Tag Archive | "koji uehara"

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Orioles bolster ‘pen, hope to continue spoiler alert

Posted on 07 September 2010 by Jay Trucker

Don’t tell Buck Showalter’s Orioles that their September games are meaningless. After dropping a series opener to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, the Birds won the last two games of the series against the Rays and a matinee holiday opener in New York against the division-leading Yankees.

The Yankees (86-52) are now 2.5 games ahead of the Rays (83-54) in the contentious AL East, while the O’s are having a lot to do with the pennant race.

Showalter’s fightin’ Birds will play New York five more times and Tampa three more times before the season’s end. Suddenly, the haves in the A.L. have to be concerned with the perennial have-nots.

Meanwhile, the O’s continue to expand their roster, bringing up David Viola, who was 3.4 with a 3.59 ERA in Bowie.

David Hernandez, who has both started and pitched from the bullpen, is also likely to be called up.

Meanwhile, Koji Uehara, who looked one of Andy MacPhail’s worst signings during the first 4/5 of his two-year deal, is suddenly playing like an elite closer. He’s currently 7/7 in saves with a miniscule 2.38 ERA. He pitched a perfect ninth inning in the Bronx Monday afternoon.

The former Japanese All Star, who struggled as a starter in the States and was often visibly laboring in the humid climate, has been excellent since inheriting the closer’s role.

Hmm, maybe this is why EVERY SINGLE OTHER TEAM IN THE MAJORS WAS ONLY WILLING TO LOOK AT HIM AS A RELIEVER?

Oh well, better late than never. If Koji can help the O’s continue to play the spoiler role, his pitiful first year and a half plus will be forgotten, and he’ll earn another MLB contract somewhere…as a reliever.

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Enduring the second half: What I’d like to see from the Orioles (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on 05 July 2010 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles officially reaching the halfway point of the season on Sunday, the second half of the schedule began much like the first—with a 12-9 loss in Detroit on Monday afternoon.

It’s no secret that much of Baltimore has shifted its attention to the Ravens and the upcoming start of training camp with the Orioles appearing destined to finish with the worst record in franchise history. Whether you choose to persevere through the season’s final three months or tune out in hopes of regaining your sanity after the horrid first half, much needs to be accomplished between now and October—on and off the field.

The most critical question of whether Andy MacPhail and Peter Angelos will commit to significantly improving the roster via free agency and trades in the offseason will linger long after October—and beyond—but in the mean time, a plethora of other issues can be addressed, some by the organization and others by players themselves.

If I had a crystal ball to predict what will unfold over the final three months of 2010, here’s what I’d like to see:

1. A new skipper is hired

This one is a no-brainer, but it’s imperative that the Orioles bring in a guy who truly wants the job and is willing to do the legwork of changing the culture of losing that exists in the clubhouse. It won’t happen by season’s end or even in 2011, but the club needs a dynamic leader.

I’ve championed Buck Showalter as the man, mainly due to his work with the Arizona Diamondbacks during the infancy of the franchise. Showalter, of course, did not stick around long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labor when Arizona won the World Series in 2001, but his obsessive work ethic could hopefully do wonders for the Orioles’ player development.

With MacPhail’s preference for an experienced manager, Showalter might be the man needed to ruffle some feathers, not only at the big-league level but throughout the organization.

2. A true commitment to the international market is made

While most have focused on the Orioles’ inability—or unwillingness—to make improvements through free agency and their poor track record with the amateur draft for the better part of 25 years, the organization continues to abstain from the international market.

The Orioles have opened a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, but far more needs to be done on the international front, both in the Caribbean and the Far East. The club’s sheer number of international scouts pales in comparison to their competitors in the American League East, a simple but poignant indication that the organization is not doing enough to find talent elsewhere in the world.

And no, signing a 33-year-old Koji Uehara two winters ago doesn’t qualify as really trying.

It won’t fix the franchise alone, but tapping into the international waters instead of wasting $5 million on the Garrett Atkins types of the world every winter is a far better use of resources with a higher potential reward.

As one simple example, Robinson Cano, my choice for Most Valuable Player of the first half, was signed out of the Dominican by the New York Yankees. Talent is out there; it’s up to the Orioles to find and develop it.

3. Do whatever it takes to fix Matt Wieters

The claims of “Mauer with Power” and “Switch-Hitting Jesus” were always ridiculous, but no one—inside or outside of Baltimore—expected Matt Wieters to struggle as he has over the first 600-plus at-bats of his major league career.

It’s not just the .239 average or the lack of power (.344 slugging percentage) this season, but his approach at the plate is undisciplined and his swing is passive, often looking to slap the ball somewhere instead of attacking the baseball when he gets a good pitch to hit.

Many blame Terry Crowley while others will point to the team’s struggles and the overwhelming expectations bestowed upon the young catcher, but Wieters needs help to realize his vast potential.

Whether it’s a new hitting coach, a former Oriole such as Eddie Murray working with him, a demotion to the minors, or the apparition of Charley Lau returning to tinker with his swing, Wieters must get on track if the Orioles are to pull themselves out of this 13-year abyss. Aside from the final month of his rookie season, he’s looked nothing like the future star so many projected him to be.

For the record, I still believe Wieters eventually becomes a good-to-great catcher in the big leagues, but the organization must do everything in its power to help him.

Immediately.

