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2015 Orioles preview: Manny Machado

Posted on 20 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just over two weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter

3B Manny Machado

Opening Day age: 22

Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season

Minor-league options remaining: Three

2014 stats: .278/.324/.431, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 38 R, 2 SB, 354 PA

Why to be impressed: Machado struggled for a sizable portion of the 2014 season when he was healthy, but he nearly matched his 2013 home run total (14) in half as many plate appearances. The right-handed batter also improved his walk rate from 4.1 percent in 2013 to 5.7 percent of his 2014 plate appearances and saw a career-high 3.64 pitches per plate appearance, evidence that bodes well for his continuing development at the plate.

Why to be concerned: The reports have been very favorable this spring, but the Orioles and their fans will continue to hold their collective breath until Machado makes it through an entire season without any knee problems. Having a full spring training will help, but the Orioles cannot afford to see Machado struggle for two months out of the gate like he did last season coming off the first knee surgery.

2015 outlook: Manager Buck Showalter says Machado is running better than he has at any point in his professional career — he’s already stolen a couple bases during spring training — and has even experimented with using the young infielder in the leadoff spot. If he remains healthy, Machado has a good chance to earn his second Gold Glove and is a good bet to hit .280 with a career-high 20 home runs while reestablishing himself as one of the young stars in the game. Despite the adversity he’s experienced in the last two years, Machado is still younger than most rookies will be during the 2015 season, which is quite a thought for a veteran who already has almost 300 major league games under his belt.

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Who should lead off for Orioles in 2015?

Posted on 03 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With spring training only a couple weeks away, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has a number of issues to sort out as it relates to his everyday lineup.

Most attention has centered around replacing outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz — Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, David Lough, Delmon Young, and the newly-acquired Travis Snider are among the candidates — but identifying who will lead off in the Baltimore lineup is anyone’s guess at this point. However, it’s not a question over which the skipper is panicking in early February.

“Somebody’s going to lead off Opening Day, I bet you,” quipped Showalter, adding that he’s more concerned with having a strong bottom of the order than with who’s hitting first. “Our guys don’t talk about it a lot. I’ve told you many times, [you could] just take your best hitter and hit him first to get more at-bats.”

It’s that very mindset that led to Markakis first becoming a regular leadoff hitter during the 2012 season even though he stole only six bases over his final three seasons with the Orioles. No one would confuse the Orioles with a track team after they stole a league-worst 44 bases in 2014, so speed isn’t a prerequisite for replacing Markakis at the top of the order.

Among their current candidates, who should lead off for the Orioles in 2015?

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Of the possible options currently on the roster, De Aza carries the most experience hitting in the leadoff position with 296 career starts there, but Showalter said Saturday it would be wrong to simply assume it’s his job to lose this spring. His career .334 on-base percentage in the top spot of the order is just a touch higher than his career .330 OBP overall, but De Aza told reporters he feels comfortable leading off if that’s what the Orioles want him to do.

His production in 2014 spiked when he was traded to the Orioles at the end of August, but De Aza is eager to rebound from a campaign he called the worst of his career as he hit only .252 with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in, and a .700 on-base plus slugging percentage combined with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore. He would also represent one of the Orioles’ speedier options as he stole 17 bases last season.

“I can’t just go there and tell them that I want to be leadoff or they’re just going to give me the leadoff spot,” said De Aza, who added that Showalter hasn’t talked to him about the job to this point. “I’m just going to work hard, and they’re going to make the best [decision] for the team.”

Showalter acknowledged he’s had some “radical” thoughts about his lineup throughout the offseason, mentioning Lough, Pearce, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and even Chris Davis as potential candidates to be the leadoff hitter, but nothing is set in stone. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates last week, Snider carried a .356 on-base percentage in the second half of 2014, and the Orioles hope that’s a sign of better things to come for the former first-round pick who’s struggled to realize his potential at the major-league level.

But if the Orioles are looking for a unconventional option who might also be the best one, Pearce led the club with a .373 OBP and worked the count as well as any hitter in the lineup a year ago. Even if the 31-year-old won’t match his lofty power figures of 21 homers and a .556 slugging percentage in 383 plate appearances in 2014, he has a career .335 OBP in parts of eight major league seasons as well as a .371 career OBP in the minor leagues.

Like Markakis, Pearce won’t offer much in terms of speed, but Showalter acknowledged the traditional leadoff hitter appears to be an endangered species in today’s game. In all likelihood, the Orioles will use a committee approach in Grapefruit League action until one or two hitters settle into the role depending on the opposing starter on a given night.

“They know things are going to change a little bit from time to time depending on who we’re facing,” Showalter said. “The conventional leadoff hitter like Brian [Roberts] was for a long time and like Rickey Henderson was for a long time, how many of them are there [today]?. How many guys can stay in the lineup against left-handed and right-handed pitching and be there every night?”

