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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

Posted on 16 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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Standing at 53-43 and sending five representatives to Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, the Orioles had quite the memorable first 3 1/2 months of the season filled with plenty of highs and also some lows.

Before manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles get back to business in Texas on Friday, I’ve composed my list of All-Star break awards. Some are more serious than others, but there was plenty to remember over the first 96 games of the 2013 season.

Most Valuable Player: Chris Davis
Skinny: Manny Machado deserves more consideration here than most will give him if you take his remarkable defense into account, but the Orioles first baseman is on pace to break franchise records for RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS, extra-base hits, and total bases as well as surpass the American League home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. Who else could it really be?

Best Starting Pitcher: Miguel Gonzalez
Skinny: Chris Tillman received the All-Star nod, but Gonzalez has been the Orioles’ best starter, especially since posting a 2.88 earned run average in his last 10 starts upon returning from a May stint on the 15-day disabled list. The 29-year-old posted seven straight quality starts heading into the All-Star break and his 3.48 ERA is the best in the starting rotation.

Best Relief Pitcher: Tommy Hunter
Skinny: Darren O’Day earned consideration here, but Hunter’s ability to pitch more than one inning has saved the bullpen numerous times. With Luis Ayala traded early in the season and Pedro Strop unable to bounce back from his late-season struggles from a year ago, the Orioles would have been in major trouble with their bullpen without Hunter’s 2.41 ERA and 52 1/3 innings of work.

Biggest Surprise: Manny Machado
Skinny: With Davis taking aim at the record books, it’s difficult not to give him the nod here, but I would have predicted Davis to be more likely for a breakout season than Machado, who just celebrated his 21st birthday less than two weeks ago. We now see the third baseman as a doubles machine with a shot at the single-season record, but many thought Showalter had gotten too much Florida sun when he put the unproven Machado in the No. 2 lineup spot at the start of the season.

Biggest Disappointment: Jason Hammel
Skinny: The Opening Day starter was counted on to be the de facto ace and has instead looked like the weak link in the current starting rotation. His 5.24 ERA is worse than his career mark, but most of his other numbers align closely with his career statistics prior to his arrival in Baltimore last season.

Most Overrated Performer: Nick Markakis
Skinny: The Orioles right fielder was close to being voted into the All-Star Game, but he is on pace for career lows in batting average and OPS and has become more of a singles hitter in recent years except for his 2012 injury-plagued campaign. Markakis is still a good player, but the clamoring for his inclusion in the Midsummer Classic was more about his popularity and less about his production. Many will argue that catcher Matt Wieters deserves this distinction, but few tried to say he was deserving of All-Star honors with his poor offensive output this season.

Most Underrated Performer: Nate McLouth
Skinny: Even McLouth’s biggest supporters had to wonder if the second-half success he enjoyed last season was a fluke, but the left fielder continues to be a spark plug at the top of the order and on the base paths with a team-leading 24 stolen bases. He doesn’t do anything that blows you away, but McLouth makes a substantial contribution just about every night, whether it shows up in the box score or not.

Most Improved Player: Ryan Flaherty
Skinny: The second baseman hit .133 in his first 102 plate appearances before being demoted to Triple-A Norfolk and has batted .300 in 94 plate appearances since being recalled at the end of May. The simple fact that many are clamoring for Flaherty to play over veteran Brian Roberts says all you need to know about his improvement since the start of the season.

Biggest Injury: Wei-Yin Chen’s strained right oblique
Skinny: The Taiwanese lefty went down with the injury in mid-May, leaving a major hole in the rotation for nearly two months. Ironically, the long layoff may pay off in the long run for Chen, who tired down the stretch last year and should now feel strong for the remainder of the season after less wear and tear on his pitching arm.

Most Important Win: A 2-1 victory over the Yankees thanks to Adam Jones’ homer off Mariano Rivera on July 7
Skinny: Even Showalter downplayed the significance of the dramatic victory in early July, but the Orioles were on the verge of dropping their third straight one-run game to New York to complete a 1-5 road trip before Jones tagged the greatest closer of all time for his first blown save at Yankee Stadium since 2010.

Most Disappointing Loss: Jim Johnson’s meltdown in Toronto on May 26
Skinny: The Orioles sent Johnson to the mound with a 5-2 lead and needed only three outs to take three of four from the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. A double, two singles, a walk, and a Munenori Kawasaki double later, the closer had blown his fourth save in his last five chances and the Orioles had suffered a stunning 6-5 loss on a Sunday afternoon.

