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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-3 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 24 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering a three-game sweep in a 4-3 loss to Minnesota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A team is never as bad as it looks in the midst of a losing streak, which is reassuring considering how ugly it’s been for the Orioles over this 3-10 stretch. I didn’t believe they were as good as their 22-10 start, but I’m not pushing the panic button, either.

2. Chris Tillman is typically a slow starter in his outings, but a 36-pitch first inning in which he allowed three runs was the last thing the Orioles needed. Similar to his first start of 2017, Tillman was consistently missing to his arm side early, and it cost him.

3. Tillman was eventually able to settle in and complete five innings after Jayson Aquino was warming up in both the first and second innings. The slider was particularly useful as he got five of his six swinging strikes with it. Still, the Orioles need better from him.

4. The pitching receives more attention, but the Orioles scored only five runs over the final 25 innings of the Twins series. With the current state of the pitching staff, it’s going to be very difficult to win if this offense can’t score at least five runs per game most nights.

5. J.J. Hardy’s third-inning home run broke a stretch of 21 consecutive Orioles hitters being retired dating back to the fifth inning of Tuesday’s 2-0 loss. The Twins pitched very well over the final two games, but there were far too many listless at-bats over that stretch.

6. After being aggressive early in the game, Chris Davis looked at three straight strikes with the tying run on second in the eighth. I’ve rarely harped on Davis’ strikeouts, but he’s now gone down looking a whopping 31 times this year, which is many more than anyone in the majors.

7. Jonathan Schoop hit his first home run since April 24 to make it a 4-3 game, but that came after he struck out with the bases loaded in the fourth. As Buck Showalter noted after the game, it’s home run or bust with this offense at the moment.

8. Jose Berrios gave up three solo shots over his 6 1/3 innings, but you can see why the Twins are so excited about the 22-year-old. That curveball was filthy while his two-seam fastball had sharp downward movement.

9. Despite doing a respectable job in the outfield so far, Trey Mancini looked the part of someone who’s never played there on Wednesday as he threw to the wrong base at one point and later misplayed a single into an extra base in the fifth. He’s still learning.

10. Alec Asher continued to draw praise from Showalter after two more scoreless innings, but you wonder if that outing took him out of play to start in place of Ubaldo Jimenez on Sunday. Besides Dylan Bundy, Asher has been Baltimore’s best pitching story so far.

11. I’m very reluctant to question a player’s concentration level or effort, but it was tough to watch Manny Machado’s play and body language over the last few days and not think that his slump at the plate is really wearing on him.

12. Even before Wednesday’s loss, Showalter complimented the Twins’ makeup as they continue to lead the AL Central. I still expect Cleveland to eventually take off to win that division, but let’s not forget the youthful Twins were 83-79 in 2015 before last year’s disastrous start from which they never recovered.

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Jimenez penciled in for Sunday’s start — for now

Posted on 23 May 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Those wanting the Orioles to finally move on from Ubaldo Jimenez will apparently need to wait a little longer.

But that doesn’t mean the struggling starting pitcher is in the clear, either.

Asked about his plans for the three-game series in Houston this weekend, manager Buck Showalter said the veteran right-hander’s turn was scheduled for Sunday, but he left himself wiggle room for that to change. What he doesn’t want to do is to move up the rest of his starting rotation at the expense of Jimenez or anyone else who could be in play to pitch the finale against the Astros.

The Orioles will be off on Thursday after concluding their three-game set with Minnesota on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m going to give these guys the extra day with the off-day every chance we get, especially with Dylan [Bundy] and [Kevin Gausman],” Showalter said. “Jimenez’s next start is on Sunday, and we’ll see what happens when we get there. That’s when he’s scheduled to start again. But I’m going to keep Gausman and Dylan on that extra day with the off-day.

“We’ll take each day as it comes and see where we are as a pitching staff after each outing.”

After giving up six earned runs and squandering an early 5-0 lead in Monday’s 14-7 loss to the Twins, Jimenez now sports a 7.17 ERA, the worst among all American League pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched and second behind only San Diego’s Jered Weaver for the worst ERA in the majors. The 33-year-old is in the final season of a four-year, $50 million contract that pays him a total of $13.5 million in 2017.

