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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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Orioles officially place Davis on DL with oblique strain

Posted on 14 June 2017 by Luke Jones

An Orioles season spiraling out of control took another bad turn Monday with Chris Davis suffering a strained right oblique in the series opener against the Chicago White Sox.

The first baseman was officially placed on the 10-day disabled list prior to Wednesday’s game after being diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain. The Orioles selected the contract of first baseman and outfielder David Washington to take his place on the 25-man roster and shifted Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander (right forearm strain) to the 60-day DL to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.

It’s been a frustrating season for Davis, who currently leads the majors with 95 strikeouts and is hitting just .226. He leads the club with 14 home runs, but his .781 on-base plus slugging percentage is his lowest since 2014.

These types of injuries often sideline a player for a month or two, but Davis missed only two weeks with an oblique issue in 2014. Of course, he dealt with lingering effects and hit only .184 for the rest of that campaign.

In Davis’ absence, rookie Trey Mancini has made the first two starts at first base while Trumbo and Washington could also receive time there.

Washington’s promotion came as a surprise with veteran Pedro Alvarez currently at Triple-A Norfolk, but the former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand has batted .291 with 10 home runs, 16 doubles, and an .861 OPS for the Tides. The 26-year-old was making his major league debut as the designated hitter in Wednesday’s game against the White Sox.

Manager Buck Showalter said outfielder Seth Smith was unavailable Wednesday because of an undisclosed injury. Hyun Soo Kim was leading off and playing left field for a Baltimore club trying to snap a six-game losing streak.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-1 loss to White Sox

Posted on 14 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their sixth straight game in a 6-1 final against the Chicago White Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Matt Davidson’s grand slam in the sixth inning finished it off, but the Orioles stranded a runner in scoring position in each of their five turns at the plate leading up to that. Big opportunities were there with Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo each failing to capitalize twice.

2. Alec Asher walking Todd Frazier to load the bases with no outs in the sixth should have marked the end of his night. Understanding he has an undermanned bullpen, Buck Showalter still could have provided therapy for a battered rotation by attempting to preserve some semblance of a good outing.

3. Speaking of the Orioles bullpen, how exactly does it line up with Darren O’Day having joined Zach Britton on the disabled list last week? I suppose never coming close to having a lead late in the game alleviates that problem.

4. Derek Holland deserves some level of credit for allowing only one run over six innings, but the Orioles expanded the strike zone a lot in some important at-bats to help him out.

5. It was fitting that Davidson’s grand slam came after Welington Castillo just missed barreling one that would have been the go-ahead two-run home run in the top half of the inning. So close, but so far away.

6. Asher pitched well the first time through the order, but he struggled in his second and third  encounters with the middle of the Chicago lineup. His best role would be middle relief as he showed last month, but this is what happens when you have one trustworthy starter right now.

7. After what we’ve seen from the starting rotation over the last week, I was reluctant to make any comment about Asher’s solid performance through the first five innings. It felt like I would be jinxing a no-hitter in the ninth.

8. The Orioles fortunately have depth to endure Chris Davis’ right oblique strain that will land him on the DL, but I’m surprised to see David Washington apparently being the one to join the club. I’m not sure what that says for Pedro Alvarez at this point.

9. Adam Jones sure looked banged up in the late innings of Tuesday’s loss. He’s as tough as they come and takes pride in posting up, but it’s clear he’s still dealing with the hip and ankle issues that sidelined him last month.

10. Jimmy Yacabonis tossing two scoreless innings was encouraging to see, albeit in a 6-1 game. Showalter needs to find at least a couple more trustworthy relievers to back up Brad Brach and Mychal Givens in the current bullpen.

11. Baltimore has now allowed five runs or more in 10 straight games. Back-to-back ninth-inning comebacks against Pittsburgh last week accounted for the only victories over that stretch. At least the staff didn’t give up 10 runs again.

