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Back spasms sideline Hardy for start of spring training

Posted on 17 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Just a few days after revealing starting pitcher Chris Tillman won’t be ready for Opening Day, the Orioles are dealing with another injury concern at the start of spring training.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy told reporters in Sarasota that he’s been experiencing lower back spasms that will keep him out of baseball-related activities for the remainder of the month. Hardy has managed back spasms at different points during his tenure with Baltimore — including most of the 2014 season — but he has been dealing with this latest bout since late January.

Hardy has undergone a magnetic imaging exam and other testing to make sure there isn’t a structural problem with his back, but manager Buck Showalter told reporters that he had already planned to take it slow with the 34-year-old to begin the spring. The three-time Gold Glove winner is in the final season of a three-year, $40 million contract and has dealt with a variety of ailments in recent seasons. He bounced back nicely from a brutal 2015 campaign last year when he batted .269 with nine home runs, 29 doubles, and a .716 on-base plus slugging percentage despite missing more than six weeks with a fracture in his foot.

Hardy’s absence opens the door for All-Star third baseman Manny Machado to take more reps at shortstop. The 24-year-old infielder is expected to play that position for the Dominican Republic in next month’s World Baseball Classic.

Should Hardy’s back problems linger longer than expected, Showalter would be looking at the likes of utility man Ryan Flaherty and non-roster invitees Robert Andino and Johnny Giavotella to potentially fill in at shortstop or third base — depending on where Showalter would use Machado.

Hardy does have a $14 million option for the 2018 season that reportedly vests if he collects 600 plate appearances, but the Orioles can buy it out for $2 million if he doesn’t reach that threshold. Since having 644 plate appearances over 159 games in 2013, Hardy has recorded no more than 569 in any of the last three seasons.

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Ten Orioles questions entering 2017 spring training

Posted on 12 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The time has finally arrived for the Orioles.

Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota for the start of spring training on Monday.

Seeking their fourth trip to the postseason in six years, the Orioles will begin searching for the answers to a number of questions starting this week.

Below is a look at 10 of them:

1. Who will hit in the leadoff spot for Buck Showalter?

This question shouldn’t be as complicated as many will make it out to be. No, there may not be an everyday prototype with speed on the roster, but Hyun Soo Kim led the club in on-base percentage (.382) by a wide margin in 2016 and doesn’t hit for much power, making him the obvious choice against right-handed starting pitching. Finding a leadoff hitter against lefties remains a trickier proposition, but the Orioles have seen southpaw starters in only 25 to 33 percent of games in a given season over the last several years. Joey Rickard could be an enticing option after posting a .367 OBP against lefty pitching last year. Showalter said after last season that he doesn’t want to use Adam Jones in the leadoff spot again, and his career .318 OBP should reinforce that sentiment.

2. Will there be a late addition to the major league roster?

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is always tinkering with the roster and made significant signings after the start of spring training in two of the last three years. The Orioles are still pondering the possibility of adding an outfielder for speed and defense — Michael Bourn is still available — and have discussed the possibility of signing a veteran pitcher to improve the rotation depth. Longtime catcher Matt Wieters surprisingly remains a free agent, but the club made a conscious decision to move on early in the offseason and shouldn’t deviate from that short of a very cheap one-year deal.

3. How will the World Baseball Classic impact preparations for the start of the season?

The fourth edition of the event will present challenges to Showalter and the Orioles as five players — Jones, third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, relief pitcher Mychal Givens, and new catcher Welington Castillo — are scheduled to take part. Castillo’s inclusion is the biggest concern as he will lose precious time to better familiarize himself with the pitching staff. The Orioles will also hold their breath hoping the 26-year-old Givens doesn’t overdo it competing for the United States. Another wrinkle to consider is the makeup of the Dominican roster, which could lead to Machado sliding over to shortstop to allow Adrian Beltre to play third base. It’s not the end of the world, but the Orioles can’t be thrilled that Machado will be focused on a position other than his primary one while he’s away.

4. Are shoulder problems completely behind Chris Tillman and Darren O’Day?

Yes, both pitchers returned to pitch in mid-September and declared themselves fully healthy at last month’s FanFest event, but the real test will be how they respond to the first few weeks of spring training when they’re building up their arm strength for a long season. Entering his final season before free agency, Tillman will once again be entrusted to lead the rest of a starting rotation composed of youthful or inconsistent options. After averaging 66 innings per year in his first four seasons with Baltimore and signing a four-year, $31 million contract last winter, O’Day threw just 31 frames in an injury-plagued campaign. The Orioles can’t expect Zach Britton and Brad Brach to be quite as dominant as they were last season, so O’Day will need to return to his usual form to keep a sensational bullpen on track.