In addition to the financial reality of any decision regarding Jimenez’s roster status, the Orioles would need to determine who would fill his spot in the rotation if they were to make a change. Right-handed reliever Alec Asher has registered quality starts in both of his starting opportunities this season and owns an impressive 2.33 ERA in 27 innings this season, but he hasn’t thrown more than 41 pitches in a game since May 7 and has been used in more and more key relief spots in recent weeks.

“I don’t think, on the surface, he’s that far removed from extended outings,” Showalter said. “Now, in a week or two, it probably wouldn’t be normal length if you went there. But I also think he’s shown an ability to serve a need in our bullpen, too, with Zach [Britton] being down. There’s some different challenges in our bullpen with Zach out that you need to have an optionable bullpen and you need to have some versatility down there and some guys who can pitch, physically, more than once every four days down there. It doesn’t work.”

Asked about the possibility of Jimenez moving to a relief role after Monday’s loss, Showalter alluded to the difficulty of carrying a pitcher who can’t be optioned to the minors and would need a few days to rest between outings. Of course, the Orioles probably wouldn’t be looking to use Jimenez in any close games, either, with the way he’s pitched so far in 2017.

NOTES: Needing a fresh long man in the bullpen for Tuesday’s game, the Orioles recalled left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino and optioned right-hander Stefan Crichton to Triple-A Norfolk. Crichton threw a season-high 59 pitches and gave up two earned runs and six hits in 3 1/3 innings on Monday. … Outfielder Michael Bourn is no longer with Triple-A Norfolk as a decision looms for the organization regarding his opt-out clause. He has been temporarily transferred to Single-A Aberdeen in the meantime. … Right-handed pitcher Logan Verrett was activated by the Tides Tuesday after being on paternity leave and isn’t currently an option to be recalled by the Orioles since he hasn’t pitched since May 16. … Showalter celebrated his 61st birthday on Tuesday. The manager quipped that he was glad his birthday didn’t fall Monday when his club was blown out by Minnesota. “Remember when you thought 61 was old? It is.”

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 14-7 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 23 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their second straight game at home in a 14-7 loss to Minnesota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If Monday wasn’t the end for Ubaldo Jimenez, it’s feeling closer and closer based on Buck Showalter’s post-game remarks. He’s had nine lives because of his bulky contract, but that may no longer be able to save him. It’s nothing personal, but a sunk cost is a sunk cost.

2. The final five pitches of his outing resulted in three singles and a double. It was batting practice for the Twins the third time through the heart of the order.

3. Showalter didn’t rule out the possibility of Jimenez pitching in relief like he did in parts of 2014 and 2016, but the current state of the Orioles bullpen without closer Zach Britton makes it extremely difficult to carry a pitcher without options or an ability to contribute meaningfully.

4. Monday’s loss marked the fourth time in the last month that the Orioles have squandered a lead of five or more runs. For a club that’s frequently succeeded despite a small margin for error over the last few years, that’s unacceptable.

5. The Orioles won’t use it as an excuse, but the lineup went 2-for-14 with seven strikeouts in their four turns at the plate after the Twins tied the game in the fifth. Yes, they’re professionals, but the pitching staff continuing to blow so many sizable leads has to be deflating.

6. It’s a shame that Adam Jones becoming the all-time home run leader at Camden Yards didn’t come with a winning result. He passed Rafael Palmeiro with his 125th career long ball in the ballpark to give Baltimore a 5-0 lead in the second inning.

7. Tyler Wilson probably earned himself a trip back to Norfolk by allowing six runs (four earned) in 1 1/3 innings. Inheriting a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fifth wasn’t fair, but the Orioles needed much better from him in the sixth inning of a 6-6 game.

8. Stefan Crichton’s balk to make it a 12-6 deficit in the sixth felt like an appropriate symbol of futility from the Orioles pitching staff on Monday.

9. Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson receiving the win despite allowing six earned runs in five innings is another example why a pitcher’s win-loss record is such a useless statistic compared to countless other measures of performance. Kill the win, please.

10. Jonathan Schoop’s sixth-inning error led to two unearned runs a day after his first-inning miscue opened the door for three unearned runs in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat. His defense hasn’t been as sharp this season as we’ve seen in the past, and he entered Monday at minus-three defensive runs saved.

