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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 continue rolling despite June rotation struggles

Posted on 25 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have played their best baseball of the season over the last three weeks.

Having won 15 of their last 20, Baltimore returns home Friday with a 38-34 record, one game better than the club was through 72 games last year. After a nightmarish May, the Orioles lineup has averaged 5.9 runs per game and outscored opponents by a 118-69 margin in the last 20 games.

The bullpen continues to excel with a 2.08 ERA in 164 2/3 innings dating back to April 29, but Thursday’s 8-6 win over Boston offered a tiny glimpse into what has to be a lingering concern in manager Buck Showalter’s mind despite his club’s recent success.

Returning from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, Miguel Gonzalez lasted just five innings and allowed four earned runs and eight hits while laboring to hold the comfortable 6-1 lead he was presented in the fourth inning. It would have been unfair to expect too much from the right-hander in his first start for the Orioles since June 9, but it was the 14th time in the last 20 games in which a starting pitcher has failed to complete six innings. The Orioles have received only one start of seven or more innings over that time, which was Wei-Yin Chen’s eight shutout innings against Philadelphia on June 15.

Showalter told reporters following Thursday’s game that he needed to rest Darren O’Day, Chaz Roe, and Brad Brach, leaving him to use T.J. McFarland and Tommy Hunter to bridge the gap to Zach Britton. It worked out for the Orioles as they won their sixth consecutive series, but not before the left-handed closer was working in his fourth game in six days to pick up his 21st save of the season.

The bullpen continues to be terrific, but the starting rotation must get deeper into games if Showalter wants to keep his relievers fresh for the second half. In 23 June games, starters have posted a 4.58 ERA and are averaging just 5.22 innings per outing while the bullpen has posted a miniscule 1.80 ERA.

In 2014, the starting rotation pitched to a mediocre 4.49 ERA in April and May before taking off in June with a 3.47 mark and posting an exceptional 2.98 ERA in the second half of the season.

Gonzalez, Chen, and Ubaldo Jimenez have performed well enough this season to feel confident in the trio moving forward, but Chris Tillman is having the worst season of his career thus far and Bud Norris still can’t avoid the big inning as we witnessed again in Wednesday’s loss to the Red Sox. Every time either of the two struggles, there is a growing temptation to turn to Kevin Gausman, who pitched to a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts last season and is the most talented hurler in the organization.

For now, the Orioles continue to benefit from a swinging-door spot in the bullpen that’s been filled by the likes of McFarland, Tyler Wilson, Oliver Drake, and Mychal Givens at various points to give their most reliable arms a breather when possible. But such a luxury would disappear if they’re forced to move either Norris or Tillman to a long relief role since neither pitcher has a minor-league option.

The results of the last three weeks remind us of last year when the Orioles took off in the second half of the season to win their first American League East championship in 17 years. Their offense has come alive, the defense has been excellent, and the bullpen has dominated for two months now.

If the starting rotation can step up like it did right around this time a year ago — at least closer to that  2014 level — the Orioles will not only take off, but they’ll become the clear favorite in the AL East.

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Orioles activate Gonzalez from DL, option Givens to Bowie

Posted on 25 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles welcomed back one of their most dependable pieces of the starting rotation Thursday by activating right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez from the 15-day disabled list.

Making the start in the series finale against Boston, Gonzalez hadn’t pitched for Baltimore since injuring his right groin in a June 9 start against the Red Sox. The 31-year-old made one rehab start for Double-A Bowie, allowing two runs on four hits over five innings of work on Saturday.

In his first 12 starts of the season, Gonzalez was 5-4 with a 3.33 ERA in 73 innings of work.

To make room for Gonzalez on the active roster, the Orioles optioned right-handed relief pitcher Mychal Givens back to Bowie. The 25-year-old made his major league debut on Wednesday night, striking out one in a scoreless inning of work in a 5-1 loss at Fenway Park.

Givens became the 999th player to appear in a game for the Orioles since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954.

