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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-7 win over Oakland

Posted on 24 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their first series since early August in an 8-7 final against Oakland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There was never going to be an ideal time for Zach Britton to finally blow a save, but it was good to see the Orioles save him after an incredible 60 conversions in a row. What a remarkable streak to watch over these last two years.

2. It was quite a homestand for Manny Machado with walk-off home runs in the first and last games. He’s now hitting .352 with 12 home runs since July 6 when his season average sat at an alarming .215.

3. Wednesday’s win likely doesn’t change the Orioles’ not-so-encouraging outlook in the crowded race for the second wild card, but squandering a late 6-1 lead and then losing after Britton’s blown save sure would have felt like the proverbial final nail in the coffin.

4. Relievers don’t often deserve the wins attached to their name, but Miguel Castro did enormous work with 3 2/3 scoreless innings. I’m not as high on him as a potential starter because of his low strikeout rate, but he’s provided a strong shot in the arm for the bullpen.

5. Extra rest for a starting pitcher sounds great in theory, but I’ve been impressed with how crisp Dylan Bundy has been after the long layoffs. He deserved a much better fate despite finding trouble the third time through the order in the seventh inning.

6. Bundy’s 19 swinging strikes were a new career high. His average fastball velocity of 91.7 mph was hardly his best of the year, but he induced swings and misses on 10 of the 29 sliders he threw against the Athletics.

7. The news of Britton undergoing an MRI exam on Thursday may turn out to be of little consequence, but the two-time All-Star closer having a knee issue on the heels of the forearm strain that sidelined him for most of the first half won’t help his trade value this offseason.

8. Tim Beckham doesn’t always show the best instincts, but he had three hits after having cooled off a bit recently. I have tremendous respect for what J.J. Hardy has done in Baltimore, but I’m amazed anyone can think it’s a real debate over who should start when the latter returns.

9. It may have sounded worse on TV, but I only heard a few nitwits booing Britton after he blew his first save since Sept. 20, 2015. There’s no excusing that foolish reaction after such a historic run of success, regardless of how frustrating the club’s mediocrity can be.

10. The Orioles have gone 6-9 since climbing back to the .500 mark on Aug. 7. Those games came against teams with a combined .485 winning percentage. That’s just not the work of a serious playoff contender with September rapidly approaching.

11. Continuing to give starts to Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman in late August isn’t the stuff of a contender, either. Jimenez has the worst ERA (6.57) in the majors among all qualified pitchers while Tillman (7.75) is dead last among pitchers with at least 60 innings.

12. Onetime Oriole Rich Hill lost a perfect game in Pittsburgh because of an error in the ninth inning and then lost a no-hitter — and the game — when he gave up a solo homer to Josh Harrison in the 10th. Someone give that man a stiff drink. Or a hug.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-4 loss to Detroit

Posted on 18 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles losing for the fifth time in six games in a 5-4 final to the Detroit Tigers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Needing to give his club a deep outing after Tuesday’s 13-inning affair, Ubaldo Jimenez instead threw 95 pitches over five innings and gave up five runs. I never question the veteran’s desire, but he’s simply not getting the job done.

2. You’d probably never heard of Tyler Collins before this series and understandably so as he entered the night mired in an 0-for-30 slump. Jimenez proved to be the cure to his struggles by surrendering two home runs to the 26-year-old center fielder.

3. Scoring four times over seven innings against 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer is a respectable output, but — as I wrote earlier on Wednesday — this offense probably needs to score at least five or six runs per night to win games right now.

4. How much of a struggle was Wednesday’s outing for Jimenez? He allowed at least two baserunners in all but one of his five frames. Orioles starters are rapidly making 20-pitch innings the norm.

5. Orioles pitching is seemingly allergic to having a lead. As if Tuesday weren’t bad enough, Jimenez quickly squandered a 1-0 lead in the second and a 5-2 lead in the fifth. There’s no sugarcoating how excruciating it is watching this staff at the moment.

