Tag Archive | "matt wieters"

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Pearce, Roe inching closer toward return to Orioles

Posted on 19 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As the Orioles continue to search for consistent production in left field, outfielder and first baseman Steve Pearce appears to be moving closer to a return from an oblique strain.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters prior to Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets that Pearce took live batting practice in Sarasota, but the 32-year-old was hit in the back by a pitch in his third at-bat, bringing an end to his session. Should Pearce respond well to hitting live pitching and feel no ill effects from the hit by pitch, the Orioles are hoping to send him on a minor-league rehab assignment in the near future.

Baltimore is currently using a platoon of Henry Urrutia and Nolan Reimold in left field after exhausting a number of unsuccessful options over the course of the 2015 season. Of course, Pearce was in the midst of a poor campaign of his own with a .227 average in 193 plate appearances, but he might represent the organization’s best internal option of receiving production in left field if he can channel his 2014 success over the final weeks of the season.

Pearce was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain on July 22 and is eligible to be activated at any point. After a horrendous start in which he batted just .183 through June 3, Pearce was hitting .321 with an .856 on-base plus slugging percentage over his last 59 plate appearances before the injury.

In other health-related news, right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe threw off flat ground on Wednesday, the first time he’s picked up a baseball since being placed on the 15-day DL with right shoulder tendinitis. Roe will repeat that task a couple more times before throwing off a mound and could then go on a brief minor-league rehab assignment.

He is eligible to return from the DL on Aug. 25, and the club remains hopeful that he will be able to return close to that date if he isn’t quite ready at the conclusion of the minimum 15 days.

Showalter said Matt Wieters’s hamstring felt good after returning to the lineup on Tuesday. The catcher also took a foul tip off his knee in the 5-3 loss to the Mets, but he stayed in the game.

The Orioles signed left-handed reliever Mike Belfiore to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Norfolk. He made his major league debut for Baltimore in 2013, but the 26-year-old appeared in only one game.

After officially being released by the Orioles, outfielder Travis Snider has signed a minor-league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the club that traded him to Baltimore last winter.

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Joseph, Clevenger offer possible glimpse into Orioles catching future

Posted on 18 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Over the final two games of the Oakland series, Orioles catchers on the 25-man roster collected two home runs, three doubles, and nine RBIs.

That production came with Matt Wieters sidelined due to a hamstring issue as Baltimore completed a four-game sweep over the hapless Athletics. And it could offer a glimpse into the Orioles’ future at the position with Wieters set to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Could the combination of Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger — or another quality backup paired with the former — make the decision not to re-sign Wieters an easier one?

The notion isn’t as far-fetched as it would have sounded a year ago when you consider the three-time All-Star selection still isn’t catching consecutive games 14 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Wieters was always going to be a challenge to re-sign because of super agent Scott Boras, but would giving a lucrative long-term contract to a catcher approaching the wrong side of 30 even be the right move for a club with other holes to address this offseason?

In 272 plate appearances this season, Joseph has hit .255 with 11 homers, 43 RBIs, a .323 on-base percentage, and a .780 on-base plus slugging percentage. In contrast, Wieters has batted .278 with five homers, 17 RBIs, a .305 on-base percentage, and a .755 OPS in 167 plate appearances. Couple that similar offensive production with the fact that the 29-year-old Joseph is under club control through the 2020 season and you have a sound argument in favor of going with the cheaper option, especially if you pair Joseph with a good backup catcher that can spell him two or three times a week in a timeshare that would keep him fresh and help his offense as we’ve seen it do since Wieters has returned.

That’s where Clevenger could enter the picture as he was recently recalled from Triple-A Norfolk after hitting .305 for the Tides this season. Serving as the designated hitter over the final two games of the Oakland series, Clevenger collected four hits in Sunday’s 18-2 win and blasted a three-run shot off All-Star pitcher Sonny Gray on Monday night, making him the first Oriole actually from Baltimore to homer at Camden Yards.

He’s 10-for-24 with three extra-base hits in his brief time with the Orioles this season.