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Machado, Wieters aiming to be in Opening Day lineup

Posted on 01 February 2015 by Luke Jones

An offseason filled with front-office uncertainty, key departures, and few additions hasn’t been easy for the Orioles.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette spent much of Saturday’s FanFest reiterating that his “singular focus” has always been on improving the defending American League East champions, but that doesn’t change the reality of losing outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and key reliever Andrew Miller. Coincidence or not, the acquisition of outfielder Travis Snider — the club’s biggest addition of the winter — came two days after Toronto ended its pursuit of Duquette to become the Blue Jays’ new chief executive officer and team president.

But the executive reminded everyone Saturday of the best “additions” to help the Orioles in 2015. The returns of All-Star third baseman Manny Machado and All-Star catcher Matt Wieters would go a long way in helping Baltimore advance to the postseason for the third time in four years.

“The biggest and most powerful improvement we have for our ball club this year is Machado’s coming back and Wieters is coming back,” Duquette said. “Those are two Gold Glove, power-hitting core players that can return to our lineup. That’s the most important component and addition that we can make to the team is to get those guys back healthy and doing what they do.”

The pair missed a combined 216 games last season, but both eye a return to the lineup for Opening Day. Many have pointed to the uncertainty in the outfield as a primary reason why the Orioles will slip from their 96-win mark reached a year ago, but the club continued to thrive last season with the combination of veteran Nick Hundley and rookie Caleb Joseph behind the plate for five months and utility man Ryan Flaherty spending much of the time at the hot corner in the final two months.

After suffering a season-ending knee injury for the second straight year last August, Machado has already been fully cleared for baseball activity and appears on track to not only be ready for the start of the regular season but to benefit from a full slate of Grapefruit League action, something he didn’t have last season when he missed all of spring training and the first month of action while working his way back from his first knee injury. With two healthy and surgically-repaired knees, the 22-year-old is hoping to build on what’s already been an impressive major league résumé.

“I’m ready to roll, ready to play some baseball. Running, hitting, whatever I’ve got to do to get ready,” Machado said. “I’ve had a lot of time. That’s been the key. I’ve had a lot of time to get ready and have an offseason. I was doing my rehab in Sarasota and then went down to Miami to do my usual weightlifting and get ready for baseball. It’s been exciting. It’s been four or five months that I haven’t been on a baseball field, so I’m really looking forward to spring training and being back on the field. People take spring training for granted, and it’s a very big key for success in the year.”

Wieters’ status for the beginning of the season is less certain as he continues to rehab his right elbow after undergoing Tommy John surgery last June. His throwing progression has increased to 150 feet and he has been swinging the bat for roughly a month, but the three-time All-Star selection doesn’t anticipate being able to play games early in spring training.

Even if Wieters isn’t ready to get behind the plate at the beginning of the season, the Orioles could use him as a designated hitter as he continues to strengthen his elbow.

“We’re still in a phase where a lot could happen in the next couple months,” Wieters said. “It could get a lot better [and] it could slow down, but we won’t know until we go through the throwing program. But I’m preparing every part of my body to be ready for Opening Day, and that’s all I can do right now.”

Because of Wieters’ ability to hit free agency next winter, it will be interesting to see how much he tries to push his surgically-repaired elbow in returning to live-game action. Wieters and agent Scott Boras will undoubtedly want to grow his value and prove to potential suitors that he’s entirely healthy, but it can’t come at the expense of experiencing a setback.

Acknowledging how difficult it was watching his teammates compete in the 2014 postseason, Wieters has been itching for the start of spring training since last year ended, but he will be smart in continuing to follow his throwing program. A two-time Gold Glove winner, the 28-year-old catcher threw out at least 35 percent of runners attempting to steal in three straight seasons before his elbow problems came to the forefront last year when he threw out just one of 12 trying to steal.

“The main thing is we have to get the arm healthy enough to play the rest of my career,” Wieters said. “That’s the main goal — whenever that is. As soon as we feel like it is there, it’s time to strap it on and go. We don’t want to be feeling like we are babying it through the season. We want to get it healthy and ready to go.”

The Orioles hope Machado and Wieters can pick up where they left off prior to their 2014 surgeries, but it’s clear that the front office, coaching staff, and players aren’t sweating the offseason losses they’ve experienced nearly as much as the outside world. Replacing Cruz’s power, Markakis’ leadership, and Miller’s late-inning contributions won’t be easy, but there are too many remaining ingredients for the Orioles not to remain a favorite in a division they won by 12 games last year.

A pitching staff that has only lost one key bullpen member and returns every starter as well as one of the game’s best defenses should ease the concerns about a frustrating winter.