With lefty Wei-Yin Chen scheduled to be recalled to make the series-opening start against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards, the Orioles will need to make another roster move on Friday. Seven outfielders remain on the current 25-man roster, so Baltimore could be forced to part ways with a player who doesn’t have any minor-league options.

Center fielder Adam Jones was out of the lineup for the seventh time in nine games on Thursday and could land on the DL if his right shoulder doesn’t improve quickly, a scenario that would temporarily ease the roster crunch but leave the Orioles without their best player until early July.

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Orioles recall McFarland; Jones sits again on Wednesday

Posted on 24 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles tinkered with their bullpen yet again prior to Wednesday’s game in Boston by recalling left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland and optioning right-hander Oliver Drake to Triple-A Norfolk.

After spending the required 10 days with the Tides upon being sent down on June 14, McFarland brings more length to a bullpen that’s worked hard in recent weeks. Drake was recalled from Norfolk on Sunday but did not appear in a game in his latest stint with the Orioles.

McFarland sports a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings for the Orioles this season, but that mark is deceiving as the 26-year-old southpaw has allowed 12 hits and issued eight walks, numbers that have earned him a 4.71 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark. The former Rule 5 pick settled into a long relief role last season while posting a 2.76 ERA in 58 2/3 innings of work, but his control issues have been problematic in 2015.

The Orioles will need to make another roster move on Thursday with starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez scheduled to return from the disabled list to start against the Red Sox. Right-handed pitcher Mychal Givens is expected to be sent back to the minors to make room, returning Baltimore to its normal seven-man bullpen.

As anticipated, center fielder Adam Jones was out of the lineup for the sixth time in eight games on Wednesday with David Lough once again replacing him in center field.

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Regardless of where, Gausman needs to pitch every fifth day

Posted on 20 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Darren O’Day’s escape act and clutch hitting from Caleb Joseph and Manny Machado provided the Orioles their biggest win of the season on Saturday, but a familiar question was being asked after the game.

What’s next for 24-year-old pitcher Kevin Gausman?

Activated from the 15-day disabled list to make his first start of the season, Gausman was far from Walter Johnson against Toronto, but it was good seeing the right-hander on the hill once again. Struggling to command his pitches through five innings, Gausman was fortunate that several balls squared up by Blue Jays batters were hit right at his fielders, but his ability to keep the Orioles in the game eventually led to their first win at Rogers Centre in five tries this season.

Despite throwing first-pitch strikes to only 11 of the 21 hitters he faced and inducing only seven swinging strikes, Gausman allowed two earned runs and four hits while walking one and striking out one while facing the top run-producing offense in the majors.

With Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez both expected to return this coming week, it appears Gausman will again be squeezed out of the starting rotation for the time being. Many have clamored for Bud Norris to be sent to the bullpen, but it’s unlikely to happen right now with the right-hander posting a solid 3.78 ERA in his three starts since returning from the DL. Chris Tillman has been the other starter in question with a 5.58 ERA entering Sunday, but his track record over the previous three seasons likely gives the Opening Day starter a little longer leash.

What shouldn’t happen with Gausman is a return to the Orioles bullpen where he developed shoulder tendinitis after receiving sporadic work to begin the season. The idea of a shortened-up Gausman is fine at the end of the season like we witnessed last October, but it’s shortsighted with more than three months to go in the regular season and two question marks in the current rotation.

It wouldn’t be the worst idea to have Gausman on call at Norfolk with Tillman and Norris being put on notice in the meantime. And the best thing they could do from a health standpoint would be to allow the 2012 first-round pick to remain in a starting routine.

To be clear, Gausman isn’t a finished product as anyone who has watched him closely agrees he needs to improve his secondary stuff. His split-changeup is a devastating pitch when he commands it — he couldn’t against the Blue Jays on Saturday — but he must continue to work on his curveball, a pitch he began throwing this spring for the first time since college.

