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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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Gausman in line to make next start for Orioles

Posted on 21 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter hasn’t publicly committed to Kevin Gausman being activated from the disabled list to make his 2016 debut next week, but all signs point in that direction.

And with it comes hope that the 25-year-old right-hander will take the step forward many view him as capable of making as the Orioles entered Thursday’s game ranked 14th out of 15 AL clubs in starter ERA (4.97) and last in innings pitched by starters. The 2012 first-round pick allowed three earned runs and struck out nine in 5 2/3 innings for Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday.

“We’ll see how he feels today,” said Showalter, who was pleased with what he heard about Gausman’s outing. “He’s got a chance to pitch for us in his next outing. We’ll see how it all fluctuates.”

Baltimore hasn’t hesitated to show extra caution with Gausman, who was shut down with right shoulder tendinitis in the spring and received a cortisone shot on March 20. Showalter said earlier this week that Gausman told him his shoulder feels better than it has in quite some time — he also had a DL stint for shoulder tendinitis last May — but the Orioles wanted him to get the competitive juices flowing in Wednesday’s outing in Charlotte.

Gausman would be on track to make his next start on Monday as the Orioles begin a three-game road series against Tampa Bay.

“Obviously, there’s parts where you’re going through rehab and you’re working on things,” Showalter said. “The next one is getting back into the competitive part of it. Talking to [Norfolk manager Ron Johnson] and [director of player development] Brian Graham, that was definitely the case last night.”

The Orioles hope Gausman can emerge as a front-line starter after pitching to a 4.25 ERA in 112 1/3 major league innings split between the bullpen and the rotation last season. In his most extensive work as a starting pitcher two years ago, Gausman went 7-7 with a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts spanning 113 1/3 innings.

In other injury-related news, Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) remains on track to be activated from the DL on Saturday, but Showalter indicated that the lefty reliever could be reinstated a day earlier if needed.

Jimmy Paredes (wrist) took nine at-bats in extended spring training on Thursday and will join the Orioles in St. Petersburg next week before starting his rehab assignment.

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Kim makes major league debut as Jones remains sidelined

Posted on 10 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim was set to make his major league debut on Sunday as the Orioles concluded a three-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Kim was slotted in the No. 9 spot and playing in left field after not appearing in the first four games of the 2016 season. With Adam Jones sidelined with rib soreness for a third straight game, regular left fielder Joey Rickard was once again in center as Kim received his first start.

The 28-year-old hasn’t started in a game since March 25 and received just two more spring at-bats after that as the Orioles tried to persuade him to accept a minor-league assignment.

“We talked about it, but you don’t want to say too much,” said manager Buck Showalter about Kim making his regular-season debut. “There’s a fine line there — go play. He’s probably got enough things going on without me jumping in there too deep.”

As he predicted on Saturday, shortstop J.J. Hardy was back in the lineup after missing Friday’s game due to tightness in his left calf. However, Showalter continues to be cautious with Jones, who is improving but is still feeling some discomfort in the rib area at the end of his swing. The manager reiterated that the training staff does not believe that Jones is dealing with an oblique problem.

For now, the Orioles are willing to wait before considering putting the five-time All-Star selection on the 15-day disabled list. Jones hasn’t played since Wednesday night when he felt discomfort swinging in his final at-bat.

“It’s a concern because he’s one of our best players and he’s not playing,” Showalter said. “But it’s close we think; [we’ll wait] as long as it takes. You know that 10 days is as far as you can backdate something [for the DL], so 10 days? Then, if on the 11th day, he comes in and says he feels good, I’m fine with that, too.

“He’s worth waiting on.”

Kevin Gausman (right shoulder strain) was set to make a rehab start for Double-A Bowie on Sunday that was expected to last three or four innings. The right-hander would then make his next rehab start at Single-A Frederick on Friday and could be activated from the DL as soon as April 20 if all goes to plan.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) will pitch two to three innings for Bowie on Monday and is expected to be activated from the DL on Thursday when the Orioles begin a four-game series in Texas.

Showalter said pitching prospect Hunter Harvey experienced a mild setback with a groin issue he’s been dealing with since late March.

Right-hander Mike Wright will now make his 2016 debut in a Tuesday start against Boston after Saturday’s start was postponed. Chris Tillman will now make his next start against the Rangers on Thursday.