“While it’s important to improve your club in the offseason, we’re not really trying to win the offseason,” Duquette said. “We’re trying to put together a team that can compete and get to the postseason and prevail. That’s different than making headlines in the wintertime.”

The headlines have primarily been for the wrong reasons this offseason, but healthy returns from Machado and Wieters would be crucial cogs for the Orioles’ vision of returning to the playoffs.

 

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Machado tells reporters he’s “ready to roll” for spring training

Posted on 14 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Holding their final day of minicamp in Sarasota, the Orioles received an encouraging update on the health of Manny Machado as the 22-year-old went through a workout for manager Buck Showalter.

After taking batting practice and completing base-running drills at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, Machado told reporters in Sarasota that he’s been participating in all baseball-related activities except for fielding grounders laterally, explaining that he’s simply wanted to be cautious in doing so. He will visit with Dr. Neal ElAttrache once more before spring training and expects to receive full clearance at that time.

“It’s been a while since I felt this healthy and good,” Machado said to reporters gathered in Sarasota. “My body feels great, my mind is clear. I’m excited to get back out there. I’m itching actually. I haven’t been itching like this for spring training since my first year of pro ball. I’m just excited to get the season rolling.”

Unlike his left knee injury that occurred in the final week of the 2013 season and subsequently cost him the first month of the 2014 season as he finished his rehab, Machado suffered the same injury to his right knee on Aug. 11 and elected to have season-ending surgery less than two weeks later. The timetable would appear to make it very likely that the 2013 All-Star and Gold Glove third baseman will be ready for Opening Day.

With the Orioles losing outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis in free agency and failing to make a significant addition at this point in the offseason, the healthy returns of Machado and catcher Matt Wieters as well as a bounce-back season from first baseman Chris Davis will be vital as the club tries to defend its American League East title.

Machado got married in the offseason and credits the time he took off for the wedding and honeymoon as being beneficial from a physical and mental standpoint. And based on the reports of how he looked in Sarasota Wednesday, the Orioles feel good about the prospects of the 2010 first-round pick being able to complete his first full major league season.

“I think that getting married and having that honeymoon was perfect timing for God to get me away from all this and bring me back to my senses of how life is,” Machado said. “Because when I came back, I felt like freaking God. I felt awesome, I felt great, my body was feeling great. I think that’s why I’m in this position now that I could do what I’ve been doing, because I took that little time off and kind of let my body heal completely.”

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Tillman ready for next step as Orioles’ postseason ace

Posted on 01 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Just a few years ago, not many would have believed Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman would be the one taking the ball for the opening game of a playoff series.

Acquired with outfielder Adam Jones as the centerpieces of the Erik Bedard trade in February 2008, Tillman carried a career 5.58 ERA in 36 starts over his first three major league seasons in which he shuffled back and forth between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk. The struggles left him as an afterthought in many minds as the Orioles embarked on what turned out to be a surprising 2012 season that resulted in their first postseason appearance in 15 years.

It wasn’t until that July that Tillman finally got another chance in the rotation and established himself as a major league starter by going 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts. Even with Tillman having such an impressive second half, manager Buck Showalter elected to send him to the bullpen in the 2012 playoffs where he did not pitch.

Last year, he established himself as the staff ace and was named to his first All-Star Game. And after being named the Opening Day starter for the first time earlier this year, Tillman will take another step in his dramatic progression by making his postseason debut against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Thursday night.

“It has been a journey, to say the least,” Tillman said. “I had a couple of rough years early on and kind of turned things around come 2012. I think that goes to show where the organization is at, not just personally, but all the way throughout. … For myself, like I’ve always said, it’s a big puzzle, and you’re trying to find the pieces to it and put the puzzle together.”

Completing his second consecutive 200-inning season and posting a 20-start streak of allowing three or fewer earned runs that wasn’t snapped until his final outing of the regular season, Tillman’s final 2014 numbers that included a 13-6 record with a 3.34 ERA weren’t such a sure thing as late as early June. Slow starts in the early innings and poor fastball command led to Tillman holding a 5.20 ERA through his first 13 starts.

His early-inning pains and a lingering groin issue led many to wonder if a market correction was finally taking place after his superb 1 1/2 years, but the 26-year-old instead made adjustments and went on the most successful run of his career, posting a 2.38 ERA over his final 21 starts to not only silence doubters but make it an elementary choice for Showalter to choose him as the Game 1 starter against the Tigers.

“He’s just a really hard worker. I know his talent is really immense,” catcher Nick Hundley said. “I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for how good he is. It’s a tough game. You don’t roll out here and put up Nintendo numbers like he has the last three or four months without being really good.”