The good news is his curve looked better against Toronto than his slider ever did in his first two seasons, but the breaking pitch remains a work in progress. And it’s something he should harness as a starter with the Tides if he isn’t taking the ball every fifth day for Buck Showalter.

As talented as Gausman is, the Orioles certainly haven’t made things easy on him as he’s ping-ponged between Triple A and the majors since May 2013. Even Saturday’s start in which he threw 91 pitches came on short rest and after he had only thrown a maximum of 61 pitches in any of his three rehab outings earlier this month.

You’d like to see what the kid could do if he’s simply left alone to pitch every five days, but we know how Dan Duquette and Showalter look for every possible edge in micromanaging the 25-man roster.

Though far from his best day, it was good seeing Gausman in a starting role on Saturday.

It needs to stay that way, even if that means his latest trip down to Norfolk.

 

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What’s next for Kevin Gausman?

Posted on 12 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman is moving closer to his return from the disabled list, but what that exactly means remains to be seen.

Manager Buck Showalter revealed Friday that the 24-year-old right-hander will pitch two innings for Single-A Frederick on Tuesday after he allowed two home runs and four earned runs in 3 1/3 innings at Double-A Bowie on Thursday. Though desiring better results, Gausman said he feels healthy and threw all of his pitches, including the curveball he began throwing at the end of spring training.

“That’s the biggest thing. Physically, I felt good,” Gausman said prior to Friday’s series opener with the New York Yankees. “Today, I woke up [with] my normal soreness and not anything worse than what I was expecting. It was kind of tough in the heat yesterday, but I got my electrolytes in me last night.”

Considering the goal has been to move Gausman back into a starting role since he was placed on the 15-day DL with right shoulder tendinitis last month, his next outing only being scheduled to go two innings sends mixed signals.

The Orioles are hoping to use rookie Mike Wright in place of the injured Miguel Gonzalez for Sunday’s start, but that slot’s next turn would fall on Friday in Toronto. It’s possible that Gausman could take a “work day” against live hitters at Frederick before entering the Baltimore rotation next weekend.

Placed on the DL with a right groin strain on Thursday, Gonzalez isn’t eligible to be activated until June 25 at the earliest.

Gausman only threw 61 pitches in his last rehab start, so it’s unclear how far the Orioles would be willing to extend him if he were to take the hill next weekend against the Blue Jays. Of course, it’s always possible that the Orioles could be rethinking what to do with the talented pitcher and might consider returning him to the bullpen despite the fact that the young pitcher attributed sporadic relief work as a factor that could have led to his shoulder issue earlier this season.

Showalter wasn’t tipping his hand when asked about the rationale for Gausman only being slated to pitch two innings in his next rehab start.

“I think that will reveal itself as we go forward,” Showalter said. “He’s ready to go in any capacity we need him to go.”

In 20 starts last season, Gausman went 7-7 with a 3.57 ERA in 113 1/3 innings before excelling in a bullpen role in the postseason. He was 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 12 innings out of the bullpen before being placed on the DL on May 8.

NOTES: Second baseman Jonathan Schoop (right knee) will travel from Sarasota to Baltimore on Sunday and work out with the Orioles four days next week. When the club travels to Toronto, the 23-year-old is expected to join Double-A Bowie, but it remains uncertain that he would immediately begin his rehab assignment at that time. … Left-handed reliever Wesley Wright (left trapezius) pitched one inning in an extended spring game on Friday and is primed to begin a minor-league rehab assignment. … Since April 29, the Orioles bullpen ranks fourth in the majors and third in the American League with a 2.34 ERA over 115 1/3 innings.

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M. Wright recalled, Gonzalez placed on 15-day DL

Posted on 11 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Prior to Thursday’s series finale against Boston, the Orioles officially placed starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez on the 15-day disabled list and recalled right-handed pitcher Mike Wright from Triple-A Norfolk.