11. The replay angles weren’t perfect on Brian Dozier’s leadoff double in the third inning, but how the powers that be in New York couldn’t use those shots in concert to determine the ball was clearly foul is baffling.

12. On a personal note, after missing the weekend series against Toronto because of a wedding, I couldn’t help but watch Monday’s performance and wish my sister could just get married all over again. That was brutal.

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Baltimore treasure Brooks Robinson celebrates 80th birthday

Posted on 18 May 2017 by Luke Jones

Thursday marked a special day in Baltimore as Orioles legend and Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson celebrated his 80th birthday.

A civic treasure and one of the most beloved figures you’ll find in any community, Robinson remains “Mr. Oriole” more than 20 years after he humbly tried to anoint Cal Ripken with the title. If you’ve lived in the greater Baltimore area for any meaningful period of time, you know what he means to the city.

I was born six years after Robinson played his final game with the Orioles, so I won’t pretend to have any unique insight or observations about his playing career. His accomplishments and highlight reels speak for themselves.

However, one of the great memories of my sports media career came on Opening Day in 2010 when I was covering my first Orioles game. A number of former players were present that day to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1970 World Series team, and I found the opportunity to approach the man regarded by all as an absolute gentleman. Echoing a sentiment he’d undoubtedly heard in some form from thousands upon thousands over the years, I wanted to thank him and tell him how much of a hero he had been to my father, who had died six years earlier.

Instead of wondering why a youthful member of the media was acting like a fanboy, Robinson warmly patted me on the shoulder, thanked me for sharing, and offered his belated condolences. It was a brief moment not unlike countless others he’s shared with adoring fans, but it sure meant a lot to a Baltimore native who was covering his first Orioles game and thinking a lot about his dad on that day.

Happy birthday, Brooks.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-4 loss to Detroit

Posted on 18 May 2017 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Orioles option Hart, designate Pena for assignment

Posted on 17 May 2017 by Luke Jones

After a 13-inning game in which the struggling Orioles bullpen allowed an unseemly seven earned runs, changes were bound to be made on Wednesday.

Prior to the second game of a three-game set in Detroit, left-handed relief pitcher Donnie Hart was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk and No. 3 catcher Francisco Pena was designated for assignment to create open spots for fresh bullpen arms on the 25-man roster. Right-handed relievers Stefan Crichton and Miguel Castro were recalled to once again give Baltimore a seven-man bullpen.

Serving as the club’s lefty specialist since last August, Hart had been struggling over his last seven outings including Tuesday night when he was unable to protect a three-run lead in the bottom of the 12th inning. The 26-year-old had allowed six earned runs and 11 hits in his last six innings of work after now allowing an earned run in the entire month of April.

Pena’s designation comes as no surprise after starting catcher Welington Castillo was activated from the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether the 27-year-old will pass through waivers and remain with the organization after once again being removed from the 40-man roster.

Crichton made his major league debut last month and has allowed four earned runs and nine hits in three appearances for the Orioles covering 3 1/3 innings. He has a 1.56 ERA in 17 1/3 innings for Triple-A Norfolk this season.

Castro, 22, was acquired from Colorado in early April and owns a career 6.12 ERA in 31 1/3 major league innings over parts of two seasons. He had been pitching for Double-A Bowie, allowing one earned run in four innings.

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Time for Orioles to reset bullpen — and find more quality

Posted on 17 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The idea of a six-man bullpen sounded good in theory for the Orioles.

Wanting to keep an extra position player for more flexibility off the bench late in games and having a collection of long relievers with minor-league options on the Norfolk shuttle, manager Buck Showalter tried to maneuver his way through games with at least one fewer reliever available on any given night. The plan may have worked had All-Star closer Zach Britton not re-injured his left forearm upon being activated from the disabled list in early May.

But the failure of the experiment came to a climax in Detroit Tuesday night with the kind of bullpen meltdown that’s been rare in these parts for a long time. Before putting Mychal Givens, Brad Brach, and Donnie Hart on full blast for their efforts in Detroit — and, yes, their performance was brutal — realize there are multiple reasons why the six-man bullpen hasn’t worked.

