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Schoop turning heads as Orioles’ lone All-Star representative

Posted on 10 July 2017 by Luke Jones

MIAMI — While getting on the American League team bus on Monday, Jonathan Schoop sounded like the young rookie that Nelson Cruz had mentored and remembered so fondly in their brief time together.

“We were joking around and he said, ‘I’m going to follow you around everywhere because I don’t know what to do,” said Cruz, a five-time All-Star selection who has spent the last three seasons in Seattle after playing for the Orioles in 2014. “He’s like a son for me. Age makes a difference. Now he has experience. He learned; he wants to learn. He’s always asking questions to get better.

“He’s finally got everything together.”

The quip signified how far the second baseman has come from playing in the shadow of several high-profile teammates over his first few seasons to being the lone Orioles representative at this year’s All-Star game. And while the exclusion of his teammates is viewed by many as a reflection of how difficult the last two months have been for the struggling Orioles, Schoop isn’t just a token inclusion from a club closer to the cellar than first place.

Tied for the team lead in home runs (18) and leading the Orioles in runs batted in (54), Schoop is on pace to shatter his career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. His 1.9 wins above replacement lead all Orioles players while his .370 weighted on-base average — a stat holding significant prominence in the sabermetric community — is second behind only Houston’s Jose Altuve among qualified AL second basemen in 2017.

Schoop hitting for power isn’t surprising as we’ve watched him get stronger every season, but his improved plate discipline has turned heads and led to more consistency at the plate. His 19 walks in 352 plate appearances remain well below the league average, but he’s just two shy of the 21 he piled up in 647 trips to the dish in 2016.

It’s the product of a more confident and selective approach as he’s swinging at fewer pitches both inside and outside the strike zone.

“I trust myself more and know that I can do it,” Schoop said. “I work every day and trust what the scouting report [says]. You know what [pitchers] are trying to do. You just have to achieve it and make sure you get the right pitch to hit. That’s part of my game that’s grown up a little bit more. I’m more patient and more selective.

“It’s not necessarily the walks, but just patience. Get the pitch to hit. Don’t chase too many pitches. Don’t swing at a pitcher’s pitch. It’s tough. They’re good. They get paid to strike you out and get you out.”

The 25-year-old has plenty of support this week from both family and teammates — former and current. Manny Machado has opened up his home to his close friend and will attend All-Star festivities as Schoop hopes to have a strong showing in honor of the Miami native who didn’t receive an All-Star invitation in a down season.

Schoop is representing more than just the Orioles and his family this week. He is the fourth Curacao native to appear in an All-Star Game, something in which he takes great pride after playing for the Netherlands in each of the last two editions of the World Baseball Classic. This year’s Midsummer Classic is the first with multiple selections hailing from the Dutch Caribbean island as Schoop is joined by Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on the National League side.

“He’s come a long way,” said Jansen, a two-time All-Star selection who played with Schoop’s older brother. “He was always very talented, one of the most talented guys I ever saw play in Curacao growing up. Now he’s put it all together. He’s going to be a superstar. We could have seen this coming.”

Having stepped out from the shadow of Machado and other former Orioles All-Star selections in previous years, Schoop is finally making the baseball world take notice.

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Orioles acquire left-hander Nuño from Dodgers

Posted on 19 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles acquired left-handed pitcher Vidal Nuño from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday to add another long-relief option to their bullpen for the 2017 season.

Baltimore sent 22-year-old pitcher Ryan Moseley to the Dodgers and designated left-hander T.J. McFarland for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.

Nuño spent last season with Seattle, pitching to a 3.53 ERA in 58 2/3 innings. In November, the Mariners sent the 29-year-old to the Dodgers in exchange for veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz. Though he’s made 42 career starts in his four major league seasons, Nuño is expected to serve as a long reliever in a bullpen that also features left-handed closer Zach Britton and southpaw specialist Donnie Hart.

After struggling to a 6.93 ERA in Baltimore last season, McFarland was out of minor-league options — Nuño has one remaining — and must now pass through waivers before potentially being outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. Moseley was selected in the eighth round of the 2016 draft and pitched to a 3.20 ERA in 19 2/3 innings for short-season Single-A Aberdeen.

In 329 1/3 career innings in the majors, Nuño owns a 4.02 ERA and has averaged 7.4 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings. The southpaw has given up 1.4 home runs per nine innings of work in his career and allowed 11 in his 2016 season. He also spent time with the New York Yankees and Arizona earlier in his major league career and was part of the 2015 trade between the Diamondbacks and Mariners that also included current Orioles Mark Trumbo and Welington Castillo.

Nuño is scheduled to play for Mexico in next month’s World Baseball Classic.