Gonzalez suffered a right groin strain in Tuesday’s start against the Red Sox, which forced him to depart in the fifth inning. With the 31-year-old still experiencing soreness 48 hours later, the Orioles made the move, which gives them a seventh man in the bullpen while lefty Brian Matusz serves the remainder of his eight-game suspension that concludes with Saturday’s game.

“I’m a little bummed, but I understand it’s the right thing to do,” said Gonzalez, who previously spent time on the DL in 2013 due to a blister and last year because of a strained oblique. “It’s not feeling any better; it’s still sore. As I walk, I still feel it. I think we just go from there and see what happens.”

Optioned to the minors last Friday, Wright was only eligible to return to the majors to replace an injured player and would not have been able to be recalled until Monday under the normal circumstances in which a player must remain in the minor leagues for 10 days. Manager Buck Showalter said the 25-year-old right-hander will be available in relief for the next few games and remains an option to make Sunday’s start against the New York Yankees.

In four starts for the Orioles, the rookie has posted a 2-1 record with a 2.96 ERA in 24 1/3 innings.

“I like Miguel and I don’t want anybody to be hurt, obviously, but it’s nice to be [back] up here,” Wright said. “I hope I’m still available for Sunday, but I’m going to try my best to help win the next three games until then. If’ I’m available then, that’s when I’ll pitch.”

The Orioles remain optimistic that Gonzalez won’t miss more than the minimum 15 days. The veteran starter told reporters his groin injury was not as severe as the one suffered by infielder Ryan Flaherty earlier this season.

Gonzalez had a similar injury in 2013 — Showalter described this strain as “a little tick worse” — but an off-day allowed the Orioles to rearrange their rotation in order to keep him off the DL then.

In other injury-related news, Showalter said first baseman Chris Davis only experienced a cramp when he appeared to tweak something during Wednesday’s game. He remained in the game and was serving as the designated hitter on Thursday.

On the same day Chris Tillman was making his 130th career start and center fielder Adam Jones was playing in his 1,089th game for Baltimore, former Orioles pitcher Erik Bedard announced his retirement. Those two current Orioles were the centerpiece of a trade that sent the left starter to the Seattle Mariners in 2008.

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Gonzalez expected to miss Sunday’s start against Yankees

Posted on 10 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez is expected to miss his next scheduled start against the New York Yankees on Sunday.

The right-handed starter left Tuesday’s game with a right groin strain and will likely be placed on the 15-day disabled list, but manager Buck Showalter said a roster move was unlikely to come before Thursday at the earliest. Gonzalez said he was still sore prior to Wednesday’s game against Boston.

“I would say his start Sunday is definitely in jeopardy, which is a nice way of saying he ain’t making it,” Showalter said. “Unless something really strange happens from the time he came in, it looks like we’re going to need a starting pitcher for Sunday.”

Triple-A Norfolk starters Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson are the top candidates to make Sunday’s start, but the maneuvering could be tricky if the Orioles want to recall the former to pitch against New York. Optioned to the minors last Friday, Wright would only be eligible to return for Sunday’s start if he is the one to replace Gonzalez — or another player — in a DL move since he hasn’t been in the minors for the required 10 days. However, the Orioles would probably prefer to go back to their customary seven-man bullpen as they continue to play a man down with Brian Matusz serving the four remaining games of his suspension.

If the Orioles were to place Gonzalez on the DL and recall another pitcher such as left-handed reliever Cesar Cabral, that would likely signal Tyler Wilson as Sunday’s starter. Baltimore could also elect to recall Wright as a reliever to replace Gonzalez with the idea of keeping him on track to start Sunday if he isn’t needed out of the bullpen in the meantime.

In four starts for the Orioles this season, Wright is 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 24 1/3 innings, striking out 16 and walking four.

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop practiced sliding for the first time Wednesday in Sarasota as he continues to recover from a Grade 1 tear of the posterior cruciate ligament and a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered on April 17. With extended spring training wrapping up this week, the 23-year-old is expected to return to Baltimore to continue working out with the Orioles before potentially beginning a rehab assignment.

