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Shoulder issue to keep Tillman from starting Opening Day

Posted on 14 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles will have a new Opening Day starter this season, but that’s hardly their biggest concern as they held their first spring workout on Tuesday.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Sarasota that Chris Tillman will not be ready to pitch in the season’s first game due to a lingering right shoulder problem, but the Orioles remain hopeful that the veteran starting pitcher could still be ready to go by the end of the first week. The right-hander received a platelet-rich plasma injection in December and is currently three weeks behind schedule for the start of spring training. Showalter said Tillman could begin pitching in spring games by mid-March if there are no setbacks.

Turning 29 in April and set to become a free agent after the season, Tillman began dealing with the shoulder issue last August and missed the better part of a month after receiving a cortisone injection. He returned from the disabled list in mid-September to make four starts before taking the ball in the American League wild-card game on Oct. 4, but he completed six innings in just one of those five outings.

At last month’s FanFest event, Tillman expressed belief that the shoulder issue was finally behind him, but he made no mention of receiving the PRP injection.

“We worked hard this offseason to make sure it’s behind us,” Tillman said. “I did a lot more shoulder stuff than I’m used to [in the offseason]. I’m used to just showing up and pitching. We’ve worked hard, and I’m pretty confident it’s behind me.”

With Tillman having taken the ball for the last three season openers, Kevin Gausman now becomes the favorite to start on Opening Day against Toronto on April 3. A brief absence from Tillman at the start of the season would hardly be the end of the world, but the Orioles are not equipped with enough depth to endure a lengthy stay on the DL from their veteran ace.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette dealt veteran starter Yovani Gallardo to Seattle in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith in January, leaving the likes of Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson as the next in line behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. The Orioles also acquired right-handers Logan Verrett and Gabriel Ynoa this offseason to add to their potential starting inventory.

Tillman has been the rock of the Baltimore rotation since the middle of the 2012 season and has posted an ERA of 3.77 or better in four of the last five campaigns. In 30 starts spanning 172 innings last season, he pitched to a 16-6 record with a 3.77 ERA and averaged 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings, his best mark since 2013. However, he did walk 3.5 batters per nine innings, his worst mark since 2011.

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Orioles reach agreement with Gausman to avoid hearing

Posted on 05 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Just days away from their second arbitration hearing of the month, the Orioles have instead reached an agreement with starting pitcher Kevin Gausman on a one-year contract.

Reported first by FOX Sports, the sides agreed to a $3.45 million salary plus incentives based on the number of starts he’ll make this season. In his first year of arbitration as a player with “Super Two” status, the 26-year-old right-hander was seeking $3.55 million while the Orioles countered at $3.15 million when the sides exchanged figures last month.

Reliever Brad Brach is Baltimore’s final unsigned arbitration-eligible player. Backup catcher Caleb Joseph lost his arbitration case last week as the organization won its ninth consecutive hearing dating back to 1996.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette reiterated the club’s intent to go to hearings with all three of its unsigned arbitration-eligible players last month, but the Orioles were wise to avoid the process with Gausman, who was their best starter in the second half of 2016. Finishing with a career-high 179 2/3 innings, the 2012 first-round pick pitched to a superb 2.83 ERA over his final 12 starts spanning 76 1/3 frames.

Gausman turned in the finest start of his career on Sept. 14, pitching eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory over Boston at Fenway Park. Despite an underwhelming 9-12 record due to poor run support, the right-hander finished his first full season as a starter with a 3.61 ERA and struck out 8.7 batters and walked 2.4 per nine innings.

Under club control through the 2020 season, Gausman is considered a critical component of the Orioles’ efforts to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

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Orioles avoid arbitration with Machado, Britton, Tillman, Schoop

Posted on 13 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Facing a 1 p.m. deadline on Friday to exchange salary figures with players eligible for arbitration, the Orioles came to terms on contracts with four key cogs to their success over the last few years.

Third baseman Manny Machado ($11.5 million), closer Zach Britton ($11.4 million), starting pitcher Chris Tillman ($10.05 million), and second baseman Jonathan Schoop ($3.475 million) all agreed to one-year deals for the 2017 season. Tillman is scheduled to become a free agent after the season while Machado and Britton remain under club control until the end of 2018. Schoop does not become a free agent until after the 2019 season.

After failing to come to terms, the Orioles exchanged salary figures with starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, reliever Brad Brach, and catcher Caleb Joseph. Multiple outlets have reported that the Orioles intend to take a “file-and-trial” approach with any unresolved cases, which would mean they would not negotiate any further with these players before arbitration hearings that would be scheduled for next month.