Most Exciting Moment: Chris Dickerson’s walk-off homer against the Tigers on May 31
Skinny: All-Star Game starter Max Scherzer had pitched brilliantly for eight innings before Detroit manager Jim Leyland turned the game over to Jose Valverde with a 5-3 lead in the ninth. Before an electric crowd of over 46,000, the Orioles staged a rally as Markakis hit a homer to lead off the inning and the part-time player Dickerson hammered a three-run blast into the right-center bleachers for one of the most exciting regular-season moments in Camden Yards history.

The Kevin Gregg-Michael Gonzalez Fireman Award: Pedro Strop
Skinny: The Orioles tried to stick with the volatile but talented Strop as long as they could, but you knew time was running short for the 28-year-old on June 29 when Showalter felt the need to warm up O’Day in his bullpen as the struggling reliever was working the ninth inning with an 11-3 lead over the Yankees. Sporting a 7.25 ERA in 29 appearances, Strop was dealt along with Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs a few days later in exchange for starting pitcher Scott Feldman.

The Justin Duchscherer “Yes, He Was an Oriole” Award: Mike Belfiore
Skinny: If you’re asking who Belfiore is, you’re probably not alone as the left-handed reliever has twice been recalled to the 25-man roster this season but hasn’t appeared in a game. Chances are good he’s near the top of the list of players currently on the 40-man roster who could be designated for assignment should the need for a roster spot arise, but Belfiore does have a 3.67 ERA for Triple-A Norfolk this season.

The Jack Cust Baserunning Award: Alexi Casilla’s ninth-inning blunder against the Red Sox
Skinny: Trying to rally against Boston closer Andrew Bailey on June 15, the Orioles sent the speedy Casilla into the game to run for J.J. Hardy at first base with one out. After Ryan Flaherty lined a ball sharply to right fielder Shane Victorino, Casilla was inexplicably standing on third base as he was doubled off first to end the game. The utility infielder said after the game he knew the number of outs and simply misread the ball off Flaherty’s bat, but the play may have gone down as the Orioles’ worst pinch-running debacle since Manny Alexander was picked off upon running for Cal Ripken in a 1996 game that then went into extra innings.

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Your Monday Reality Check: Don’t listen to those saying Orioles’ pitching bad

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Your Monday Reality Check: Don’t listen to those saying Orioles’ pitching bad

Posted on 15 July 2013 by Glenn Clark

During the course of Major League Baseball’s All-Star break, there will be plenty of stories written and plenty of analysis offered via radio/TV about the first half of the Baltimore Orioles’ season.

As you almost certainly already know, the Birds finished the first “half” of the season 53-43, 4.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East and 1.5 games behind the Texas Rangers in the race for the second AL Wild Card spot. The biggest headlines of the season thus far have surrounded Chris Davis’ 37 home runs, Manny Machado’s 39 doubles and Jim Johnson’s six blown saves.

But if the Baltimore Orioles want to make it a second consecutive trip to the postseason, the headlines in the second half of the season are going to have to be about something that hasn’t gotten much attention through the first 96 games of the season.

Spoiler alert. It’s the starting pitching.

Yes, the same starting pitching that has lead the Orioles to a 4.39 team ERA to this point…good for 28th in Major League Baseball.

It isn’t hard to pick apart why that number isn’t particularly relevant. Allow me the opportunity.

Eliminating pitchers who barely appeared for the Orioles this season (does anyone even remember Alex Burnett), a number of pitchers posted legitimate innings and soaked up miserable ERA’s.

For example, Pedro Strop pitched 22.1 innings for the O’s and posted a 7.25 ERA. He’s gone. Jake Arrieta pitched over 23 innings in Orange and Black this season and posted a 7.23 ERA. For his trouble, Arrieta was dealt with Strop to the Chicago Cubs Kevin Gausman has pitched 33.1 innings at the major league level this season, tallying a 6.21 ERA in the process. He’s currently pitching for the Norfolk Tides. “Sweaty” Freddy Garcia? 5.77 ERA in 53 innings. The veteran is currently riding buses with Gausman in Norfolk himself. Zach Britton managed a 4.76 ERA over 34 IP before returning to the Tides as well.

Of the current Orioles, only one has a miserable ERA in legitimate innings-Jason Hammel with a 5.24 ERA in 111.2. But even taking Hammel’s numbers into consideration-the current group of Orioles pitchers has posted an incredible combined ERA. If you consider a third of an inning to be .333, the current group of twelve pitchers has pitched a combined 658.53 innings this season. In those innings, they’ve allowed a total of 277 combined earned runs. That would be good for a group ERA of 3.78, which would be tenth best in all of baseball. If you were to subtract Hammel’s gaudy numbers, the ERA for the rest of the 11 would be 3.48-which would be best in the American League.