5. How do the Orioles minimize concerns about the outfield defense?

The re-signing of Mark Trumbo all but guaranteed that the outfield defense will remain an issue, which Jones hasn’t shied away from mentioning after the Orioles outfield finished last in the majors in defensive runs saved in 2016. Seth Smith is an upgrade over Trumbo in right, but he’s also 34 and average at best. Kim was also well below average in left field at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2016. Asked about the state of the outfield defense at FanFest, Duquette mentioned there being ways to more precisely position outfielders on a hitter-to-hitter basis, but that will only go so far in compensating for a lack of athleticism and speed. It doesn’t help that Jones, 31, is reaching an age when clubs typically begin considering a move to a corner spot, but he remains the Orioles’ best outfielder by a clear margin.

6. Will the cutter be a viable option for Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter?

The 24-year-old offers some of the most intriguing upside on the roster, but an early story will be whether Bundy starts using a cut fastball again. The right-hander began experimenting with the pitch again last month after it was believed to cause his arm discomfort in the fall of 2015 and subsequently removed from his repertoire last season. Of course, caution must be used to preserve Bundy’s health in what’s expected to be his first full major league season as a starter. Bundy already has a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve, and an impressive changeup, but successfully mixing in the cutter could take his starter potential to another level. And considering opponents posted a .960 on-base plus slugging percentage in Bundy’s third trip through the order last year, the introduction of another pitch certainly wouldn’t hurt.

7. How many outfield platoons will be in play?

It remains to be seen whether Kim will play more against left-handed pitching after he went 0-for-17 against southpaws in his first major league season, but Smith owns a career .594 OPS against lefties, making it clear that he’ll need a platoon partner. Rickard posted an .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against lefties as a rookie and will likely be part of one platoon. Showalter could also use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but that further weakens the outfield defense and leads to the question of who might serve as the designated hitter in those spots. Such an alignment would leave the door open for Trey Mancini to come north with the club, but is that the best roster construction for the Orioles?

8. What impact will be made by new pitching coach Roger McDowell and new bullpen coach Alan Mills?

McDowell was mentored by former Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace and Mills served as a minor-league pitching coach in the Baltimore system over the last four years, which should make for a smoother transition than normal. Mills’ familiarity with the likes of Givens and lefty specialist Donnie Hart will be a valuable asset, but McDowell will be looking to make a good first impression with his staff. Wallace and former bullpen coach Dom Chiti were very popular with pitchers and did wonders for the likes of Britton and Brach, so the Orioles can only hope their new coaching duo has similar success stories.

9. Will Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander be real options for outfield depth?

No organization has valued the Rule 5 draft more than the Orioles in recent years, so the progress of these two young outfielders is worth monitoring this spring. The 24-year-old Tavarez comes from the Boston organization and spent most of last season at Double-A Portland, hitting .335 with seven home runs and 18 stolen bases. Santander, 22, is an intriguing switch hitter who hit 20 homers and 42 doubles for Cleveland’s Single-A affiliate in the Carolina League last year. The latter underwent right shoulder surgery last year, which could provide an opening for the Orioles to stash him on the disabled list for the start of the season. Neither is a sure thing to make the roster, of course, but history suggests the organization will do whatever it can to keep at least one of its two Rule 5 picks to begin the season.

10. How will the starting rotation depth shake out?

With the trade of Yovani Gallardo to Seattle last month and the departure of Vance Worley to Washington, the Orioles do not have a clear-cut “No. 6” starter to go behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. Sure, there is some inventory that includes Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Logan Verrett, and Joe Gunkel, but none inspire much confidence until they prove otherwise. When you’re already counting on inconsistent options such as Jimenez and Miley for the back end of the rotation, that’s an unsettling position in which to be. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Duquette add another veteran to the mix on a minor-league deal.

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After long process, Trumbo ends up exactly where he wanted to be

Posted on 27 January 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Free agency didn’t play out exactly how Mark Trumbo envisioned, but the slugger ended up where he wanted to be all along.

A week after signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract to remain with the Orioles, Trumbo expressed happiness in being able to stay where he found a comfort zone in 2016 after being traded three times in a two-year period. The 31-year-old knows Oriole Park at Camden Yards suits him well after enjoying a career season and helping Baltimore to its third postseason appearance of the last five years.

