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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-7 win over Yankees

Posted on 08 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles securing their first series victory of the season in a dramatic 8-7 win over the New York Yankees in 12 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After pitching 14 2/3 innings the previous three days, the Orioles bullpen received the reins with two outs in the first. While allowing the offense to erase an early 5-0 deficit, six relievers combined to throw 186 pitches to cover 11 1/3 innings and allowed two runs. What an effort.

2. Brad Brach did quite a Don Stanhouse impersonation by loading the bases with no outs in the 12th, but he induced an Aaron Judge comebacker and a heady Caleb Joseph turned a 1-2-5 double play. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that, especially in such a critical spot.

3. After preserving a 7-7 tie with his difficult catch in the 10th inning, Craig Gentry capped off a three-hit, two-steal day with his game-winning RBI single off Adam Warren. The reserve outfielder has certainly pulled his weight early this season.

4. Not only did Richard Bleier pitch a third consecutive day for a taxed bullpen, but he tossed three scoreless frames to collect the victory. His post-game comments reiterated how easy it is to root for the 30-year-old.

5. You have to be impressed with the way Anthony Santander hit the go-ahead home run on a 3-0 pitch in the seventh. I’m not sure he’ll remain in the majors for good after his Rule 5 requirement expires next month, but he has definitely flashed potential.

6. Speaking of Rule 5 picks, Pedro Araujo not only kept the Yankees off the scoreboard over 2 1/3 innings, but he struck out five and allowed only one hit. I stand by my position on carrying two Rule 5 pitchers in the bullpen, but Araujo at least shows upside.

7. Fans in the Bronx booing Giancarlo Stanton just a handful of games into his Yankees career are silly, but he had a brutal series going 2-for-19 with eight strikeouts. He registered his second five-strikeout game in six days on Sunday. Ouch.

8. After grounding into a double play to short-circuit a rally in the third, Danny Valencia made amends by clubbing a two-run shot in the fifth to make it a one-run deficit. He needs to produce against lefty starters and did exactly that against Jordan Montgomery.

9. The tying run was charged to Tanner Scott in the seventh, but the rookie did a solid job over 1 2/3 innings in his 2018 debut. That inning likely would have gone to Mychal Givens if he hadn’t thrown 59 pitches on Thursday and Friday.

10. His team bailed him out, but Mike Wright trying to turn a double play on a comebacker instead of throwing to the plate was a bad decision and the throw was even worse. He completely crumbled after that in what was likely his last start before Alex Cobb is recalled.

11. Wright had a competitive outing against Houston, but Sunday’s performance has happened too frequently in his major league opportunities. He’s tried to make adjustments over the years with his two-seam fastball and mixing in a cutter, but I just don’t see the stuff or temperament of a major league starter.

12. The Orioles entered this series struggling and were rarely even competitive at Yankee Stadium last year. They didn’t play perfectly and now return home with an exhausted bullpen, but that was an impressive statement this weekend. A 4-6 record doesn’t look so bad after being 1-5.

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Rule 5 obsession again hurting Orioles’ chances to win

Posted on 04 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles do this to themselves.

Year after year, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette champions the Rule 5 draft as a cheap way of acquiring young prospects. It sounds fine in theory in December and we hear the encouraging reviews of these players during spring training, but the Orioles inevitably find themselves in predicaments in which both their roster and their ability to compete are compromised during the season.

And for what?

The greatest Rule 5 success story of the Duquette era has been Ryan Flaherty, a versatile utility man who was worth a total of 1.6 wins above replacement over his six seasons with Baltimore. Carrying a position player has proven to be easier as the Orioles were able to qualify for the playoffs with Flaherty in 2012 and outfielder Joey Rickard in 2016, but does the upside of a Rule 5 pick really justify the roster headaches?

Was it worth it having T.J. McFarland hamstring the bullpen in 2013 and Jason Garcia clogging it up in 2015? McFarland at least made some useful contributions as a long reliever in 2014, but Garcia was never heard from again as he struggled at Double-A Bowie the following two years. Neither is with the organization anymore.

That brings us to the present with the Orioles not only trying to satisfy the remainder of outfielder Anthony Santander’s Rule 5 requirement from last season, but they’re currently carrying two Rule 5 pitchers in their bullpen.