Tillman will be opposed by 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, leading many to overlook the tall right-hander once again, but his numbers since early June suggest he is as dangerous as any starting pitcher remaining in the postseason. The only question will be how he responds to the limelight of his first playoff appearance, but Tillman is often praised by teammates and coaches alike for his even demeanor, which should allow him to handle what’s sure to be a raucous crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

For the California native, it’s just another step and just another start, even while anticipating some butterflies.

“The only difference is the stakes are higher. I take every game the same way,” Tillman said. “They’re all important. There is not one that’s less important than the other. Once the game starts and the bell rings, that’s where we’re comfortable as a team. Might have extra feelings before the game, be nervous, but if you’re not nervous, you need to find another job.”

Hot corner, hot topic

When asked about how he anticipated handling the third base position, Showalter wasn’t tipping his hand Wednesday as the Orioles have given starts to Ryan Flaherty, Jimmy Paredes, Kelly Johnson, and Alexi Casilla at the hot corner since Chris Davis was suspended for amphetamine use on Sept. 12.

The growing pains have been clear as the Orioles had appeared to settle on Davis as their regular replacement for the injured Gold Glove winner Manny Machado before the slugger was banned for 25 games, a stretch that makes him ineligible until the ninth game of the postseason should the club advance. Baltimore made seven errors at third base over the final 10 games of the regular season.

“I feel confident in the people that will be playing and they’ve got a good track record,” Showalter said. “I don’t think anybody is trying to be as good as Manny. [He] had a historical year defensively, but we’ve been able to present ourselves well over there. I feel confident that we will continue to do that.”

Most believe Showalter will go with the strongest available defensive option in the postseason, which would be Flaherty despite the utility infielder committing three errors over his final four starts at third.

The 2012 Rule 5 pick said he is feeling more comfortable after getting extensive time at third base for the first time since the beginning of the year when he was filling in for the still-rehabbing Machado. Flaherty has made five errors in 27 starts and 255 1/3 total innings at third base this season.

“Part of my job here was to be able to be flexible and move around,” Flaherty said. “Getting over there the last couple weeks with Manny being gone, with Chris being gone [has helped]. You feel a little more comfortable the more you’re there.”

Rotation, roster remain secret

Showalter said Wednesday that he won’t announce the rest of his starting rotation until the conclusion of Game 1, but Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris will be the three starters behind Chris Tillman — in some order.

The 23-year-old Kevin Gausman was told to be ready for Game 1, a surefire sign that he will pitch in relief during the Division Series. However, it remains to be seen how many will be joining him in the bullpen as the Orioles are debating whether to go with a six-man group of relievers and a six-man bench or seven relief pitchers and five on the bench. A six-man bullpen would include Gausman, closer Zach Britton, right-handers Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter, lefty Andrew Miller, and either righty-hander Brad Brach or left-hander Brian Matusz.

“The decision for us is going with 10 or 11 [pitchers], and we’ve kicked it around until we’re blue in the face like everybody does,” Showalter said. “If you knew exactly what was going to be needed for each game, it would be real easy to do.”

The deadline to finalize the Division Series roster is 10 a.m. Thursday.

“Cheerleader” Machado progressing well

Machado was back at Camden Yards to watch Games 1 and 2 of the Division Series before reporting to Sarasota to continue rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee.

The 22-year-old remains optimistic that he’ll be 100 percent for the start of spring training in February.

“I’m doing everything,” said Machado, who is embracing the role of cheering for teammates despite not being able to play. “Activating the muscles and trying to get my quads back. I’m basically full-go [in a] couple weeks, hopefully. I have full range of motion already, and hopefully in a couple weeks, I’ll start riding the bike and get that going.”

Mr. Oriole pays visit

Hall of Fame third baseman and Orioles legend Brooks Robinson was a special guest speaker before the 2014 Orioles completed their workout at Camden Yards on Wednesday.

“His message was that he’s excited to see how excited Baltimore is,” Tillman said. “To us, that’s special. He’s been there. He’s been there for the World Series, for the playoffs, and he said this is the most fans he’s ever seen walking around the streets wearing their Baltimore Orioles jerseys and are proud of it.”

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Orioles hoping hot corner doesn’t burn chances in October

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles may not be sounding an alarm, but all you need to know about their concern at third base was signaled with the insertion of veteran Alexi Casilla at the hot corner in Saturday’s lineup against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Yes, Casilla brings major league experience and manager Buck Showalter wanted to take a look at him after he was rehabbing a hamstring injury in Sarasota earlier this month, but how many games did the 30-year-old play at third base for Triple-A Norfolk this season you might ask?

None.

In fact, Casilla had made just two career starts at third and appeared at the hot corner just 10 times in his eight major league seasons before Saturday’s game at Rogers Centre. But it reflects the level of uncertainty the Orioles face at the position as Casilla became the fourth different player to start there since the announcement of Chris Davis’ 25-game suspension on Sept. 12.