The sticking point with Clevenger receiving an opportunity to be Baltimore’s backup over the last couple years has been his defense, but manager Buck Showalter and other members of the organization have credited his work ethic and improvement behind the plate, making him a distinct possibility to factor into the catching picture for 2016 and beyond. Of course, the Pigtown native is more of a unknown than Joseph at this point — at least playing with the Orioles — but he has a track record for handling the bat well in the minors despite his defense holding him back.

Similar sentiments were shared about Joseph in the past as he was stuck at Double-A Bowie for four straight seasons, making you wonder if Clevenger could follow in those footsteps as a late bloomer to find success at the major league level.

In his second season in the majors, Joseph has shown himself to be capable of serving in a role much bigger than the traditional backup catcher who plays only once a week. And in limited opportunities this season, Clevenger is stating a case to be the complementary piece to help fill the catching void should Wieters depart.

Taking nothing away from the All-Star catcher, but the Orioles are looking more and more capable of being able to survive without him as his free agency is rapidly approaching.

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Lough becomes latest Orioles outfielder to be designated for assignment

Posted on 14 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles continued their purge of disappointing corner outfielders on Friday by designating David Lough for assignment prior to their series opener against the Oakland Athletics.

With Matt Wieters currently nursing a hamstring strain, catcher Steve Clevenger was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take Lough’s place on the 25-man roster. Lough, 29, became the fifth Orioles outfielder to be designated for assignment since late May, joining Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Chris Parmelee, and Travis Snider as players who failed as part of the offseason plan to replace free-agent departures Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

Originally acquired to replace former Oriole Nate McLouth in left field two winters ago, Lough never established himself at the plate and was relegated to a role as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner for much of his two seasons with Baltimore. The July 31 acquisition of Gerardo Parra made Lough even more expendable because of his ability to back up Adam Jones in center field, a role that he held for the last two years.

After hitting .247 in 197 plate appearances last season, Lough was hitting just .202 in 2015 and was mired in a 2-for-26 slump in early July.

Manager Buck Showalter expressed hope that Lough would remain with the organization and accept an outright assignment to Norfolk if he goes unclaimed on waivers. The Orioles would then consider him for a September call-up.

Clevenger went 5-for-11 in a brief stint with the Orioles earlier this year and has had an impressive season for Norfolk, batting .305 with four home runs, 32 RBIs, and a .769 on-base plus slugging percentage. The organization has also been pleased with his improved defense behind the plate, a weakness of his when acquired from the Chicago Cubs in 2013.

The Orioles have also summoned Norfolk outfielder Henry Urrutia to Norfolk and are expected to activate him for Saturday’s game, meaning another roster move is coming. The Cuban outfielder hasn’t played for Baltimore since hitting .276 in 58 plate appearances in 2013, but the lefty is batting .292 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs for the Tides this season.

It doesn’t look like the Orioles will make room for Urrutia by placing Wieters on the disabled list as the three-time All-Star catcher said prior to Friday’s game that his hamstring is feeling much better, joking that he’s closed to being back to his normal “slow speed” on the bases. The 29-year-old said he would be available off the bench if needed, but Clevenger being recalled reflects a desire to stay away from using Wieters for at least another day or two if possible.

Right-hander Chris Tillman will complete his bullpen session on Saturday and is still in line to make Monday’s start despite being struck with a line drive on the right triceps during his last start in Seattle.

Right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe received a cortisone injection in his right shoulder and is responding well, leading to optimism that he’ll be ready to return after the 15-day minimum on the DL.

Steve Pearce is now taking batting practice in Sarasota as his injured oblique continues to improve. The Orioles hope he can begin a minor-league rehab assignment as early as the beginning of next week.

Right-hander Mike Wright is still feeling “tentative” when running and pushing off with his calf as Showalter did not make it sound like his return from the DL was imminent.

According to Showalter, pitching prospect Hunter Harvey’s throwing program is proceeding well as he continues to throw off flat ground. The organization is deciding whether he will pitch this fall and where that might take place.

Showalter also said that 22-year-old pitcher Dylan Bundy will have an appointment with Dr. James Andrews at the end of the month to determine how his shoulder is progressing after extensive rest.

Right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson is currently on the minor-league seven-day DL and is improving, but his return from an oblique strain is not considered imminent.

