed his 15th homer, the first of the season allowed by standout reliever Kelvin Herrera. … With Monday’s victory, Showalter surpassed former Orioles manager Davey Johnson for sole possession of 29th place on the all-time managerial wins list with 1,373. … The Orioles lead the majors with 19 comeback victories and have won five of their last six with all five of the come-from-behind variety. … Ubaldo Jimenez takes the hill on Tuesday while Yordano Ventura will start for Kansas City.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-1 loss to Kansas City

Posted on 24 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-1 defeat to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday afternoon?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 17th game of the 2016 season.

1st — The Orioles managed just one hit in Yordano Ventura’s final six innings of work after grabbing an early 1-0 lead. The Kansas City right-hander threw 28 pitches in an opening inning that included a Mark Trumbo RBI single, but the Orioles made Ventura throw a total of 25 in the next three frames and pushed only one runner into scoring position after the first. The lineup simply couldn’t handle Ventura’s effective off-speed stuff to go along with his fastball and were retired in order a total of six times on Sunday afternoon. You knew it wouldn’t be an easy day against the talented 24-year-old, but the inability to even make him work set up the Orioles for a long day at Kauffman Stadium.

2nd — After pitching well through six innings, Mike Wright couldn’t handle a long leash in the seventh and suffered his second loss. It’s a shame that many will look at the final numbers and just assume that the Orioles right-hander was lousy, but Wright effectively mixed in his off-speed and breaking stuff to compete against a lineup that included five lefty bats. That said, he left a 92 mph sinker up and over the outer half of the plate on Alex Gordon’s fourth-inning homer and hung a curve on Eric Hosmer’s long ball in the sixth, showing lefties are still problematic for him. To be clear, Wright doesn’t receive a pass as he entered the seventh at only 87 pitches, but Buck Showalter could have had a reliever loosening in a 2-1 game as the inning began. Even if it had been a clean inning, you wouldn’t have loved the Orioles’ chances with Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis looming in a 2-1 game, which could explain why Showalter tried to push it a little more than normal with Wright instead of going to the bullpen at the first sign of trouble. Right or wrong, that’s a choice that sometimes needs to be made when thinking of the long-term status of a bullpen that’s working behind a poor starting rotation in 2016.

3rd — You never know if the seventh would have been different for Wright if not for Chris Davis’ misplay of a Gordon chopper down the first-base line to open the inning. The Orioles made a handful of shaky plays defensively like the Royals did in Saturday night’s contest, but Davis would be the first to tell you that he should have turned that into the first out — even if catcher Caleb Joseph thought the ball was foul. Instead, it opened the floodgates to transform a close game into a blowout. Yes, Wright needs to be able to shake it off and not give up doubles to two of the next three hitters, but Baltimore’s stellar defense can’t bend like that when you’re asking a young starter to work into the seventh inning of a one-run game.

Home — Dylan Bundy wasn’t able to keep the Orioles in it after the deficit had grown to 4-1 in the seventh. He allowed three of the first four hitters he faced to reach as the Royals busted it wide open with a five-run advantage and allowed two more hitters to reach in the eighth. … Manny Machado saw his 16-game hitting streak come to an end as he went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Only Davey Johnson had a longer hitting streak (17 games) to begin a season in Orioles history. … Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-3 and is now hitting .108 to begin the season. … Trumbo collected his club-leading 16th RBI, but all have amazingly come on the road. … Kevin Gausman will be activated from the 15-day disabled list to make his 2016 debut against Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer on Monday night.

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Gallardo leaves Friday’s start with shoulder discomfort

Posted on 23 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo left Friday’s start against the Kansas City Royals with right shoulder discomfort.

Manager Buck Showalter said on MASN after Baltimore’s 4-2 loss that the right-hander would travel back to Baltimore where he’ll be examined by team doctors. Gallardo allowed four runs, five hits, a home run, and a walk in just two innings before being replaced by T.J. McFarland to begin the bottom of the third inning.

With left-handed reliever Brian Matusz set to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday, it remains unclear whether Gallardo would be a candidate to be placed on the DL. Right-hander Kevin Gausman is set to be activated to start Monday’s game against Tampa Bay.

According to FanGraphs, Gallardo’s average fastball velocity entering Friday’s game was just 87.4 miles per hour over his first three starts of 2016, down from an average of 90.4 last season. It was no secret that his velocity and strikeout rate had declined over the last few years, but his dramatic drop in pitch speed this spring had prompted many to wonder about the health of his arm in his 10th major league season.

Of course, the Orioles restructured the original three-year, $35 million agreement with Gallardo in February after concerns arose about his shoulder during his physical and the sides eventually settled on a two-year, $22 million contract. Baltimore gave up the 14th overall pick of the 2016 amateur draft to sign Gallardo, making Friday’s news even more concerning beyond the short-term ramifications of potentially needing to fill his rotation spot.