The concerns at third base have been very real since 2013 Gold Glove winner Manny Machado went down with a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 11, but the Orioles appeared to find an acceptable solution in Chris Davis before the slugger’s 25-game suspension was announced on Sept. 12. Since then, Showalter has shuffled candidates with the results being mixed at best.

Though the Orioles have been playing out the relatively-meaningless regular-season string since clinching the division title on Sept. 16, they’ve committed five errors in their last eight games at third base entering Saturday.

The switch-hitting Jimmy Paredes has shown offensive promise with a .308 average in 54 plate appearances, but the 25-year-old has also displayed poor hands and an erratic arm, committing three errors in 13 games and looking shaky on a number of other plays at third base. Showalter has given Paredes the most extensive playing time at third, but his defense has often led to him being pulled in the late innings.

Veteran Kelly Johnson has shown decent hands, but his throwing arm hasn’t inspired confidence to throw out speedier runners at first base. The left-handed hitter also sports a .215 average in time split among the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Orioles this season.

Considered the strongest defensive option on the current roster, Ryan Flaherty has even shown recent struggles at the hot corner with two errors in his last four starts at third base this past week. And though he’s hitting over .300 in the month of September, Flaherty’s appearance at third creates another hole at the bottom of the order — he’s a career .222 hitter with a .654 career on-base plus slugging percentage — to go with rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop and one of Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley behind the plate.

It’s unlikely that Casilla makes the postseason roster, but the simple fact that he’s getting a look at third base speaks volumes about Showalter’s lack of confidence in any of the candidates at the position.

The Orioles knew they wouldn’t be able to find an option with the all-around ability of Machado when he was lost for the season, but they appeared to be able to live with Davis’ solid defensive play while knowing the offensive upside he brings despite his .196 average in the 2014 regular season. But his suspension lasting until the ninth game of the postseason leaves the Orioles flapping in the wind at third for at least the American League Division Series and some of the AL Championship Series before Davis is an option.

None of their current options provide enough upside with the bat to endure such shaky defense and only Flaherty — if you’re willing to overlook the recent shakiness — appears to provide steady-enough defense to Showalter’s liking. That’s what makes the 2012 Rule 5 selection the most palatable option over Paredes, Johnson, or the recently-summoned Casilla until Davis can potentially return.

Looking for an answer since Machado crumpled to the ground on Aug. 11 and then again when Davis was banned on Sept. 12, the Orioles have yet to find a solution with the Division Series beginning in less than a week.

While many look at the Orioles’ league-leading home run total and improved pitching numbers, defense remains the heart of their success over the last three seasons. Baltimore ranks third in the AL in team ERA but only 10th in strikeouts, a simple reflection of how hurlers pitch to contact and how important the defense has been. Entering Saturday, the Orioles were tied for first in fielding percentage and had committed the second-fewest number of errors in the AL.

In October when such a premium is placed on pitching and defense in typically low-scoring games, the Orioles defense will need to be at its best as they begin a journey to try to win their first World Series since 1983.

You just hope the uncertainty at the hot corner doesn’t burn their chances.

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Nothing typical about these AL East champion Orioles

Posted on 17 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — For years, the discrepancy was clear as the Orioles wallowed at the bottom of the American League East.

Lagging behind in payroll and player development, they looked up at the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays while being stuck in neutral with no apparent direction or plan of how to get better. The Orioles didn’t spend like New York or Boston and couldn’t cultivate their own talent like Tampa Bay while suffering through a seemingly endless run of fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the toughest division in baseball year in and year out.

When the Orioles finally broke through Tuesday night with an 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays to win their first AL East title since 1997, it was an atypical sum of the parts that put them on top. Yes, their payroll is higher now than it was for years, but it still remains in the middle of the pack and far below those of the Yankees and Red Sox. Their farm system has produced a number of key players, but it isn’t the well-oiled machine like those of other top organizations in baseball.

It started with Andy MacPhail using some savvy trades and top draft picks to put together a core group of All-Star talent and continued with the arrival of manager Buck Showalter and current executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who began filling in the gaps with below-the-radar additions and, finally, a couple high-profile free agents this past winter. What’s resulted is a club that’s won more than 90 games for the second time in three years and appears poised to make a deep run in October.

The journey certainly hasn’t been easy as the season-ending injuries to catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado and the recent 25-game suspension of first baseman Chris Davis have provided easy excuses for the Orioles to wilt down the stretch. Not all has gone to plan as the $50 million free-agent addition of starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has been an utter failure in the first season of a four-year commitment.

But Tuesday’s win provided the perfect microcosm of what’s made the Orioles continue to thrive in 2014.

You can expect the unexpected.

