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Orioles starting Jimenez sends bad all-around message

Posted on 22 June 2016 by Luke Jones

It doesn’t matter how Ubaldo Jimenez performs on Wednesday night.

Whether the good version makes a cameo for the first time since early May or he again pitches like the worst starter in baseball, the Orioles are sending a bad message all the way around by giving him the ball against the San Diego Padres after moving him to the bullpen just a week ago.

Through all the noise about the difficult schedule this week, the Orioles have known since sending Mike Wright down to Triple-A Norfolk on Friday that they would need a starter for Wednesday’s game. They even opened up space Tuesday by outrighting infielder Paul Janish to Norfolk, meaning they had the flexibility to promote any pitcher in the organization not currently on the 40-man roster.

Instead, the Orioles decided to roll with a pitcher whose 7.34 ERA ranks last in the majors among those registering at least 60 innings.

It speaks volumes about the state of the organization’s starting pitching depth. Not that anyone is convinced that Odrisamer Despaigne or Joe Gunkel or Nick Additon or any other minor-league starter with a pulse would provide substantial improvement, but why field teams at Norfolk or Double-A Bowie if you’re just going to maintain the status quo with a starting rotation ranking 13th in the AL in ERA?

What message does it send to the rest of your first-place club that this is the best you can do? A couple weeks ago, the Orioles replaced Mike Wright with, well, Mike Wright. Then, they removed Jimenez for the returning Yovani Gallardo. Now, they’ve demoted Wright again in favor of Jimenez.

Talk about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

The Orioles have now essentially told both Jimenez and Wright, “You’re not good enough, but here’s the ball again because we have no one else worthy of receiving a shot.” Having no competition for starting pitchers performing so far below expectations is embarrassing for a contending team.

A first-place club with a powerful offense, a great bullpen, and a strong infield defense deserves better. It at least deserves an attempt to be better, but that’s an issue that dates back to the offseason when improving the starting pitching was initially deemed a priority by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and the Orioles proceeded to lose their best starter from 2015 — Wei-Yin Chen — and replace him with Gallardo, a pitcher with shoulder concerns that have already landed him on the disabled list.

To make matters worse, the Orioles thought they had enough rotation depth this spring to jettison a struggling Miguel Gonzalez to save $4 million instead of sending him to the minors to work on his issues. His 4.29 ERA is far from stellar, but his velocity is back in line with where it was the last four years and he’d be a substantial upgrade over Wright or Jimenez right now.

Of course, Wednesday’s start doesn’t mean Jimenez will remain in the rotation. Perhaps this truly is an attempt at a Hail Mary with the 32-year-old after seeing how his demotion has negatively impacted the bullpen over the last week. His lone relief appearance last Friday brought an inability to even keep the Orioles within four runs of Toronto after Wright was lifted in the fourth inning.

It’s difficult to hide a pitcher in the bullpen when he can’t even contribute in that kind of a low-leverage situation.

Despite still being owed roughly $21 million through next season, maybe this represents Jimenez’s last chance with the Orioles.

At some point, you have to recognize a sunk cost and move on, right?

Otherwise, we’re reminded that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

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drake

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Short in bullpen, Orioles recall right-hander Oliver Drake on Tuesday

Posted on 21 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Already playing with a 24-man roster in the midst of Manny Machado’s suspension, the Orioles couldn’t afford to be a man short in the bullpen with lefty Brian Duensing dealing with an elbow problem.

As a result, Baltimore recalled right-handed relief pitcher Oliver Drake from Triple-A Norfolk prior to Tuesday’s series opener with the San Diego Padres. To make room on the active roster, veteran infielder Paul Janish was outrighted to Norfolk and will decide over the next few days whether to accept the assignment or to refuse and become a free agent.

The move opens a spot on the 40-man roster, an interesting development with manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles still weighing their options for Wednesday’s start.

Showalter said Duensing was having his elbow examined Tuesday afternoon after the Orioles were made aware of the issue early in Monday night’s makeup game against Texas. His absence would leave the Orioles without a left-hander beyond closer Zach Britton in the bullpen, but Showalter noted that both Drake and right-hander Brad Brach are effective against lefty bats.