12. The Orioles have fallen below the .500 mark for the first time since the penultimate day of the 2015 season, but Toronto’s loss meant they would avoid falling into last place for at least one more night. So, they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 14-3 loss to Yankees

Posted on 11 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles being swept in a lopsided 14-3 loss to the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Who would have guessed that Orioles pitching giving up eight runs Friday would be the group’s best performance of the weekend? The club already entered Sunday with the worst road ERA in the majors, and it only grew worse in the series finale in the Bronx.

2. Putting aside any hopes of Kevin Gausman becoming an ace, this is a young pitcher who posted a combined 3.77 ERA from 2014-16 to establish himself as no worse than a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. He’s way too talented to be pitching this horribly 2 1/2 months into the season.

3. Fastball command borders on being a cliché used to explain any pitcher’s problems, but just look where Gausman’s fastball consistently ended up in relation to Welington Castillo’s target. The 26-year-old hasn’t commanded it all year and doesn’t have the secondary pitches to survive without it.

4. No matter how resilient and mentally strong you fancy yourself being, watching a starting rotation give up 15 first-inning runs in a four-game stretch will suck the life out of anyone. The Orioles needed a lift after Chris Tillman’s debacle Saturday, but Gausman only increased the frustration.

5. That reality was evident with a few defensive miscues and Chris Davis barely rounding first on a ball to the right-field wall that should have been an easy double leading off the sixth. The Orioles rarely look like a team that’s given up, but they did on Sunday.

6. Buck Showalter should go a step further from his famous decision years ago to intentionally walk Barry Bonds with the bases loaded and just give Aaron Judge a free pass when he’s still standing in the on-deck circle. That guy is unbelievable to watch.

7. Trey Mancini drew two walks in a game with few offensive highlights for the Orioles. The rookie has drawn only 11 free passes in 169 plate appearances this season, but nine have come in his last 31 games.

8. The debut of Jimmy Yacabonis started well with a strikeout of Chris Carter on a 98 mph fastball, but it crumbled quickly after that. Given the state of the bullpen, you hope his performance was more a product of nerves as the Orioles need all the help they can get.

9. I thought the Yankees were a year away from being a serious contender at the start of the season, but their plus-115 run differential and the highest-scoring offense in the majors tell me their first-place standing is no fluke. That’s bad news for the rest of the division.

10. Remember that crazy extra-inning win the Orioles had in Detroit last month? They haven’t had a road victory in nine tries since. Their .333 road winning percentage is behind only Oakland (.281) for the worst in the American League.

11. I’m the last person to start calling for drastic changes nor am I suggesting that will happen, but this is the kind of stretch in any sport that can get someone fired. There’s no sugarcoating how embarrassing this series was.

12. The Orioles dropped behind Tampa Bay for fourth place in the AL East, and you have to wonder if these are the last few days they’ll spend above .500 without a dramatic turnaround. Since starting an impressive 22-10 to begin the season, Baltimore has gone 9-20.

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Orioles designate Jackson for assignment in latest bullpen shuffle

Posted on 11 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Continuing their search for fresh and effective arms in an injury-depleted bullpen, the Orioles designated veteran Edwin Jackson for assignment and optioned Stefan Crichton to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday morning.

Baltimore recalled right-hander Logan Verrett and selected the contract of 25-year-old Jimmy Yacabonis from the Tides to fill those open spots on the 25-man roster before the finale of a three-game set with the New York Yankees.

Jackson, 33, had just been promoted from Norfolk on Wednesday, but he had struggled mightily in his three appearances, surrendering seven runs (four earned), 11 hits, two home runs, and four walks in five innings. Manager Buck Showalter expressed hope that Jackson would remain with the organization, but the right-hander was of little help to a bullpen currently without two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton and 2015 All-Star setup man Darren O’Day.

Crichton gave up six earned runs in a combined 3 1/3 innings on Friday and Saturday and now holds an 8.49 ERA in 11 2/3 innings with Baltimore this season.