(I hope Mr. Radcliffe will be proud of all of my math.)

Clearly I’m doing a bit of fuzzy math here. Not all 12 pitchers are going to be the exact group of pitchers the Birds use the rest of the way. Gausman in particular is likely to return, with Garcia, Britton and Steve Johnson being likely options to see time in the second half of the season as well. Tsuyoshi Wada may have to be a consideration for GM Dan Duquette again after the All-Star Break. Of the 12 pitchers included in the math, Scott Feldman made just three starts (including an excellent outing Sunday) since being acquired from the Cubs and Jairo Asencio appeared in only one game (one inning) since being called up Friday night.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Drew’s Morning Dish — Mon., June 24

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Drew’s Morning Dish — Mon., June 24

Posted on 24 June 2013 by Drew Forrester

I don’t care if the Blue Jays swept the Orioles over the weekend, I’m still playing Geddy Lee singing the Canadian national anthem at some point during Monday’s show.

It’s not his fault the Orioles’ pitchers can’t get anyone out.

You’re never as good as you look when you’re winning and never as bad as you look when you’re losing, but the Birds pretty much stunk up the joint over the weekend.  Take away the nice effort from Miguel Gonzalez on Saturday and just about everyone got a failing grade for the series with the Blue Jays.

No big deal.

Lots of baseball left.

Granted, it would help boost our hopes here in Baltimore if a couple of decent players were added between now and the trade deadline — and I’m not talking about NOT Bruce Chen and Brian Roberts.  I’m talking about newcomers…guys with a pedigree who might be able to help the club this year and beyond.

But, even with this team and no new arrivals, the Birds will be competing for a post-season spot come September because none of the other teams in the division are anywhere near good enough to pull away in August.

Once Labor Day rolls around, most or all of the AL East teams will still have a puncher’s chance of earning a playoff spot.

It’s a long season.

One lost weekend in Toronto doesn’t end it.

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I had to laugh at the folks clamoring for the O’s to retaliate against Jose Bautista after his gesture to Darren O’Day on Saturday afternoon in Toronto.

You people crack me up…almost as much as those asinine “unwritten rules” of baseball crack me up.

Here’s the best way to retaliate LIKE A MAN against Bautista:  Strike him out.

If you want to retaliate like a coward, go ahead and throw a baseball at the guy.  That’s surely going to teach him a lesson.

Here’s one other thing the Orioles could try:  Scoring some runs.  That might help win a game or two in Toronto.

I applaud Buck Showalter for not bowing to the pressure that existed from a lot of baseball nerds out there — and for just sticking to the game and not trying to get any of his players hurt via either a retaliation pitch or a brawl.

Last time I checked, the Orioles have a pretty decent ballclub.

No sense in losing a player – a la Zack Greinke earlier this season – for 6-8 weeks because you decided to incite a riot after some guy on the other team made a gesture at one of your players.

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I’ve been a member at Mountain Branch golf course in Joppa since 2001 and I have to say that over the last two months – including right now – the place is in the best shape I’ve EVER seen it.

You won’t find another daily fee course in the area – in its price range – in better condition.

The new owners (two local Baltimore businessmen) and the new head golf professional have really made a significant impact this spring/summer.

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The Flyers are evidently about to part company with Danny Briere.

I’m not even going to pre-consider what I would do if he, somehow, wound up in Washington.

I would probably take an official hiatus as a Capitals fan.

Seriously…

 

 

 

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Orioles reinstate Gonzalez from paternity list, send Pearce to DL

Posted on 21 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

With right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez rejoining the club after the birth of his first child earlier this week, the Orioles have placed reserve outfielder Steve Pearce on the 15-day disabled list with left wrist tendinitis.

Gonzalez was placed on the paternity leave list earlier in the week, which created a roster spot for first baseman Travis Ishikawa but created a logjam that led to Pearce being sent to the DL. Like Ishikawa, Pearce could not be sent to the minor leagues without being designated for assignment and clearing waivers.

Pearce’s playing time has steadily declined since right-handed hitter Danny Valencia was recalled last month, and he received only four starts this month. He is hitting .235 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 90 plate appearances this season.