Below are Sunday’s lineups:

TAMPA BAY
2B Logan Forsythe
DH Logan Morrison
3B Evan Longoria
LF Corey Dickerson
1B Steve Pearce
SS Brad Miller
RF Steven Souza Jr.
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Curt Casali

SP Jake Odorizzi (0-0, 1.59)

BALTIMORE
CF Joey Rickard
3B Manny Machado
1B Chris Davis
RF Mark Trumbo
C Matt Wieters
DH Pedro Alvarez
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Jonathan Schoop
LF Hyun Soo Kim

SP Vance Worley (2015 stats: 4-6, 4.02 ERA)

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Hardy hopes to play Sunday, Jones still absent

Posted on 09 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As the Orioles tried to endure unseasonably cold weather in the second contest of a three-game set with Tampa Bay, shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Adam Jones were once again out of the starting lineup before Saturday’s game was eventually postponed.

Hardy said his left calf was feeling much better after he sat out Friday’s series opener, but the low temperature and high winds in the forecast for Saturday night were factors in giving him one more day off. Manny Machado was making his second straight start at shortstop with utility infielder Ryan Flaherty starting at third base.

“I’m walking around with no pain,” said Hardy, who added that he plans to play in Sunday’s series finale. “I think I probably could get it going tonight and play, but I think with the cold I think everyone’s kind of scratching that idea. I’ll be good to go tomorrow.”

Jones was out of the lineup for the third straight game due to soreness in his rib area. Manager Buck Showalter was noncommittal about the status of both Hardy and Jones for Sunday, citing a forecast with temperatures that were only supposed to climb to just over 50 degrees.

Rookie Joey Rickard was making his third consecutive start in center field in place of Jones.

“They’re close. They’ll be available if I need them tonight. But if not, I wouldn’t tell you,” said Showalter on Saturday afternoon. “I’ll never say never [about Jones and Hardy returning on Sunday]. It’s a quick turnaround.”

With lefty Drew Smyly starting for the Rays on Saturday, Pedro Alvarez began the game on the bench with Matt Wieters serving as the designated hitter. Alvarez is the only Orioles regular still looking for his first hit of the season after going 0-for-12 in the first four games.

Showalter confirmed that Sunday starter Vance Worley will be on a pitch limit since he hasn’t thrown in a competitive game since the final spring game in Philadelphia on April 1.

Relief pitcher Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) said he felt good after one-inning outings at Double-A Bowie on Thursday and Friday, but the lefty specialist may have one more extended outing with the Baysox on Monday before joining the Orioles on the upcoming road trip. There was previous talk of Matusz being activated from the 15-day disabled list as early as Sunday.

Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman (right shoulder strain) was scheduled to make a rehab start for Bowie on Saturday, but the Baysox postponed their game, pushing his outing to Sunday. Gausman will then make a rehab start at Single-A Frederick on Friday, but the previous target date of April 19 for his activation from the DL will be pushed back at least a day because of the schedule change.

In addition to the Baysox, the Washington Nationals postponed their Saturday afternoon game due to the bitter conditions, but the Orioles attempted to play their game with wind chills expected to fall below 30 degrees on Saturday evening.

“It’s going to be cold, but we play games,” Showalter said. “That’s what we do.”

Below were Saturday’s starting lineups:

TAMPA BAY
2B Logan Forsythe
DH Logan Morrison
3B Evan Longoria
LF Corey Dickerson
1B Steve Pearce
SS Brad Miller
RF Steven Souza Jr.
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Curt Casali

SP Drew Smyly (0-1, 6.75 ERA)

BALTIMORE
CF Joey Rickard
LF Nolan Reimold
SS Manny Machado
1B Chris Davis
RF Mark Trumbo
DH Matt Wieters
2B Jonathan Schoop
C Caleb Joseph
3B Ryan Flaherty

SP Mike Wright (2015 stats: 3-5, 6.04 ERA)

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Hardy, Jones out of Friday’s lineup against Tampa Bay

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Center fielder Adam Jones was out of the Orioles lineup for a second straight night, but a veteran teammate joined him on the bench for the series opener against Tampa Bay on Friday.

J.J. Hardy experienced some calf tightness running the bases in Thursday’s win over Minnesota and was feeling better a day later, but Buck Showalter did not want to take any chances with a player who’s had several health issues over the last couple seasons. Jones was also feeling improvement in his rib area and even took swings in the batting cage on Friday afternoon, but the Orioles decided to give him another day to rest. Both players were available off the bench if needed, according to the Baltimore manager.