Named the International League Pitcher of the Week on Monday, Drake has performed very well for the Tides, posting a 2.02 ERA with 10 saves over 27 games this season. The 29-year-old hadn’t surrendered an earned run over his last 14 innings, totaling 25 strikeouts over that stretch.

Thanks in large part to his effective splitter, left-handed hitters were batting just .133 against Drake this season.

Drake made his major league debut for Baltimore last May and posted a 2.87 ERA in 13 appearances as a rookie. Right-handers posted a .324 average against him while lefty bats sported a .167 clip in 29 plate appearances.

The 33-year-old Janish went 6-for-31 with a double and three runs scored in 14 games with the Orioles this season. Norfolk infielder Sharlon Schoop, the older brother of Jonathan Schoop, remains on the “taxi squad” in case the Orioles need an infielder for Wednesday’s game.

NOTES: In the latest American League All-Star game voting update, Machado continues to lead the way among third basemen. Mark Trumbo is fourth among outfielders, Matt Wieters second among catchers, and Chris Davis third among first basemen. Adam Jones is 13th in the AL outfielder voting. … Showalter said there are as many as five candidates in play to make Wednesday’s start. The in-house options would presumably be relievers Odrisamer Despaigne and Ubaldo Jimenez, but their availability was dependent on how Tuesday’s game played out. … The Baltimore bullpen entered Tuesday ranked second in the majors with a 3.00 ERA and is tied for 10th in the majors in innings pitched.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-3 loss to Rangers

Posted on 21 June 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 4-3 defeat to the Texas Rangers on Monday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 69th game of the 2016 season.

1st — On a night when the Orioles banged out 15 hits, the game turned when they squandered a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the third inning. Leading 3-0 and threatening to break the game open against Texas starter Derek Holland, Baltimore came away with nothing despite a Mark Trumbo walk and consecutive singles by Matt Wieters and Jonathan Schoop to start the inning. J.J. Hardy struck out on a pitch in the dirt and Nolan Reimold grounded into an inning-ending double play. It was all Rangers after that despite the opportunities being abundant for the Orioles, who left 12 runners on base and went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position over the course of the night.

2nd — Kevin Gausman was carrying good stuff on Monday, but questionable choices in pitch selection and location doomed him in the deciding three-run fourth. It’s one thing to miss with location as the right-hander did on Ian Desmond’s long solo home run an inning earlier, but you have to question why Gausman continued to throw outside fastballs — and why Wieters continued calling for them — to No. 9 hitter Bobby Wilson without once challenging him inside. Despite getting ahead 0-2, Gausman couldn’t put the light-hitting catcher away and Wilson hit a sacrifice fly on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. Gausman followed that by throwing a hanging breaking ball to Shin-Soo Choo for the deciding two-run single after the lefty hitter hadn’t gotten around on his fastball all night. As was the case against Boston last week, Gausman’s stuff was too good to get such underwhelming results.

3rd — Despite Texas entering the night ranked 14th in the American League in bullpen ERA, the Orioles couldn’t get to Rangers relievers after knocking Holland out of the game in the fifth. Neither Shawn Tolleson nor Tony Barnette had pitched well of late, but the Orioles didn’t push a single runner into scoring position despite four hits against the pair in 3 2/3 innings. Ironically, Baltimore threatened against tough closer Sam Dyson by putting runners on the corners in the ninth, but Wieters struck out and Schoop grounded out to end the game with the tying run on third base.

Home — In addition to grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the third, Reimold struck out twice with a runner on base and was thrown out at second on a failed hit-and-run. His lone hit of the night was a single to lead off the sixth. … Every Orioles starter collected at least one hit on the night. The 15 hits tied for their third-highest number of the season, but the three runs were their lowest total in a game in which they had collected at least 12 hits this season. … Dylan Bundy tossed three perfect innings with three strikeouts in relief of Gausman to save the rest of the bullpen. … Baltimore returns home to play its first interleague series of the year Tuesday with Tyler Wilson squaring off against San Diego’s Luis Perdomo.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 11-6 win over Blue Jays

Posted on 19 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 11-6 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 68th game of the 2016 season.