With outfielder Nolan Reimold continuing a minor-league rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie, the Orioles have another roster decision looming when the 29-year-old is ready to return. The Orioles continue to look for a trade partner for Ishikawa, but Reimold’s return would also leave Pearce’s long-term status in question as Valencia has emerged to serve as the regular designated hitter against left-handed starters.

Gonzalez and his wife welcomed daughter Leah to the world on Monday night, and the 29-year-old is scheduled to pitch on Saturday against the Blue Jays. He is 5-2 with a 3.75 earned run average in 12 starts this season.

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Orioles place Gonzalez on paternity leave list, designate Navarro for assignment

Posted on 18 June 2013 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles today announced that they have recalled left-handed pitcher Zach Britton from Triple-A Norfolk, who is scheduled to start Tuesday at Detroit, and selected the contract of first baseman Travis Ishikawa from the Tides. To make room for Ishikawa on the 25 and 40-man rosters, right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez was placed on the Paternity Leave List and infielder Yamaico Navarro has been designated for assignment.

Britton, 25, is 3-2 with a 3.28 ERA (60.1IP, 22ER) in 11 starts for the Tides this season. He is 2-1 with a 2.03 ERA (31.0IP, 7ER) over his last five starts, lowering his season ERA from 4.60 to 3.28. Britton has held left-handed hitters to a line of .204/.339/.347 in 49 at-bats against at Triple-A. He made one start for the Orioles earlier this season, taking the loss (6.0IP, 6ER) on April 29 at Seattle.

Ishikawa, 29, has batted .316/.413/.525 with 16 doubles, seven home runs and 31 RBI in 49 games for the Tides this season. He was named the organization’s minor league player of the month in May after batting .413/.489/.787 with all seven of his home runs in 21 games on the month. Ishikawa is a career .257/.329/.428 hitter in five major league seasons with San Francisco (2006, 2008-10) and Milwaukee (2012). He will wear uniform #45.

Gonzalez, 29, is 5-2 with a 3.75 ERA (74.1IP, 31ER) in 12 starts this season. He and his wife Lucia had their first child, daughter Leah, Monday night.

Navarro, 25, batted .286/.333/.357 in 28 at-bats for the Orioles earlier this season.

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Orioles call up Ishikawa after he exercises opt-out clause

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Orioles call up Ishikawa after he exercises opt-out clause

Posted on 18 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

After Norfolk first baseman Travis Ishikawa filed paperwork to exercise his opt-out clause over the weekend, it appeared he was on the verge of moving on from the Orioles.

Instead, he will be promoted for Tuesday night’s game in Detroit, according to MLB Daily Dish. The 29-year-old was batting .316 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs in 49 games for the Tides this year. The Orioles had 48 hours to make a decision on Ishikawa after he declared his intention to opt out of the organization and become a free agent.

The Orioles optioned right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Tuesday’s starter Zach Britton and are expected to place right-hander Miguel Gonzalez on the paternity list, which would clear a spot for Ishikawa on the 25-man roster. However, the Orioles would need to create room for the veteran first baseman on the 40-man roster.

A five-year veteran in the big leagues who’s spent time with the San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Brewers, Ishikawa has hit .264 with 19 home runs and 110 RBIs in 839 career plate appearances. He signed a minor-league deal with the Orioles last December.

As for Ishikawa’s long-term standing with the club, there wouldn’t appear to be much use for him as a backup to Chris Davis considering manager Buck Showalter is already using a combination of Chris Dickerson, Danny Valencia, and Steve Pearce at the designated hitter spot. A more likely scenario would be for the Orioles to continue to explore a trade possibility for Ishikawa as he’s shown to be one of the better hitters in the International League this season.

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Orioles’ starting rotation remains in flux for next several days

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Orioles’ starting rotation remains in flux for next several days

Posted on 14 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — Trying to figure out what the Orioles’ starting rotation will look like over the next week is anybody’s guess.

That includes manager Buck Showalter, who certainly will be prepared for all possibilities and options in front of him but is waiting for factors out of his hands to play out. It started with the need to option rookie Kevin Gausman to Triple-A Norfolk after Thursday’s 13-inning affair and continues with the uncertainty surrounding right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez, who is slated to start on Saturday but is on call as his wife could give birth to the couple’s daughter any day.

“We’re kind of in the mode of, let’s see what tonight brings and smoke clears and see what presents itself,” Showalter said prior to Friday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox.