4. The trade pieces perform and are dealt at the deadline

Anyone with delusions that Kevin Millwood, Ty Wigginton, Miguel Tejada, Jeremy Guthrie, or any other veteran would fetch a return comparable to the one the Orioles received for Erik Bedard a few years ago was always setting himself up for disappointment, but these players have a few more weeks to improve their value in hopes of being dealt.

Millwood’s struggles are painfully apparent as the 35-year-old was shelled again on Monday afternoon in Detroit, lasting only an inning while giving up five runs against the Tigers lineup. His 2010 story has transformed from a sympathetic figure (standing at 0-4 despite a 3.26 ERA on May 8th) to one who can’t get anyone out (5.77 ERA after Monday’s start).

Even if MacPhail was unable to find a suitable deal for Millwood at the deadline, there were hopes that Millwood could perhaps fetch a compensatory pick as a Type B free agent—and certain to reject arbitration—but as Millwood’s ERA continues to skyrocket, that likelihood is becoming very unlikely.

Wigginton would appear to have the most value with his recent All-Star selection and the versatility of playing several positions on the diamond, but his hot start feels like a long time ago, and the numbers support it.

Entering Monday afternoon’s game, Wigginton has hit just .218 in 202 at-bats since May 3. For the sake of fetching a better return, a Wigginton hot streak would do wonders by the July 31st deadline.

Tejada might be an attractive option for a team looking for a third baseman or even a short-term answer at shortstop, but his .373 slugging percentage suggests a singles hitter, not the man who once led the league in runs batted in or even the hitter who led the National League in doubles last season. In other words, teams won’t be knocking down the door at the Warehouse to get him.

Guthrie might be the most valuable piece as he’s under control for two more seasons. His 4.64 ERA isn’t sparking by any stretch of the imagination, but a National League team looking for an arm to supplement the back-end of the starting rotation could do far worse than Guthrie.

Of course, the Orioles could elect to hold on to Guthrie because of those two years of control and his positive presence for a young rotation.

Reliever Will Ohman (2.88 ERA) might be another trade candidate, but it’s hard to imagine getting anything more than minor league filler for the lefty specialist.

5. Brian Roberts gets healthy for 2011

The simple act of Brian Roberts taking the field again in 2010 matters very little for a team currently 32 games below .500, but it might be viewed as a symbolic act to show he will be fully-recovered in 2011, the second year of a four-year extension signed 17 months ago.

Roberts is once again taking batting practice in Sarasota, but we’ve heard this story several times already. Surgery continues to be ruled out by all parties, so it’s imperative for Roberts’ back to hold up as we’re now approaching a time frame in which surgery could jeopardize the start of his preparation for the 2011 season.

It’s too late to debate whether it was a good idea to give the then-31-year-old Roberts a four-year extension, so you can only hope the decision to rest and rehabilitate the herniated disc proves to be the right one for his career.

If there’s any long-term risk for Roberts to try to play baseball again in 2010, he should be shut down immediately and given the rest of the season to rest.

Check out Part 2 of what I’d like to see from the Orioles over the season’s final three months later this week.

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Interesting times, indeed, for Peter, Andy and Cal

Posted on 29 June 2010 by Drew Forrester

There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes like this:  ”May you live in interesting times.”

Some believe its origin was actually intended to be a curse, translating to something like:  ”May the roads you travel be bumpy and dangerous”.

May you live in interesting times.

Interesting…indeed.

These are interesting times for Peter Angelos and the Orioles.

His hand-picked head honcho, Andy MacPhail, has just parted company with a $4.5 million mistake.  And no matter what Andy said in the aftermath of the Garrett Atkins departure, I’m sure Peter Angelos doesn’t look down his nose at the $4.5 million the way Andy obviously does — after all, as MacPhail noted, “in today’s economic structure in baseball, $4.5 million isn’t really much to lose”.  Well, not when you compare it to the $23 million that Teixeira gets…but what if MacPhail would have used that $4.5 million to sweeten the pie for Adam LaRoche or Adam Dunn or Vlad Guerrero?  Suddenly, $4.5 million does matter.

But that’s neither here nor there, now, because Atkins is gone.

How much longer, though, is MacPhail going to hang around?

With Tuesday’s story that Cal Ripken Jr. is still meeting with and talking to both Angelos and MacPhail about a front office position with the club, how much more of this stuff will MacPhail sit through before he packs it in?

He’s already being force-fed a managerial courtesy-interview with Rick Dempsey – by Angelos – and the premise that Andy is in sole control of the organization is starting to look quite wobbly.

And now Ripken is back, sniffing around again about some kind of advisory position that apparently must fit his busy, hectic schedule.

I guess Cal thinks being involved in the front office is like playing tennis on a Wednesday afternoon.  It eats up four hours of your day, if you count driving to and from the court, playing for 90 minutes, and then showering afterwards and eating a salad before heading back to the office.

As someone associated with the team said to me about two months ago when the first “Ripken wants to work in the front office” story broke:  ”The real problem here…is that Cal doesn’t know what he wants to do with the club.”

He doesn’t want to manage.  That takes up too much time.

He doesn’t want to run the club:  That takes up too much time.

He can’t do anything until his son goes away to college, which is still two years away.

Well, he can do *something*, but it can’t take up much time.

And then you have MacPhail, plugging away at a snail’s pace, trying to rebuild the organization and still make Peter Angelos feel like he’s playing a role in the turn-around.