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It’s time for Orioles to start looking toward future

Posted on 23 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The 2015 season isn’t over, but it’s time for the Orioles to look in the mirror and acknowledge what they’ve seen for almost four months.

A mediocre club.

No, Baltimore isn’t as bad as a 5-12 record in July would indicate, but we can’t be fooled again into thinking a run of 18 wins in 23 games last month is the real indication of who the 2015 club is when the Orioles have just one other winning streak of even three games outside that lone extended stretch of prosperity. They were bound to level off after their hot June in which they briefly climbed atop the American League East, but losing 14 of 19 is an unacceptable way for a streaking club to cool off — if not freeze entirely — if it wants to be taken seriously as a contender.

Trailing the New York Yankees by a season-worst seven games after being swept in the Bronx this week, the Orioles should not be in full-blown fire-sale mode with more than 60 games to go, but trying to be buyers with so few assets in their farm system would be irresponsible at this point. The truth is that with seven notable players set to become free agents this fall, the Orioles need to have more than just an eye toward the future with this year’s outlook not looking promising anymore.

For fans remembering the dark days of 14 consecutive losing seasons, this situation shouldn’t resemble the purge of 2000 that netted only Melvin Mora and what amounted to several bags of cheap fertilizer for the likes of B.J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, Will Clark, and Mike Timlin in a series of lousy trades. Baseball’s new qualifying offer system makes it clear that the Orioles shouldn’t trade Matt Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen, or Chris Davis for anything short of a return markedly exceeding the value of the draft pick they would receive for any of their departures as free agents.

In other words, this isn’t an endorsement to sell just because of frustration and a desire for change.

But executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should look to move pending free agents for returns that could help position the Orioles nicely as early as next year. With a core of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton in place and secured beyond next season, the Orioles aren’t in a position where they need to completely rebuild, especially when remembering how much money will come off the payroll in the offseason.

Some forward thinking would help that cause, however, and the Orioles cannot have a repeat of the unimaginative and poor offseason that included problems beyond the obvious free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller last winter.

If a club is desperate for an All-Star reliever like Darren O’Day and is willing to part with major league talent or prospects close to being ready for the big leagues — remember what the Orioles gave up for Andrew Miller last July? — Duquette should pull the trigger, especially if he isn’t willing to re-sign him after the season.

A contender willing to put together an impressive package for Chen, Wieters, or Davis should be heard and negotiated with. If you can somehow move what remains of the salaries of Bud Norris or Tommy Hunter, you do it without giving the compensation much thought.

The Orioles shouldn’t feel an intense need to dump all of these players, but trading at least a couple could provide some nice pieces for the near future and may not even completely destroy whatever chance the current team still has to make a run at a wild card. If Buck Showalter’s club is going to rebound from a 46-48 start, the substantial improvement is going to come from within more than anything Duquette might be able to add as a buyer at this point.

Maybe adding a couple young players to the mix is what the Orioles need.

Why not take a look at what 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez has to offer? He really couldn’t be much worse that what the Orioles have received from the corner outfield spots so far this season.

If you sell high on Chen, reward 22-year-old pitcher Zach Davies with an audition in the rotation after his strong season at Triple-A Norfolk. Or do the same for Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright.

Over the last couple months, we’ve continued to remember last season as justification for why this year’s Orioles could still turn it around.

But after a disastrous July got even worse in three days of frustration at Yankee Stadium, it might be time to make a few moves to brighten the future instead of continuing to look back at a past further dimming in the rear-view mirror.

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Orioles sign former All-Star closer Perez to minor-league deal

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Though still needing to serve a 50-game suspension, former All-Star relief pitcher Chris Perez agreed to a minor-league deal with the Orioles on Thursday.

The 30-year-old will report to Sarasota while serving the ban for a second offense of using a drug of abuse. Perez had posted a 9.39 ERA in 7 2/3 innings for Triple-A Colorado Springs in the Milwaukee Brewers organization this season before opting out of his deal in late April to become a free agent.

“That doesn’t affect us right now, obviously, for 50 games,” said manager Buck Showalter, who learned of the signing Thursday afternoon. “We all makes some changes in our life and get better. I don’t know much at all about what’s been going on with him.