“I always held out a lot of hope that there would be an opportunity here down the road, which is fortunately what ended up happening,” Trumbo said. “If there were competitive offers on the table — even if this one had been a little bit lower — this was my first choice.”

Of course, it was a surprise to Trumbo that no other competitive offers truly materialized. Projected by many to receive upwards of $60 million on a four- or five-year deal, he found a cooler-than-expected market for his services despite hitting a career-high 47 home runs to lead the majors.

The story played out much like the previous winter with first baseman Chris Davis, who envisioned a $200 million contract before finally agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million deal that included $42 million deferred. Trumbo wasn’t the only free-agent slugger to sign for less than anticipated this winter as he even cited other hitters — such as Mike Napoli — who still remain on the market.

There were plenty of highs and lows in the negotiations with the Orioles while few other clubs even remained in the mix. Trumbo said there were a few other offers that had some appeal early in the offseason, but others were easy to forgo as he hoped to work something out with Baltimore.

“You kind of go into it thinking you might have a ton of suitors,” said Trumbo, whose value was depressed since another clubs would have needed to forfeit a draft pick to sign him. “You lead the league in home runs [and think], ‘Who’s not interested in that?’ And then you realize that there aren’t that many vacancies at times for what you do, especially this year.”

Despite Trumbo’s impressive ability to hit home runs, his defensive limitations and lack of ideal plate discipline likely kept other suitors away. His career .303 on-base percentage isn’t ideal while defensive metrics and most observers perceive him to be a liability as an outfielder, diminishing his appeal to any National League clubs who didn’t have an opening at his best defensive position — first base.

With the offseason acquisition of veteran outfielder Seth Smith from the Seattle Mariners — who played with Trumbo in 2015 — the Orioles are likely to use Trumbo primarily as a designated hitter against right-handed starters. However, Smith’s struggles against southpaw pitching could prompt manager Buck Showalter to use Trumbo in right field against lefty starters.

He could also make an occasional start at first to spell Davis, who was a finalist for the 2016 American League Gold Glove. Trumbo said he hasn’t been told how he’d be used in 2017 and described his outfield defense as “adequate” after he made 95 starts in right field a year ago.

“I definitely don’t think I’m a liability out there,” said Trumbo, who acknowledged the widespread criticism of his outfield defense. “If Buck chooses to put me out there, I’m going to do everything I can to play a good right field, left field, wherever needed on the defensive side. But if I end up DH-ing most of the time, that would be great, too.”

With the financial part of the decision finally behind him, Trumbo expressed his content over being able to remain in a clubhouse in which he fit well last year. His dependable and cerebral approach to the game was praised by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who said he received a text of approval from All-Star third baseman Manny Machado after the news of the signing broke.

In his first season with the club, Trumbo quickly earned the respect of his coaches and teammates. Those same teammates were mentioned repeatedly as a big reason why the slugger was so glad to be staying.

“I beat that to death, but it really is true,” Trumbo said. “I think the way I was welcomed coming into spring training last year. As a new player, which I was trying to tell Seth Smith recently, you’re going to love it here. They just know how to make you feel comfortable right away. That, in turn, allows you to go out and play your best baseball.”

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Orioles avoid arbitration with Machado, Britton, Tillman, Schoop

Posted on 13 January 2017 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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Machado, Davis denied 2016 Gold Glove Awards

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles did not bring home any American League Gold Glove Awards for the first time since 2010.

Two-time Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado and first baseman Chris Davis were both named finalists at their respective positions but lost out on Tuesday night. Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre won for the fifth time in his brilliant career while Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland received the fielding honor for the first time.

Machado committed only seven errors at third base compared to Beltre’s 10, but the latter led AL third baseman with 15 defensive runs saved to Machado’s 13 at the hot corner. Davis led AL first basemen with eight defensive runs saved to Moreland’s seven, but the latter committed just two errors while the Baltimore first baseman made 10 this season.

The Gold Glove winners are voted on by managers and coaches who aren’t allowed to choose their own players. This accounts for 75 percent while the SABR Defensive Index — used to help decide the winners since 2013 — composes the other 25 percent of the decision.

Beltre and Moreland both led the SBI at their respective positions in the AL while Machado was third among third basemen and Davis was second at first base.

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Showalter’s mistake headlines costly loss for Orioles

Posted on 01 October 2016 by Luke Jones

With a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win and some help later in the night, the Orioles instead suffered their most frustrating loss of the season on Saturday.