It comes as no surprise after they played such crucial parts in recent trips to the postseason, but Machado, Britton, Tillman, and Schoop will combine to command nearly $18 million more in salary than they did in 2016. That’s a major reason why the Orioles are projected to have a payroll well north of $150 million for the 2017 season.

Baltimore came to terms on one-year deals with utility infielder Ryan Flaherty ($1.8 million) and left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland ($685,000) on Thursday.

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Orioles include rookie Mancini on roster for AL wild-card game

Posted on 04 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have included 10 pitches on their roster for Tuesday’s American League wild-card game against Toronto.

The roster construction for a single game is a unique exercise since the advancing club may reset its players for the Division Series, which explains why starting pitcher Kevin Gausman is not among the 25 players eligible to play against the Blue Jays. Gausman pitched 7 1/3 strong innings to earn the victory in the playoff-clinching finale against the New York Yankees on Sunday.

In addition to starter Chris Tillman, manager Buck Showalter has included right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Dylan Bundy on the roster, providing the Orioles ample long-relief options should Tillman run into early trouble or the game go into extra innings.

Starting pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley are not on the wild-card game roster after pitching in New York over the weekend. Right-hander Vance Worley was the most notable reliever left off the roster.

There were no real surprises among the position players, but rookie Trey Mancini was included just over two weeks after being promoted to the majors. Having received the call when Steve Pearce was lost for the season with a forearm injury, Mancini gave the Orioles a spark against left-handed pitching with three home runs and a double in 15 plate appearances.

Below is the full AL wild-card game roster:

PITCHERS
RH Brad Brach
LH Zach Britton
RH Dylan Bundy
LH Brian Duensing
RH Mychal Givens
LH Donnie Hart
RH Tommy Hunter
RH Ubaldo Jimenez
RH Darren O’Day
RH Chris Tillman

CATCHERS
Caleb Joseph
Matt Wieters

INFIELDERS
Pedro Alvarez
Chris Davis
Ryan Flaherty
J.J. Hardy
Manny Machado
Trey Mancini
Jonathan Schoop

OUTFIELDERS
Michael Bourn
Adam Jones
Hyun Soo Kim
Nolan Reimold
Drew Stubbs
Mark Trumbo

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Orioles push back Gausman due to intercostal issue

Posted on 22 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Already reeling from a 2-5 start to their final homestand that has obliterated hope for a division title, the Orioles are pushing back one of their best starting pitchers due to a health concern.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman is dealing with an intercostal issue and will not start Sunday’s home finale against Arizona, according to manager Buck Showalter. Fellow right-hander Dylan Bundy will instead make the start on five days’ rest despite the original plan to give him another day of rest.

The hope is that the 25-year-old Gausman will be able to start on Tuesday or Wednesday in Toronto. The Orioles are off on Monday before beginning a six-game road trip to conclude the regular season.

“He felt it a little bit — the start of an intercostal [issue] — and we think we caught it in time,” said Showalter, who added that his back was not an issue before Tuesday’s start. “But we’ll see how it manages. We just don’t think it’s smart to have him pitch on Sunday.

“He wasn’t sick, but he had some things happening to his body that meant he might have been a little short on fluids that may have been some of it. We’re hoping it was more that than anything else, but we’ll see.”

The news couldn’t come at a worse time for the Orioles, who entered Thursday on a three-game losing streak and with only a one-game lead for the second wild-card spot. Despite being tagged for five earned runs in Tuesday’s loss, Gausman has been Baltimore’s best starter since late July and has pitched to a 2.57 ERA over his last 63 innings.

Showalter has already been using a six-man rotation and will start Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, and Bundy against the Diamondbacks.

Gausman threw a career-high 120 pitches over eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over Boston on Sept. 14, but he did not disclose any physical concerns after his 101-pitch outing on Tuesday night.

“I feel great,” said Gausman after Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Red Sox. “I think having that extra day [of rest] definitely helped, especially this time of year. Physically, I feel great and mentally, too. I felt good.”

In 28 starts covering 166 1/3 innings this season, Gausman is 8-11 with a 3.57 ERA, 166 strikeouts, 44 walks, and 25 home runs allowed.

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Costly week all but squashes AL East title hopes for Orioles

Posted on 21 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — David Ortiz sent one deep into the night and with it went virtually all hope of a division title for the Orioles.