All we know is right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta was recalled to provide a fresh arm and length in a taxed bullpen that pitched 7 2/3 innings in the Orioles’ 5-4 win in the series opener Thursday night. How long he’ll be here is anybody’s guess, but you wouldn’t expect Arrieta to be here for more than a day or two considering he’s struggled mightily for the Tides recently, allowing 15 earned runs and 19 hits in his last two starts covering 10 1/3 innings.

Since Arrieta last pitched on Sunday, he was the freshest of the arms in the Norfolk starting rotation and is the best immediate fit, according to Showalter. You could conceivably see Arrieta optioned back to Triple A as soon as the conclusion of Friday night’s game if he needed to be used behind starter Chris Tillman.

Showalter also confirmed what most assumed about Gausman’s demotion in that it was solely based on the need in the bullpen after every reliever other than right-hander Pedro Strop pitched in the 13-inning game. The manager made that clear to the 22-year-old, but that doesn’t guarantee Gausman will return to Baltimore as soon as possible, either.

“If we had played nine innings, [Gausman] would have stayed,” said Showalter, who revealed Gausman will indeed travel to Norfolk and not remain in Baltimore despite Gonzalez’s shaky status. “I told him that last night — probably a little too up front about it. I also told him there were no assurances. The good side of it is, he leaves with a good outing and it gives him a chance to take a deep breath and kind of think about some things.”

After being optioned, Gausman is required to remain at Triple-A Norfolk for at least 10 days unless he is replacing a player placed on the 15-day disabled list. With Gonzalez’s unique situation in which he will be placed on the paternity list, the Orioles would be allowed to recall Gausman before the 10-day window concludes. Gonzalez’s wife is not due to give birth until June 19, making it uncertain whether he could be removed from the roster in time for Gausman’s turn in the rotation slotted for Tuesday.

In addition to Arrieta, Showalter also mentioned long reliever T.J. McFarland and Triple-A lefty Zach Britton as potential options for Sunday or Tuesday’s start in Detroit. Gausman is among the candidates for that start in Detroit should the Orioles have the means to return him to the roster, but Showalter made it clear there’s no guarantee that Gausman will be back for that start or even immediately following the expiration of the 10-day waiting period.

That’s good news for a pitcher like Britton, who has allowed only seven earned runs in 31 innings (2.03 ERA) over his last five starts for the Tides. He last pitched on Monday, meaning he would be a logical candidate for Sunday if the need arises or could conceivably work out of the pen for a day or two and be available for Tuesday. Should he get the ball against the Tigers and pitch well, he could remain in Baltimore for at least the foreseeable future while Gausman continues to hone his craft at Triple A, a level where he’s never pitched.

“We’ll see what the needs are going to be here,” said Showalter, who mentioned that Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin will work on a few specific points of emphasis with the 2012 first-round pick. “I told [Gausman] to go down there and present himself as an option for us. It’s all in his hands. We have other people that we like, too, and that’s good to know. That’s a good feeling. He could go down there and pitch well and present himself as a good option and still not [be back]. That’s kind of the way it works.”

As if the starting rotation wasn’t in enough flux, Jason Hammel came down with a virus Friday morning and was not at the ballpark for the second game of the series against the Red Sox. Fortunately, he is not scheduled to pitch again until Monday and the club hopes the illness will have run its course by then.

The way things are going for the starting rotation, you just hope no one steps on a nail at this point. Bonus points to you if you were able to figure out that reference.

In other rotation-related news, left-hander Wei-Yin Chen will throw 35 pitches off a full mound in Sarasota on Saturday. If all goes well, he could rejoin the Orioles on the next road trip to continue his rehab work, but Showalter said there are “a lot of hurdles” before the Taiwanese pitcher is back on the mound for the Orioles.

Outfielder Nolan Reimold will begin his minor-league rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie on Tuesday, according to Showalter. He completed a series of sprints with no setbacks in what was viewed as a final test for the right hamstring injury he’s nursed since spring training.

Second baseman Alexi Casilla took batting practice and was available without any real limitations for Friday’s game, according to Showalter. He’s dealt with a jammed right index finger since the finale of the Tampa Bay series last weekend.

Brian Roberts held up well after taking batting practice Thursday and was taking grounders at second base prior to Friday’s game as he continues rehabbing his surgically-repaired right hamstring.

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Jurrjens becomes latest Orioles starter sent back to Triple-A Norfolk

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Jurrjens becomes latest Orioles starter sent back to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — With the Orioles needing to make a roster move to create a spot for the returning Miguel Gonzalez on Tuesday night, most assumed right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta would be the one to go, but right-handed starter Jair Jurrjens was instead optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.