Beyond the obvious effects on the wild-card-standings, the 7-3 defeat to the New York Yankees was even more difficult to stomach because of Buck Showalter’s role in the late-inning collapse. As deserving of the benefit of the doubt as any manager in baseball, Showalter leaving starter Wade Miley in the game to give up the game-tying home run to Tyler Austin to start the bottom of the seventh was baffling.

The Baltimore skipper told reporters in the Bronx after the game that he believed Miley was still strong at 99 pitches and that the many left-handed hitters available to come off the New York bench — presumably against right-handed reliever Mychal Givens — prompted him to stick with the lefty starter to begin the seventh. Of course, one could dispute just how strong Miley was at that point after he’d pitched into significant jams in both the fifth and sixth innings in which the Yankees shrunk the Orioles’ lead from 3-0 to 3-2.

Miley had given the Orioles a strong performance through six innings, but that should have been all for the starter, especially considering the bullpen hadn’t been particularly taxed in the series-opening 8-1 win on Friday. This was the penultimate game of the regular season, after all, and not a game in mid-June in which you’re thinking about the long-term health of your bullpen.

The leash was long enough for that sixth inning, let alone even thinking about having him start the seventh.

But Showalter’s overthinking wasn’t the only factor working against the Orioles on Saturday if we’re being fair.

Even if Miley had been lifted after six, All-Star setup man Brad Brach was always going to factor into the late-inning equation and the right-hander just didn’t have it on Saturday, giving up four runs, two hits, and two walks while retiring only one batter in the eighth inning. Brach had rebounded nicely in the month of September, but he hasn’t been the same dominant force in the second half of the season, pitching to an underwhelming 3.94 ERA since the All-Star break.

It’s no secret that Brach carried an enormous workload with Darren O’Day missing a large portion of the season, and he hasn’t been nearly as consistent in the second half as a result.

An offense that plated three runs over the first three innings against Yankees starter Luis Severino all but went to sleep in the final six innings of the game. J.J. Hardy grounded into a 5-4-3 double play with runners on first and second with one out in the sixth, and Manny Machado was inexplicably thrown out at third after Mark Trumbo singled with two outs in the seventh. Those were the only real scoring threats for Baltimore after Machado’s opposite-field solo homer in the third inning.

There’s been far too much of that in recent weeks.

Even the defense was a question mark.

With two outs in the sixth, Machado made a nice stop of a grounder off the bat of Rob Refsnyder, but he took too much time getting up to make the throw to get him at first base to end the inning. Chase Headley then followed with a double to make it a one-run game.

There was plenty of blame to go around after Saturday’s loss as the Orioles could only watch what was transpiring in Boston and Atlanta to determine what they needed to do in the final game of the season.

It’s tough enough when players simply don’t come through, but seeing a tactician like Showalter blink in such a crucial game was disheartening. It was the kind of decision that disrupted the karma of a game in which the Orioles were winning, but we’ll never know how it might have turned out otherwise. Brach pitching in a similar fashion would have surely netted the same result of a loss.

Baltimore just wasn’t good enough on Saturday, whether talking about the players or their revered manager.

You can only hope it didn’t cost them dearly.

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Long, painful week for Orioles ends with no relief

Posted on 22 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles had a chance to stop the bleeding on Sunday after a difficult 1-4 start to an eight-game homestand.

Waiting out a rain delay of more than four hours on the heels of two of their worst losses of the season, the Orioles watched first-place Toronto squander another late lead in a loss at Cleveland. Second-place Boston fell hard in Detroit. Even Seattle — who entered the day one game behind Baltimore for the second wild-card spot — blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning to lose to lowly Milwaukee.

A victory in the finale of the four-game set with Houston would have shrunk the Orioles’ American League East deficit to just 1 1/2 games and increased their lead over the Mariners. It wasn’t a must-win game, but it represented a valuable opportunity to salvage a four-game split, exhale, and regroup after allowing an unseemly 27 runs to the Astros the previous two nights.

Yovani Gallardo gave the Orioles exactly what they needed after poor performances by Wade Miley, Chris Tillman, and a host of long relievers had decimated the bullpen to the point that infielder Ryan Flaherty pitched the ninth inning of Saturday’s loss. Enduring two different rain delays, Gallardo allowed one run over the first four innings on Sunday.

Then, the fifth came.

Two-time Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado bobbled a chopper off the bat of Teoscar Hernandez for an error to begin the inning. Four batters later, a Carlos Correa line drive to right-center went off the glove of right fielder Chris Davis for a two-run double that would give the Astros a 4-1 lead. Manager Buck Showalter said after the game that his normal first baseman had lost the ball in the lights, but the two defensive miscues led to three runs for Houston.