Much of the damage had already been done in the five days leading up to Tuesday’s seventh inning when Kevin Gausman gave up a three-run homer to the Boston designated hitter, turning a one-run deficit into a four-run chasm with the way the Orioles have swung the bats on the current homestand and for much of the second half.

A 21-game winner in Rick Porcello shutting them down on Monday was one thing, but former Baltimore farmhand Eduardo Rodriguez stifled them on Tuesday as Orioles batters expanded the zone and didn’t record a hit until rookie Trey Mancini hit a solo home run with two outs in the fifth inning of his major league debut.

You can question Buck Showalter for not turning to lefty specialist Donnie Hart in that fateful encounter with Ortiz and instead sticking with Gausman, who wasn’t nearly as sharp against the Red Sox on Tuesday as he was in a brilliant eight-inning performance in a 1-0 win at Fenway Park last week. Whether you agreed with the manager’s confidence in his starter or not, the 25-year-old has pitched like an ace over the last six weeks and Hart entered the night with all of 17 major league appearances under his belt, so he wasn’t leaving the second coming of Andrew Miller in the bullpen, either.

Gausman throwing a fourth consecutive fastball instead of trying to bury a split-changeup in a 1-2 count appeared unwise after Ortiz had nearly homered on a fastball in his previous at bat, but catcher Matt Wieters and the starting pitcher both noted that the 40-year-old slugger had laid off several splits earlier in the game. Of course, it didn’t help that Gausman’s fastball intended for the low-and-away corner rose up and over the outer half of the plate.

Still, these were just details in what’s been the harsh truth for the Orioles since coming off their best road trip of the season. With the chance for an American League East title still sitting right there in their return to Oriole Park at Camden Yards last Thursday, Showalter’s club hasn’t risen to the occasion.

Facing the last-place Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles settled for an underwhelming four-game split. Meanwhile, the Red Sox took four straight from the New York Yankees to increase their lead over Baltimore in the division from one game to three by the conclusion of the weekend.

And knowing they needed to take three out of four from Boston to keep themselves in good position to still win the AL East with nine more games remaining after that, the Orioles have scored a total of four runs over the first two games of the series — both 5-2 losses. An offense once among the best in baseball has scored two runs in each of its last four games, losing three of them.

Now a season-worst five games out of first place with 11 to play, the Orioles’ remote chance of winning the division would be to take the final two games of the Boston series and play lights out the rest of the way while hoping the Red Sox stub their toe substantially. At this point, securing a wild card isn’t a sure thing, either, with Toronto now a game ahead for the first spot and Detroit closing the gap to just 1 1/2 games for the second berth currently held by the Orioles.

Even with their division hopes all but gone, the Orioles can still rebound and have managed to do so  several times after rough stretches in the second half despite a disappointing 31-33 mark since the All-Star break. But the last week illustrates how the Orioles haven’t been able to extend the good times like they did in the first half when they strung together three different seven-game winning streaks.

You thought a 6-3 road trip including critical series wins over Detroit and Boston might have been the springboard for the Orioles to retake the division lead, but they have instead drifted in the wrong direction while the Red Sox have reeled off six straight victories since Gausman’s masterpiece last Wednesday night.

A 2-4 start to the final homestand of the season clearly isn’t what the Orioles had in mind, especially after thriving at Camden Yards for most of the season. There’s still time to recover to maintain their grip on a postseason spot, but their hopes for anything better than a wild card have been all but crushed in the matter of six days.

In a costly week, the Orioles just haven’t been good enough while the Red Sox have emerged as the class of the AL East.

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Gausman shines like an ace in high-stakes win for Orioles

Posted on 15 September 2016 by Luke Jones

A talented young pitcher rarely becomes an ace overnight.

It’s often an organic process including some bumps along the road and requiring patience.

The Orioles and their fans have waited a couple years for Kevin Gausman to take that step from solid starting pitcher to something special. For the better part of the last six weeks, he had pitched a lot like a No. 1 starter, but the eighth inning of Wednesday night’s 1-0 win over Boston sure felt like the “aha” moment of his young career.

Having already thrown 104 pitches over seven superb innings, the right-hander returned to the Fenway Park mound and was a batter away from facing the top of the order for a fourth time. Manager Buck Showalter’s decision to send the 25-year-old back out there against the best lineup in baseball in a one-run game appeared to be debatable — at least on paper.

It really wasn’t as Gausman pitched a 1-2-3 eighth.

His 120th and final pitch of the night was his second fastest at 98.5 miles per hour as Xander Bogaerts fouled out to retire the side. It came after he’d touched 98.8 just three pitches earlier.