Perhaps the news shouldn’t have come as a surprise as Jurrjens became the fifth starting pitcher this season to be optioned back to the minor leagues after making just one start in Baltimore. Manager Buck Showalter explained the need to keep Arrieta available in the bullpen with a certain amount of mystery remaining in Gonzalez’s return from a blister on his right thumb that’s kept him sidelined since his start in Anaheim on May 3. Jurrjens wouldn’t have been available to give the club length out of the bullpen on Tuesday, according to the manager.

Jurrjens joins Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, and Josh Stinson as pitchers promoted from Norfolk who were optioned after their only start with the Orioles this year.

“They’re all tough anytime you’re sending guys down,” Showalter said. “But, there are some people who didn’t think he would get that [opportunity] this year. I think he knows that we’ve shown him and our guys where we’re going when there’s a need. I hope not, but I’m sure there will be another need this year. It could be sooner rather than later.”

Making his 2013 debut last Saturday after going 4-1 with a 3.14 earned run average in eight starts with the Tides, Jurrjens allowed four earned runs and six hits in five innings of work. However, all six hits were of the extra-base variety as the 27-year-old struck out five and walked one but didn’t factor into the decision.

Jurrjens declined comment in the Orioles clubhouse after learning of his demotion. He would be eligible to return to the 25-man roster in 10 days barring an injury that would force someone else to the 15-day disabled list.

“We need length in our bullpen as most clubs do,” Showalter said. “As always we are going to lean on protecting our bullpen and pitching staff and keep the length down there.”

The decision leaves the Orioles without a starter for the series opener in Toronto on Thursday, but Showalter named Arrieta as well as left-handed long reliever T.J. McFarland as the candidates. Of course, Arrieta began the year in the starting rotation before being optioned to Norfolk after posting a 6.63 ERA in four starts with the Orioles. He was summoned back to Baltimore on Saturday to serve in a long relief role but has yet to appear in a game.

Arrieta experience some tightness in his right shoulder earlier this month and hadn’t made a start for Norfolk since May 7, but Showalter said they’ve provided the 27-year-old with some simulated game work since he was recalled.

Meanwhile, the 23-year-old McFarland has quietly turned heads with a 2.61 ERA in 10 appearances covering 20 2/3 innings. A Rule 5 pick out of the Cleveland Indians system, McFarland doesn’t impress you on the surface with his 87 mph sinker, but he’s struck out 22 while allowing 23 hits and seven walks in his rookie season.

While Showalter didn’t officially name his choice for Thursday’s game, his comments reflected that he was leaning toward McFarland, praising him for his work in long relief and mentioning the reward at this level is “an opportunity to do more.” The manager acknowledged that Arrieta would have the ability to go deeper into the game from a pitch-count standpoint but estimated that McFarland could give the club somewhere between 75 and 90 pitches.

McFarland hasn’t thrown more than 53 pitches in any of his 10 outings this season, making one assume the lower portion of that range would be more realistic.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of which way Showalter is leaning was mentioning how a pitcher fares in a certain ballpark — in this case, Rogers Centre in Toronto. Arrieta has a 7.31 ERA in three career starts in the building formerly known as SkyDome while the rookie McFarland has never pitched there.

Of course, Showalter could have simply been presenting a smokescreen while having every intention of giving Arrieta the ball on Thursday while keeping the Blue Jays — and the rest of us — guessing.

As has been the case all season, circumstances could change quickly should Gonzalez or Jason Hammel — or both — have short outings that would force either Arrieta or McFarland into relief action before Thursday.

NOTES: Regular center fielder Adam Jones served as the designated hitter for Tuesday’s game after dealing with some right leg soreness. The 27-year-old downplayed any injury and lobbied to play the field, but Showalter saw it as an opportunity for Jones to rest his legs while remaining in the lineup. … Nolan Reimold (right hamstring) may travel with the Orioles to Toronto and take early batting practice as he continues to work his way back from the disabled list. Showalter still anticipates sending Reimold to a minor-league affiliate for some at-bats before potentially making his return. He is eligible to return from the DL on May 27, but it would appear he won’t be ready until at least some time after that. … Backup catcher Taylor Teagarden (dislocated left thumb) could begin playing in extended spring training games as early as next Monday. … Struggling starter Jason Hammel told reporters he threw all fastballs in his bullpen session since he’s struggled to command both his four-seam and two-seam pitches at different points this season. He currently sports a 5.72 ERA in nine starts this season.