“I want to try to get ahead of it and make sure it doesn’t turn into something,” said Showalter about Hardy. “I was going to play Ryan [Flaherty] today anyway. Knowing the players — both of them — they know the difference between something that they should be careful with [and not]. Especially if we don’t play tomorrow [due to inclement weather], they should be ready to go on Sunday.”

Rookie Joey Rickard was leading off and playing center field for the second straight game as he prepared to play against the organization that let him go in the Rule 5 draft in December.

Instead of simply inserting Flaherty at Hardy’s position like he has in the past, Showalter chose to move Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado to shortstop, his natural position. Machado started six games there last season when Hardy was dealing with injuries.

“He enjoys being able to do something for the club [when] there’s a need there,” Showalter said. “Ryan’s probably a little better third baseman than shortstop. That’s a tough act to follow — [Machado] knows. He doesn’t want to step back. He’s playing with house money as far as going over there. It’s kind of like a new toy for him, but it’s different. The clock’s different.”

Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman was still scheduled to make a rehab start at Double-A Bowie on Saturday, but a wintry forecast could postpone that to Sunday. The Orioles are still targeting an April 19 return date for the talented 25-year-old, but Showalter reiterated Friday that they’ll be cautious with Gausman’s health and they’ll delay the process if that’s what’s best for him.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz was scheduled to pitch again for Bowie on Friday night and could be activated for Sunday’s game against the Rays.

The Orioles announced that veteran right-hander Vance Worley will be the No. 5 starter and is scheduled to start on Sunday, but that depends on what happens with the status of Saturday’s game in which Mike Wright is scheduled to pitch.

Below are Friday night’s lineups:

TAMPA BAY
2B Logan Forsythe
1B Logan Morrison
3B Evan Longoria
DH Corey Dickerson
LF Desmond Jennings
SS Brad Miller
RF Steven Souza Jr.
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Hank Conger

SP Chris Archer (0-1, 3.60)

BALTIMORE
CF Joey Rickard
LF Nolan Reimold
SS Manny Machado
1B Chris Davis
RF Mark Trumbo
C Matt Wieters
DH Pedro Alvarez
2B Jonathan Schoop
3B Ryan Flaherty

SP Chris Tillman (0-0, 0.00)

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Gausman, Matusz set to begin rehab assignments

Posted on 06 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Gausman is ready for the next step in his recovery from right shoulder tendinitis that’s sidelined him since the middle of the March.

After completing a 30-pitch simulated game in Sarasota on Wednesday, the 25-year-old is traveling to Baltimore and will make a rehab start lasting three to four innings for Double-A Bowie on Saturday. He would then make a start at Single-A Frederick next week with the goal of being activated on April 19.

Left-handed reliever Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) is even closer to making his return and is expected to pitch one inning each on Thursday and Friday at Bowie. Should those outings go well, Matusz would be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday since his stint was backdated to March 25.

Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey (groin strain) threw 40 pitches in Sarasota and will pitch in a sim game on Saturday. Harvey will begin his season at Frederick when he’s ready to go.

Chris Tillman will start the series opener against Tampa Bay on Friday after the Opening Day starter threw only 22 pitches because of Monday’s rain delay. Mike Wright will make his first start on Saturday, but the Baltimore skipper has not yet revealed his No. 5 starter, who would pitch on Sunday.

Showalter didn’t try to make too much of the boos from some fans when outfielder Hyun Soo Kim was introduced on Opening Day after a turbulent spring that included him refusing a minor-league assignment.

“They’re waiting to embrace him,” said Showalter, who quipped that fans may have been calling Kim’s middle name. “So far, he hasn’t had the opportunity yet to give them anything. Hopefully, that will be there at some point. It didn’t seem to affect him. We’ll see.”

Below are Wednesday night’s starting lineups:

MINNESOTA
2B Brian Dozier
1B Joe Mauer
RF Miguel Sano
3B Trevor Plouffe
LF Eddie Rosario
DH Byung Ho Park
SS Eduardo Escobar
C Kurt Suzuki
CF Byron Buxton

SP Kyle Gibson (2015 stats: 11-11, 3.84 ERA)

BALTIMORE
3B Manny Machado
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
RF Mark Trumbo
C Matt Wieters
DH Pedro Alvarez
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Jonathan Schoop
LF Joey Rickard

SP Yovani Gallardo (2015 stats: 13-11, 3.42 ERA)

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Rickard begins Orioles career hitting in No. 9 spot

Posted on 04 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — In Buck Showalter’s first pre-game press conference of the 2016 regular season, the opening question was about new Orioles left fielder Joey Rickard and his spot in the batting order.