Say what you will about MacPhail — and there’s an argument whose winter was worse in 2009, his or the St. Louis Rams – but he’s the guy who put “the plan” together and he should be allowed to proceed and inact that plan until it completely succeeds or fails.  And even though the team is 23-54 and all they’ve done under MacPhail is lose for three years now, it’s not fair to say “the plan has failed”.

But the plan might fail if Andy’s not allowed to hire HIS manager.

And the plan might fail if Cal Ripken Jr. is given some kind of authoritative role with the club against Andy’s wishes.

Then again, MacPhail retained, re-hired and fired Dave Trembley.  That’s a hat trick that Andy surely isn’t proud of, right?

Maybe Peter’s right when he says, “You know Andy, it might be a good idea for me to have the final say on this manager thing…you haven’t exactly knocked the 8-ball in the corner pocket with your previous decisons, you know.”  And maybe Angelos looks at Ripken the way he always looked at him before.  a pseudo cash-cow, who can help bring people to the ballpark, even if Junior is wearing a collar and tie and doing the meet and greet before the game down by the dugout.

The next three months will tell us a lot about Peter Angelos and his thoughts on the organization.

Is he souring on MacPhail and the plan?  He can’t possibly be thrilled about writing Garrett Atkins a free check for the next 14 weeks.  Rumors persist – and no one has denied them – that MacPhail wanted Brad Komminsk as the interim manager back on June 10 when he canned Trembley and Angelos wanted to give Rick Dempsey his shot at glory as the temporary guy in the dugout.  So they settled – a favorite task in the law industry – on Juan Samuel.  Sadly, that wipes away any legitimate chance Samuel might have had to interview for the REAL job after Trembley got the boot. And while the team isn’t any better, really, under Samuel, there have been some signs over the last three weeks that Samuel might actually be competent in the dugout.  I know this much, just based on the small sample size.  I’ll take Samuel over Trembley.

But running around interviewing managers in mid-June while your team is getting shelled 65% of the time isn’t good.  These are the days where MacPhail should be burning up the phone lines trying to unload some expendable pieces like Millwood, Guthrie, Wigginton and, even, perhaps Tejada and Luke Scott.  When you’re busy interviewing managerial candidates and such, it’s hard to devote the necessary time to making the roster better.  Then again, we have Felix Pie, Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez coming back and available for the rest of the season.  Let the good times roll, I supppse.

This is what you get when you fire the manager in mid-season.

This is what you get when you spend a grand total of $22 million on baseball players in an off-season that probably mandated you spend five times that amount on three quality players.

And this is what you get when the greatest hometown player in Baltimore baseball history wakes up one morning and says “Hey, I think I might want to work for the Orioles now.”

And, of course, this is what you get when you’ve lost for 13 years straight.

You get ALL of this.  You get:  a mess.

Oddly, these ARE interesting times, despite all the losing and all the friction and all the question marks.

The next three months won’t lack for storylines, that’s for sure.  And the biggest issue of all is this:  Is Andy MacPhail going to see this endeavor to its end?  Or will the owner lose his patience and scrap the three years of sweat equity for another crack at a quick fix, with a Hall of Fame player in tow who can possibly help both on the field and at the gate.

May they all live in interesting times…Angelos, MacPhail, Ripken, Dempsey…each and every one of them.

After all, they signed up for all of this.

They know what they’re up against.

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The Orioles 2010 All Star and Un-Star Representatives

Posted on 29 June 2010 by Jay Trucker

With the All Star game fast approaching, it is time for the obligatory speculative blog to determine who will and who should represent the Orioles. Despite their four game winning streak, it’s still safe to say a team with a record this pitiful does not deserve an All Star. However, since each team must have at least a single representative at the Midsummer Classic, someone wearing the O’s cap will make the exhibition club.

By the way, why didn’t anyone mention the “each team must have an All Star” rule to Adam Jones? He certainly doesn’t seem aware of this in his omnipresent MASN commercial, in which he talks proudly of “earning the title All Star” while squatting an unimpressive 235 lbs.

Someone on the horrendous 25 man roster had to “earn” the title All Star, Adam. It’s like being the smartest kid to repeat the eighth grade.

Anyway, I wouldn’t look for Jones to repeat as the O’s lone All Star this year. He is on an eight game hitting streak, but his defense has been suspect at times, and he spent most of April and May whiffing at breaking balls. Time to up your squats, Jonesy.

Ty Wigginton was an early season favorite, as he got off to a hot start that nearly makes up for his pitiful 2009. But he has leveled off recently, hitting .266 on the season with no homers in the past month.

A few local writers are pulling for Jason Berken, but he’s a little-known middle reliever on a bad team. He has about as much chance of making the All Star team as you or me.

Miguel Tejada could act like he’s been there before because he’s been there before. Tejada is hitting .287 while making the move to third base. I wouldn’t be completely surprised to see him get the nod, if only for his name recognition.

The Oriole truly deserving the All Star nod is Nick Markakis. When he’s not calling out his underachieving teammates or dining with Peter Angelos, Markakis has been hitting .306 while exhibiting his usual stellar defense in right field. With only 3 home runs on the year, Markakis has not rediscovered his power stroke, but he is walking at a higher ratio than last year, posting a .398 OBP on the season. Most criticism of Markakis is due to the fact that he is a natural number two hitter forced to hit in the number three spot for this undertalented team. Hopefully his fifth season in the bigs will bring him his first of many All Star nods. He’s been one of the only bright spots both on and off the field this season.