Talk about saving your best for last in a game where the stakes couldn’t have been much higher in mid-September. It was the stuff of top-of-the-rotation starters, frankly.

We’ve been so conditioned that even when the Orioles receive a good outing from their maligned rotation, you’re waiting for that moment to hand it over to a bullpen that’s been the backbone of their success out of necessity over the last five years. But after watching Gausman shut down an imposing Red Sox lineup all night, there was no one else you wanted pitching in that tight game other than All-Star closer Zach Britton and even that might have been an interesting debate had the starter’s pitch count been lower after eight innings.

He was that good.

His fastball command was impeccable as he threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 29 hitters he faced, something that’s been a challenge for him this year. He effectively threw his split-changeup and once again mixed in an improved breaking ball, the pitch that’s held him back for most of his career. Boston squared up a couple balls early in the game, but the 2012 first-round pick got stronger and induced mostly weak contact as the game continued.

Since a disastrous July 29 outing in Toronto in which he allowed three home runs to the first five hitters of the game and gave up six runs over three innings, Gausman has pitched to a 2.06 ERA over nine starts covering 56 2/3 innings. He’s struck out 62 batters and allowed just four home runs over that stretch.

He lowered his season ERA to 3.43 in winning his fifth straight decision.

The surge has come at a time when the Orioles needed it most with veteran starter Chris Tillman missing most of the last month with a shoulder injury.

Wednesday wasn’t a playoff game, but it sure felt like October baseball with Gausman pitching on the road like an ace against a right-handed-heavy lineup that hit him hard twice earlier this year. It was the best and most important start of his career and the exclamation point on a strong 6-3 road trip that moved the Orioles to just one game out of first place in the American League East as they return to Camden Yards to begin an 11-game homestand on Thursday.

We’ll see how the final 17 games of the regular season play out in a tremendous division race.

But Wednesday was one hell of a statement from the Orioles.

And perhaps the clearest signal yet of an ace having finally arrived.

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Home runs continue to stunt Gausman’s success

Posted on 19 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Gausman is having a strange season in 2016.

He’s pitched better than his 4-10 record indicates as he entered Thursday’s start having the fourth-worst run support among qualified American League starters. His 4.11 ERA has still made him Baltimore’s No. 2 starter behind Chris Tillman, but he hasn’t taken the major step forward that many hoped to see.

It hasn’t been all bad for Gausman, who is striking out a career-best 9.1 batters per nine innings as a starter to rank 14th among qualified major league pitchers. Despite walking a career-high six in San Francisco last weekend, the 25-year-old has issued a very reasonable 2.6 free passes per nine innings in 2016.

So, what’s been the problem beyond the shoddy run support?

The right-hander just hasn’t been able to keep it in the ballpark.

After giving up a pair of late home runs against Houston to soil what was shaping up to be a strong outing in Thursday’s 13-5 win, Gausman has allowed 1.63 homers per nine innings this season, the eighth-worst mark among qualified starters in the majors. Since giving up just three long balls in his first 36 2/3 innings of the season, Gausman has surrendered 20 over his last 90 1/3 innings. You can’t blame it on pitching at Camden Yards, either, as 15 of the 23 he’s allowed in 2016 have come on the road.

After giving up only 0.6 homers per nine innings in 20 starts in 2014, Gausman’s home run rate sits at 1.5 per nine over the last two years, the biggest statistical factor that has kept his ERA above 4.00. Of the 61 runs (earned and unearned) allowed by Gausman this year, 32 have scored via the home run. In contrast, just 24 of the 58 runs allowed by Tillman — another pitcher prone to giving up home runs — have scored on round-trippers.

Fans often question Gausman’s aggressiveness — particularly on the road — but that doesn’t paint the entire picture.

Fifteen of the 23 home runs in 2016 have come against Gausman’s fastball, but the issue isn’t really with that pitch itself. He’s allowed one long ball per 18.6 plate appearances against right-handed hitters but just one per 35 plate appearances against lefties.

His split-changeup has made him very effective against left-handed bats, but his breaking ball — whether you label it a slider, a curve, or a “slurve” — designed to help against right-handers continues to be a below-average pitch. Opponents are hitting .351 with four home runs and six doubles against the 293 sliders he’s thrown in 2016, according to FanGraphs. In contrast, opponents are hitting .216 with four homers and five doubles on the 462 splitters he’s thrown.