Two.

A club that sported the worst starter ERA in the majors in 2017 and one that is without two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton for at least the first two months of the season thinks it’s a good idea to carry two pitchers who have little business being in the major leagues right now. And it took all of five games for this bizarre Rule 5 fascination to cost the Orioles a potential win.

Manager Buck Showalter shouldn’t be absolved for his decision-making in Tuesday’s 10-6 loss in Houston as he could have avoided using both Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier in Monday’s 6-1 defeat, but that only delays the inevitable as this type of scenario would have played out at some point very soon. When starters consistently fail to pitch deep into games, you’re not going to survive with what amounts to a five-man bullpen. Whether it was Tuesday night, Wednesday afternoon, or next week, Pedro Araujo and Nestor Cortes were going to find themselves pitching in a game with the outcome still in doubt.

Trying to hide one Rule 5 pick in the bullpen is difficult enough, but carrying two eliminates any margin for error as we saw when Mychal Givens allowed the go-ahead two-run home run to Josh Reddick in the sixth inning. Showalter removing starter Mike Wright was the right call after he’d given the Orioles a solid five innings and 82 pitches in his first competitive outing since March 22. Regardless of the result, you’d rather see Givens against the heart of the Astros order rather than Wright facing it a third time.

The likely plan was for Givens to pitch the sixth and seventh before turning to Darren O’Day and Brad Brach for the final two innings. Instead Givens’ struggles opened the door for both Araujo and Cortes to put the game out of reach. One could still argue using O’Day or Brach for the seventh inning, but Showalter has always been reluctant to use his top arms when the Orioles are trailing and such a strategy would have merely pushed the bullpen shortage to the following day.

You just aren’t going to win with starters pitching only four or five innings and backing them up with only five relievers you trust. The math simply won’t add up as the cumulative impact of needing to cover 13 innings in the previous three blowout losses put the Orioles in bad position on Tuesday. Again, Showalter could have handled his bullpen differently the last two nights, but Araujo and Cortes are going to have to pitch when it matters from time to time if they’re to remain on the 25-man roster.

And that’s the major problem.

The Orioles deserve praise for stepping up to sign starting pitcher Alex Cobb in late March, but you can’t say you’re truly all in on 2018 with two Rule 5 picks straining your bullpen while you’re already trying to survive the absence of your best reliever. Such a path comes across as trying to prove you’re smarter than everyone else rather than doing what it takes to win.

And history suggests the long-term payoff with both Araujo and Cortes won’t be worth it anyway.

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Orioles may move up Cobb’s 2018 debut date

Posted on 03 April 2018 by Luke Jones

Just a few days after saying Alex Cobb wouldn’t make his Orioles debut before April 14, Buck Showalter has apparently changed his tune about his new starting pitcher.

The manager is now leaving open the possibility of Cobb making his 2018 debut against Toronto on Monday if his five-inning simulated game goes well in Sarasota on Wednesday. It’s a moving target after the 30-year-old missed virtually all of spring training and didn’t sign his four-year, $57 million contract with Baltimore until March 21.

“Most of it’s going to come from what Alex is telling us,” Showalter told reporters prior to Tuesday’s game in Houston. “He’s very mature about it. It’s like I told him, regardless of how someobody else is doing it, we’re going to do what’s best for him, which is what’s best for the organization. If anything, we’ll err on the side of caution. We think we already have.”

Former Orioles and Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta is in a similar position after only signing with Philadelphia on March 12 and is scheduled to make his season debut on Sunday.

Baltimore would prefer not rushing Cobb to a competitive environment before making sure he’s ready physically, but the early performance of the starting rotation hasn’t helped matters with Andrew Cashner, Kevin Gausman, and Chris Tillman all pitching poorly in their first outings of the season. Mike Wright was making his 2018 debut against the Astros on Tuesday and figures to be the odd man out of the rotation once Cobb is activated.

Showalter also confirmed top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey will begin the season at Double-A Bowie with the goal of completing three innings per outing and gradually increasing that workload as the year progresses. This leaves more innings available to him later in the season if he progresses rapidly enough to be promoted to the majors.