Showalter said Schoop has still not been cleared to play the field in extended spring training games — he has been working on fielding elements in controlled settings — but the Orioles are still projecting him to be activated before the All-Star break. The Baltimore manager added that Schoop is now faster running straight ahead than he’s ever been, a reflection of how hard he’s worked over the last two months.

“It’s a pretty major injury he had, a pretty serious injury,” said Showalter, who reiterated that surgery is not an option being considered for Schoop. “There are things he’s going to have to do the rest of his career. There are guys playing in the NFL with that same injury who never had surgery. It’s going to be a challenge for him and the people around him. He’s going to have to continue to do some things and strengthen some things to play at the level he’s capable of.”

Lefty relief pitcher Wesley Wright (left trapezius strain) will pitch in an extended spring game Friday before being sent out on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Scheduled to make his next rehab start at Double-A Bowie on Thursday, right-hander Kevin Gausman said he felt great after Saturday’s start for Single-A Frederick and is feeling no effects of the shoulder tendinitis that landed him on the DL last month. He is expected to be kept to 65 pitches in his second rehab start.

Yankees closer and ex-Oriole Andrew Miller was placed on the DL with a strained flexor mass in his left forearm on Wednesday, meaning he won’t be available for the weekend series in Baltimore.

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Gonzalez leaves Tuesday’s start with groin strain

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez departed in the fifth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox with a right groin strain.

After allowing a leadoff double and inducing a ground out, Gonzalez was met at the mound by manager Buck Showalter and head trainer Richie Bancells and walked to the dugout a few moments later. The Baltimore starter had thrown 89 pitches and said he began feeling the discomfort when he retired Mookie Betts on a fly ball to end the top of the fourth.

Now, the club must decide whether they will need to place Gonzalez on the 15-day disabled list. Starting pitcher Bud Norris was just activated from the DL on Sunday after nearly a month-long absence due to bronchitis.

“Miguel had this before [in 2012] and missed a start, but I think we were working with an off-day there if I remember,” Showalter said. “It’s the same groin. I was talking to him before I came down here. It’s very similar. I don’t think it’s something real long, but we’ll have to make a decision between now and [Wednesday]. We’ll talk about it some more after we get done here.”

In the short term, sending Gonzalez to the DL would open a roster spot to once again go with a seven-man bullpen while lefty reliever Brian Matusz serves the remaining four games of his suspension. The Orioles could recall left-hander Cesar Cabral, who was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday to make room for outfielder Nolan Reimold on the active roster.

Cabral would not be required to stay in the minors for 10 days since he’d be replacing an injured player. The Orioles could then summon a starting pitcher such as Norfolk right-hander Mike Wright for Gonzalez’s next turn in the rotation on Sunday afternoon, which is also when Matusz is eligible to return.

Gonzalez owns a 5-4 record with a 3.33 ERA in 12 starts this season.

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Machado might be best fit in leadoff spot for Orioles

Posted on 04 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Amidst the weirdness of a “home” series in St. Petersburg this weekend, the Orioles trotted out a new leadoff hitter in a series win against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Third baseman Manny Machado batted first in wins on Saturday and Sunday, his first games in the top spot in the order since doing it twice in 2013. With both Alejandro De Aza (a .219 batting average) and Everth Cabrera (.221) struggling at the plate, the 22-year-old Machado might be the best option the Orioles have for the role after the offseason departure of Nick Markakis.

It’s clear that using Machado in the No. 1 spot is something that manager Buck Showalter has considered for a while after the young infielder served in that role a number of times in spring training. His current .250 average is largely a product of an 0-for-15 start to the 2015 season as he’s batted .308 with a .927 on-base plus slugging percentage since then.