Gausman has thrown his breaking ball a career-high 13.1 percent of the time in 2016 as he continues to try to develop it as more than just a “show-me” pitch, but he remains too much of a fastball-dependent pitcher against right-handers. This unsurprisingly makes him more vulnerable to the long ball if his fastball command within the strike zone isn’t superb. Even with the great velocity, right-handed hitters generally know he’s going to lean on the fastball in big moments and aren’t afraid of his breaking ball.

The expectations have been high for Gausman since he was selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft. The Orioles and their fans understandably want to see more, but his 3.98 ERA over the last three seasons has still made him a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

Without Gausman developing a pitch to better defend himself against the right-handed hitters who are hitting .290 with an .859 on-base plus slugging percentage against him in 2016, it’s difficult envisioning him being dramatically better than what he’s been to this point in his career. To be clear, that would hardly make him a bust as most highly-touted pitching prospects never become an ace.

It’s just very difficult for a two-pitch pitcher to become a top-of-the-rotation guy.

After 64 career starts in the majors, this might just be who Gausman is.

** J.J. Hardy continues to quietly have a solid season at the plate despite missing nearly seven weeks with a broken foot.

A two-homer night on Thursday doesn’t change the reality that he lacks the same power that he once possessed, but his hard contact rate of 37.5 percent is easily the highest of his career, according to FanGraphs. He isn’t going the other way more often than in the past, but a different approach focused on hitting line drives has prompted him to hit .409 to the opposite field compared to his .248 career mark.

After an abysmal 2015 in which he played with a torn labrum in his left shoulder all season, Hardy needed to bounce back and has done so with a .278 average, seven home runs, 19 doubles, and a .743 OPS.

** Mark Trumbo hit his 35th homer of the season on Thursday to set a new career high.

He is hitting just .156 with a .583 OPS since the All-Star break, but he does have seven home runs over those 32 games. In fact, Trumbo’s last four hits dating back to the final game of the Oakland series on August 11 have all been home runs.

Talk about all or nothing.

** Hyun Soo Kim registered the first four-hit game and first triple of his major league career on Thursday night. He is now hitting .329 with a .406 on-base percentage and a very respectable .449 slugging percentage in 244 plate appearances.

Remember when the Orioles were convinced he couldn’t play in the majors after a poor start in spring training?

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-2 win over Texas

Posted on 04 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers 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 106th game of the 2016 season.

1st Matt Wieters not only provided the deciding two-run single off Rangers ace Cole Hamels in the bottom of the first, but the catcher also made the biggest defensive play of the evening in the ninth. On a pitch that got away from closer Zach Britton, Rougned Odor took off from first base in an effort to get the potential tying run in scoring position, but Wieters pounced on the ball and fired a strike to Jonathan Schoop, who didn’t even have to move his glove to tag the sliding Odor for the second out of the inning. Entering the night with a .179 average against left-handed pitching, Wieters delivered a big hit as a right-handed batter for the second straight night — he homered from the right side late in Tuesday’s win — and was the offensive standout on a night when runs were at a premium.

2ndKevin Gausman turned in seven good innings to earn his third win of the year, but the final numbers don’t really tell the whole story of his outing. Coming off arguably his worst start of 2016 at Toronto, the right-hander had already allowed a first-inning homer and an RBI single in the second before walking Nomar Mazara to put two runners on with no outs in the second. The outing was teetering toward disaster before he retired the next three hitters to escape trouble. From that point, Gausman commanded his fastball well and needed only 58 pitches to complete the next five innings after he had thrown 50 over the first two frames. Four of his seven strikeouts came on fastballs while he effectively used his split-changeup for the other three. He received some good luck as some squared-up contact was gobbled up by his infield defense, but his strong recovery after a rough start was impressive.

3rdDarren O’Day once again took the ball after pitching a perfect 1 1/3 innings on 17 pitches on Tuesday, and he did not disappoint. Facing the top of the Rangers order in a 3-2 game, the right-hander needed just seven pitches to retire Jurickson Profar, Ian Desmond, and Carlos Beltran. Since returning from the disabled list late last month, O’Day has pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed one hit and one walk while striking out seven.

Home — Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, and Chris Davis made a collection of fine defensive plays to support a good pitching effort from Gausman. … Britton struggled with his control in the ninth before converting his 33rd save in as many tries to begin the season, which is the major league record for consecutive save conversions to begin a season by a left-handed pitcher. His 106th career save moved him past Tippy Martinez and into sole possession of third on the club’s all-time saves list. … Manny Machado collected his 31st double of the year in the first inning to surpass his total of 30 in 162 games last season. … Steve Pearce went 0-for-2 with a walk and two strikeouts looking in his first game back with the Orioles. … Baltimore improved to 39-16 in games played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. … Left-hander Wade Miley will make his Orioles debut on Thursday night while the Rangers send right-hander A.J. Griffin to the hill.