1st Matt Wieters set the tone for Baltimore’s season-high 19-hit game with a long two-run home run into the bleachers off Toronto starter Marcus Stroman in the first inning and matched his career high with four hits on the afternoon. The veteran catcher drove in a season-high four runs and scored three times while finishing just a triple short of the cycle. Three of Wieters’ seven homers on the season have come against Toronto with two of those against Stroman.

2ndJonathan Schoop homered for the second straight day, this time hitting a 458-foot bomb that nearly landed in the left-field club level in the bottom of the seventh. The second baseman’s RBI single in the fourth gave the Orioles the lead for good and put Chris Tillman in position to pick up his 10th win of the season despite a rocky five-inning performance. Schoop went 3-for-5 on the day.

3rdRyan Flaherty filled in at third base for the first game of the Manny Machado suspension and  answered the Blue Jays’ four-run second inning with an RBI single to tie the game at 4-4. The utility infielder added an RBI double in the fourth to push Baltimore’s lead to 6-4 and also made a couple nice plays in the field.

HomeBrad Brach entered with two outs in the seventh to face Josh Donaldson as the potential tying run and struck out the 2015 American League MVP. The right-handed reliever pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three and walking one. … Tillman extended his career-best winning streak to nine games and is now 9-0 with a 2.78 ERA over his last 11 starts. The right-hander surpassed Dick Hall to move into sole possession of 13th place on the Orioles’ all-time wins list with 66. … Chris Davis collected two doubles, scored three times, and drove in a run in a three-hit performance. … Hyun Soo Kim went 3-for-5 for his 10th multi-hit game of the season. … Every Orioles starter in Sunday’s game had a hit except for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was robbed of a potential home run in the bottom of the seventh. … The Orioles completed a 10-game stretch against AL East foes Toronto and Boston with a 5-5 record. … According to STATS, Baltimore will now have its first one-game road trip sandwiched between home games since June 25, 1967. Kevin Gausman will take the hill while Texas will start left-hander Derek Holland on Monday night.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Blue Jays

Posted on 18 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 67th game of the 2016 season.

1st Jonathan Schoop started in the No. 2 spot in the order for just the third time in his career and responded with a home run, a double, a single, three RBIs, and three runs scored in a game in which runs were at a premium. The 24-year-old’s free-swinging ways are hardly conducive to hitting in the second spot in the order, but Schoop provided the early spark against Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey with a one-out double in the first inning and hit the deciding solo shot to the opposite field with two outs in the bottom of the third. The Orioles own a 32-7 record in games in which he hits a home run in his career, which is a remarkable coincidence if nothing else.

2ndYovani Gallardo wasn’t great in his return as he walked four and lasted just five innings, but he surrendered only two runs to earn his second win. It was his improved velocity that was the most encouraging aspect of his first major league start since going on the DL with right shoulder tendinitis on April 22. His fastball sat in the range of 88 to 90 mph, and he touched 92 on a few occasions, including consecutive pitches to strike out Troy Tulowitzki with the bases loaded in the third. He can be more competitive carrying that kind of stuff, but just turning in an outing like this one was a dramatic improvement over what the Orioles were getting from Ubaldo Jimenez and Mike Wright.

3rdMychal Givens struggled in his last appearance against Toronto last weekend, but he did an excellent job bridging the gap to the late innings on Saturday by tossing two scoreless frames on 20 pitches. With the tying run in scoring position with one out in the seventh, Givens induced a grounder from Josh Donaldson and got Edwin Encarnacion to line out to left to retire the side. The 26-year-old has had his issues against left-handed bats this year, but he turned in his 11th scoreless appearance of more than one inning this season, an important contribution to one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Home Zach Britton doesn’t deserve praise for pitching his way into a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the ninth inning, but he reminded us why he’s one of the best closers in baseball by inducing a 4-6-3 double play from Donaldson to convert his 21st save in as many chances to begin the year. Despite allowing a hit and walking two, he extended his scoreless streak to 17 games covering 19 innings since May 5 and lowered his season ERA to 0.93. … In his final action before starting his four-game suspension on Sunday, Manny Machado went 3-for-3 with a double and scored the Orioles’ second run on a passed ball in the first inning. … In his first game since breaking his left foot on May 1, J.J. Hardy went 1-for-3 with a double just inside the third-base bag to lead off the bottom of the fifth and helped turn two double plays. … The Orioles send Chris Tillman to the hill in search of his 10th victory and a series win on Sunday afternoon while Toronto counters with right-hander Marcus Stroman.