In four starts this season, Gallardo is 1-1 with a 7.00 ERA over 18 innings and has struck out just nine while walking seven.

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Ravens-related thoughts from wild-card weekend

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Some have perceived a softer culture for the Ravens since Super Bowl XLVII, but Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict reminded us Saturday that there’s a fine line between attitude and recklessness.

Baltimore may lack the big personalities and swagger that it once had on the defensive side of the football, but the Bengals linebacker has proven time and time again that you simply can’t trust him. His personal foul on Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown on Saturday was just the latest example of a player lacking any regard for others on the field and playing too recklessly in a critical spot. This came after replays showed him driving his knee into the right shoulder of Ben Roethlisberger on the sack that took the Steelers quarterback out of the game.

The Ravens are no strangers to Burfict’s antics as offensive lineman John Urschel pointed out the hit on rookie tight end Maxx Williams in Week 17 on Sunday. Former Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith called Burfict a “dirty” player last season, and ex-Ravens Ray Rice and Bobbie Williams had issues with the Bengals linebacker in his rookie season.

To be clear, the Ravens would benefit from having more attitude on the defensive side of the ball. They certainly would like to have the play-making ability demonstrated by Burfict on his late interception that looked like it would seal the Bengals’ first playoff win in a quarter-century before Jeremy Hill’s fumble.

But the famous rant from Mike Singletary describes Burfict perfectly: “It is more about them than it is about the team. Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them. Can’t do it. I want winners.”

Intimidation and ferocity have been traits of many great players over the years, but only when those qualities can be harnessed, something Burfict was incapable of doing when it mattered most.

Was Mallett watching?

A fake Ryan Mallett Twitter account garnered some attention during the Houston Texans’ embarrassing 30-0 loss to Kansas City on Saturday, but you hope that the real Mallett did reflect as Brian Hoyer turned in one of the worst playoff performances by a quarterback in recent memory.

It’s fair to point out that Hoyer posted a solid 91.4 passer rating this season, but Mallett had a golden opportunity in Houston that he completely squandered as he’s more physically gifted than the Texans’ current starter. There’s no way to know for sure if Mallett would have fared any better against the Chiefs, but Houston was a much better opportunity for him than Baltimore in terms of playing time if he’d simply been more of a professional.

To his credit, Mallett has done all of the right things since signing with the Ravens, but Saturday should have been a reminder to him of what might have been. Now, he plays for a team that strictly views him as a backup behind an entrenched franchise quarterback.

He’ll be lucky to receive another opportunity like the one he had in Houston, but you hope he’s learned his lesson if that day does come.

Thankful for Tucker

While many thought of Billy Cundiff when Minnesota’s Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard chip shot that would have won the game for the Vikings, the reliability of Justin Tucker also came to mind.

To be fair, Walsh is a former Pro Bowl kicker and had missed just one kick inside 30 yards in his four-year career, but the 2012 sixth-round pick had also failed to convert four extra points this year, showing he hadn’t been as reliable from shorter distances. Meanwhile, Tucker has never missed from inside 30 in his NFL career and has missed just one field goal try inside 40 yards in his four seasons.

A miss such as Walsh’s could happen to anyone — these guys are human, after all — but Sunday likely reminded general manager Ozzie Newsome how lucky he’s been to have Tucker and how the Ravens can’t afford to let him go this offseason despite his issues from beyond 50 yards this past year.

Winning trumps all 

With John Harbaugh and the injury-ravaged Ravens speaking so much about their heart and resiliency at the end of the season, you hope that they take some notes from the Chiefs as they won their 11th consecutive game on Saturday.

At one point, the Chiefs were 1-5 and had lost their best player — four-time Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles — to a season-ending knee injury in October, but Andy Reid’s team did more than just to keep fighting and to play teams close every week. Of course, the Ravens weren’t as talented as Kansas City and lost the likes of Joe Flacco and Steve Smith as the season progressed, making a turnaround of that magnitude virtually impossible.

But you also don’t want players to take too much satisfaction from a 5-11 record, no matter who was on the field by season’s end.

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Harbaugh explains Ravens’ new pants

Posted on 21 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even after the Ravens had suffered a 34-14 defeat to Kansas City on Sunday, many fans were still discussing it on social media.

What the heck was with the new gold-yellow-mustard pants John Harbaugh’s team was wearing?

“That was a nod to the tradition a little bit,” Harbaugh said. “The players like it. They like something different. I don’t know. I didn’t take a vote to see who liked them or who didn’t like them, but they were excited to be out there in a little different look.”

A simple search on Twitter shows that the new looked was panned by virtually all fans and observers. It was the first time in franchise history that the Ravens had worn uniform pants that weren’t white or black.

Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders always liked to say, “If you look good, you feel good; if you feel good, you play good.” If that’s the case, the Ravens may have never stood a chance against the Chiefs.