While Markakis is the clear choice for the All Star game, a doppleganger “Unstar” game would have several Baltimore Orioles candidates. Here’s a partial list of underachievers.

Garrett Atkins – Gone but not forgotten. Atkins told The Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec, “Taking my [batting practice] and stuff the last month or so, it’s been pretty good. I’ve been driving the ball well. I just haven’t been able to transfer it over to the games.” You hear that, New York Yankees? Atkins is doing great in BP. Now if only he could hit in games.

Mike Gonzalez – An Andy MacPhail offseason pickup who may be the only Oriole to ever get booed in his Camden Yards debut. Last seen giving up home runs in short season A ball for Aberdeen. Seriously.

Brian Roberts – In year one of a four-year $40 million deal, Roberts had only 16 plate appearances in 2010 before going on the long-term DL. He can be seen giving video updates on MASN from local dog parks. Seriously.

Koji Uehara – another waste of money and roster space, Uehara’s most impressive achievement to date is his ability to hop on and off the disabled list. Enjoy ingthe humidity, Koji?

Matt Wieters – Nicknamed “switch-hitting Jesus,” Wieters is hitting .238 on the season.

Let’s hope that Nick Markakis’ name is called for the real All Star game. The real question is, who is your Orioles Unstar?

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The Garrett Atkins Era Is Over

Posted on 27 June 2010 by Jay Trucker

He arrived in Baltimore with sagging statistics and high expectations, another member of a growing list of disappointing Andy MacPhail free agent signings.  Garrett Atkins, released on Sunday in order to make room for fellow low-achieving Oriole Koji Uehara, will walk away with $5 million dollars from a team for which he accomplished very little.

We’ll always remember that one home run. In 140 at bats, Atkins hit only one dinger, posting a pitiful .214 batting average. Often looking confused and completely powerless, Atkins had recently been relegated to the bench as the Orioles looked to improve their offensive punch. In the last 28 days, Atkins had made only 18 plate appearances.

Unless the once-formidable righty completely reinvents himself, his career is likely over. He spent most of 2009 and 2010 embarrassing himself at the plate and inciting the ire of irate fans, first in Colorado, then here in Baltimore. He will walk away $16.5 million richer than he was before his MLB career.

The true mystery, however, is not how Atkins lost his ability to play baseball. His numbers had been declining for three consecutive seasons prior to his signing this offseason.

The true mystery is why the Orioles would sign a 30 year-old with very little glove and decreasing stats to make the transition from the cushy confines of Colorado to the unforgiving stage of the AL East.

Garrett Atkins may be gone, but the people who signed him to a one-year deal with a buyout for 2011 are still here, and they should be packing their bags and splitting a cab to the airport along with Atkins.

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Live from Camden Yards: Matusz looks to rebound from recent struggles

Posted on 26 May 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Good evening from Oriole Park at Camden Yards as the Orioles (15-31) look to make it two in a row against the Oakland Athletics (23-23) as Brian Matusz takes the hill against left-handed starter Trevor Cahill at 7:05 this evening.

Matusz hopes to bounce back from the shortest outing of his career, a 2 1/3-inning effort against Texas last Thursday in which the young lefty gave up seven runs and picked up his fourth loss of the season. After winning two of his first three starts in 2010, Matusz has not registered a win in his last six starts. His last victory came against these same Athletics in Oakland on April 18.

Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

Oakland
CF Rajai Davis
1B Daric Barton
C Kurt Suzuki
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
RF Ryan Sweeney
LF Adam Rosales
DH Jake Fox
2B Mark Ellis
SS Cliff Pennington

SP Trevor Cahill (2-2, 3.68 ERA)

Baltimore
LF Corey Patterson
1B Ty Wigginton
RF Nick Markakis
3B Miguel Tejada
C Matt Wieters
CF Adam Jones
2B Scott Moore
DH Garrett Atkins
SS Cesar Izturis

SP Brian Matusz (2-4, 5.26 ERA)

Don’t forget to join us in the Orange Crush chat tonight at 7:00 p.m., as WNST personalities will discuss tonight’s action from Camden Yards. As always, remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates and quips about tonight’s game.

Check back right here for updates (time-stamped below) leading right up to first pitch at 7:05 p.m.

_________________________________________________

6:25 p.m. — Luke Scott is again out of the lineup with a strained left shoulder. Manager Dave Trembley said the slugger’s shoulder has improved considerably and will not need an MRI. There’s a “50-50″ chance Scott could be available to pinch-hit if needed tonight, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Second baseman Brian Roberts and injured relievers Alfredo Simon and Koji Uehara will fly to Sarasota on Friday to begin rehabbing their respective injuries. Roberts was scheduled to fly to extended spring training before a bout of pneumonia left him hospitalized last week.

Roberts and injured closer Mike Gonzalez are eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on June 9, but it’s highly unlikely either will be ready by then. After a limited spring training and appearing in only four games this season, the second baseman is basically starting over in his preparation to play baseball this season.

Gonzalez has pitched in three extended spring training games without any pain in his left shoulder, but the reliever has not built enough strength in the shoulder to return when eligible. He will complete a long-toss program to build up his strength.

In non-injury news, outfielder Nick Markakis will not be with the team on Thursday as he will be with his wife who will give birth to their second child.