What a difference a year makes for the Rule 5 pick who began his 2015 season playing in the Florida State League for Single-A Charlotte and was slotted ninth in the Opening Day order on Monday. After contemplating whether to hit the 24-year-old in the leadoff spot, Showalter wanted to ease the former Tampa Bays Rays farmhand into the major league environment.

Not bad for a guy few Orioles fans even knew about a couple weeks ago.

“There’s a process you’re trying to get to how you hope things work out,” said Showalter, who put All-Star third baseman Manny Machado in the leadoff spot as he frequently did last year. “You leave yourself as much wiggle room [as you can]. I’d rather promote guys as the season goes on rather than demote them. I know where I’d like to get eventually, but we’ll see if that works out.

“Let’s go one step at a time.”

Carrying a career .390 on-base percentage in four minor-league seasons, Rickard turned plenty of heads this spring as he batted .397 with a 1.044 on-base plus slugging percentage in 72 plate appearances. The performance not only won him a roster spot but propelled him into the regular lineup to begin the season.

Ideally, the Orioles would slide Machado to the second or third spot in the order to maximize his run-producing ability, but few players on the current roster fit the profile of a top-of-the-lineup hitter. The organization hopes Rickard can prove to be that guy sooner rather than later.

Showalter contemplated hitting Rickard second on Monday, but he didn’t want to put Machado in a position where Minnesota might pitch around him in the order. For the first game at least, the Baltimore manager was more than happy to give as many plate appearances as possible to Machado, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis in the top three spots in the lineup.

As expected, Hyun Soo Kim was on the bench to begin the season opener. The Korean outfielder has a provision in his two-year, $7 million contract signed in December that doesn’t allow the club to send him to the minors without his consent.

“There’s some positives about him being able to take [Opening Day] in, but I also realize this is some more uncharted waters for him,” Showalter said. “There’s a lot of things happening to him for the first time in his 28 years. He’s getting a lot of support from coaches, management, but most importantly, the players. I know they’re all pulling for him. It’s a real good vibe around him with his teammates.”

Placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder strain on Sunday, right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman will throw a 35-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday. Assuming that goes well, the next step would be a three-inning outing followed by a five-inning one with the goal of Gausman being activated to start against Toronto on April 19.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) is scheduled to pitch for Double-A Bowie on Thursday and would be activated from the DL on April 10.

Infielder Jimmy Paredes (left wrist) is taking swings with a fungo bat, but it remains unclear when he will resume full baseball activities.

Below are the Opening Day lineups:

MINNESOTA
2B Brian Dozier
1B Joe Mauer
RF Miguel Sano
3B Trevor Plouffe
LF Eddie Rosario
DH Byung Ho Park
SS Eduardo Escobar
C Kurt Suzuki
CF Byron Buxton

SP Ervin Santana (2015 stats: 7-5, 4.00 ERA)

BALTIMORE
3B Manny Machado
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
RF Mark Trumbo
C Matt Wieters
DH Pedro Alvarez
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Jonathan Schoop
LF Joey Rickard

SP Chris Tillman (2015 stats: 11-11, 4.99 ERA)

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Five things that can’t happen for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 01 April 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule filled with twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2016 after looking at the factors that must go right. In an effort to not be too redundant in the wake of the first piece, I tried to avoid discussing the previous points needing to go well.

1. The starting pitching collapses

Yes, we touched on the starting pitching in the previous piece, but what else could possibly top this list — the entire starting lineup adopting Marty Cordova’s tanning bed strategy for the season?

In the AL in 2015, the Baltimore starting pitchers finished 14th in in ERA, 10th in strikeouts, sixth worst in walks, and second worst in home runs allowed. On top of that, the club’s most dependable starter, Wei-Yin Chen, signed with the Miami Marlins in the offseason.

Veteran newcomer Yovani Gallardo was tabbed as the man to replace him and carries a 3.66 ERA for his career, but his strikeout rate and velocity have plummeted over the last few seasons and the Orioles renegotiated his original three-year contract because of concerns with his right shoulder. The hope is that an impressive ground-ball rate keeps the 30-year-old effective pitching at Camden Yards.

Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman provide the most upside, but the former dealt with a hip issue early in camp and is coming off his worst season since 2011. Meanwhile, Gausman will begin the season on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis and the Orioles have already pushed back his projected return date from April 10 to April 19, making you wonder if the ailment is more serious than they first indicated.

You never know what you’re going to get from Ubaldo Jimenez, but he’s been more bad than good in his first two seasons with the Orioles. And now with the Orioles having severed ties with Miguel Gonzalez, they’ll be counting on the likes of Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and veteran newcomer Vance Worley to fill out the last spot in the rotation with Wright getting the first shot.

If this group can bring middle-of-the-pack quality — probably the most upside you could reasonably hope for — the Orioles are strong enough elsewhere to be in contention. A repeat of 2015 or worse could lead to a long summer in Baltimore.

And then you’d fear how dramatic struggles from the rotation could wear out a strong bullpen, no matter how effectively it’s managed.

2. Corner outfield wasteland repeats

The Orioles failed in their plan to use a committee of fringe veterans to handle the spots flanking center fielder Adam Jones a year ago, but questions remain for a second straight season.

Projected to be the primary starter in right field, Mark Trumbo should be an upgrade with the bat, but his limitations in the outfield are no secret and negative defensive value would wipe away much of what he brings at the plate. Fortunately, there isn’t a ton of ground to cover in right at Camden Yards, so the test will be how quickly Trumbo can get used to playing balls off the out-of-town scoreboard.

Left field was supposed to be handled by Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim, but his poor spring has his future in limbo. Putting aside the scouting failure of signing a player who isn’t able to catch up to fastballs and is poor defensively to a $7 million contract, the Orioles haven’t exactly treated Kim in the most hospitable way by benching him and then speaking at length to the media about his shortcomings as they’re trying to get him to accept a minor-league assignment, something he’s under no contractual obligation to do.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard is the wild card here after he posted a 1.029 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, but are the Orioles putting too many eggs in this basket? What did Tampa Bay not like about Rickard that the Orioles could be missing?

Veteran Nolan Reimold will factor into the mix as well, but he is better suited to be a fourth outfielder at this stage of his career. The minor-league options include Dariel Alvarez, Xavier Avery, Henry Urrutia, and converted first baseman Christian Walker, who is intriguing if he proves himself defensively.

3. Chris Davis reverts to his 2014 form

You can’t expect Davis to be any better just because he signed the richest contract in franchise history in the offseason, and it will be difficult for the 30-year-old first baseman to match what he did last season with his 47 homers.

That said, few events would be more deflating than to see Davis have a season more closely resembling what he was in 2014 when he hit .196 with just 26 home runs. If the Orioles are to contend, they’re going to need to hit a ton of home runs and Davis needs to again lead the way in that department.

His ever-increasing pull rate is something to monitor and could cause him to age poorly, but the Orioles hope Davis will continue being a great power hitter for the next three to four years before crossing their fingers that the final few years of the contract aren’t as painful as some fear they will be.

4. Buck Showalter leans too heavily on J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters

I touched on these topics at length in the offseason, but the Orioles would be wise to better manage Hardy’s health after two injury-plagued seasons and shouldn’t overlook defense when it comes to the catching pair of Wieters and backup Caleb Joseph.

Hardy has stayed healthy and slugged .521 with three home runs this spring, drastic improvement from his .564 OPS while playing the entire 2015 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The 33-year-old shortstop would likely benefit from more routine days off and should no longer be treated as the guy who missed only seven games combined in 2012 and 2013. Keeping Hardy fresh would presumably go a long way in keeping him healthy and productive at the plate and in the field.

The spring scare with Wieters’ right elbow could be a sign that he isn’t yet ready to be the guy who regularly caught 135-plus games per season prior to Tommy John surgery. Even if he is, the tools Joseph brings behind the plate shouldn’t be ignored despite Wieters being the better offensive player. If Wieters isn’t tearing the cover off the ball, the Orioles shouldn’t hesitate to use Joseph more often because of his ability to frame pitches and handle a pitching staff, especially since the former is only under contract through this season.

5. The Orioles are unable to block out the noise

It was a weird offseason a year after executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette flirted with the Toronto Blue Jays’ job promotion, and questions continue about whether members of the organization are on the same page.