Many had speculated that the look make have been mandated by the NFL and Nike, but Harbaugh said the new pants were in the works since last season and likely would have been worn earlier in the year had the Ravens gotten off to a better start.

“Maybe we should do a contest for our third pant-color combination with the fans, so we can have them weigh in and we could wear them,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s fun. Uniforms are fun. They should be fun. We want to be traditional. We have a look that we’re proud of in Baltimore. It stands out, and we want to build on that. But if we can be creative in there somewhere, hey, I’m all for it.

“I want to play well. It doesn’t really matter what color the pants are to me. If the players like it, I like it.”

If I were to make my own uniform suggestions, I would adjust the Ravens’ black uniform pants by adding a white and purple stripe on the sides, which would be similar to what the team wore in 1997. Some say the Ravens look like they’re wearing tights or pajamas when sporting the solid-black pants, and this change would help remedy that.

As for a third set of pants — to ensure that Sunday’s pants never again see the light of day — I’d suggest purple ones to be worn with the black alternate jerseys to replace the tired “blackout” look that many teams now have. College programs such as TCU and Northwestern have pulled off this look quite effectively in recent years.

Have no fear, I’ll go back to the occasional #FashionTweets hashtag on Twitter and stick to football now.

 

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Gillmore to IR, J. Smith has “good chance” to return Sunday

Posted on 21 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ injured reserve list grew once again on Monday as tight end Crockett Gillmore will officially miss the rest of the season.

The 2014 third-round pick was in his first season as a starter and had been sidelined with a back injury since Dec. 6. Gillmore also missed two games earlier this year with a calf injury, meaning he will have missed a total of six games in 2015.

Head coach John Harbaugh said last week that Gillmore appeared unlikely to play again this season.

“It’s not working out. His back flared up again,” Harbaugh said last Wednesday. “He also has the [sore] shoulder. It’s not looking good for Crockett right now.”

The Ravens now have 19 players on IR, which doesn’t include tight end Dennis Pitta being on the physically unable to perform list or linebacker Zach Thompson, who was released from IR after receiving an injury settlement earlier this month.

While many fans lamented the free-agent loss of Owen Daniels, pondered the status of Dennis Pitta, and looked forward to the arrival of rookie draft picks Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle in the offseason, Gillmore immediately grabbed hold of the No. 1 tight end job over the summer and caught 33 passes for 412 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games. Used mostly as a blocking tight end as a rookie, the Colorado State product proved he was capable of being a reliable target as a pass-catcher.

Able to break tackles with a massive 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame, Gillmore has drawn comparisons to former New York Giants tight end Mark Bavaro with his impressive physicality.

The loss of Gillmore was expected, but the Ravens hope to have No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith back in action against Pittsburgh this coming Sunday. Smith injured his hamstring on the opening series of Sunday’s loss to Kansas City and did not return.

With the postseason-hopeful Steelers sporting the league’s fifth-ranked passing game, the struggling Ravens will need all the help they can get in the secondary.

“Jimmy has a good chance,” Harbaugh said. “I just talked to him and I think he’s got a good chance to play, so we’ll see how it goes this week.”

To take Gillmore’s place on the 53-man roster, the Ravens signed former Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Chris Carter. Also a former member of the Steelers, Carter is a five-year NFL veteran who had 10 tackles in 13 games for the Bengals this season before being waived last week.

Carter was selected by Pittsburgh in the fifth round of the 2011 draft out of Fresno State.

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Ravens lose cornerback Jimmy Smith to thigh injury

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens lost top cornerback Jimmy Smith to a thigh injury on the opening series of their 34-14 loss to Kansas City on Sunday.

The fifth-year defensive back appeared to hurt his hamstring chasing after Chiefs running back Charcandrick West on his 38-yard touchdown run. Minutes after going to the Baltimore locker room for further examination, Smith was declared out for the remainder of the game.

Head coach John Harbaugh did not have an update on Smith after the Ravens’ 10th loss of the season.

“I don’t have an update on that. I don’t know,” Harbaugh said. “I knew he was out for the game, but that’s the last I’ve talked to the doctors about that.”

Intending to use Lardarius Webb exclusively as a nickel back and at safety this week, the Ravens instead moved the veteran back outside — opposite of Shareece Wright — in the base defense after Smith’s injury.

Smith’s exit created an opportunity for the recently-promoted Jumal Rolle to play cornerback in the nickel package for the remainder of the game. After appearing in 18 games for Houston over the last two seasons, Rolle was signed to the Baltimore practice squad after being cut by the Texans last month.

Harbaugh said earlier in the week that he wanted to give Rolle a chance to play over the final three weeks of the season.

“We had guys to come in and step it up,” Webb said. “Jumal Rolle came in, played good. We’ve got Shareece here. I thought he came in and did an awesome job when Jimmy went down.”

Should Smith not be able to return to play in Week 16, a high-octane Pittsburgh passing game will face even less resistance in a Baltimore secondary that has struggled all season.

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