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Orioles use small ball to top Oakland, 5-1

Posted on 25 May 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — When an offense struggles as much as the Orioles have to score runs this season, playing small-ball becomes an absolute necessity to have a realistic chance to win on a nightly basis.

As their record reflects, it’s a style of play in which the Orioles have failed miserably in playing through the first quarter of the season, but it worked Tuesday night as they defeated the Oakland Athletics, 5-1.

The Orioles (15-31) went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position but scored their first three runs of the contest without the aid of a hit. The club also drew six walks, one short of its season-high of seven in 2010.

The deciding factor of the game was the sixth when the club plated two runs without registering a hit in the entire inning.

“Four at-bats were key,” manager Dave Trembley said. “Two walks [to Nick Markakis and Miguel Tejada], a wild pitch, and two sac-flies [by Ty Wigginton and Adam Jones]. That was the key to the game.”

Winning 3-1 in the eighth, the Orioles added two insurance runs with Markakis’ third home run of the season and an RBI-double by Matt Wieters to put the game out of reach.

Continuing to face an uncertain future as the Baltimore manager, Trembley has discussed the importance of making things happen when the lineup is scuffling like it has all season.

“Let’s see about playing a little better fundamental baseball,” said Trembley about his message to the players prior to Tuesday’s game.

For at least one night, it seemed to work.

Guthrie labors

Though struggling to find a good rhythm through much of the evening, starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie earned his third victory of the season after allowing one run in six innings despite command issues and consistently pitching with men on base.

Having thrown 66 pitches in his first three innings, the right-hander settled in to retire eight of the last 10 batters he faced to improve his record to 3-4 in 2010. Guthrie’s 114 pitches was his second-highest total of the season.

“It’s a confidence boost to know you don’t have to be at your best to [win],” said Guthrie, who has now won three of his last four starts.

Homer drought ends

Having not hit a home run since May 1, Markakis went deep in the bottom of the eight to pad the Orioles’ lead and temporarily appease those wondering what’s happened to the right fielder’s power numbers.

Though his 13 doubles and .417 on-base percentage lead the club, Markakis is on pace to set a career-low in home runs through the season’s first 46 games.

“It is what it is,” he said about the lack of long balls on his stat line. “You just have to go up there with a good approach every time.”

Battered Birds

The injury bug has bitten the Orioles so severely, they now have multiple players getting hurt on the same play.

After relievers Koji Uehara and Alfredo Simon were placed on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, designated hitter Luke Scott was a late scratch with a strained left shoulder.

Scott jammed his shoulder diving for a grounder in the 10th inning of Sunday’s game against the Nationals, the same play in which Simon suffered a hamstring covering first base.

“He said he really couldn’t swing [during batting practice],” Trembley said after the game.

Garrett Atkins was inserted as the designated hitter for Scott.

Odds & ends

Jones singled in the second inning to extend his career-high hitting streak to 11 games, the longest streak by an Orioles hitter this season. … Markakis has reached safely in 41 of 46 games this season. … Brothers Corey Patterson and Eric Patterson started in left field on opposite sides tonight, marking the first time the Orioles were involved in a game with brothers playing against each other since June 10, 2004 when Jerry Hairston and Scott Hairston played at Camden Yards. … Atkins singled in the seventh inning to snap an 0-for-18 streak but has now gone 47 games with a home run, extending a career-high. … Tuesday night’s paid attendance was 14,686.

______________________________________________

BALTIMORE — Good evening from a warm (thank goodness) Oriole Park at Camden Yards as the Orioles (14-31) return home for a brief three-game homestand against the Oakland Athletics (23-22) after an off day on Monday.

Despite rampant speculation over his job security (or lack there of), Dave Trembley is still the Orioles manager, but the question remains how long. With Koji Uehara (elbow) and Alfredo Simon (hamstring) being placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Orioles have recalled lefty reliever Alberto Castillo and selected the contract of Norfolk closer Frank Mata to retool a gassed bullpen.

The biggest news of the day was the move of starter David Hernandez to the bullpen, paving the way for right-hander Chris Tillman to make Saturday’s start in Toronto. While Dave Trembley would not officially say Tillman would take the hill against the Blue Jays, all indications point to the 22-year-old making his first start in 2010 after receiving a 12-start stint in Baltimore last season.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

Oakland
SS Cliff Pennington
1B Daric Barton
RF Ryan Sweeney
C Kurt Suzuki
DH Jack Cust
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
CF Gabe Gross
2B Mark Ellis
LF Eric Patterson

SP Dallas Braden (4-4, 3.45 ERA)

Baltimore (Updated: Luke Scott is a late scratch with a strained shoulder)
LF Corey Patterson
2B Julio Lugo
RF Nick Markakis
3B Miguel Tejada
1B Ty Wigginton
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
DH Garrett Atkins
SS Cesar Izturis

SP Jeremy Guthrie (2-4, 3.86 ERA)

Don’t forget to join us in the Orange Crush chat tonight at 7:00 p.m., as WNST personalities will discuss tonight’s action from Camden Yards. As always, remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates and quips about tonight’s game.

Check back right here for updates (time-stamped below) leading right up to first pitch at 7:05 p.m.

______________________________________________

7:30 p.m. — As I posted on Twitter (@WNST) right before the first pitch, Luke Scott has been scratched from the original lineup with a strained left shoulder. Bad news for a lineup already struggling to score runs.