Many have fairly pointed to the lack of quantity in the bullpen, but the issue is as much about the need for more quality. You can argue that Showalter has relied too heavily on his top relievers in Britton’s absence if you want, but then you have to accept those times when he’s tried others in tight spots — like Alec Asher and Vidal Nuno during the recent four-game losing streak — and it hasn’t worked. Last year’s wild-card game in Toronto reminded us that the Orioles manager is hardly beyond reproach and maybe Darren O’Day’s recent shoulder issue should have landed him on the DL in favor of another healthy arm, but Showalter’s track record for managing a bullpen speaks for itself over the last five years and any skipper is going to look foolish when his top relievers perform like they have recently.

The Orioles need to find another bullpen arm — maybe two — who can be trusted in the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning of a close game, whether that guy is currently in their minor-league system or elsewhere. Frankly, a seventh pitcher in the bullpen isn’t going to help much if he can only be relied upon in mop-up situations.

The starting rotation hasn’t helped with Dylan Bundy being the only one offering both quality and length in his outings this season. Wade Miley’s 3.02 ERA looks good at first glance, but he’s averaging just over five innings per start and walking nearly six batters per nine innings. Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez both have ERAs above 6.00 while Chris Tillman is still building shoulder strength in his recent return from the disabled list. It doesn’t take a pitching guru to figure out what strain that kind of a rotation can have on a bullpen.

Until scoring 21 runs over the last two games, the offense also deserved blame for scoring at a below-average level over much of the first six weeks of the season and putting so much pressure on late-inning relief. All those narrow, low-scoring victories that we saw in April and early May take their toll on higher-leverage relievers when the starting rotation is averaging 5.4 innings per start and the best closer on the planet is on the DL. This roster was constructed to have an above-average offense that will hit gobs of home runs to give the pitching some breathing room from time to time at the very least. Instead, the Orioles continue to lead the league in save opportunities.

You can only hope the recent awakening of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo is a sign of better things to come for the offense.

Even without Britton, the rest of the bullpen is too good to continue like this. There’s little reason to think guys like Brach, O’Day, and Givens can’t return to pitching at a high level if they can stay healthy and relatively fresh, but they also have to take accountability for their own performance and rise up to get the job done without their normal ninth-inning man behind them.

The group must find a way to keep its head above water until Britton returns, which the Orioles hope will be sometime next month.

Still, you get the sense that the Orioles will need to average five or six runs per game more consistently to continue winning games in the short term. That and some reasonable improvement from the rotation would go a long way in calming the current relief crisis.

It’s time to reset the bullpen by adding a seventh man and auditioning the likes of Edwin Jackson, Stefan Crichton, and Jimmy Yacabonis for a legitimate middle-relief role. Perhaps the idea of using Mike Wright in middle relief should be revisited with several starting options ahead of him in the pecking order backing up the current rotation.

But a return to a seven-man bullpen may not matter if the group doesn’t get help from the rest of the roster.

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Orioles outright Gentry to Norfolk to make room for Castillo

Posted on 16 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles made room for returning catcher Welington Castillo on the 25-man roster by outrighting outfielder Craig Gentry to Triple-A Norfolk ahead of Tuesday’s series opener in Detroit.

Castillo had spent the last two weeks on the 10-day disabled list while dealing with right shoulder tendinitis, but the Orioles surprisingly elected to keep No. 3 catcher Francisco Pena on the 25-man roster — at least for one night. Manager Buck Showalter indicated to reporters that keeping a third catcher would not be a long-term plan as the Orioles have been using a six-man bullpen for quite some time.

Pena is out of minor-league options and would have to be removed from the 40-man roster, leaving his future with the organization in doubt. He hit two home runs in Saturday’s loss in Kansas City and was 4-for-7 serving as the backup to Caleb Joseph while Castillo was out.

Showalter had been dealing with a crowded outfield picture since the return of Joey Rickard from the DL late last month, which had relegated Gentry to limited duty as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner. The Orioles have been primarily using Rickard and rookie Trey Mancini as the corner outfielders against left-handed starters.

Gentry was hitting just .162 with one home run, four RBIs, and three stolen bases despite appearing in 33 of Baltimore’s 36 games. With Rickard missing action with a finger injury in April, the 34-year-old had served in the leadoff spot against left-handed starters, but he had not continued the spring success that won him a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Castillo was back in the starting lineup against the Tigers on Tuesday night and is hitting .314 with one homer, six doubles, six RBIs, and a .776 on-base plus slugging percentage.

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What has happened to Kevin Gausman?