“That is where he is going to start so the innings are there,” Showalter told reporters in Houston. “I don’t think you’re going to see him make a seven-inning start anywhere except Baltimore.”

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Cobb won’t make Orioles debut before April 14

Posted on 31 March 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Free-agent acquisition Alex Cobb won’t be making his first start for the Orioles before April 14.

The right-hander completed a four-inning outing on 48 pitches in extended spring training on Friday and will complete five innings in his next start and build up to six frames before being recalled from Double-A Bowie. Cobb will be on the Baysox roster for that final six-inning outing, but he is not expected to pitch in an actual Eastern League game at this point.

Pitchers on minor-league rehab assignments are usually permitted to use a major league ball, but since Cobb was optioned to the minors and is not coming back from an injury, he would be required to use the minor-league ball that has raised seams. Some fear this could put strain on the pitcher’s arm, and it’s no secret that Cobb is only three years removed from Tommy John surgery.

“One of the problems you have is in a situation like this, they don’t let you use a major league baseball, which really doesn’t make much sense at all,” manager Buck Showalter said. “One, to have two different baseballs [between the majors and minors], and a lot of guys don’t want to throw the minor-league ball. I’m sure [Philadelphia is] going to have the same issue with Jake Arrieta in Clearwater.

“Alex will not throw that baseball, so if they make him throw it — and that’s where they’re going — then we’re going to come up with another plan. Crazy, isn’t it?”

That plan could mean him simply pitching in a simulated game involving Baysox hitters on April 9 before he would make his 2018 debut at Boston five days later. Showalter cautioned that the organization could decide to give him an extra day of rest at some point or adjust the current schedule if necessary.

Right-hander Mike Wright will indeed fill Cobb’s spot in the Baltimore rotation and will start against Houston on Tuesday. Showalter has elected to give Opening Day starter Dylan Bundy the benefit of an extra day of rest rather than moving him up in the five-man rotation because of the Friday off-day.

Chris Tillman will start Monday’s game against the Astros while Bundy will pitch the finale of the three-game set on Wednesday afternoon.

Outfielder Mark Trumbo (right quadriceps strain) has begun to do some light hitting and will travel to Sarasota after Sunday’s finale against Minnesota. He will take full batting practice on Monday and is scheduled to play in an extended spring game on Friday.

Closer Zach Britton (Achilles tendon) will travel with the club on the upcoming road trip.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering 2018 season

Posted on 26 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles about to begin the 2018 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Alex Cobb signing not only added much-needed teeth to a rotation that finished last in the majors in starter ERA in 2017, but it brings real hope for another fun season if several variables break the right way. That optimism simply wasn’t there a week ago.

2. Cobb’s addition was also a meaningful sign of commitment beyond 2018, something that had been lacking all winter. That’s important when the contracts of your general manager, manager, and several key players are all expiring after this season. I’m intrigued to see what happens next.

3. Cobb and Andrew Cashner hardly make the Baltimore rotation one to fear around baseball, but adding two ground-ball pitchers with a history of keeping the ball in the park certainly makes sense playing at homer-friendly Camden Yards.

4. Anger over how the Orioles have mishandled the Manny Machado situation is completely justified, but don’t let that totally ruin your enjoyment from watching him this season. He’s happy to finally be playing shortstop, and I’m curious to see how that impacts his performance on a daily basis.

5. Dylan Bundy fetching positive results in his final spring outing eased some concerns, but his Grapefruit League numbers were also poor last year. It’s good to see him finally making an Opening Day start after the expectations that have followed him from the moment he was drafted seven years ago.

6. I’d be more worked up about Chris Davis possibly leading off if the Orioles actually had an ideal candidate for that job, but there’s no understating how important it is for Davis to rebound from 2017 to improve the club’s outlook — this year and beyond.

7. I had no problem re-signing Chris Tillman as a fifth starter candidate, but you just can’t stick with him long if he looks like the 2017 version, especially with only a $3 million salary. An 8.03 ERA with eight walks and four strikeouts in 12 1/3 spring innings isn’t encouraging.

8. A reasonable expectation of catching duties — assuming good health — would be Caleb Joseph catching 60 percent of games and Chance Sisco handling the other 40 percent with some occasional designated hitter duties. Of course, growth behind the plate from Sisco could change that ratio.