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Mike Harmon dishes on NFL in LA

Posted on 17 August 2016 by WNST Staff

Mike Harmon of Fox Sports caught up with Nestor this week to discuss all things NFL, including the preseason debut of the Los Angeles Rams.

Who will start for the LA Rams? Which golden rule was broken by a Rams WR during the first Hard Knocks episode?

To hear Nestor’s full conversation with Mike Harmon, listen here:

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Thoughts about Orioles’ weekend series in Anaheim

Posted on 22 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Sunday’s 10-2 loss shouldn’t spoil a series victory for the Orioles as they took two out of three from the Los Angeles Angels to begin their longest road trip of the season to this point.

The weekend was highlighted by Matt Wieters’ dramatic three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning to erase a 1-0 deficit and give Baltimore a 3-1 win on Saturday night. The blow came on Wieters’ 30th birthday and continued a strong month for the veteran catcher in which he’s hit .372 with three homers, eight RBIs, and a 1.038 OPS.

It was another game that had a 2014 feel to it in the sense that the Orioles came away with one they had little business winning after Matt Shoemaker had dominated them. And it’s the kind of win you remember fondly if they’re still in the thick of the race in September.

Even with the lopsided loss in the series finale, the Orioles went into the off-day holding the best record in the American League and leading the East by percentage points over the Boston Red Sox.

** Ubaldo Jimenez continued a nightmare month on Sunday by allowing six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings, lifting his season ERA to 6.04 and his May ERA to 7.81 in 27 2/3 innings.

It’s been an extended period of struggles for the right-hander dating back to the second half of last season. Since holding an impressive 2.81 ERA at the 2015 All-Star break, Jimenez has pitched to a 5.79 mark in his last 135 1/3 innings of regular-season work.

The frustration over Jimenez’s performance is obvious, but the problem is that the Orioles aren’t exactly bursting at the seams with alternatives — at least until Yovani Gallardo is ready to return next month. Despite the cries of some fans, the organization just isn’t releasing a pitcher in the third year of a four-year, $50 million contract, especially when Jimenez is capable of getting on a roll in which he pitches at a high level.

Manager Buck Showalter reiterated after Sunday’s game that the Orioles aren’t at a point where Jimenez’s rotation spot is in jeopardy, but something may have to give sooner rather than later if his May struggles continue into June.

** Mike Scioscia was rightfully upset with home plate umpire Dale Scott over a pair of awful strike calls in the ninth inning on Saturday, but I’m still scratching my head about the Angels manager removing Shoemaker after just 95 pitches.

There was no reason to think the starter couldn’t have at least finished the eighth after striking out 12 over 7 1/3 innings. Perhaps the baseball gods agreed considering how the ninth inning played out.

** If you’re looking for the latest reason why the win stat means little for starting pitchers, look no further than Kevin Gausman, who has zero in six starts despite a tidy 2.70 ERA.

On Saturday, the 25-year-old showed his best fastball velocity since his season debut and got stronger as the game went on despite no run support from the Orioles lineup. The wins will come, but the important news is that Gausman is healthy and pitching effectively.

** Joey Rickard stole second base in the first inning of Sunday’s game, giving the Orioles just their sixth stolen base of the season.

Entering Sunday, 32 players in the majors had more steals than the entire Orioles club. Of course, Baltimore leading the majors in homers has a lot to do with the reluctance to run.

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ozzie

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Major trade at top of draft only helps Ravens at No. 6

Posted on 14 April 2016 by Luke Jones

A colossal shakeup at the top of the 2016 draft should improve the Ravens’ chances of landing an elite player with the sixth overall pick.

Thursday morning brought news of the Tennessee Titans trading the first overall pick to Los Angeles, who gave up a king’s ransom to move up from 15th overall. The Rams didn’t make such a blockbuster trade not to take a quarterback — whether it’s Jared Goff of Cal or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz — so the trickle-down effect will only help the rest of the teams in the top 10.

Do the Cleveland Browns take a quarterback second overall as many believe they will? If so, the Ravens would be guaranteed to have their choice of at least two of the following players at No. 6: Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Ohio State edge defender Joey Bosa, Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.

Of course, the Browns taking a quarterback isn’t a guarantee and they are reportedly willing to trade the pick, but the Ravens didn’t want to be in a position where all five aforementioned names were off the board when they were on the clock. Now, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens brass can rest easier knowing at least one of those top prospects will still be available when they are slotted to make their earliest selection since the 2000 draft.

All it took was another quarterback-needy team jumping into the fray.

