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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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Walks again pivotal in Orioles’ 7-5 loss to Boston

Posted on 25 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles pitching entered Friday’s series opener against the Boston Red Sox leading the major leagues with 67 walks in 16 games.

And free passes at inopportune times once again hurt the Orioles in dropping their fifth consecutive game in a 7-5 final at Camden Yards.

“We only walked two guys tonight, and the two really bit us against a good team,” said manager Buck Showalter, who pointed to the high number of bases on balls being his biggest pet peeve of the young season prior to Friday’s game. “The walks hurt us, but at least we cut down on them. They really bit us.”

In the fifth inning, starter Miguel Gonzalez issued a bases-empty, two-out walk to Mookie Betts before eventually allowing a three-run homer to David Ortiz and a solo shot by Hanley Ramirez. The four-run frame spoiled an otherwise-solid outing by the Orioles right-hander.

With the scored tied 4-4 with two outs and the bases empty in the top of the eighth, lefty specialist Brian Matusz was summoned to pitch to the switch-hitting Pablo Sandoval, who was 0-for-13 against southpaws so far in 2015. Instead of following up Tommy Hunter’s 1 2/3 innings of strong work by getting his man, Matusz walked Sandoval and was promptly lifted in favor of Darren O’Day. A Manny Machado fielding error and a Brock Holt three-run homer later, Baltimore trailed 7-4.

Of course, the home runs were the death knells, but the two-out walks paved the way for trouble.

“We didn’t do the little things tonight,” said O’Day, who credited Holt for hitting a quality 1-2 pitch over the right-field scoreboard. “We made a lot of small errors, and our strength is paying attention to detail. We just didn’t do it tonight — both sides of the ball.”

Machado’s fielding miscue — the Orioles have now committed eight errors over their last five games  — came after he had struck out in an eight-pitch at-bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.

It didn’t take much, but the Orioles continue to do the little things poorly and it cost them another game on Friday.

* Baltimore has now lost five straight for the first time since a six-game losing streak from Sept. 19-24, 2013.

* Matusz has walked seven batters in 7 1/3 innings, which is tied for fourth on the club. He’s tied for 11th in innings pitched.

* Gonzalez gave the Orioles only their fifth start of the season to go six innings or more. The 30-year-old has provided the last two, both coming at home.

* Counting the 2014 postseason, O’Day has given up seven homers in his last 20 innings dating back to Sept. 2 of last year.

 

 

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Orioles still trying to recapture starter success from last year

Posted on 23 April 2015 by Luke Jones

You don’t have to look far to figure out why the Orioles are off to a 7-8 start to begin the 2015 season.

They’ve been sloppy in other areas of the game, but Orioles starting pitching entered Thursday ranking last in the majors in innings pitched (4.87 innings per start) and 27th in ERA (5.30). In looking at the first 15 games of the season solely through that lens, Baltimore might be fortunate to be just a game below .500. The bullpen hasn’t been much better with a 4.55 ERA, but relievers have already been overworked because of the starters’ failures.

Bud Norris’ struggles have garnered plenty of attention as the right-hander currently sports a 17.42 ERA, but No. 1 starter Chris Tillman entered Thursday’s start with a 5.52 ERA through three starts. Meanwhile, Wei-Yin Chen can thank his shoddy defense in Boston on Monday — one of the errors were committed by the lefty starter — for a 3.07 ERA that doesn’t accurately reflect how shaky his performance has been thus far. Chen sports a 1.70 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and a 6.49 FIP (fielding independent pitching mark), which paint a better picture of how he’s pitched.

The poor performance of the rotation has left many to wonder why the talented Kevin Gausman isn’t starting, but the 24-year-old is trying to rebound from a rough beginning of his own in the bullpen and owns a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings of work. The 2012 first-round pick finished 2014 with a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts.

The rocky start has been a stark contrast from the second half of 2014 when the pitching became one of the Orioles’ biggest strengths, finishing fifth in the American League in starter ERA (3.61). Baltimore went 53-27 over the final three months of the season, a clip that translates to a 107-win season over the course of a full year. Aside from Ubaldo Jimenez, who made only five starts in the final three months of 2014, every member of the rotation finished with an ERA of 3.65 or better.

Though many continued to criticize Orioles starters for failing to go seven innings consistently last year, the more realistic standard in today’s game has become six innings as Cincinnati led the majors last year in averaging 6.32 innings per start. Over those final 80 games when the Orioles ran away from the rest of the AL East, starters completed at least six innings 49 times and seven or more innings 23 times.

So far in 2015, starting pitchers have gone six innings just four times in 15 games. And only Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez have completed seven innings in one start each.

It’s easy to point to the offseason departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller as reasons why the Orioles might fail to repeat as AL East champions, but the shortcomings of the starting pitching have told the bigger story in the early stages of 2015.

One of their biggest strengths of last season has been the weakest link of Buck Showalter’s club in April.