Posted on 15 May 2017 by Luke Jones

There’s been plenty to dislike during the Orioles’ season-worst four-game losing streak, but the latest poor outing from Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman tops the list.

Seemingly poised to become a top-of-the-rotation starter after a superb final two months of 2016, the 26-year-old has instead been one of the worst pitchers in baseball to begin the new season.

The fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft entered Monday last among qualified American League starters with a 7.19 ERA over his first nine starts and is better than only the 43-year-old Bartolo Colon in the major leagues. In blowing a 5-0 lead in Sunday’s 9-8 loss to Kansas City, Gausman surrendered at least five earned runs for the fourth time in his last six starts, an alarming stretch considering he entered the season with a total of 12 outings of five or more earned runs allowed in his entire career. Forgetting any visions of Gausman becoming an ace, where’s the solid pitcher who posted a combined 3.77 ERA over the previous three seasons to serve as a middle-of-the-rotation starter?

That’s what makes his horrendous start so troubling. Contrary to the many frustrated fans comparing him to Jake Arrieta — though his sudden fourth-inning collapse against the Royals on Sunday was quite “Arrietian” in nature — and Brian Matusz, Gausman has had much more success than either of those two ever did as starters in Baltimore. The right-hander hasn’t struggled to this degree since early in his rookie season when he was a year removed from being drafted and hadn’t pitched above Double-A Bowie.

So, what’s wrong with the talented young pitcher?

A career-low 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a career-high 4.6 walks per nine are red flags that beg to question whether Gausman is healthy, but his average fastball velocity is nearly identical to what it was last year and is in line with where it sat when he was exceptional over the final two months of 2016, according to PITCHf/x data. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t still be hiding an injury as diminished command can be an early sign of an ailment, but manager Buck Showalter has volunteered more than once that Gausman is in a good place physically after dealing with bouts of shoulder tendinitis in 2015 and early in 2016.

Gausman has spoken more than once about his mechanics being out of sync as the novice can see how frequently his fastball has leaked to his arm side this season. Even his biggest critics over the last few years acknowledge that he never had a problem with issuing free passes after walking just 2.5 per nine frames over his first four seasons. If his delivery is out of whack and causing his poor command, what is new pitching coach Roger McDowell doing to help matters?

Regardless of how hard he’s been hit overall, Gausman simply isn’t throwing as many strikes — a career-low 60.6 percent of his pitches have been strikes compared to 64.4 percent over the previous two years — and that’s clearly a problem.

There have been some changes to Gausman’s pitch usage early in 2017 that could either help explain or merely reflect his overall problems.

The development of an effective breaking ball has been a well-documented obstacle throughout his professional career, but he revealed in the spring that he was going back to his slider after leaning more on a curveball the previous two years. Gausman is throwing the slider more frequently than ever — with the occasional curve mixed in — and his average slider velocity of 84.3 mph is much faster than he’s ever thrown it, but the results still haven’t been there.

Making matters worse has been the regression of his split-changeup, which had easily been his best secondary pitch over his first four major league seasons. According to Brooks Baseball, Gausman is throwing his split a career-low 14.8 percent of the time, and the sharp break and consistent command of the pitch just haven’t been there. Though that pitch has been more effective against left-handed batters and he did face some righty-heavy lineups early in April, a 1.5-percent decrease in lefty hitters faced from a year ago is hardly meaningful enough to justify such a decrease in his usage of the split.

Has his spring focus and increased velocity on the slider somehow compromised the reliability of the fastball-split combination that had made him consistently competitive in the majors over the last few years?

Only Gausman can know this for sure, but could at least part of the problem be mental?

Despite looking every bit the part of an ace over the final two months of 2016, Gausman had to hear about the increased expectations throughout the offseason, especially with veteran Chris Tillman sidelined throughout the spring and over the first month of the season. Has the emergence of Dylan Bundy prompted Gausman to put more pressure on himself to be great since the 24-year-old has spent a fraction of the time in the majors compared to him?

After Gausman received little run support a year ago, no one can complain about the lineup’s contributions as he’s received the best run support of his career so far in 2017. Staked to a 9-1 lead at Yankee Stadium last month, Gausman gave up five earned runs and was chased in the seventh inning of a game the Orioles inexplicably lost in extra innings. On Sunday, it took him only minutes to squander a 5-0 lead as MASN broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer questioned his concentration level during the telecast.