9. This Q&A was a good look into the psyche of Kevin Gausman as this could be the “now or never” season for him to put it all together or simply remain an average — and frustratingly inconsistent — starter. He posted a 2.62 ERA in 113 1/3 innings with Joseph catching last year.

10. Danny Valencia provides a potent bat against lefty pitching, but a 33-year-old who’s registered minus-34 defensive runs saved at third base in his career and has no meaningful experience up the middle isn’t an appropriate utility infielder. This isn’t a well-constructed bench going into the season.

11. Darren O’Day struck out 10 and allowed only one run in seven spring innings. The 35-year-old providing the durability and consistency he did from 2012-15 would make this bullpen that much better trying to endure Zach Britton’s absence.

12. I don’t see how carrying the out-of-options Mike Wright and two Rule 5 pitchers, Nestor Cortes and Pedro Araujo, will be tenable. Even assuming one of the three goes when Cobb is activated, does the upside justify the lack of flexibility? The irrational Rule 5 fascination lives on.

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Opening Day roster coming into focus for Orioles

Posted on 25 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With the conclusion of Grapefruit League action on Sunday, the Orioles have offer a better picture of what the Opening Day roster will look like.

Prior to the 6-5 win over Philadelphia in Clearwater, the organization announced left-handed pitchers Josh Edgin and Joely Rodriguez had been reassigned to minor-league camp despite strong spring performances from the non-roster invitees. That all but paves the way for the trio of right-handers Mike Wright and Miguel Castro and Rule 5 lefty Nestor Cortes to come north with the club later this week. It remains to be seen which of the three will handle a temporary starter role until the recently-signed Alex Cobb is ready to make his 2018 debut most likely in mid-April.

Veteran Danny Valencia has made the team as the utility infielder, and it appears left-handed slugger Pedro Alvarez and outfielder Craig Gentry will also be members of the initial 25-man roster since outfielders Alex Presley and Cedric Mullins and infielder Luis Sardinas were reassigned to minor-league camp Sunday evening. Those three as well as projected starting right fielder Colby Rasmus would need to be added to the 40-man roster by Thursday at noon.

After opting out of his minor-league deal with Philadelphia, former Orioles utility man Ryan Flaherty reportedly will join the Atlanta Braves. Baltimore had expressed interest in a reunion.

Unforeseen moves could still be made over the next few days, but below is a look at the tentative Opening Day roster as it projects right now:

POSITION PLAYERS
C Caleb Joseph
1B Chris Davis
2B Jonathan Schoop
SS Manny Machado
3B Tim Beckham
LF Trey Mancini
CF Adam Jones
RF Colby Rasmus
C Chance Sisco
INF Danny Valencia
INF Pedro Alvarez
OF Craig Gentry
OF Anthony Santander

PITCHERS
RH Dylan Bundy
RH Andrew Cashner
RH Kevin Gausman
RH Chris Tillman
RH Mike Wright
LH Nestor Cortes
RH Pedro Araujo
RH Miguel Castro
LH Richard Bleier
RH Darren O’Day
RH Mychal Givens
RH Brad Brach

DISABLED LIST
OF Mark Trumbo (quadriceps)
LHP Zach Britton (Achilles tendon)
RHP Gabriel Ynoa (shins)

OPTIONED TO MINORS (to build innings)
RHP Alex Cobb

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Hardy sidelined at least 4-6 weeks with right wrist fracture

Posted on 19 June 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is expected to miss at least four to six weeks after suffering a non-displaced fracture of his right wrist in Sunday’s win over St. Louis.

The 34-year-old underwent a CT scan Monday, but the injury will not require surgery. Hardy was hit by a 93 mph fastball from Cardinals starter Lance Lynn in the fourth inning and left the game before his next at-bat two innings later.

The Orioles selected the contract of veteran infielder Paul Janish from Triple-A Norfolk to take Hardy’s place on the 25-man roster.

This marks the second year in a row in which Hardy will miss extended time because of a broken bone. He suffered a hairline fracture when he fouled a ball off his left foot last May, an injury that sidelined him for just over six weeks.