6:55 p.m. — Needing a corresponding 40-man roster move to make room for Mata, the Orioles have officially placed Mike Gonzalez on the 60-day disabled list. Considering Gonzalez has been on the DL since April 10, this really doesn’t impact his rehabilitation efforts or time frame for a return.

6:10 p.m. — Frank Mata and Alberto Castillo aren’t exactly creating a buzz here at the ballpark—especially with Castillo’s ERA sitting at an ugly 12.79 after his most recent stint with the Orioles—but the club is desperate for bullpen arms after losing Uehara and Simon to the disabled list.

Mata signed as a minor-league free agent in the off-season and sported a 2-1 record with a 1.86 ERA and eight saves as the Norfolk closer this season. He spent his entire minor league career in the Minnesota organization prior to this year and has a career 4.08 ERA in six seasons of professional baseball. At 26 years old, he’s far from a prospect, but his performance with the Tides warrants an opportunity at the big-league level.

With the expected promotion of Tillman for Saturday’s start, I’d expect Alberto Castillo to be sent down to make room on the 25-man roster on Saturday. At this rate, Castillo might be on pace to set a major league record for number of promotions and demotions in a season. Of course, that’s not exactly the most prestigious title to be aiming for if you’re Castillo.

Trembley was noncommittal regarding his plans for a revamped bullpen after losing his third closer of the season in Simon. Lefty Will Ohman (0.00 ERA in 24 games) can probably expect an expanded role out of necessity, but the Orioles manager will need to feel his way through the mess that is the Baltimore bullpen right now.

5:50 p.m. — With the Orioles hopelessly in last place and 18 games behind Tampa Bay, the anticipated promotion of Tillman does create a bit of intrigue for the weekend series in Toronto. Tillman made Monday’s start for the Tides, earning the victory after allowing one run and scattering eight hits over six innings.

The 22-year-old prospect struck out seven and continues to dominate the Triple-A level in May. Monday’s victory improved his record to 3-1 with a 2.32 ERA this month, putting to rest the concerns of a poor start to his 2010 season with the Tides.

It’s no secret that most believe Hernandez is best-suited for a bullpen role, and the numbers support it.

While Hernandez supports a 3.38 ERA in the first three innings of his starts, that number balloons to 7.50 in innings 4-6 of his outings. The hope is the 25-year-old can rely more heavily on a plus-fastball and command the slider a bit better in shorter stints out of the bullpen.

Of course, his command issues (28 walks in 42 1/3 innings) may not vanish in a relief role, a dicey proposition should he enter a game with runners on base. Regardless of how confident you might be in Hernandez’s makeup as a reliever, it’s clear Trembley is looking for any reliever who can offer multiple innings of work, a job the right-hander can fulfill without any problem.

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Two more of MacPhail’s “genius” pickups, Simon and Uehara, headed to DL

Posted on 25 May 2010 by Jay Trucker

At the 2009 Orioles Fanfest, Andy MacPhail boasted that 40% of the Orioles rotation consisted of international talent. That 40% was Mexican League pickup Alfredo Simon and former Japanese All Star Koji Uehara. This was supposed to be a great development for the Orioles, who were finally making inroads into the international talent pool.

Today, 100% of the Orioles’ international talent that MacPhail touted a year and a half ago are headed back to the DL.

While injuries are inevitable in baseball, the failure of Simon and Uehara represent much more than bad luck.

There is a reason Simon came out of nowhere to become perhaps the worst “number three” starter of all time when the Orioles put him on the 25 man roster to begin last season.  Simon was not “discovered” in the Mexican League. The Dominican-born righty was drafted by the Phillies in 1999. He kicked around several organizations’ minor league systems before being dropped by the Texas Rangers organization. According to Baseballreference.com, he lost the Mexican League finals before becoming a late-season replacement for the O’s in September 2008.

Simon is the definition of a “scrap heap” player.

Uehara’s story is more well documented. The former Yomiuri Giant. The 1999 Rookie of the Year in Japan’s Central League was converted to a closer in the years preceding his move to the U.S.  Koji was converted to relief for the Giants due to concerns about his stamina. This is the same reason the Orioles were the only team to consider him for their starting rotation. Koji signed with the O’s because the only interest in him from other MLB teams was an interest in his services for relief. The Birds paid him $10 million over two seasons. He has played in 18, 12 as a starter, 6 as a reliever. His unheralded career as an Oriole may be over.

Don’t look for a big announcement from Andy MacPhail today regarding the transfer of his two international pitchers to the DL. This is the guy who told The Sun the day that Brian Roberts was hospitalized for pneumonia: “We don’t anticipate that it’s going to be anything that impacts his rehabilitation schedule.” And here’s MASN’s Roch Kubatko updating Roberts’ road to recovery yesterday: “Second baseman Brian Roberts is feeling better after being hospitalized last week with pneumonia, but he doesn’t have any immediate plans to fly down to Sarasota and resume baseball-related activities. That idea has been put on hold.”   What’s that?  A setback?  Well,  surprise, surprise.

I’ve been a MacPhail fan since he took over for the two-headed GM monster in 2007, but in the words of ubiquitous Baltimore defense lawyer Barry Glazer, it’s about time he stop pissing on our legs and telling us it’s raining. Brian Roberts’ extension looks really bad right now. The forays into international scouting were abysmal failures. The Koji experiment, particularly, may have actually set the Orioles back in their efforts to extend into the East. When Koji was playing, he was playing for a losing team in 3/4 empty ballparks. Do you think the hoards of Japanese reporters who followed his every move last year were impressed?