“I do know there are some other variables there that figure into it, I think.”

A two-time All-Star closer for the Cleveland Indians in 2011 and 2012 — he collected a combined 75 saves in those seasons — the right-hander and his wife were arrested for marijuana possession in 2013 after a package with nine ounces of marijuana was delivered to his home in their dog’s name. Perez’s career has declined since then as he was released by Cleveland after pitching a 4.33 ERA and converting 25 of 30 saves in 2013.

The Orioles previously expressed interest in Perez before he elected to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers and posted a 4.27 ERA in 46 1/3 innings during the 2014 season.

In his seven years in the majors, Perez has a career 3.51 ERA with 133 saves in 379 1/3 innings.

NOTES: There is no timetable for Matt Wieters to begin catching back-to-back games, but he is now throwing and doing other things to continue strengthening his elbow on non-catching days. Showalter reiterated that he expects the 29-year-old to do it at some point this season, but he didn’t want to predict when. … Norfolk will send four players to the Triple-A All-Star game with outfielder Dariel Alvarez being elected to start. Catcher Steve Clevenger and pitchers Michael Bowden and Oliver Drake will also represent the Tides as reserves. … T.J. McFarland started Thursday’s game for the Tides, but the lefty will return to a relief role after that and could be added to the Orioles bullpen sometime next week if there’s a need between now and the All-Star break.

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Orioles make series of roster moves for Cleveland series

Posted on 05 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The long-awaited return of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters headlined a series of roster moves for the Orioles prior to the start of a three-game series in Cleveland this weekend.

In addition to the activation of Wieters from the 60-day disabled list, the Orioles recalled infielder Rey Navarro and selected the contract of left-handed relief pitcher Cesar Cabral from Triple-A Norfolk. To make room on the 25-man roster for those three, Baltimore optioned right-handed pitcher Mike Wright and catcher Steve Clevenger to Norfolk and designated veteran infielder Everth Cabrera for assignment.

In the Orioles lineup for the first time since May 10, 2014, Wieters was catching and batting fifth on Friday night. The 29-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery last June 17 and is expected to catch every other day for the time being, sharing starting duties with Caleb Joseph.

The promotion of Cabral was in response to left-handed reliever Brian Matusz beginning his eight-game suspension that was upheld after Wednesday’s appeal hearing. Baltimore will now play a man down during his ban, but the 26-year-old Cabral hasn’t allowed a run this season in 21 2/3 innings split between Norfolk and Double-A Bowie.

The 25-year-old Navarro is beginning his third stint with the Orioles this season. He is 8-for-29 with a home run and three RBIs with Baltimore in 2015.

The decision to demote Wright is a clear indication that manager Buck Showalter will give the ball to right-handed pitcher Bud Norris for Sunday’s finale in Cleveland. Norris is currently on the 15-day disabled list after coming down with bronchitis last month and sports a 9.88 ERA in 2015, leading many to wonder if this will be his final chance in the starting rotation despite him winning 15 games a year ago.

Wright would figure to be called upon by the Orioles again at some point after pitching extremely well in his first two starts and posting a 2.96 ERA in four outings. It’s clear that the 25-year-old needs to continue working on his secondary pitches, but he could be a real factor as a bullpen arm if not asked to return to the Orioles rotation later this season.

Cabrera becomes the second veteran player to be designated for assignment in the last two weeks after outfielder Alejandro De Aza was designated and eventually dealt to Boston earlier this week. Signed to a one-year, $2.4 million contract in late February, Cabrera batted only .208 with a .479 on-base plus slugging percentage. In 29 games while primarily filling in for the injured J.J. Hardy in April, Cabrera posted minus-0.7 wins above replacement, according to BaseballReference.com.

In addition to Wieters, Hardy made his return to the Orioles lineup on Friday after a four-game absence, batting eighth and playing shortstop.

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Hardy expected to return to lineup on Friday night

Posted on 05 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite being out of the starting lineup for four consecutive games with a left oblique injury, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is expected to play in the series opener against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.

Feeling good after taking swings prior to Thursday afternoon’s game against Houston, Hardy deemed himself ready to play, but manager Buck Showalter elected to start him on the bench for one more game. The 32-year-old did enter in the ninth inning as a defensive replacement in the 3-2 win over the Astros to snap a five-game losing streak.