“I felt like I was making strides getting out of the little funk I was in and then this happens,” said Hardy, who is batting a career-low .211 this season. “It’s just frustrating. I’d never broken a bone in my life until last year and now this.”

Hardy owns the second-worst on-base plus slugging percentage (.556) among all qualified major league hitters this season, but he said he had recently made some adjustments at the plate with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and had been 7-for-23 with four doubles over his last seven games. He is in the final season of a three-year, $40 million contract.

Manager Buck Showalter said veteran Ruben Tejada will receive the bulk of the opportunities at shortstop in Hardy’s absence. Once the starting shortstop of the New York Mets, Tejada, 27, is a .252 career hitter with a .647 OPS in 2,284 career plate appearances over eight major league seasons.

Third baseman Manny Machado moving over to his natural shortstop position is not a consideration at this point. Showalter would prefer leaving the rest of the infield intact and expressed belief that it was “taxing” for Machado to move back and forth between the two positions in Hardy’s absence last year.

Despite Hardy no longer bringing the offensive value he offered in his first three seasons with the Orioles from 2011-2013, his teammates and coaches have regularly spoken about the veteran infielder’s intangibles and on-field leadership over the years.

“He’s always separating offense from defense and always [handling] coverages on stolen bases, hit-and-runs, relays,” Showalter said. “He’s kind of like the quarterback of the infield so to speak. There’s a lot of things that people miss that he brings. There’s just a real calmness with everybody. He makes everybody click a little bit better.

“He’s driven in some big runs for us. I know it hasn’t been offensively what he wants it to be or he’s capable of. But he still had some big hits through that. There are a lot of things you miss with him that you can’t quantify.”

According to Baseball Reference, Hardy has been worth minus-0.6 wins above replacement, another indicator of how dramatic his struggles at the plate have been this season. He has been worth one defensive run saved and owns a 0.4 defensive WAR.

In other injury-related news, closer Zach Britton was scheduled to begin his minor-league rehab assignment at short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Monday, but that’s been rescheduled for Tuesday because of inclement weather. The two-time All-Star selection has been on the disabled list with the recurrence of a left forearm strain since early May.

Right-handed reliever Darren O’Day had a successful mound session Monday and will pitch in a simulated game on Wednesday. If that goes well, O’Day could be activated from the DL as soon as Friday. He has been out since the first week of June with a right shoulder strain.

Utility infielder Ryan Flaherty (right shoulder) experienced a setback throwing from more than 60 feet in Sarasota on Monday. He had felt no discomfort in previous throwing sessions from up to 60 feet, but this development obviously means his return is not imminent.

Right-handed pitcher Mike Wright will travel to Sarasota to continue rehabbing his right shoulder Tuesday. First baseman Chris Davis (strained right oblique) will remain with the club and travel with the Orioles for this weekend’s series against Tampa Bay before reporting to Sarasota next week.

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Orioles continue shuffling bullpen due to injuries, ineffectiveness

Posted on 16 June 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles continued to shuffle their bullpen due to injury and ineffectiveness Friday by placing right-handed pitcher Mike Wright on the 15-day disabled list and optioning right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis to Triple-A Norfolk.

Manager Buck Showalter revealed Thursday that Wright began experiencing right shoulder discomfort during his outing against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday and was unavailable. Wright, 27, underwent an MRI on Friday as the Orioles were considering giving him a cortisone injection for right shoulder bursitis.

Wright had pitched to a 5.56 ERA, but he had also struck out 14 batters in 11 1/3 innings since being recalled from Norfolk late last month.

Yacabonis had posted a 0.90 ERA for the Tides this season to earn a promotion to the majors last weekend, but he struggled mightily with his command, walking six batters in just 3 1/3 innings. The Orioles optioned the 25-year-old to Norfolk after Thursday’s loss in which he walked three of the four hitters he faced, but they had not made an immediate announcement.

To take their spots on the 25-man roster, the Orioles recalled right-handed pitcher Gabriel Ynoa and lefty Vidal Nuno. Ynoa pitched six shutout innings of emergency relief for the Orioles on May 5, but he owned a 6.93 ERA for the Tides. Nuno has allowed nine earned runs in 12 innings with Baltimore this season and has pitched to a 3.00 ERA at Norfolk.