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Laboring Orioles trying to shorten chain to late innings

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Laboring Orioles trying to shorten chain to late innings

Posted on 20 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — Trying to stop a five-game losing streak on Monday with the surging New York Yankees coming to town for a three-game series isn’t the easiest of chores, but the Orioles know it begins with their starting pitching to right themselves in the American League East.

Every starter not named Chris Tillman is either injured or struggling, but the Orioles must find a way to shorten the chain to the end of the game, evident by the heavy workloads of their top relief pitchers and back-to-back blown saves by closer Jim Johnson. Baltimore entered Monday’s game with the 25th-ranked starting earned run average (4.90) in the majors and had averaged just 5.64 innings per start. In comparison, the St. Louis Cardinals have the best starting ERA (2.63) in baseball and average 6.43 innings per outing.

The starting pitching needs to improve for a club with postseason aspirations and intentions of preserving its biggest asset — the bullpen — for the entire season.

“That falls underneath the ‘Capt. Obvious’ thing,’” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s one thing to identify it; it’s how you do it. Pitch better.”

As of now, the Orioles have few answers with Tillman the only reliable commodity currently in the rotation. Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez returns Tuesday from a stint on the 15-day disabled list due to a blister on his right thumb, but lefty Wei-Yin Chen will just be leaving for Sarasota on Tuesday to begin his rehabilitation. Showalter didn’t paint a rosy picture on Monday that Chen would be returning in a timely fashion.

Stricken with a Grade 2 right oblique strain, Chen is at least a week away from picking up a baseball as his type of injury is a tricky one from which to recover. Setbacks are frequent with oblique injuries as you never really know how well a pitcher is recovering before he starts trying to throw again.

“I couldn’t tell you that he’s making any great progress,” Showalter said. “He’s still sore, but he’s doing some things as far as sleeping through the night and rolling over where it’s not bothering him like it was. But I don’t think there’s some definitive date. There’s an unknown to it.”

When Chen and Gonzalez dealing with injuries this month, the Orioles have been forced to turn to veteran Freddy Garcia and former Atlanta pitcher Jair Jurrjens to stabilize the back end of the rotation. Speculation persists that Garcia could be reaching the end of his run with the Orioles after turning in poor outings against Kansas City and San Diego to follow up his surprising debut in Anaheim at the beginning of the month.

Jurrjens figures to receive at least a couple more starts after allowing four earned runs in five innings in his 2013 debut against Tampa Bay over the weekend, but the Orioles appear close to moving on in their quest for rotation stability.

Recalled over the weekend to serve as an extra arm in the bullpen, Jake Arrieta is not in line to receive a start and could be optioned to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Gonzalez on Tuesday. However, another pitcher in the Baltimore bullpen could be next in line for a shot in the rotation.

Left-hander T.J. McFarland turned in a scoreless performance over 2 1/3 innings to keep the Orioles within two runs of the Rays on Sunday, and Showalter acknowledged prior to the start of the Yankees series that the 23-year-old Rule 5 selection has been considered as a starting option.

“He was impressive again yesterday,” Showalter said. “I’m real proud of our scouting department. So far, so good with him. He’s a guy we’ve thought about starting, too, but right now it’s Freddy and Jair.”

McFarland has a 2.61 ERA in 20 2/3 innings over 10 appearances. The lefty has allowed 23 hits, struck out 22, and walked seven coming out of the bullpen.

Gonzalez chomping at bit

The Orioles will welcome the Tuesday return of Gonzalez, who hasn’t pitched since leaving his start in Anaheim early with a blister on his thumb on May 3.

Sporting a 2-2 record with a 4.58 ERA in six starts this season, a healthy Gonzalez would help soothe the rotation concerns if he can look more like the pitcher who went 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 18 games (15 starts) last season. The 28-year-old threw briefly on Sunday just to work on the spin of his curveball and feels confident after throwing roughly 80 pitches in completing a simulated game on Friday.

“I’ve been telling the guys it was frustrating not being able to be out there because of a blister,” Gonzalez said. “You know, it’s not an injury, but you just have to wait and heal.”

The right-hander said he shouldn’t be limited to any limited pitch count and would be able to throw 100 or more pitches if necessary on Tuesday night.

Hardy moving up

Shortstop J.J. Hardy saw his 13-game hitting streak come to an end on Sunday, but his .360 average that includes five home runs and 10 RBIs since May 3 hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Hardy was elevated to the No. 3 spot in the order against left-hander CC Sabathia on Monday night, but that was also the result of his numbers against the burly Yankees starter. The 30-year-old entered the game with a .321 career average against Sabathia with one homer and five RBIs.