The bottom of the fifth wasn’t much better as Adam Jones singled home Nolan Reimold to make it a 4-2 deficit, but the center fielder overslid second base as he advanced on the throw home and was then tagged out, ending the inning and adding a baserunning mistake to the poor defense in the top half of frame.

Taking nothing away from a strong eight-inning performance by 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, the Orioles cost themselves dearly in that fateful inning. Of course, it didn’t help that the bats largely fell silent again after the Baltimore pitching hadn’t given them much of a chance on Friday or Saturday.

Gallardo deserved better over his seven solid innings of work, but the Orioles have done whatever it takes to lose on this current homestand. In a two-game sweep against Boston, little went right across the board. After a 13-5 blowout victory over the Astros in the series opener, the Orioles made major league history Friday night by homering four times before recording a single out and amazingly lost by seven as Miley and the bullpen surrendered a combined 15 runs.

Despite falling to just 11 games over .500 for the first time since June 22, the math tells you the Orioles are still in fine shape and only a modest winning streak away from potentially being back in first place. But it doesn’t feel that way with a maddeningly inconsistent offense, a shorthanded bullpen, and a starting rotation reverting to its first-half form after showing some improvement since the All-Star break.

Since a four-game winning streak in which they swept Cleveland and won the opener of a series with Colorado to improve to an AL-best 58-40 on July 25, the Orioles have gone 9-16 and have been passed by both the Blue Jays and the Red Sox in the division.

It isn’t panic time yet, but losing the final three games against Houston — a team that came to Baltimore having lost four in a row and 13 of its previous 19 — felt alarmingly reminiscent of last year’s four-game home sweep to Minnesota that led to a stretch of 12 losses in 13 games ending any real chance of making the postseason. Of course, the Orioles are in better position now than last year at that point, but their 2016 season appears to be at a crossroads.

The offense has slumped for the better part of six weeks now, once again too dependent on the home run. Dating back to the last West Coast trip, the last six hits apiece from Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo have all been homers, illustrating the largely all-or-nothing performance from the lineup.

The health of No. 1 starter Chris Tillman remains in question despite him saying his shoulder felt fine after his worst start of the season on Saturday. Acquired at the deadline to fortify the rotation, Miley is sporting a 9.53 ERA in his four starts with the Orioles.

The bullpen is once again without Darren O’Day, who doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a strained rotator cuff. Closer Zach Britton has been nothing short of brilliant all year, but getting to him is becoming increasingly difficult with fellow All-Star reliever Brad Brach struggling since the break.

The Orioles had been nearly invincible at Camden Yards this season in winning 70 percent of their games there, but they no longer have the best home mark in the majors after dropping six of their last seven in Baltimore.

No, things aren’t always as bad as they seem when a team is struggling like the Orioles are right now. The good news is that they didn’t lose any ground Sunday with their competitors all falling.

But instead of stopping the bleeding and starting to reverse their recent fortunes, the wound grew deeper in another frustrating loss.

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Sunday proved to be well worth wait for Orioles

Posted on 07 August 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles were the worst team in baseball when they selected Manny Machado with the third overall pick of the 2010 draft.

They were stuck in last place in the American League East a year later when they took Dylan Bundy fourth overall.

Both have experienced their trials — Bundy more so than Machado, of course — but it was gratifying to see the pair shine together in Sunday’s 10-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. It’s what Orioles fans only dreamed about five years ago, but the 23-year-old pitcher has finally joined the three-time All-Star third baseman in the major league spotlight.

Machado has provided plenty of highlights in his young career, but he became the first major leaguer to hit a home run in each of the first three innings of a game since Carl Reynolds in 1930. His seven RBIs were a career high and the highest single-game total from an Oriole since Nelson Cruz in 2014.

More importantly for the Orioles, it capped off a reawakening of the 24-year-old’s bat this weekend as he had hit .209 with a .621 on-base plus slugging percentage since the start of July before turning in a three-hit performance on Friday night. Much focus has fallen on the struggles of first baseman Chris Davis in recent weeks, but Machado is Baltimore’s best player and needs to play at a high level over the final eight weeks in the push for the division title.

Of course, Machado was most responsible for the breathing room afforded to Bundy on Sunday, but the young right-hander responded exactly as manager Buck Showalter wanted to see. Throwing a career-high 92 pitches, Bundy completed six strong innings and allowed just two runs while registering a career-high nine strikeouts in his fifth major league start.