With two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton (left forearm) and 2015 All-Star setup man Darren O’Day (right shoulder) both on the DL, the Orioles have been shorthanded in the bullpen. The lopsided nature of their current struggles has largely made that a moot point, of course, but Showalter has essentially been able to trust only right-handers Brad Brach and Mychal Givens and lefty Richard Bleier recently.

In an effort to stabilize the bullpen, Showalter announced that veteran Ubaldo Jimenez will start against St. Louis on Sunday while Alec Asher will return to a relief role. Sporting a 5.05 ERA overall, Asher has pitched to a 1.62 ERA in 16 2/3 innings out of the bullpen this season. Meanwhile, Jimenez has posted a 4.32 ERA in relief this season, but his inability to bounce back quickly after outings has left the bullpen undermanned for days at a time.

Having begun the season in the Orioles rotation, Jimenez sported a 7.17 ERA after a poor start against Minnesota on May 22 and was sent to the bullpen after that. The 33-year-old is in the final season of a four-year, $50 million contract that’s been nothing short of disappointing.

“Ubaldo’s responded well to some time in the bullpen [in the past],” Showalter said. “We’ll see if that happens again. We really want to try to see if we can kind of solidify the bullpen a little bit as far as some of the movement there. ‘Ash’ did a good job for us there and presented himself well as a starter sometimes, but I think it’s as much because of Ubaldo. He pitches and [then] needs three or four days off; it really put us in a tough spot in the bullpen. It’s as much for the bullpen as it is for Ubaldo.”

In positive bullpen-related news, Britton has returned to Baltimore from Sarasota and is set to begin his minor-league rehab assignment at short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Monday. He will then continue with two outings for Single-A Delmarva.

Britton will not be activated before the end of June as the Orioles will continue to be cautious with his recovery from a left forearm strain that’s already included one setback in early May. That occurred just a few days after he was reinstated from his first DL stint.

“We’re starting to get more definitive [with his return],” Showalter said. “I think probably after the second Delmarva appearance, we’ll get a real definitive idea if that all goes well. He feels good. You can tell by talking to him that he feels good about where he is.”

O’Day threw off flat ground on Thursday and felt good, but he is not expected to return until next week at the earliest, according to the Orioles manager.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-2 loss to White Sox

Posted on 15 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles losing another series in a 5-2 defeat to the Chicago White Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Chris Tillman persevered through five solid innings before things unraveled for him in the sixth, but the Orioles lineup scoring one measly run until the ninth inning won’t cut it, especially with a pitching staff struggling to even be competitive most nights.

2. We haven’t discussed it much since the Orioles have rarely even been in games over the last week, but it’s alarming how undermanned the bullpen is with both Zach Britton and Darren O’Day on the disabled list. I could understand Buck Showalter trying to push Tillman longer in the sixth.

3. Even the best clubs go through periods when they struggle to pitch or hit, but botching a bunt coverage in a tie game in the sixth is the stuff of bad teams. Tillman took responsibility for it, but that cannot happen when the opposition is giving you an out.

4. Jimmy Yacabonis pitched well enough at Triple-A Norfolk to receive a promotion, but his performance Thursday should probably send him back in the minors. Allowing hits is one thing, but walking three out of the four hitters you face is unacceptable.

5. Jonathan Schoop’s drive in the sixth looked like the go-ahead three-run home run off the bat, but Melky Cabrera caught the ball in front of the left-field wall. It was one of many opportunities in which the Orioles failed to capitalize as they went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

6. There was no doubt about the fourth-inning homer off the bat of Matt Davidson, who hit a long ball in all four games of the series. He’s just the latest hitter to wear out the Orioles in recent weeks.

7. The unflattering result shouldn’t entirely dismiss some encouraging signs from Tillman, who showed solid fastball velocity and threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 28 batters he faced. The struggling veteran entered the day throwing first-pitch strikes only 44.4 percent of the time in 2017.

8. Tillman is still struggling to put away hitters as was the case in an 11-pitch at-bat with Kevan Smith in the second. Despite quickly getting ahead 0-2 on a catcher sporting a .637 on-base plus slugging percentage, Tillman couldn’t finish him off as Smith eventually singled.