The most bitter disappointments in 2010 have not been the losses on the field; they’ve been the failures off the field, and management’s way of treating a dwindling fan base like we’re ignorant. Things look bleak in Birdland, not just today, but in the future, too.

The young players’ ceilings appear to be relatively low.

The veteran 2B is just hoping to get back to the Canton dog park, let alone a baseball field.

The international players are gone, which is probably addition by subtraction.

Garrett Atkins has no power. Maybe that’s why no other team wanted him.

Mike Gonzalez is in Florida licking his wounds.

Houston and Seattle no longer look so bad for the spare parts they traded in exchange for Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard.

But according to MacPhail, that yellow stuff is just rain.

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O’s lose at Texas: Enough goats to fill a 5-gallon cowboy hat

Posted on 20 May 2010 by Drew Forrester

On the whole, it’s hard to hold manager Dave Trembley 100% accountable for this fiasco-of-a-season we’re enduring.

He didn’t sign Garrett Atkins, Miguel Tejada and Corey Patterson — they were a combined 2 for 13 on Wednesday night in Texas and those three combined to leave 16 runners on base. 

When Andy MacPhail told us all “I’m going to buy some bats” last winter, Trembley – like the rest of us – assumed those bats were actually going to work. 

So when I watch another one-run loss in which the Orioles offense was the main criminal, it’s hard to knock Trembley for a 13-28 start to the 2010 campaign.

But…

And you knew there was a “but” coming, right?

But…last night’s loss in Texas has Trembley’s fingerprints all over it. 

Since it was a road game, the crew of local scribes and reporters weren’t on hand to quiz Trembley about his moves the way they would – chewing on their fingernails for fear he’ll bite their head off – had the game been at OPACY.  Home or road game, though…the questions about Trembley’s decisions are still there. 

> Why not go with Jason Berken to start the 7th inning when Jeremy Guthrie’s night came to an end after 90 pitches and 6 innings?  Berken hadn’t been on the hill since May 11.  Trembley went with Matt Albers there to start the 7th.  And all he did was give up 2 runs to ruin a fairly impressive performance from Guthrie.  And, yes, the Rangers managed to squeeze out two runs without the benefit of a ball hit into the outfield, but Albers was his own worst enemy when he couldn’t field a routine bunt with a runner on first and no one out.  More than anything else, though, the question for Trembley is this:  Why not go with Berken to start the 7th inning?  Tell him to get you 4 outs and take you into the bottom of the 8th inning at the very least.  He hadn’t pitched since May 11 — he doesn’t have 40 pitches in his arm?  He should.

> Will Ohman comes into the game in the bottom of the 7th, throws two pitches, and gets Josh Hamilton out to end the inning.   To start the 8th, the Rangers would send Cruz (a good hitter), Smoak (stinks) and Treanor (stinks) to the plate.  Why not come back with Ohman to start the 8th?  Is he ONLY capable of getting left handed hitters out?  That’s ALL he can do?  I don’t think  so.  Let him start the 8th and see what he brings to the table.  Using him for 2 pitches just doesn’t make sense to me.

> And it’s certainly not Trembley’s fault that Koji Uehara is obviously allergic to the heat.  But the manager better come to grips with the fact that Koji will be ineffective in any appearance that’s made with the temperatures over 90 degrees this summer.  I was shocked they didn’t bring out one of those beach umbrellas and a portable fan for Uehara on Wednesday night.  He looked like my Aunt Betty at Ocean City, only able to stay out in the sun for 30 minutes before she went back to the hotel, distressed and in need of a cold towel on her beet-red neck.  That dude will NEVER make it in Baltimore in July and August.

> In the top of the 8th, trailing by a run, the O’s get a one-out hit from Matt Wieters.  Adam Jones makes an out and up comes the O’s version of Charlie Brown — Garrett Atkins.  I realize Trembley’s thought at that stage COULD be, “If this guy just gets a hit here, maybe he breaks out of the funk he’s in”, but the better thought right then would have been to say, “Hey Montanez, grab a bat and get me a f**king hit here.”  The only problem with that?  Montanez hasn’t had an at-bat in two weeks.  Well, he’s fresh…if nothing else.  But seriously — why not see if Montanez can’t get you a hit there?  Atkins (even though he DID walk) wasn’t going to get one, that’s almost a certainty.  If Montanez is going to serve as nothing more than the team bus driver he might as well not be around.  And if he’s not worthy of a pinch-hit effort in Texas in the 8th inning of a May game, then he definitely should be somewhere else — like Norfolk, I guess. 

> Because Uehara was overcooked and in need of a cold sponge bath, he couldn’t make it through one inning of work.  That meant Trembley had to go to the bullpen again in the 8th inning and he decided that was a good time to get Cla Meredith.  Meredith, as it turned out, was effective in the 8th, but not effective in the 9th, when he gave up a leadoff double and a walk before being removed.  Alberto Castillo came in and walked Josh Hamilton, loading the bases.  That means, of course, Trembley has to make another pitching move and he then goes to Berken.  And if you look at his numbers, Berken is the ONE guy you don’t want in there because he’s a high-pitch pitcher who’s probably as prone as anyone on the team to giving up a sacrifice fly.  And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.  Cruz lofted a tummy-high pitch into centerfield and the game came to an end.   Now…had Berken been used in the 7th, perhaps Meredith – a low ball pitcher who can work someone into a double play – could have come out in the 9th and forced Cruz to hit into an inning-ender.  Bringing Berken in there, when all Texas needed was a fly ball, was a recipe for failure. 