Whatever the explanation, the Orioles need Gausman to rediscover himself quickly. With Tillman not pitching at full strength and Bundy still in his first full season as a major league starter, Gausman is too important to the fate of the 2017 club to continue performing like this. His track record as a reliable middle-of-the-rotation arm for the better part of the previous three seasons makes him deserving of at least a few more starts to get back on track and start showing consistent improvement, but he can’t continue holding a rotation spot as one of the worst pitchers in baseball for the long term — even with the lack of viable alternatives.

Those offseason thoughts of Gausman finally becoming a No. 1 starter may look foolish at the moment, but, at this point, the Orioles would take him being the solid pitcher he’s been for most of his career.

Aside from a start or two, even that guy is nowhere to be found in 2017.

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Orioles offense not making life easier for undermanned bullpen

Posted on 13 May 2017 by Luke Jones

We knew life wouldn’t be easy for the Orioles bullpen with two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton back on the disabled list.

But the sight of recently-recalled long reliever Vidal Nuno pitching in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game in Kansas City on Friday — the night after a rainout, no less — was jarring, and the result was predictable as he allowed the go-ahead run to score. The immediate reaction was to criticize the Orioles’ insistence on carrying a five-man bench in lieu of the seven-man bullpen that’s become standard in today’s game. The sentiment is more than fair when manager Buck Showalter regularly has just three or four relievers available on a given night with designs of keeping the bullpen healthy for the long haul.

Is the problem a lack of quantity or quality in the bullpen, however?

Sure, the Orioles could option Joey Rickard to the minor leagues, designate veteran Craig Gentry for assignment, or even look to trade the buried Hyun Soo Kim to open a roster spot for an additional bullpen arm. But does that merely open the door for another long reliever in the bullpen that Showalter can’t trust in close games or can the club find someone — at least in the mold of a Tommy Hunter or a Chaz Roe circa 2015 — that can be mostly trusted in the sixth, seventh, or occasionally the eighth inning? Perhaps that answer can become an Alec Asher or even a Norfolk reliever such as Stefan Crichton or Jimmy Yacabonis in the near future.

There’s another solution, however, that would help the Orioles as Britton continues to recover in Sarasota and Brad Brach and Darren O’Day try to regain their previous dominant forms of recent seasons.

The offense needs to pick it up.

The Orioles entered Saturday just 21st in the majors in runs scored per game (4.4) and have scored the fewest per game of the top 10 major league clubs in winning percentage. Known for the long ball, Baltimore ranks only 13th of 30 clubs in home runs so far in 2017.

They haven’t played an extraordinary number of one-run games –Baltimore does own a superb 8-3 record in that department — but the Orioles lead the majors with 21 save opportunities and just four of their 22 victories have come by more than three runs. In contrast, 11 of the New York Yankees’ 21 wins have been by a margin of four or more. In other words, the Orioles have needed to lean heavily on their best bullpen arms despite Britton now being absent for the better part of a month. Even when they’ve been successful in those tight games, there’s a price to pay for at least the next game or two after that.

Showalter wouldn’t have to worry about the availability of Brach or O’Day as frequently if his offense could provide more breathing room from time to time. Drop-off from the bullpen was inevitable with Britton on the shelf, but the Orioles lineup hasn’t really been at less than full strength beyond the current absence of catcher Welington Castillo, who has been more than adequately replaced by backup Caleb Joseph for the time being.

Now more than a fifth of the way through the season, the major league home run leaders from the last two years — Chris Davis (2015) and Mark Trumbo (2016) — entered Saturday with slugging percentages lower than Joseph’s and have hit a combined eight home runs. Shortstop J.J. Hardy has provided a timely hit or two, but his .534 on-base plus slugging percentage was the seventh worst among qualified major league hitters.

Is it more realistic to expect a collection of relievers on the Norfolk shuttle to start pitching like legitimate late-inning arms or to ask the offense to produce at a higher level to ease the relief burden? The Orioles will need some combination of both to continue playing at a high level in Britton’s absence, but the roster was built in the offseason with the vision of having an above-average offense that would hit a ton of homers.

Despite their overall success so far in 2017, the Orioles continue to wait for their lineup to fully awaken.

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