Showalter was looking for any edge he could get against Sabathia, who held a 10-3 career mark with a 3.38 ERA in 15 career games at Camden Yards prior to Monday’s game.

“It’s hard to find anybody that’s had some success against certain guys,” Showalter said. “This just fits a little bit better for us [Monday night].”

Minor-league additions

According to Baseball America, the Orioles signed catcher Ronny Paulino and right-handed pitcher Austin Urban to minor-league contracts.

Paulino was released by the Seattle Mariners on March 30 while the Chicago Cubs released Urban on March 12.

Of course, the 32-year-old Paulino served as the Orioles’ backup catcher for a good portion of the first half of last season, hitting .254 in 63 at-bats and appearing in 20 games.

 

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Orioles have no choice but to circle back patiently with starting options

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Orioles have no choice but to circle back patiently with starting options

Posted on 19 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

It’s never a good idea to definitively assess any team in the midst of its worst stretch of the season in the same way that you shouldn’t ignore weaknesses while enjoying the prosperous times.

With the Orioles suffering their first four-game losing streak of the season and surrendering a staggering 30 runs and 45 hits over their last three games, it’s easy to panic over such an ugly stretch of baseball. Early questions over starting pitching have transformed into serious concerns as the club has endured the losses of Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez to the disabled list and the recent struggles of Opening Day starter Jason Hammel while attempting to piece together the back end of the rotation.

The poor starting pitching has placed even more reliance on the bullpen as the Orioles have seen All-Star closer Jim Johnson blow consecutive saves this week. Showalter insists the bullpen hasn’t been overworked and is very meticulous with everything from innings pitched down to the number of times a reliever even gets up to throw during games, but that won’t remain the case if the poor performance of the starting pitching continues into the summer.

Chen is sidelined indefinitely with the always-unpredictable strained oblique injury, meaning Chris Tillman is the only starter on which manager Buck Showalter can currently rely as Orioles starting pitching has allowed 32 earned runs in 39 1/3 innings — a 7.32 earned run average — over the last eight games. The club hopes the 2012 version of Gonzalez will surface beginning with his scheduled return on Tuesday and that Hammel will find the proper release point to improve his fastball command after a miserable recent stretch.

Beyond those concerns, the picture becomes even more frightening with the final two spots in the rotation. Yes, it’s easy to look back at the offseason and criticize executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette for not acquiring any impact starters — I shared that very sentiment at the start of spring training and again at the beginning of the season — but Duquette and Showalter also expressed great faith in their internal options.

Now, one time through a lineup of “second-tier” starters that includes Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Freddy Garcia, Jair Jurrjens, and Josh Stinson, only Arrieta and Garcia have received more than one start to this point. Arrieta doesn’t really fall into the same category as the others after beginning the season as the fifth starter, and a strong debut in Anaheim bought the 36-year-old Garcia two more starts that have been underwhelming at best.

Understanding that even the brightest pitchers in the game will have a handful of less-than-stellar outings over the course of a season, is a one-start audition really the best way to determine if a pitcher can be an asset for the major league rotation?

Make no mistake, gone are the days when a young prospect such as Brian Matusz will be afforded the opportunity to accumulate a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts as he did over two different stints in the 2011 season. Higher expectations are here to stay and competition is paramount with Duquette and Showalter as they look beyond the 25-man roster while viewing Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie as essential partners in fielding a competitive club in the American League East.

However, the problem with higher expectations is the emphasis it places on smaller sample sizes when trying to evaluate. And you wonder if the possibility of such a short audition for the likes of Britton and Johnson creates too much of a mindset of looking over your shoulder and trying to be too perfect. It also devalues their minor-league performances that earn them their chance in the first place.

Showalter acknowledged this weekend most of these immediate demotions couldn’t have been avoided due to the strain placed on the bullpen as a direct result of the short outings. There is plenty of merit to that explanation, but at some point, the Orioles need to find the proper balance between having higher expectations and exercising the faith expressed this offseason in their internal options by showing just a bit more — brace yourself for that all-too-familiar word — patience.

No one is endorsing that Britton or Johnson or whichever pitcher sitting at the top of the totem pole for the next chance automatically receives six weeks’ worth of starts in the big leagues, but a reasonable opportunity of three or four starts might be more conducive to the potentially fragile psyche of a young pitcher. Fringe pitchers such as these certainly need to feel urgency playing for a contending club, but trying to be too perfect in fear of being sent down isn’t setting them up with the mindset for success, either.

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