6. If every other starter not named Dylan Bundy were pitching better and there were more interesting alternatives, time would almost be up for Jimenez, who is in the final year of his disappointing contract. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t still be looking over his shoulder, however.

7. Think Welington Castillo paid attention to what Caleb Joseph and Francisco Pena were doing at the plate in his absence? He’s 6-for-10 since being activated from the disabled list and had a particularly impressive at-bat in the fourth that resulted in an RBI single.

8. After a few rough outings earlier in the season, Stefan Crichton fared well in his 1 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the score at a one-run deficit. The Orioles need to find another effective middle reliever, and he took advantage of the opportunity.

9. Miguel Castro needed 25 pitches to register a scoreless eighth inning, but a 22-year-old sitting comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball? He’s raw, but there’s some intrigue there.

10. In regards to his brutal call on Manny Machado’s check swing to end the game, I suppose first base umpire C.B. Bucknor just wanted to go home.

11. Donnie Hart being sent to Norfolk was mildly surprising, but he’s not an established major league reliever yet and you can’t pitch that poorly with a three-run lead in the 12th inning. He’ll be back, and the Orioles need him to get back on track after a brutal May.

12. I’m no doctor and am not privy to the rehabilitation plan, but I’m surely not the only one wondering if it’s too soon for Zach Britton to be throwing for the first time in Sarasota on Thursday. Everyone in the organization will have their fingers crossed.

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Orioles continue stockpiling pitching inventory in minor leagues

Posted on 07 April 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette hasn’t let the start of the season stop him from continuing to build the 2017 roster.

In addition to acquiring young pitchers Andrew Faulkner and Miguel Castro for players to be named later or cash considerations, Baltimore officially signed veteran starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to a minor-league deal on Friday. In the cases of Faulkner and Castro, it’s all about the Orioles continuing to add young pitching inventory with minor-league options to potentially use in relief or the back end of the starting rotation.

“We’re talking about controllable, optionable, not-on-the-roster guys that we can [acquire],” manager Buck Showalter said. “All three are different, but like I’ve said before, it’s kind of who we are and who we’ve been. That’s the commodity that’s a separator when you can acquire it. It shows you how much confidence Dan and all of us have in our player-development system.

“If [the talent’s] there, it will come out.”

Jackson, 33, has sprinkled a handful of good years into his underwhelming career ERA of 4.64 over 14 major league seasons. He went 5-7 with a 5.89 ERA in 84 innings split between Miami and San Diego last season. He will report to extended spring training in Sarasota and is expected to work as a reliever initially.

The major league results for the lefty Faulkner and the hard-throwing Castro haven’t been impressive, but it’s all about buying low and hoping their imperfections can be ironed out.

Tillman heads to Sarasota

After spending the week with his teammates in Baltimore, starting pitcher Chris Tillman traveled to Sarasota on Friday to continue rehabilitation on his right shoulder.

Tillman’s recent bullpen sessions have gone well, meaning the next step will be pitching in an extended spring game. The right-hander will go two innings or throw 30 pitches — whichever comes first — on Tuesday.

The best-case scenario for Tillman’s return to the major league rotation would be in early May, but the Orioles will be cautious in hopes of him staying healthy for the duration of the season.

What’s next for D. Alvarez, Gunkel?

A day after the disappointing news broke that former outfielder Dariel Alvarez had suffered an elbow injury in his transition to pitching and would likely need Tommy John surgery, the Orioles raised some eyebrows by releasing him to make room on the 40-man roster for Faulkner on Thursday.

Showalter confirmed Friday that the club is attempting to re-sign the 28-year-old to a minor-league deal. It’s believed that the organization took care of Alvarez from a financial standpoint to help facilitate the release of the injured player.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Castro, right-handed pitcher Joe Gunkel was designated for assignment, but the Orioles hope to pass him through waivers to outright him to Triple-A Norfolk.

Sim games on Thursday

Having not appeared in either of the Orioles’ first two games this week, relievers Darren O’Day, Donnie Hart, Oliver Drake, and Vidal Nuno each threw one-inning simulated games during Thursday’s off-day to stay sharp.

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