> There’s lots of talk in town about Trembley’s future and whether he should stay or go.  There are nights like Wednesday when I say, “just send him on his way” and then I remember he has to play Garrett Atkins because that’s what he’s been given and he has to pitch Sweatbeads Uehara because that’s what he’s been given.  You can be a great chef, but if the restaurant owner gives you a bag of chicken manure and says ”make me a great chicken salad” you just can’t do it.  That said…Trembley makes a lot of puzzling decisions.  And most of them don’t work. 

Games like Wednesday night, where a struggling team like the Orioles do more than enough to put themselves in position to win and then don’t — those games are FAR more aggravating to me than a 9-3 loss where the Rangers hit four homers and just overwhelm the O’s. 

And as the losses continue to pile up, the spotlight continues to shine on Trembley and his in-game decisions that give all of us reason to talk about the what if’s, why’s and how come’s?

It’s making for great sports talk radio, but it’s not helping attendance at the ballpark.

After all, nothing matters these days except winning.

I just wish the Orioles were doing more of it.

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Koji Uehara, Symbol of Birdland Expectation and Frustration, Set to Return as Middle Reliever

Posted on 05 May 2010 by Jay Trucker

With all of the Orioles’ disappointments after one month of play, for all of the free agent duds (Mike Gonzalez, Garrett Atkins), sluggish starts (Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones), and lineup-crushing injuries (Brian Roberts, Felix Pie), perhaps no Oriole over the last few years serves as a more fitting symbol of Birdland failure than Koji Uehara.

In fact, Uehara has been such a disappointment, so injury-laden, and so unimpressive in his brief stints on the mound, that it feels like much more than just sixteen months ago that he arrived from Japan to the banks of the Chesapeake amidst much fanfare.

Though he has largely been forgotten both by the fans and the club’s front office, the signing of Uehara was widely praised at the time, since it marked the Orioles’ first foray into the Asian free agent market. By signing Uehara, the O’s became the last AL East team to sign an Asian-born player. This is a step in the right direction, of course, but being excited about the O’s making a well-overdue splash in international free agency is akin to being excited that a 500 pound man lost 100 pounds. He’s made some progress, but there is still much work to be done.

But this isn’t the way the signing was played out locally. In their official press release, the Orioles touted Uehara’s ten years with the Yomiuri Giants, his 56 career complete games, and his Sawamura Awards in 1999 and 2002. You remember those years, right, before myspace, facebook, youtube or gmail?

Check out the Orioles complete Uehara press release here.

http://baltimore.orioles.mlb.com/news/press_releases/press_release.jsp?ymd=20090113&content_id=3741984&vkey=pr_bal&fext=.jsp&c_id=bal

In the end, the Orioles bid against themselves for Uehara’s services. They were the only team willing to bring Koji in as a starter. He had been relegated to relief in his last year in Japan, and other MLB were only willing to sign him to continue his career as a reliever. The Orioles, however, were confident that the 34 year-old Koji could return to prominence as a starter, or at least eat a lot of innings while The Cavalry readied themselves in the minors.

Uehara finished his first season 2-4 in 12 games as a starter in 2009. He earned $5 million in 2009 and logged only 67 innings before going on the DL for most of the year.

On Wednesday, the team optioned Alberto Castillo to AAA to make way for Uehara. This year, there will be fewer Japanese reporters, fewer expectations, and fewer innings for Uehara, who labored in the fifth and sixth inning of nearly all of his 2009 starts. The club is bringing him back as a reliever, the role every other team in the league appears to have known he was best suited. Perhaps he will thrive in relief. Of course, this doesn’t erase the Orioles’ mistake as Uehara’s injuries both this year and last were perhaps foreseeable. Yomiuri didn’t just decide to relegate a once-dominant starter to relief for no reason. One look at Koji sweating out a fifth inning meltdown confirmed what the rest of the league already knew—he wasn’t the pitcher he was in 2002.

On the day that Andy MacPhail finally spoke about the Orioles’ hitting woes, Uehara’s return is a secondary concern. But his signing is beginning to look like a foreshadowing of the perhaps similarly poor Gonzalez and Atkins signings. All three players seem to have been signed with the expectation that they will perform to the highest points of their careers. However, all three players showed signs of a downward trajectory in the last few seasons. Atkins’ numbers had been in a tailspin for three years, in the National League no less, before the Orioles signed him for $4.5 million to play first base. Gonzalez lost his closing job in Atlanta before the Orioles handed him the keys for two years.

When Gonzalez was booed on Opening Day in Baltimore, he became the new symbol of Orioles frustration. Gonzalez struggles have been more immediate and therefore more spectacular than Uehera’s. I mean, at least he wasn’t booed on day one at Oriole Park. But everything about the Koji signing—the hype, the optimistic expectations, the misplaced role he was given, the injuries, the disappointment—is beginning to look all-too-familiar in Birdland. And not just in comparison to Atkins and Gonzalez. Will Brian Roberts, the 32 year-old speed-based player given a $40 million, four-year extension, ever be the real Brian Roberts again? Unlike Koji, BRob won’t have the chance to reinvent himself in middle relief.

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