Making his first start in a month after being dumped from the starting rotation, Jimenez overcame a shaky beginning to pitch five solid innings to earn just his fifth win of the season. Ironically, it was the kind of important game in which the Orioles envisioned Jimenez pitching when they signed him in February.

A three-run home run in the first inning came off the bat of Steve Pearce, the journeyman who was designated for assignment in April before being re-signed a few days later when Davis went on the disabled list. The 31-year-old has gone on to hit a career-high 18 homers, which is more than he’d hit in his first seven major league seasons combined. More than any other player, Pearce might be the ultimate symbol of the 2014 Orioles when the final chapter is written sometime next month.

A solo shot came an inning later from third baseman Jimmy Paredes, who was claimed off waivers by the Orioles during spring training and then lost to the Kansas City Royals a couple days later. Duquette eventually reacquired the 25-year-old in time for him to provide a handful of big hits in his few weeks with the club.

T.J. McFarland pitched a scoreless sixth inning. He was the Rule 5 selection the Orioles stubbornly retained on the 25-man roster all last season.

Darren O’Day provided 1 1/3 innings of excellent relief as he has for the last three seasons. The sidearm pitcher was claimed off waivers from Texas before Duquette was even hired three years ago.

Left field Alejandro De Aza hit the three-run triple in the seventh to bust the game open after he was acquired for two nondescript minor-league pitchers at the waiver trade deadline late last month.

Dominant lefty Andrew Miller struck out the only two hitters he faced and has been exactly what the Orioles envisioned when they acquired the best relief pitcher on the market while the rest of baseball lauded Oakland and Detroit for acquiring Jon Lester and David Price, respectively. The Orioles now own a better record than the Athletics and the Tigers.

When Pearce fielded the final out for the club’s 91st win of the season, it was just the latest example of the sum being much greater than the parts appear on paper.

There hasn’t been a set formula apparent to the rest of the baseball world that explains the Orioles’ ascent over the last few years, but they play great defense, hit home runs, and have pitched as well as anyone since early June. Those strengths have allowed them to overcome the loss of All-Star position players and failed free-agent acquisitions.

For Duquette and Showalter, the question isn’t who is the best player as much as it’s who is the best fit. It hasn’t been about spending money as much as it’s been about making the smartest decision.

And it’s been perfectly imperfect as Baltimore wrapped up the division title with 11 games to spare.

Whether they have 11 wins in them next month remains to be seen, but the journey to this point has been both difficult and overwhelmingly rewarding.

And it paid off with a celebration at Camden Yards Tuesday night while the rest of the American League East was looking up at the Orioles for a change.

 

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Orioles’ ability to overcome adversity begins with starters

Posted on 14 September 2014 by Luke Jones

With Friday’s surprising news of Chris Davis being suspended 25 games for amphetamine use, the same question that’s been tossed the Orioles’ way all season was uttered once again.

How can they overcome this?

Despite an 88-60 record entering Sunday that had them days away from the American League East championship, the Orioles have faced anything but a problem-free campaign in 2014.

All-Star players Matt Wieters and Manny Machado have suffered season-ending injuries. Top free-agent acquisition Ubaldo Jimenez has not only failed to meet expectations, but has been banished to the last spot in the bullpen and is very likely to be left off the postseason roster. And even before Davis’ suspension that now bans him until at least the AL Championship Series — if the Orioles advance that far — the slugger was hitting only .196 a year after hitting a franchise-record and league-leading 53 home runs.

“The game usually gives you back kind of what you put into it,” said manager Buck Showalter after the Orioles’ doubleheader sweep of the New York Yankees on Friday. “Everybody’s putting something into it.”

The narratives of resiliency and a different hero every night have frequently rung true, but they don’t paint the entire picture of how the Orioles have managed to all but run away with their first division title since 1997. We knew the Orioles would hit home runs and play exceptional defense entering the season, and those skills have certainly been there all year.

But the biggest question would be the pitching, particularly in the rotation. Even with the struggles of their $50 million addition in Jimenez, the starting pitching has not only silenced the doubts, but has been a strength since the first two months of the season. Through the end of May, the starting rotation had posted an underwhelming 4.49 ERA as the Orioles were 27-27. Since June 1, starters have pitched to an impeccable 3.20 mark, which would be tops in the AL if extrapolated over the entire season. The Orioles have gone 61-33 over that period of time, a .649 winning percentage.

Even with the unevenness of April and May included, Baltimore ranks sixth in the AL in starter ERA, which nearly any fan would have gladly taken at the start of the season. The current team ERA of 3.50 would be the Orioles’ lowest in a full season since 1979 when the AL champions posted a 3.26 ERA.

When being compared to the other top clubs around baseball, the Orioles are often sold short for lacking a true ace, but that hasn’t stopped the starting rotation from becoming the strong heartbeat of a club nearly 30 games above .500 in mid-September. All five members of the current rotation sport an ERA of 3.74 or better, making Showalter’s job a difficult one when deciding which four will make the postseason rotation.