Showalter confirmed after the game that Hardy would be in Friday’s starting lineup. Of course, the Orioles will still proceed with caution in fear of the veteran infielder experiencing a setback.

Hardy will be joined in the lineup by veteran catcher Matt Wieters, who will be making his return to the Orioles after last playing in a major league game on May 10, 2014.

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What will Wieters bring to 2015 Orioles?

Posted on 04 June 2015 by Luke Jones

It was just over six years ago when Matt Wieters made his major league debut.

At the time, the Orioles were in the midst of their 12th straight losing season and in search of a savior. The fifth overall pick of the 2007 draft was deemed by many as the next Johnny Bench or at least Joe Mauer with power, but it never quite worked out that way despite Wieters having a good career before undergoing Tommy John surgery last June.

Six years later, the defending American League East champions may not need a savior, but they sure need a lift after losing five of their last six to fall five games below .500, their worst start since the 2011 season. They hope their three-time All-Star catcher can provide the kind of spark that can help turn their fortunes around.

Of course, expectations should be realistic as Wieters will return to the major leagues for the first time in nearly 13 months Friday night in Cleveland. It remains unclear when he’ll be ready to catch on consecutive days, but the Orioles will take what they can get from the 29-year-old, who is scheduled to become a free agent after the season.

“All feel. It’s going to be a slow process with it,” said Wieters last week about his part-time status as a catcher. “I’ve sort of come to terms with it that it’s not going to come just like that back to catching four, five days in a row. It’s all by feel. Every other day is better than not playing at all for me right now.”

Of course, no one is suggesting that Wieters alone will make the dramatic difference on the field as the emotional lift of his return might be the biggest short-term benefit for an Orioles club desperately trying to regroup. After losing two clubhouse leaders in Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz over the winter, the club will welcome back one of its most respected members with open arms.

Caleb Joseph, the Orioles’ primary catcher over the last year, has played admirably in Wieters’ place from a defensive standpoint and has improved his offense in his second major league season. With the likelihood of Wieters departing via free agency, many view Joseph as an acceptable replacement — at least for a year or two.

For the time being, Joseph will continue to be a major part of what the Orioles do as he and Wieters alternate catching duties.

“He’s done great. I’m real proud of that guy,” Wieters said of his understudy. “To see as far as he’s come defensively is really amazing. He really put the time in and the effort in and really worked to make himself I feel like one of the better defensive catchers in the league.

“That’s saying something for a guy who for a while was thought of as an ‘offensive’ catcher. To really take the time and effort that it takes to making yourself good defensively, a lot of credit goes out to his work ethic.”

As well as Joseph has played, that doesn’t mean he’s as good as a healthy Wieters.

And therein lies the great unknown.

What exactly will the Orioles be getting with the return of the veteran backstop? Will he still provide plus offense at his position and Gold Glove-caliber defense as a part-time starter?

His opposite-field home run for Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday was a good way to conclude a rehab assignment in which he hit .313 with a homer and three RBIs in 19 plate appearances. Perhaps the absence of the wear and tear of catching over the last year will do wonders for his offense, which would be a positive development for a Baltimore offense that’s been horrendous since early May.

The Orioles can’t truly know how this will go, but they’re welcoming the opportunity to find out at this point.

If anything, they hope a change in karma will do them good.

Wieters won’t be a savior, but the Orioles hope he can be a catalyst to help turn around their season.

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Orioles send De Aza to Boston for minor-league pitcher, cash

Posted on 03 June 2015 by Luke Jones

After designating Alejandro De Aza for assignment last week, the Orioles announced Wednesday that they had traded the veteran outfielder to the Boston Red Sox.

Baltimore received minor-league pitcher Joe Gunkel and cash considerations in return as Boston is dealing with outfielder concerns of its own so far in 2015. De Aza was hitting .214 with three home runs and seven RBIs this season and carries a $5 million salary for the 2015 season.

The 23-year-old Gunkel is from nearby Hershey, Pa. and was an 18th-round selection in the 2013 draft. He carries a 12-7 career record with a 3.05 ERA in 54 appearances — 20 of them starts — over three professional seasons while fanning 178 over 165 innings.