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With trade options limited, recent rotation surge encouraging for Orioles

Posted on 25 July 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 10:30 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — The Orioles clearly want starting pitching help.

We can certainly debate to what degree they need more starting pitching as Baltimore entered Monday holding the best record in the American League despite a 4.91 rotation ERA ranking 24th in the majors.

But we should be realistic about this final week leading up to Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. There isn’t much out there, plenty of contenders are looking for starters, and the Orioles have few commodities to give up unless they’re planning to surrender impact talent from their current roster, which doesn’t sound all that appealing when you’re trying to improve.

These realities don’t excuse the Orioles, who knew they had rotation problems entering the offseason before letting their 2015 ace, Wei-Yin Chen, depart via free agency and replacing him with Yovani Gallardo, who’s dealt with shoulder issues that were first flagged during his February physical and eventually landed him on the disabled list in April after only four starts. The options may not have been plentiful this winter, but no one can say the Orioles’ Achilles heel is remotely surprising a few months later.

There just isn’t a whole lot to be done about it right now.

“We’re going to try to add to our rotation,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said over the weekend. “We need some more consistency from the guys we have here, and we’re going to try to add to it via the trade route. This is a really thin market. There’s a lot of teams chasing a few pitchers. It’s about as thin as I’ve ever seen the market, but we’re going to see what we can do.”

It remains to be seen whether Duquette can deliver a starter who represents a marked upgrade over what the Orioles already have — forgive me if I’m not doing cartwheels over the likes of San Diego’s Andrew Cashner — but the executive was right about the need to find some improvement from within. That’s what has made the start of the second half uplifting for Baltimore.

In their first 10 games since the All-Star break, the Orioles have posted a 3.03 starter ERA after a robust 5.15 mark in the season’s first 87 contests. It’s a very small sample that includes seven games against two light-hitting clubs — Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees — but six starts of six or more innings have allowed manager Buck Showalter to rest a little easier of late.

The rotation isn’t fixed, but you’ll take any positives you can find after the first half.

Arguably the club’s most valuable player behind Manny Machado, ace Chris Tillman has rebounded from a rocky June with four straight starts in which he’s lasted seven innings and allowed only one run to lower his season ERA to a tidy 3.18. Kevin Gausman has also elevated his performance as the No. 2 starter, surrendering two runs and striking out 13 over his two starts covering 13 1/3 innings since the break.

After signing him to a two-year, $22 million contract, the Orioles desperately want to see Gallardo as their true No. 3 starter in a perfect world, but the questions about his ability to pitch deep into games haven’t disappeared despite back-to-back outings last at least 6 2/3 innings. His track record makes provides optimism that he can build on what he’s done over the last week.

But what we witnessed on Friday and Sunday provides some hope beyond the clearly-defined top two and Gallardo in the rotation. These names aren’t definitive rotation answers, but we’ll call them “maybes” for right now.

Facing a Cleveland offense currently ranking third in the AL — and ahead of the Orioles — in runs scored, Dylan Bundy allowed only one unearned run in five strong innings in the series-opening win. You can’t cross your fingers any harder that the 23-year-old will stay healthy and that the Orioles will take care of him as they stretched him out from 70 pitches in his first start to 87 on Friday night, but the ability is undeniable and his season results have been better than anyone could have expected entering 2016. What we don’t know is how the organization will handle his workload to keep him in play as a contributor in September and October, but he’s been fun to watch.

Veteran Vance Worley provided the other shot in the arm on Sunday by allowing just two runs over seven innings as the Orioles completed the series sweep over the AL Central-leading Indians. In a perfect world, Worley would have remained in his role as an effective long man, but he owns a respectable 3.89 mark as a starter in his career. After seeing the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Mike Wright struggle with extensive opportunities in the first half, the Orioles had few choices but to go with Worley, who received little more than a cameo as a starter in April before moving to the bullpen.

At least for the time being, Bundy and Worley have done enough to continue giving them the ball for the time being. The Orioles rotation isn’t magically going to transform into a top five group, but rising to even the middle of the pack in the AL in the second half would go a long way in complementing a powerful offense and a bullpen back to full strength with the return of Darren O’Day.

Finding that kind of improvement would be much easier if Duquette can somehow find another viable arm to slot into the rotation, but the start of the second half has brought some encouragement.

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