Not only has the quintet of Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman pitched effectively, but the group has been durable with only Gonzalez and Norris spending brief time on the disabled list this season. After using a total of 12 or more starters in each of the previous three seasons under Showalter, the Orioles have sent just seven starters to the hill in 2014 with long reliever T.J. McFarland only receiving one spot start.

Four Oriole starters — Tillman, Chen, Norris, and Gonzalez — have made 24 or more starts. For perspective, only three made 24 or more starts in 2013 and just one did it in 2012 when the Orioles earned their first postseason trip in 15 years.

Upon learning of Davis’ suspension on Friday, the Orioles responded by promptly sweeping a twin bill over the Yankees in which they allowed one run in 20 total innings. The nightcap was particularly indicative of what the Orioles have become as they fielded what looked like a spring training lineup that included only four players from the Opening Day order and three who weren’t even on the 40-man roster at the start of the year. It was no problem for Bud Norris, who pitched seven shutout innings against the fading Yankees in a 5-0 victory.

“Good pitching solves a lot of problems, issues, whatever you might want to call it,” said Showalter as he reflected on the work his club did following the Davis announcement on Friday. “That’s usually where it starts.”

And it’s why the Orioles shouldn’t be counted out, even after this latest blow to the lineup.

 

 

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Orioles temporarily option Chen to minors to add extra bat off bench

Posted on 27 August 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles furthered their reputation for manipulating their roster as much as any club in the majors by optioning left-handed starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen to their Gulf Coast League affiliate and recalling catcher Steve Clevenger from Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday.

The procedural move provides another left-handed bat off the bench for manager Buck Showalter, but Chen will be allowed to be recalled for his regular turn to pitch against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. Since the Gulf Coast League completes its season on Thursday, the Taiwanese lefty would be eligible to return to the majors the following day and would not need to wait the normally-required 10-day minimum in the minors.

Clevenger was hitting .305 with two home runs and 30 runs batted in in 64 games for the Tides this season. He hit .240 in 26 games for the Orioles earlier this year. The Orioles have been playing with a three-man bench since recalling right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez and designating infielder Cord Phelps for assignment in Chicago on Sunday.

“We’ve been playing short a position player for a while,” Showalter said. “We thought this was an opportunity to take care of that problem and give us a better chance to win tonight. That’s what it’s about. And a better chance to win tomorrow night.”

Not factoring in the decision after his second-shortest outing of the season in Tuesday’s 4-2 win, Chen will pitch on regular rest despite Showalter briefly considering waiting to recall Chen until Monday when major league rosters will expand. The Orioles will need to make a temporary 25-man roster move to make room for Chen on Sunday.

Chen leads the Orioles with 13 wins and has posted a 3.76 ERA in 25 starts this season. The 29-year-old has allowed 158 hits, struck out 109, and walked 28 in 148 1/3 innings.

With Kevin Gausman, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez also possessing minor-league options and scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Orioles may choose to send down other starting pitchers over the next few days should a need arise.

“We’ll consider anything that gives us a better chance to win the game that night and doesn’t jeopardize anything we’re doing in the future down the road,” Showalter said. “We’ll see what the game brings tonight. We’ll let each game dictate where we are and what our needs are.”

Machado surgery successful

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado underwent successful surgery to repair a partially-torn ligament in his right knee.

Machado traveled to Los Angeles Tuesday before Dr. Neal ElAttrache — who handled last year’s surgery on his left knee — completed the procedure early Wednesday morning. The 22-year-old is expected to remain in California for the next three weeks before either traveling to Sarasota to continue rehabbing or rejoining the Orioles for a while.

“Manny’s surgery went real well. That was good to hear,” Showalter said. “Doctors say everything went well [and] as expected, without mentioning the doctor’s name. They had a good [grasp on] what they thought was going to happen and what they thought they were going to find.”

The Orioles and Machado expect his surgically-repaired knee to be 100 percent and cleared before the start of spring training.

Bundy ready for “normal” offseason

Pitching prospect Dylan Bundy visited Showalter and the Orioles to discuss his offseason plan on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old right-hander has nearly recovered from the lat strain that landed him on the disabled list and prematurely ended his season pitching for Single-A Frederick. Bundy is expected to participate in the Orioles’ Sarasota minicamp in late January.

“The goal and the hope now for him is to have a normal offseason of a healthy pitcher,” Showalter said. “They talked about him ending the season active and marked as healthy just so he can start his offseason, which in some cases would be doing nothing for a while. I think that would be good for him.”

Bundy made his return in June from last year’s Tommy John surgery, going 1-3 with a 3.27 ERA in nine starts spanning 41 1/3 innings split between short-season Single-A Aberdeen and high Single-A Frederick.