In 2015, Gunkel is a combined 3-2 with a 2.90 ERA split between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. He will be assigned to Double-A Bowie in Baltimore’s farm system.

In other news, right-handed pitcher Bud Norris completed his final rehab start pitching for Triple-A Norfolk, completing four hitless innings and retiring 12 of the 13 hitters he faced. He could be activated from the 15-day disabled list to make Sunday’s start in Cleveland, but it remains to be seen whether he will pitch effectively enough to stay in the starting rotation after a nightmarish beginning to the 2015 campaign.

Sunday would be rookie Mike Wright’s turn in the rotation.

Catcher Matt Wieters went 3-for-5 with a homer, two singles, a walk, and one RBI for the Tides in the final two games of his minor-league rehab assignment as he caught the opener and served as the designated hitter in the nightcap of Norfolk’s doubleheader. He is expected to be activated from the 60-day DL on Friday to play in his first game for the Orioles since May 10, 2014.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz had his appeal hearing for his eight-game suspension on Wednesday afternoon with manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette in attendance. It remains unclear when a decision will be rendered on whether he will serve the full suspension for having a foreign substance on his right forearm while pitching in a game at Miami on May 23.

To prepare for Matusz’ absence and to give themselves extra length in the bullpen, the Orioles recalled left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland from Norfolk and optioned right-hander Oliver Drake to the Tides. Baltimore will be forced to play a man short on the active roster during the suspension.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy was out of the lineup for the third straight game Wednesday night as he deals with a left oblique issue. The Orioles hope he can avoid the 15-day DL, but it remains unclear when he will return to the lineup.

 

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Thoughts on Tillman’s struggles, Pearce, Jones

Posted on 01 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Even as Orioles pitching took a step forward with the second-best team ERA in the American League in the month of May, staff ace Chris Tillman has been unable to shake his early-season woes.

The 27-year-old allowed six runs (five earned) in 4 2/3 innings in Sunday’s 9-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, dropping his record to 2-7 with a 5.94 ERA after he went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA a year ago. Many have wondered if Tillman’s back spasms last month have continued to linger — he’s no stranger to needing to manage his cranky back over the last few years — but the 6-foot-5 hurler insisted again Sunday that he’s fine from a health standpoint.

If Tillman isn’t dealing with a physical issue, then what’s been different for the right-hander in 2015?

It’s important to note that early-season struggles plagued Tillman a year ago before he posted a 2.38 ERA over his final 21 regular-season starts of 2014. In his first 13 starts of the season, he pitched to a 5.20 ERA and had two different starts that lasted just one inning apiece before an impressive stretch of 20 consecutive starts in which he allowed three or fewer earned runs.

There’s plenty of time for a pitcher who’s posted 200-plus innings in consecutive seasons to turn it around, meaning the Orioles must remain patient for the time being.

Another factor that’s clearly been a concern in the first two months is Tillman’s rate of 4.8 walks per nine innings, his worst since averaging 5.2 free passes per nine in 2011. Both innings in which Tampa Bay scored multiple runs against Tillman on Sunday involved a critical two-out walk, one to .077 hitter Nick Franklin in the second inning and another to slugger Evan Longoria after the starter had struck out the first two hitters of the fifth.

Tillman walked only 2.9 batters per nine innings last year and 3.0 in 2013 when he was named to his first All-Star team.

Perhaps the most interesting change from 2014 to now is the absence of veteran catcher Nick Hundley, who departed via free agency in the offseason. Hundley caught 18 of Tillman’s career-high 34 starts last season with the pitcher posting a 2.78 ERA in those outings. In contrast, Tillman had an inflated 5.29 mark in the seven starts in which Caleb Joseph caught.

It’s neither an excuse for Tillman nor an indictment of Joseph — who’s more than proven his defensive capabilities behind the plate in the last two seasons — but could there simply be some chemistry issues between the two? That’s not to suggest a personal rift by any means, but many of us have experienced times in life when we haven’t necessarily worked best with certain individuals for whatever reason.