The Orioles enter 2016 with a franchise-record payroll, but negotiations didn’t exactly go smoothly with Davis and the early-spring drama with both Gallardo’s physical and the twists and turns with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler were nothing short of bizarre.

The decision to release Gonzalez this week may have been the correct one from baseball and business standpoints, but it’s no secret that the well-liked pitcher’s departure didn’t sit well with his teammates. Yes, they’re professionals and will move on, but these are human beings with emotions, as Showalter often likes to remind us.

The Kim situation threatens to linger if the Orioles choose not to eat $7 million and instead carry him on the 25-man roster after saying he wasn’t good enough to make the club. Such a scenario wouldn’t exactly send a great message to the rest of the clubhouse, either.

On top of all that, the Orioles spent a great amount of money to essentially maintain a similar roster to the group that needed a five-game winning streak just to finish .500 last season. And few experts are giving the Orioles much of a chance to make the playoffs for the third time in five years after they failed to make any significant improvements to the starting rotation.

Over the past few years, the Orioles have often thrived under such circumstances, which should give fans hope.

None of this is quantifiable, of course, but with a higher payroll come greater expectations and this is a club with a window of just three seasons before All-Star pillars Manny Machado and Adam Jones hit free agency. And the minor-league well is quite dry when it comes to reinforcements to help address deficiencies.

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Five things that must go right for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 31 March 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule full of twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that must go right for the Orioles in 2016:

1. Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman take the lead for a suspect starting rotation

It’s impossible not to be concerned with the starting five, especially with bounce-back candidate Miguel Gonzalez being released after a poor spring. That’s why Tillman and Gausman are so important to the Orioles’ chances of improving a starter ERA (4.53) that finished 14th in the AL in 2015.

Tillman will once again take the ball on Opening Day and posted a 3.42 ERA from 2012-2014 to lead the rotation, but his 4.99 mark last year was one of the big reasons why the club allowed 100 more runs than it did in 2014. A hip ailment slowed him at the start of spring, but the 27-year-old is still talented and young enough to rebound. The question will be whether it’s enough improvement to move the meter.

Gausman’s right shoulder tendinitis is cause for concern until he’s back on the mound, but the Orioles hope they were proactive in taking care of it. Finally a full-time member of the rotation, Gausman has the ability to become the best pitcher in the rotation if he can master his command of a third pitch to go with his electric fastball and tough split-changeup. At the end of last season, he expressed growing confidence in his curveball after throwing a slider earlier in his major league career.

The Orioles will hope for the best with the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, but inconsistency has followed him his entire career. Newcomer Yovani Gallardo has an impressive track record, but a declining strikeout rate and diminished velocity make him an expensive question mark. After that, the Orioles will hope the likes of Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson can handle the final rotation spot.

If Tillman and Gausman can be productive rocks for the rotation, it becomes easier to put together the rest of the group to improve from last season. If not, things could get ugly.

2. The lineup produces its highest run total since 2008

The Orioles have averaged just under 719 runs scored per season over the last four years, but it’s fair to expect more from a lineup that added sluggers Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez and hopes to have healthier versions of Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Jonathan Schoop.

Even if the starting rotation can improve from last year, it doesn’t appear to have the kind of ceiling that would make you think the Orioles will stay in serious contention without boosting their run total of 713 from 2015. After finishing third in the majors with 217 homers, the lineup now has two more bats with 30-homer ability in Trumbo and Alvarez, making it arguably the most powerful order in the majors.

The lineup will strike out too much and doesn’t have many hitters with good on-base ability, but it’s not impossible to think the power-hitting Orioles can eclipse the 750-run mark for the first time since 2008.

3. The defense returns to its 2014 level of excellence

Most focus on the demise of the 2015 club fell on the regression of the starting pitching from the previous year, but a rotation that depended on pitching to contact did not have the same quality of defense behind it as in 2014.

Sure, the Orioles committed the fewest errors in the AL, but that traditional measure doesn’t take into account factors such as range, arm strength, or the ability to make spectacular plays. After leading the league in defensive runs saved (plus-50) in 2014, the Orioles finished ninth at minus-11 last year.

Healthier versions of Hardy, Schoop, and Adam Jones should improve the overall defense at positions that suffered in their absence last year. And Machado being another year removed from his knee surgeries will likely eliminate the shaky defensive start he had in 2015, making the already-elite third baseman even better in the field.