O’Day receives his due

Right-handed relief pitcher Darren O’Day has been exceptional since arriving in Baltimore in 2012 and received some novel recognition with his own T-shirt (below) given to fans before Wednesday night’s game.

“I’m glad [he’s] being recognized,” said Showalter, who wasn’t aware of the O’Day T-shirt prior to Wednesday. “If you just throw a blanket over all relief pitchers, you can make a case there’s nobody in baseball having a better year out of the bullpen than Darren O’Day. This year, it’s been left, right, switch-hitters, it doesn’t matter. Darren’s just been solid.

“When you get your ERA under 1.00 with those amount of appearances, you’re not sneaking up on anybody. They all know what he features; they all know what he’s trying to do.”

O’Day is 4-1 with a 0.94 ERA in 57 2/3 innings of relief work, which includes 61 strikeouts and 16 walks.

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markakis-game saver 8-20-14

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JUMP ON THE ROLLER COASTER

Posted on 26 August 2014 by Tom Federline

Thursday, August 21st – Birds up by 9 on the Spankee’s and 9 on the Boo Jays. Four (4) days later, August 25th – Birds up by 6 on the Spankee’s and 8 on the Boo Jays. Just when you start thinking – the Orioles (73 wins), might just be able to coast into the playoffs – BANG – O’s get  swept/outplayed by the Chicago…….Cubs (58 wins). That downer coming right after riding high sweeping the Chicago……….White Sox (59 wins).  Then to add salt into the wound, the Cubs sweep came at the hands of former Orioles, i.e. Jake “I’m on juice”” Arietta, Pedro “Strope Me Strope Me” and finally the guy who never pitched one inning for the O’s but collected a heckuva paycheck – “One hit” Wada. Up/down/hold on – roller coaster is at turn 1.

On top of being swept, lets add some more salt, O’s fans get the official news – Machado is gone for the rest of the year. Not that you didn’t know that already, especially if you had seen the knee buckle (live) that night. But you go, Orioles front office and media relations. You go, with your weak attempt to fill our minds with hope that it was only a “strained” ACL. The knee bent at almost a 45 degree angle and “it’s just a strain?” SO, during this past year we have learned Manny is not so “Mucho” Machado with week knees, week/slippery hands and bad aim. It’s a shame, Machado was just getting into playing shape, after missing preseason and over a month of the regular season. Machado threat gone joining the Wieters threat that was gone.  Down and further down – keep holding on through turn 2.

When the O’s are hitting, there are moments of, “Man – the Orioles may actually have a shot, they got this.” Unfortunately, those moments are to few and far between. But……….. those moments…… are there. The Orioles are still in first place of the American League East. They didn’t get there by luck. They don’t give up, they show sporadic confidence and even with the injuries they are fairly solid in the field. At least CC Sabathia is out for the year, so he can’t sabotage the O’s by taking Markakis out for this years playoff run. Up/Up and Up – getting ready for turn 3.

The dilemma is, they are probably going to need more game saving catches (Nick). They are going to need late inning wins and walk off home runs. They are going to need someone to pick up the offensive slack (Steve Pearce). They are going to need some serious staring pitching (Chen?Tillman). They are going to need some “lights out” relief pitching (O’Day/Britton). They are going to need some Orioles Magic (Buck-Buck). Down/Up/Down/Up – through turn 4.

Can the pitching save the Orioles? It’s going to have to. I’m feeling better about Cruuuuuuuuuz. If any team had a decent pitching coach, Jones would be out 90% of the time. Feed him down and away and he’s toast. Davis needs a shot of “juicy juice”. Brady – where are you? Isn’t that your job – “Juice” without getting caught? Davis whiffs and the whole stadium feels a breeze, consistently. Can we get Mark Reynolds back? Whoops weak moment there – forget that one. When the opposing team gets  Markakis out – their odds of winning the game quadruple. There is minimal threat left in the line-up. Wieters gone. Machado gone. Davis – no threat. I’m a big fan of Delmon Young – we need to see more of him. At least he is a major league hitter. Coast/Down/Coast/Up – getting set up for the final stretch.

Then there’s the secret weapon – the manager. The O’s have a shot with Buck-Buck. Buck-Buck is going to keep these boys focused. One of the few criticisms I have on Buck-Buck is, I wish he would get tossed more. Yes, I was and always will be an Earl Weaver fan. It’s going to take the leadership of Buck-Buck, Markakis, Jones and Hardy. If the O’ lose another key player – we are not going to be on any roller coaster ride. So you have your choice – The O’s Rollercoaster or the “Love Rollercoaster” – (Ohio Players). Both rides affect the blood pressure and adrenaline levels. I recommend jumping on both. Go O’s!

D.I.Y.

Fedman

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