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Orioles acquire outfielder Efren Navarro from Angels

Posted on 26 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Still needing to add a corner outfielder and a starting pitcher before spring training begins next month, the Orioles made a minor roster move on Tuesday with the acquisition of outfielder Efren Navarro.

Sending cash to the Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore added the 29-year-old Navarro and designated outfielder L.J. Hoes for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. The Orioles’ third-round selection in the 2008 draft and part of the Bud Norris trade in 2013, Hoes had been reacquired from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash considerations in late November.

The left-handed Navarro has batted .246 with a .303 on-base percentage in 280 major league plate appearances over the last four seasons. He carries a .365 career OBP in the minor leagues and hit .326 or better for Triple-A Salt Lake in each of the last three straight seasons (2013-15), but he never showed more than gap power in the minors — Navarro has hit more than seven home runs in a minor-league season just once —  and his success at the plate has yet to translate to the big leagues.

Navarro appeared in 118 games over the last two season for the Angels, but he was designated for assignment last week. Primarily a first baseman in the minor leagues, Navarro has learned to play the corner outfield spots over the last couple seasons and is considered a solid defensive player.

Meanwhile, Hoes had been discussed by some fans as a potential sleeper candidate to win a starting job, which is more a reflection of the Orioles’ lack of quality outfield depth. The addition of Navarro does little to improve an outfield picture that consists of All-Star center fielder Adam Jones and a list of question marks headlined by Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim and veteran Nolan Reimold.

Mark Trumbo is also capable of playing the corner spots, but manager Buck Showalter has already indicated that he will primarily serve as the club’s designated hitter while receiving occasional starts at first base or in the outfield.

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There is no finer venue in the world to watch baseball than Dodger Stadium...

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Los Angeles – Let me start by saying that I’ve always loved Dodger Stadium. I walked into Chavez Ravine for the first time in 1985 with my Pop on a trip to Southern California. I sat in the bleachers with legendary Spanish language version of Los Dodgers besibol blasting from a boombox with the dulcet tones of Jaime Jarren. Thirty years later, when you walk into that same space, you still get the tingles of a fantastic place to watch a baseball game under a painted sky. Timeless. Classic. Elegant. And now, ageless, again all dressed up and pimped out in Chavez Ravine. All that’s missing is the voice of Vin Scully kissing your eardrums. Pick a seat in this shrine. Any seat. Just make sure you get some decent weather and a nice SoCal sunset. Sure, Magic Johnson and his minions have spent a bunch of money trying to buy a World Series title sometime soon. The commitment to the team matches the commitment to keep a perfect baseball day in tact. So spend a day at Dodger Stadium and then measure the rest of the MLB experiences.

And ask virtually any player in baseball where their favorite stadium is and this place is on everyone’s Top 3.

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manny

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Machado falls in first round of Home Run Derby

Posted on 13 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Manny Machado performed admirably, but it was another 23-year-old who got the best of him at the 2015 Home Run Derby in Cincinnati on Monday night.

The Orioles third baseman hit an impressive 12 home runs in the first round before Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson — who is more than two months older than Machado — clubbed 13 with a minute remaining in the new timed format to advance to the second round. Pederson went on to finish second in the competition, falling to hometown favorite Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds in the championship round at the Great American Ballpark.

Making his second trip to the All-Star Game and first appearance in the derby, Machado’s long distance was a 469-foot blast and his average home run distance was 431 feet. His first-round total was the fourth highest of any competitior, but he did not advance in the new head-to-head tournament.

Upon using his timeout in the first round, Machado was greeted by teammate Adam Jones in the home plate area with a sports drink and a plate of tortilla chips with a container of the young infielder’s special salsa. Always a character, Jones later presented the winner Frazier with a WWE championship belt at the end of the evening.

Already with a career-high 19 homers at the All-Star break, Machado has a good chance to surpass his total of 33 bombs from his first three major league seasons combined.

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Orioles receive lift from unexpected source

Posted on 18 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles needed a lift in more ways than one on Sunday.

The short-term need of a starting rotation without an ill Bud Norris or an ailing Chris Tillman was apparent as Baltimore begins a brutal stretch of 21 games in 20 days on Tuesday.

On top of that, the Orioles were facing the prospects of being swept at home after falling four games below .500 for the first time in four years on Saturday night. A pick-me-up was in order after a struggling offense had wasted stellar outings from Wei-Yin Chen and Ubaldo Jimenez in the previous two games against the Los Angeles Angels.

A change in karma was required for a club struggling to find its footing through the first six weeks of the 2015 season. Even though their early-season concerns remain, the Orioles needed a new wrinkle to end the series on a positive note and head into their final off-day for three weeks with a good feeling.