9. I understood Showalter not wanting to remove Joey Rickard against right-hander Anthony Swarzak in a key spot in the fifth because of his short bench, but Hyun Soo Kim should have been used as a pinch hitter for Rickard against closer David Robertson in the ninth.

10. Manny Machado swung at three pitches outside the zone for a fourth-inning strikeout. After making great strides to improve his plate discipline over the last few years, the third baseman has walked only six times over his last 131 plate appearances. That’s very telling of his approach.

11. Seth Smith (back) and Mike Wright (shoulder) were both unavailable on Thursday. The Orioles’ health continues to plummet almost as rapidly as their record.

12. Baltimore has now allowed five or more runs in 12 consecutive games. I’d be curious to know what the major league record is, but it was sobering enough watching the 1-7 road trip as it was.

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Saturday’s loss illustrates problem keeping Jimenez in Orioles bullpen

Posted on 04 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was criticized as soon as Ubaldo Jimenez jogged in from the bullpen to pitch the top of the eighth inning on Saturday night.

Trailing only 2-1 to the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles still had a decent chance, prompting many fans to see red even before Jimenez gave up two runs to make it a three-run deficit entering the bottom of the eighth. The harsh reaction was fair with the struggling veteran now sporting a horrendous 6.89 ERA, but it illustrates how problematic stashing him in the bullpen is for a club currently without its All-Star closer or a starting rotation consistently pitching deep into games.

Asked why he used Jimenez in a one-run game, Showalter said right-handers Mike Wright and Mychal Givens were unavailable because of their recent workload and that he wasn’t going to use top relievers Brad Brach or Darren O’Day unless the Orioles had a lead. That left Jimenez and Donnie Hart as his only options to begin the eighth after Richard Bleier had already pitched two scoreless innings.

You may disagree with the philosophy of taking O’Day and Brach out of the equation there, but Showalter shying away from using his top relievers when the Orioles have trailed late in a game is hardly a new development. Especially with Zach Britton on the disabled list, the Baltimore skipper is trying to keep his best relievers fresh for the most winnable games, which will lead to some instances such as Saturday’s when he won’t use his best bullets despite facing only a small deficit. It looks strange when it happens and draws plenty of detractors, but there’s a method to his madness that’s worked extremely well for a long time with last year’s wild-card game being the ugly exception.

Yes, Showalter could have used Hart to begin the eighth, but the lefty specialist hasn’t been pitching well, either, and was only recently recalled from Triple-A Norfolk after being demoted last month for ineffectiveness. We don’t know how Hart might have fared against the top of the Boston order in the eighth, but he gave up a run in the following inning to make it a four-run deficit.

There was also the reality of Craig Kimbrel and his 0.75 ERA looming and the Orioles offense having, at most, three outs to work with before the Boston closer would be summoned. Showalter probably would have considered using O’Day — who briefly warmed up in the bullpen after Manny Machado homered to lead off the bottom of the seventh to make it 2-1 — had he known Kimbrel would give up his first two hits of the season against right-handed batters and allow a run for the first time since April 20. Managers don’t have the benefit of a crystal ball when making those decisions, however, and using your best relievers when you’re already losing and will be facing a terrific closer isn’t a great bet and will likely harm you more than help you in the long run.

Critics will say that’s waving the white flag, but you just can’t play every day of a 162-game schedule like it’s the seventh game of the World Series if you want to keep your bullpen healthy and effective.

I won’t argue if you want to blame Showalter for Saturday’s loss, but the real problem is having Jimenez in the bullpen and not having any trust that he can pitch in a semi-meaningful situation from time to time. In today’s game with such heavy bullpen use, few clubs are equipped to carry a long reliever who can neither be optioned to the minors nor be trusted to keep his team close when trailing by a run or two when other pitchers need a break. If Jimenez is relegated solely to mop-up duty, the Orioles will essentially be limiting themselves to a six-man bullpen most nights, and we already saw how that turned out earlier this season.

Asked last month about the possibility of Jimenez moving to a relief role before he was subsequently removed from the starting rotation in favor of Alec Asher, Showalter posed the question of whether that would be good for the Orioles bullpen.

We got our answer Saturday night.

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