Of course, Trumbo being projected as the primary right fielder probably won’t help a position that was abysmal for the Orioles at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2015. And it will be interesting to see how a heavier workload for Wieters will impact the defense behind the plate after Caleb Joseph finished second on the 2015 club with 12 defensive runs saved.

If the starting pitching improves enough in 2016, the defense will likely have a lot to do with it.

4. The bullpen becomes even more dominant than it was the last few years

How can you expect much more from a group that finished third in the AL in bullpen ERA over the last two years and posted a 3.21 mark in 2015?

Full-season contributions from Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy give a deep bullpen even more upside than it already had with 2015 All-Star selections Zach Britton and Darren O’Day leading the way. There is some short-term concern about the lefty specialist role with Brian Matusz ailing this spring, but the Orioles have right-handed relievers such as O’Day and Brad Brach who are effective against left-handed hitting to help pick up the slack for the time being.

Long-term depth might be even more important than dominance late in games with the serious questions about the starting rotation. Fortunately, there are a couple more capable arms such as Oliver Drake waiting in the wings at Triple-A Norfolk.

Manager Buck Showalter is as good as they come handling relievers, so you trust his ability to keep them fresh for the long haul. At the same time, the starting rotation might test the bullpen like it hasn’t faced in several years.

5. Someone other than Machado emerges as the leadoff hitter

Machado did an admirable job primarily serving in the top spot in the order with a career-high .359 on-base percentage, but his run-producing ability is better utilized in the second or third spot.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard figures to receive some early opportunities in the leadoff role after winning the starting left field job to begin the year. He had a .390 career on-base percentage in the minors, but will that ability translate to the majors considering his limited power that will prompt pitchers to challenge him with strikes and better stuff at a higher level?

Veteran Nolan Reimold could also factor into the equation as he had a .344 OBP in 195 plate appearances last year.

It isn’t as important that the Orioles move Machado out of the leadoff spot as it is to find a replacement who is truly deserving of hitting at the top of the order. If they do, the offense can better maximize its power capabilities and score more runs to help out a starting rotation that remains the biggest concern entering 2016.

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2016 Orioles preview: Kevin Gausman

Posted on 30 March 2016 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a week away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2016 Orioles every day as they try to return to the playoffs for the third time in five years this season.

March 1 – Adam Jones
March 2 – Chris Tillman
March 3 – Jonathan Schoop
March 4 – Brad Brach
March 5 – Nolan Reimold
March 6 – Yovani Gallardo
March 7 – Matt Wieters
March 8 – T.J. McFarland
March 9 – Dariel Alvarez
March 10 – Brian Matusz
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Mychal Givens
March 13 – Ryan Flaherty
March 14 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 15 – Mark Trumbo
March 16 – Darren O’Day
March 18 – Pedro Alvarez
March 19 – Oliver Drake
March 20 – Mike Wright
March 21 – Zach Britton
March 22 – Caleb Joseph
March 23 – Dylan Bundy
March 24 – Christian Walker
March 25 – Chaz Roe
March 27 – Manny Machado
March 28 – Chris Davis
March 29 – Miguel Gonzalez (placed on release waivers on Wednesday)

SP Kevin Gausman

Age: 25

Contract status: Under club control through the 2020 season

2015 stats: 4-7, 4.25 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.3 K/IP, 2.3 BB/IP, 17 HR, 112 1/3 innings

Why to be impressed: Despite another season of being shuffled between the bullpen and the rotation and the majors and the minors, the 2012 first-round pick improved his strikeout rate (8.3 from 7.0) and walk rate (2.3 from 3.0) from 2014. His best work as a starter came in September when he posted a 3.90 ERA and struck out 10 in eight impressive innings against Toronto in his final start of the season.

Why to be concerned: Gausman beginning the season on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis wouldn’t be as concerning if he hadn’t dealt with the same ailment last year. He allowed more than twice as many home runs as he did in 2014 in virtually the same number of innings and won’t reach his ceiling until he can refine a breaking pitch, whether it’s the curveball or the slider he’s used at different points.

2016 outlook: Gausman’s season isn’t off to a promising start as the Orioles are counting on him to take a big step forward to help a very suspect rotation, but the hope is that he will be ready by mid-April. Baltimore has handled its top pitching prospect poorly over the last couple years, and his uncertain health certainly tempers expectations until he proves his arm is completely healthy.

2016 not-so-scientific projections: 9-7, 3.72 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.2 K/IP, 2.6 BB/IP, 15 HR, 141 innings

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