A deeper look reveals Machado might be a better fit as a leadoff hitter than most would think. He has already laid down a couple impressive bunt singles this season and leads the club with three stolen bases without being caught yet, signs that his well-documented knee concerns are hopefully behind him for good.

The biggest factor working in Machado’s favor is his improved patience at the plate. The 2010 first-round pick leads the club with 11 walks and has increased his walk rate from 5.7 percent in 2014 to 13.3 percent of his plate appearances this year. Of course, that will likely level off some as the year continues, but there’s no doubt that he’s showing more willingness to draw the base on balls since walking only 29 times in 667 plate appearances in his first full year in the majors in 2013.

So far, Orioles leadoff hitters have posted a .703 OPS while drawing only six walks — two coming from Machado in the last two games — and striking out 22 times. That’s just not what you’re looking for from the top hitter in the order who will receive more opportunities than any other spot over 162 games.

Baltimore still hopes Machado will settle into a spot in the heart of the order in the long run, but he is probably their best option as the leadoff hitter for the time being. Yes, it’s unconventional, but Showalter proved he wasn’t afraid to go a different route when he slotted Markakis in the top spot a few years ago with positive results.

Cabrera not getting it done

Shortstop J.J. Hardy beginning a minor-league rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie on Monday is great news as it appears an All-Star player is on the verge of returning to the lineup.

The Orioles have survived without Hardy through the first month of the season, but there’s no doubting they’ll welcome his production at the shortstop position where they’ve received very little so far this season. Cabrera has been acceptable defensively (three errors in 76 chances), but his .481 OPS was the third worst in the majors among qualified hitters entering Monday.

With Hardy and fellow infielder Ryan Flaherty potentially returning by the weekend, the Orioles are faced with interesting decisions with the 25-man roster. Career minor-league infielder Rey Navarro figures to be optioned, but might we see Cabrera — who has an option remaining — sent to Triple-A Norfolk as well?

Perhaps Showalter has experimented with Steve Pearce at second base this past weekend to determine whether he could be reliable enough to go with the combination of Hardy, Flaherty, and Pearce at the middle infield spots with Flaherty able to play either second base or shortstop. It would help solve — at least temporarily — a roster crunch that exists with other fringe position players such as David Lough not having any minor-league options.

Snider vs. Markakis

While no one doubted the Orioles would miss Nelson Cruz’s bat — he’s already hit 13 home runs for Seattle to lead the majors — the debate over Markakis’ departure was more interesting as most acknowledged he was already on the decline before undergoing offseason neck surgery.

In Atlanta, Markakis is hitting .292 and has drawn walks in 14.4 percent of his plate appearances, the highest walk rate of his career. However, the 31-year-old right fielder has collected just three extra-base hits — all of them doubles — and is slugging just .326 with a .720 OPS.

Travis Snider, who has seen the most time in right field for the Orioles so far, has batted .281 while posting a .773 OPS and is tied for third on the club with eight walks. Of course, Snider has struggled in the outfield with several gaffes in the early going, which you wouldn’t have seen from Markakis.

Could the Orioles use Markakis in the leadoff spot right now? Sure, but his numbers so far in 2015 don’t exactly suggest the Braves are getting the bang for their buck after awarding the former Oriole a four-year, $44 million contract. Meanwhile, Snider is making just $2.1 million and doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2016 season.

Gonzalez quietly on tear

He’s always among the first names observers talk about trying to replace, but Miguel Gonzalez continues to get the job done for the Orioles after pitching 7 2/3 shutout innings to earn his third win of 2015 in Saturday’s 4-0 final.

In the last calendar year, the 30-year-old right-hander has posted a 2.71 ERA over 159 2/3 regular-season innings. Entering Sunday, his 2.31 ERA since last year’s All-Star break was third in the American League (minimum 15 starts) behind Houston’s Dallas Keuchel (2.00) and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (2.07).

He rarely wows you with his stuff, but Gonzalez has been as reliable as anyone for the Orioles since 2012 and is off to another good start with a 2.59 ERA this season.

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