In fairness to Joseph, Tillman sports a 4.19 ERA with him behind the plate this season while the starter gave up 15 earned runs in three starts when now ex-Oriole Ryan Lavarnway was catching.

Asked late last season about the frequent pairing of Tillman and Hundley, manager Buck Showalter made it clear he was uneasy about pitchers having personal catchers because it can act as a crutch. Even if Tillman isn’t as comfortable with Joseph behind the plate as he was with Hundley, he’s not one to make excuses and needs to be able to adjust to someone who’s had plenty of success with the rest of the pitching staff.

The idea of certain pitchers having personal catchers is nothing new as Dennis Martinez famously preferred Dave Skaggs over Rick Dempsey years ago. In 1997, backup Lenny Webster caught 30 of Scott Erickson’s 34 starts when the sinkerballer enjoyed his best season in Baltimore.

Of course, Hundley isn’t walking through that Orioles clubhouse after signing a two-year, $6.5 million contract with Colorado in early January. But perhaps the return of Matt Wieters will help Tillman regroup as he pitched to a 3.41 ERA in 28 starts with the veteran catcher behind the plate for him in 2013.

As it stands now, Wieters is slated to catch his first game with the Orioles in Cleveland on Friday night.

That also happens to be the next date for Tillman’s regular turn in the rotation.

First-pitch Pearce

Arguably the most frustrating moment of Sunday’s loss came in the bottom of the fifth when Steve Pearce grounded out to shortstop with the bases loaded and the Orioles trailing 6-2 to the Rays.

What made it worse was that Pearce swung at the first pitch — a split-fingered fastball from Jake Odorizzi — after the previous two hitters had walked on a total of nine pitches. It continues a surprising trend for Pearce, who is hitting just .189 but has been known for being a patient hitter throughout his career.

The 32-year-old is swinging at the first pitch in 33.1 percent of his 2015 plate appearances despite a career 22.5 percent mark and only swinging at the first pitch 24.5 percent of the time in his career 2014 campaign. This has contributed to his walk rate falling from 10.4 percent last year to just 7.3 percent this season, which is below the major league average.

He does have two key home runs when swinging at the first pitch in recent weeks, but his .222 average when connecting on the first pitch — that’s not including the number of times in which he’s falling behind in the count when not putting the ball in play — makes you wonder if he needs to return to a more patient approach. This and a .195 batting average on balls put in play (his career mark in that department is .286) explain why Pearce hasn’t come close to matching his career-best .930 on-base plus slugging percentage from a year ago.

Showalter and the Orioles love Pearce’s work ethic and versatility and are trying to remain patient that his fortunes will turn around, but they need him to start producing soon as he was a key cog on which they were counting after a largely-inactive offseason.

As Jones goes, so do Orioles

It’s unfair to attribute the successes or struggles of any club to one player, but it’s difficult to completely ignore how the Baltimore offense has aligned with center fielder Adam Jones so far in 2015.

In April, Jones posted a remarkable .400 average and 1.147 OPS with five homers and 19 RBIs while the Orioles ranked first in the American League in team OPS and were tied for first in home runs.

However, the four-time All-Star selection hit just one home run while posting a .239 average and .556 OPS in the month of May. Jones wasn’t alone in his struggles, of course, as the Orioles ranked last in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in May while scoring fewer runs than every club in the league except Boston.

Jones was bound to cool off from his absurd April production, but the Orioles obviously need his bat to turn around once he returns from a mild ankle sprain. It’s never as simple as one player being responsible for prosperity or shortcomings, but the club needs its best player and leader to get going for the summer months.

Road “w-O’s” must end

There was obvious disappointment that the Orioles didn’t take advantage of a stretch of 17 of 20 games played at home — going just 10-10 over that time — and now they will play 15 of their next 23 on the road.

Baltimore tied for the second-best away mark (46-35) in the AL last year, but an 8-14 road record this season is a major reason why the Orioles have hovered below .500 for much of the first two months. Of those eight road victories, four have come at Tropicana Field, which included two in a series moved from Camden Yards to St. Petersburg in which the Orioles acted as the home team and batted last.

Even if Showalter’s club simply wants to remain within striking distance of first place and the .500 mark, the road failures need to be reversed starting this week against Houston and Cleveland.

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