Many have clamored for Yacabonis to receive an opportunity with the right-hander posting a 0.90 ERA in 30 innings with the Tides this season. However, the right-hander has struck out just 18 batters while walking 16, making one wonder how his stuff will translate to the major league level.

Despite a 5.87 ERA for the Tides this season, Verrett has fared well in his previous stints with the Orioles, pitching to a 3.38 ERA in eight innings and twice recording victories in extra-inning performances.

Coming off Saturday’s disastrous 16-3 loss to the Yankees, the Orioles rank 13th in the American League with a 4.61 team ERA.

In more encouraging bullpen-related news, manager Buck Showalter revealed that Britton will complete one more bullpen session and throw live batting practice this week. If those sessions go well, the lefty is scheduled to begin his minor-league rehab assignment at short-season Single-A Aberdeen on June 19.

Britton has spent all but a few days on the disabled list with a left forearm strain since mid-April.

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Orioles place O’Day on disabled list with right shoulder strain

Posted on 09 June 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles placed relief pitcher Darren O’Day on the 10-day disabled list with a right shoulder strain prior to Friday’s series opener against the New York Yankees.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in the Bronx that O’Day experienced shoulder discomfort after Tuesday’s outing against Pittsburgh, which had been his only work since last Friday. The 34-year-old dealt with what was described by Showalter as a “tired” shoulder last month and spent more than a month on the DL late last season with a right shoulder rotator cuff strain, making the latest issue that much more concerning for an Orioles bullpen already without closer Zach Britton.

O’Day got off to a rocky start this season before looking like his normal self beginning in May, recording a 2.08 ERA and 22 strikeouts over his last 13 innings of work. His absence now leaves an already-depleted bullpen with only two trusted relievers from last year’s wild-card team: right-handers Brad Brach and Mychal Givens.

Right-handed pitcher Stefan Crichton was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take O’Day’s place on the 25-man roster.

According to Showalter, Britton’s rehabilitation from a left forearm strain continues to go well in Sarasota. The two-time All-Star selection has completed two bullpen sessions and will graduate to throwing live batting practice next week. The Orioles hope he can return before next month’s All-Star break.

In other injury-related news, center fielder Adam Jones returned to the lineup Friday after receiving Thursday off to rest a sore ankle. However, third baseman Manny Machado remained sidelined with a left wrist strain and may still go to the DL unless there’s improvement over the next couple days.

Catcher Welington Castillo was playing for Double-A Bowie in Trenton Friday night and could be activated from the DL as early as Saturday.

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Machado leaves Wednesday’s game with left wrist soreness

Posted on 07 June 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles third baseman Manny Machado left Wednesday night’s game in the fourth inning with what was described by the team as left wrist soreness.

Machado was spiked on the left wrist by Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen on a stolen base in the top of the second inning and was examined by assistant athletic trainer Brian Ebel before temporarily staying in the game. McCutchen’s slide did not appear malicious as he showed concern for Machado immediately after, and there did not appear to be any animosity expressed toward the Pirates center fielder as the game progressed.

The three-time All-Star third baseman was replaced in the top of the fourth by utility infielder Ruben Tejada, who joined the club on Tuesday. Tejada stepped into the on-deck circle to hit for Machado in the bottom of the third before Adam Jones made the third out of the inning.

Machado, 24, grounded into a double play in his only at-bat on Wednesday, dropping his average to .213.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-5 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 07 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles rallying late to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 6-5 final in 10 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jonathan Schoop was the hero with two home runs, including a 423-foot bomb deep into the right-center bleachers to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. With others in the Baltimore lineup struggling to find consistency, Schoop is leading the way with a .525 slugging percentage.

2. Mark Trumbo provided his third walk-off hit of 2017, but it wouldn’t have been possible had Adam Jones not wisely tagged up on Manny Machado’s fly ball to the left-field wall. It’s the kind of play that more players should make, but that makes you appreciate Jones that much more.