And that’s exactly what rookie Mike Wright provided in turning in 7 1/3 shutout innings in a 3-0 win before 41,733 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Displaying impressive poise, Wright became the first pitcher in franchise history to toss a scoreless start without walking a batter in his major league debut as he also added six strikeouts while surrendering just four hits.

Wright’s fastball was on display from the very beginning, recording his first major league strikeout when he blew a 98 mph fastball past 2014 American League MVP Mike Trout in the top of the first. His fastball was still touching 97 mph in the eighth inning as he mixed in his slider, changeup, and curveball throughout the afternoon to keep Angels hitters off balance.

Though rated as only the Orioles’ No. 8 prospect by Baseball American last offseason, the 2011 third-round pick out of East Carolina earned Sunday’s opportunity after steadily working his way up the organizational ladder over the last few seasons. If only for one afternoon, Wright put the hype surrounding the likes of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and Hunter Harvey on the back burner while he enjoyed the limelight, leaving to a standing ovation in the eighth.

Yes, the day belonged to the 6-foot-6 right-hander and the Orioles reaped the benefits as their lineup once again struggled through a nondescript afternoon — albeit against the talented Garrett Richards — before Adam Jones provided some much-needed insurance with a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth.

There’s no telling what’s next for Wright as manager Buck Showalter will weigh his immediate options in the starting rotation, but the 25-year-old certainly earned another opportunity after shutting down an Angels club that had won five straight games. He became the first Orioles pitcher to post a scoreless start in his major league debut since Chris Waters did it against the Angels in 2008 and the first to do it at home since Anthony Telford shut down Oakland at Memorial Stadium in 1990.

The Orioles hope Wright makes many more meaningful contributions, but the aforementioned names serve as a reminder that you can’t take too much away from what we witnessed on Sunday.

You hope there’s more to come, but Wright provided a shot in the arm that the Orioles needed to feel better about the weekend and themselves.

Even if it was only for one afternoon.

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Orioles offer latest example that it isn’t 2014 anymore

Posted on 17 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A year ago, starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez too often let down his Orioles teammates in a nightmarish campaign that ultimately landed him in the bullpen.

On Saturday, the Orioles wasted a stellar outing from the right-hander in a 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels that dropped Baltimore four games below .500 for the first time since the end of the 2011 season. It was just the latest reminder that it isn’t 2014 anymore.

Continuing his excellent start to 2015, Jimenez pitched six shutout innings before two infield singles and a Chris Iannetta chopper off the glove of Manny Machado — not an easy play, but one we’re used to seeing the 2013 Gold Glove third baseman make — tied the game at 1-1 in the seventh. A single by Marc Krauss plated the second Angels run and gave them a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish in another frustrating loss for the Orioles.

Sporting a sparkling 2.43 ERA in seven starts spanning 40 2/3 innings, Jimenez was victimized by bad luck in the seventh, but the lack of support from the other phases of the game is an all-too-familiar theme so far this season as the Orioles lineup managed just one run — a Steve Pearce solo home run in the fourth — and three hits, none of them coming after the fourth inning. In fact, not a single hitter even reached base after Pearce hit his third homer of the season for the first run of the game.

“We are just not getting the timely hits right now,” Pearce said. “Hitting a lot of balls hard right at people. Tomorrow is a new game, and we have to shake it off. We’re still [only] five games back. It’s still a long season, and we are hoping to turn this thing around starting tomorrow.”

Matters weren’t helped with relievers Darren O’Day and Zach Britton allowing four more runs in the final two innings, making what was a one-run deficit an insurmountable five-run hole for an offense that’s managed just two runs and eight hits in the first 18 innings of a three-game set against the Angels, who have shaken off a slow start of their own with their current five-game winning streak. Those offensive numbers wouldn’t be as frustrating if not for the fact that Jered Weaver and Matt Shoemaker each arrived in Baltimore with ERAs of 4.98 and 6.61, respectively.

With Memorial Day just over a week away, the Orioles still haven’t been able to find that consistent winning combination they mastered in running away with the American League East a year ago. When they’ve scored plenty of runs, the pitching hasn’t gotten the job done. And when they receive good performances on the mound, the offense has too often disappeared like it did on Friday and Saturday.

Only 34 games into 2015, the Orioles know they have plenty of time, but their play has just felt off with even the defense and bullpen — arguably the two components most responsible for three consecutive winning seasons — faltering at critical times.

“We just have to deal with it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We had challenges last year. We have good people. We’ll overcome it. I have a lot of confidence in that.”

Yes, it’s still early, but the Orioles need to recapture their mojo from a season ago. Or, it could get start getting late a lot quicker than they would have anticipated.

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