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2015 Orioles preview: Miguel Gonzalez

Posted on 27 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than two weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter
March 20 – Manny Machado
March 21 – Brad Brach
March 22 – Steve Pearce
March 23 – Darren O’Day
March 24 – Caleb Joseph
March 25 – Wesley Wright
March 26 – Delmon Young

RHP Miguel Gonzalez

Opening Day age: 30

Contract status: Under club control through the 2017 season

Minor-league options remaining: One

2014 stats: 10-9, 3.23 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.3 K/IP, 25 HR, 159 innings

Why to be impressed: Gonzalez continued to exceed expectations to a dramatic degree in 2014 as he posted the best ERA of anyone in the rotation despite the disruption of a demotion to Triple-A Norfolk in August because of a crowded rotation. He posted a miniscule 2.09 ERA over the final three months of the season, which included the first complete-game shutout of his career in early September.

Why to be concerned: As mentioned above, sabermetricians aren’t a fan of Gonzalez, whose 4.89 FIP (fielding independent pitching) indicates how much he might benefit from his defense — and perhaps some good fortune. The right-hander allowed a career-high 1.4 homers per nine innings, and his tendency to frequently give up fly balls benefited from Camden Yards playing much more like a pitchers’ park in 2014, something you wouldn’t expect to continue this year.

2015 outlook: It remains unclear whether a crowded rotation might force Gonzalez to the bullpen or Norfolk for periods of the 2015 season, but he’s been a dependable contributor for three straight reasons and epitomizes what the Orioles have been about for the last three years. It would be difficult for Gonzalez to match his ERA from a year ago, but I won’t bet against him posting another season of 150-plus innings with an ERA of 3.75 or better. Simply put, he’s smart and one heck of a competitor on the mound.

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Taking stock of Orioles starting rotation

Posted on 25 March 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have a problem with their starting rotation less than two weeks away from Opening Day.

It’s far from the worst dilemma as many clubs don’t have two or three quality arms, let alone enjoy the luxury of choosing among six starters for five spots. It’s a good problem to have quite frankly, even if you roll your eyes thinking about the possibility of Ubaldo Jimenez taking the ball every fifth day.

Fans and critics will understandably remain skeptical, but the steady improvement of Jimenez this spring has the veteran right-hander in position to be in the rotation to begin the season. After averaging 5.5 walks per nine innings last season, Jimenez has walked just one batter in his last three outings spanning 13 innings. A new windup and a quieter delivery have led to better results for the 31-year-old with a career 4.00 ERA in nine major league seasons.

The reality is that short of a disastrous spring, Jimenez — who’s owed more than $38 million over the next three years — was always likely to at least receive a chance in the rotation to start the year. Whether he remains in the rotation for long will be the question.

Assuming Jimenez doesn’t implode over his final couple spring outings — far from a given, of course — manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will have interesting decisions to make in how to proceed with the rest of the rotation.

If Ubaldo Jimenez makes the starting rotation, who is the odd man out and where does he end up??

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The possibility of Duquette trading one of his starting pitchers has been discussed since the start of the offseason, but the chances of needing only five starters all season is extremely remote, making that a dicey plan of attack unless the return in the trade provides a major boost elsewhere.

Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen are obviously safe and both have pitched well this spring.

Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman each have a remaining minor-league option and have been discussed as the two likeliest candidates to be the odd man out to make room for Jimenez, but neither has had a poor spring.

Gonzalez has posted a 4.26 ERA and has yet to walk a batter in 12 2/3 innings of Grapefruit League action. The right-hander could be used in long relief, but you run the risk of him not being stretched out enough to rejoin the rotation if he’s in the bullpen for too long.

The Orioles have handled Gausman differently than the other starters this spring as he comes off the biggest workload of his professional career a year ago. Brought along more slowly, Gausman has pitched primarily in minor-league spring games and has logged only three Grapefruit League innings. Perhaps it’s a sign that the Orioles envision the 24-year-old beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk despite the fact that he was one of the club’s best starters last season. It wouldn’t make sense to relegate Gausman to a bullpen role early in the year where he either wouldn’t pitch regularly or would be shortened up and used too frequently to safely return him to a starting role at some point later in the season.

Optioning Gonzalez or Gausman to the minors would give the Orioles more flexibility to potentially stash one of their two Rule 5 picks — Logan Verrett or Jason Garcia — in the bullpen, but it’s difficult to argue that being the best possible 25-man roster for a club trying to defend the American League East title.

Bud Norris might be the most interesting case of any of the Baltimore starting pitchers at the moment. The 30-year-old is out of options and is coming off arguably the best season of his career, but he has dealt with back stiffness this spring while posting a 9.26 ERA, which includes nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.

It would be crass to draw a strong conclusion from such a small sample size, but Norris’ struggles might indicate his back is a bigger problem than he’s leading on. Either way, the Orioles need to see better results from the right-hander in his final outings before the start of the season or they may need to look at his health with more scrutiny. The bullpen would also be a possibility for Norris should his woes continue over the next couple weeks and into the regular season.

So, how should the Orioles proceed if we’re to assume Jimenez begins the season with a shot in the rotation?

It isn’t the worst problem to have, but there’s no easy answer for Showalter with the season rapidly approaching. And whatever decision he makes will come while holding his breath that Jimenez’s improvement isn’t just a brief aberration.

 

 

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