His 14 swinging strikes were a career high as Bundy set the tone for the outing in the first inning with three swinging strikeouts — one each with his fastball, changeup, and curveball. He arguably had his best curve we’d seen all season — striking out three more with it — but the most encouraging part of his outing was seeing see him finish off Justin Morneau with a 95 mph fastball for a strikeout to end the sixth.

Everyone will continue crossing their fingers as hard as they can regarding his health, but Bundy only appears to be getting stronger in a starter role. His season strikeout rate is now 9.0 per nine innings after so much discussion centered around his inability to miss bats early in the year.

While Machado has been an established star for a couple years ago, Bundy has pitched a lot like one for over two months now, posting a 2.28 ERA over his last 47 1/3 innings dating back to May 27. It’s sure been fun watching him play catch-up after three injury-riddled seasons that threatened to derail his development.

Winning just their ninth road series of the season was more important to the Orioles than how the details played out on Sunday, but there was something special about seeing both Machado and Bundy shine together in the midst of a pennant race.

It was a reminder of how far the Orioles have come since the two were drafted a year apart.

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

Posted on 04 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 106th game of the 2016 season.

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

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

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

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

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Despite difficult July, Orioles should still feel good about chances

Posted on 01 August 2016 by Luke Jones

July wasn’t much fun for the Orioles.

Sure, there was a five-game winning streak that included a sweep of Cleveland to temporarily give Baltimore the best record in the American League only a week ago, but the frustration certainly outweighed the prosperity. After just one losing streak as long as four games over the first three months of the season, the Orioles suffered three stretches of four or more losses in July alone.

A historic June in which the Orioles hit a record 56 home runs and averaged a whopping 6.6 runs per game was followed by a July in which they scored 3.4 runs per contest, which was 13th in the AL. The offensive futility has been even worse since the All-Star break at just 2.9 scored per game, which is last in the league.

Yet Buck Showalter’s club still turned the calendar to August in first place. A 12-14 record in July shrunk the Orioles’ AL East lead from five games at the beginning of the month to just a half-game — they did briefly fall out of first on two different occasions — but the win-loss mark was hardly catastrophic when you realize how poorly Baltimore hitters fared by on-base plus slugging percentage over the last month when the club sported a minus-26 run differential.

July OPS Season OPS
Matt Wieters .327 .678
Chris Davis .543 .783
Jonathan Schoop .714 .808
J.J. Hardy .841 .720
Manny Machado .625 .908
Hyun Soo Kim .679 .851
Adam Jones .719 .769
Mark Trumbo .784 .863
Pedro Alvarez .824 .775

A 12-14 record feels pretty fortunate when examining just how ugly the numbers were, especially from three All-Star players in Wieters, Davis, and Machado. Davis’ struggles have predictably received plenty of attention, but Wieters going 7-for-60 with only one extra-base hit is just alarming.

Only two regulars — Hardy and Alvarez — outperformed their season OPS, which means the Orioles are certainly due to bounce back significantly. That’s not to say another onslaught resembling June is on the way, but there’s no reason to think the Orioles offense won’t perform closer to the 5.1 runs scored per game in the first half of 2016 than the scuffling group we’ve seen since the All-Star break.

There are just too many good track records in that bunch.

Of course, the starting pitching remains the bigger question mark going forward.

After posting a 5.15 starter ERA in the first half, the Orioles rotation has pitched to a more acceptable 4.28 mark in the 17 games since the break. The rotation performing closer to that second-half mark the rest of the way would be key in not only wearing out a superb bullpen but keeping Baltimore in good position come late September.

The addition of left-hander Wade Miley should bring some more stability behind Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman, but how the Orioles manage the workload of the talented Dylan Bundy and account for the inability of Yovani Gallardo to pitch deep into games will be worth monitoring.

The Orioles certainly don’t feel great about their July, but the results in the win-loss column could have been much worse. The mark of good clubs is finding a way to not let the inevitable tough times spiral out of control as the 2015 club did with a 1-12 stretch in late August that took them out of serious contention.

Immediately after their first two losing streaks of four or more games in July, the Orioles rebounded to win six of seven and five in a row, respectively. We’ll see if that trend continues when the Texas Rangers arrive in town for a three-game set beginning Tuesday.

The Orioles have mostly weathered the storm of a prolonged offensive slump without losing too much ground in their quest for the postseason. Now the Orioles just need their talented bats to awaken in August while hoping the recent improvement — as modest as it might be — with the starting rotation continues.

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