3. Chris Davis not only started the comeback with a solo homer to start the bottom of the seventh, but his single to right-center after being down 0-2 to begin the ninth prompted Schoop to walk to the plate as the tying run. Don’t forget Davis’ contributions in the unlikely win.

4. Kevin Gausman settled in after the second inning, but it’s difficult to recover statistically from a three-run frame. Neither David Freese nor Josh Bell hit their singles hard to start the second, but Gausman allowed run-scoring hits by Andrew McCutchen and John Jaso after being ahead 0-2 on each.

5. Watching Gausman pitch with a lead is bordering on painful now. It was only a 1-0 advantage after one, but you wonder how much his recent track record of failing to protect advantages is wearing on him mentally at this point.

6. Gausman was receiving much of the blame from fans, but the Orioles offense looked like it was on its way to another lifeless night before the late innings. Baltimore entered Tuesday ranked 20th in the majors in runs scored per game. That must get better.

7. Watching Ivan Nova pitch on Tuesday makes you wish the Orioles could steal away Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage for a while. He has done wonders with the former Yankee as well as other reclamation projects like J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano in recent years.

8. Donnie Hart isn’t inspiring any confidence on the mound since his recent return from Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles need the left-hander to find the kind of groove he enjoyed late last year and in the first few weeks of 2017.

9. Seeing Mychal Givens touch 98 and 99 mph on the radar gun was impressive enough in a scoreless eighth, but lefties are now hitting .152 against him after they feasted a year ago to the tune of a 1.025 on-base plus slugging percentage.

10. Darren O’Day was scored upon for just the second time since May 8, but he’d be the first to tell you that walking Adam Frazier after being ahead 0-2 with two outs in the ninth was a bad omen.

11. J.J. Hardy is now slugging .295 and owns a .536 OPS. He still plays good defense and there isn’t a logical alternative beyond moving Manny Machado over to shortstop and opening a new hole at third base, but his offense is becoming a major concern.

12. With the Orioles losing a number of winnable games over the last few weeks, seeing them prevail in a game they didn’t have much business having was encouraging.

 

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Orioles add infielder Ruben Tejada, designate Paul Janish

Posted on 06 June 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles swapped out reserve infielders Tuesday by selecting the contract of Ruben Tejada and designating Paul Janish for assignment prior to the series opener against Pittsburgh.

Tejada, 27, was acquired from the New York Yankees organization in exchange for cash considerations Sunday and will now serve as the utility infielder with Ryan Flaherty still on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain and waiting to be cleared to begin throwing again in Sarasota. Orioles manager Buck Showalter expressed hope that Janish would remain with the organization after clearing waivers.

Famously known for having his leg broken by a controversial slide from Chase Utley in the 2015 National League Division Series, Tejada has spent time with the New York Mets, St. Louis, and San Francisco in his major league career. He had been playing at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the Yankees system to begin the 2017 season. Tejada batted just .167 in 78 plate appearances split between the Cardinals and the Giants last year.

In seven major league seasons, the right-handed Tejada has batted .252 with 10 home runs, 153 runs batted in, and a .647 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2,263 career plate appearances. He has primarily played shortstop in his major league career, but he has also seen action at second base and third base.

NOTES: Catcher Welington Castillo took batting practice early Tuesday afternoon as he continues to recover from a testicular injury sustained last week. He is eligible to be activated from the 10-day DL as early as Saturday, but it’s undetermined whether he will go on a minor-league rehab assignment or simply play in a sim game or two. … Manny Machado fell to third place among American League third basemen in the latest 2017 All-Star Game voting update. Minnesota’s Miguel Sano is now leading the way at the position while Jose Ramirez of Cleveland is second. Welington Castillo is second among AL catchers and Adam Jones ranks 12th among AL outfielders. … On Tuesday, the Orioles began a stretch of 20 straight games without a day off. They will not have another break until June 26.

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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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