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Orioles option McFarland in addition to Wright before Saturday’s game

Posted on 18 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Needing to create roster room to activate both starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and shortstop J.J. Hardy from the disabled list on Saturday, the Orioles optioned two pitchers to Triple-A Norfolk.

After struggling starting pitcher Mike Wright was optioned to Norfolk late Friday night, Baltimore sent down left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland, who pitched two scoreless innings and threw 25 pitches in the 13-3 loss to Toronto. The move leaves the Orioles with a seven-man bullpen after Ubaldo Jimenez was demoted to a relief role earlier in the week.

With Manny Machado’s four-game suspension about to begin, manager Buck Showalter prefers keeping both Ryan Flaherty and Paul Janish on the roster — Baltimore will play with 24 players while Machado is out — but the state of the bullpen will go a long way in determining how feasible that is. The Blue Jays entered Saturday having scored 10 or more runs in five of their last seven games with three of those contests coming against the Orioles.

With Wright demoted and now set to start for the Tides, the Orioles will need a starter for Wednesday’s game against San Diego. Odrisamer Despaigne and Jimenez would appear to be the in-house candidates to take the ball on that day, but their usage over the next few days will be a major factor. The struggling Jimenez clearly wouldn’t be received as a popular option as he threw 62 pitches and allowed five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings on Friday to raise his season ERA to 7.34.

The Orioles entered Saturday with a 4.93 starter ERA, ranking 13th out of 15 American League clubs.

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Orioles make latest change to sinking rotation

Posted on 18 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles starter Mike Wright had few answers after his latest outing went horribly wrong in a 13-3 loss to Toronto on Friday night.

After allowing a career-high eight earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings, Wright saw his season ERA climb to an unseemly 6.12. To little surprise, the 26-year-old was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after the game, signaling Baltimore’s second rotation change this week with disappointing veteran Ubaldo Jimenez already being sent to the bullpen.

In his last two starts covering 8 2/3 innings — both against the Blue Jays — Wright allowed 12 earned runs.

“I threw some good pitches, I threw some bad pitches. They hit them both,” said Wright shortly before his demotion was announced. “I’m working harder than ever. When you’re working harder than ever and you get those results, it’s tough.”

Despite being optioned to Norfolk following his June 1 start against Boston that lasted only 2 2/3 innings, Wright was recalled on June 3 when reliever Darren O’Day was placed on the 15-day disabled list. The young pitcher initially took advantage of the “do-over” by tossing seven strong innings against a depleted Kansas City lineup, but his last two starts only reaffirmed the struggles with his command and with the quality of his secondary pitches.

On Saturday, the Orioles will activate veteran starter Yovani Gallardo from the DL, a move they hope will serve as a shot in the arm for a starting rotation sporting a 4.93 ERA through the first 67 games of the 2016 season. However, Gallardo is only taking Jimenez’s spot in the rotation, making it unclear who will replace Wright when his turn next comes around on Wednesday.

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hardy

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Hardy returning Saturday with Machado suspension looming

Posted on 17 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With All-Star infielder Manny Machado expected to begin serving his suspension next week, the Orioles welcomed veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy back to Camden Yards on Friday.

The 33-year-old was not activated for the series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, but he will return to the Baltimore lineup on Saturday. Buck Showalter had left open the possibility of Hardy playing another minor-league game at Single-A Frederick after he went 4-for-11 with a walk in three games at Double-A Bowie earlier in the week week, but the manager confirmed after Friday’s 13-3 loss to Toronto that Hardy would be reinstated from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday.

Hardy has been on the DL since breaking his left foot on May 1.

“We’re leaning on J.J. on this. He knows he’s real close. I know there’s one little thing he wants to feel good about,” said Showalter on Friday afternoon. “He’s moving around well defensively. Plus-plus speed has not been his forte, so we’re not looking [for that]. I do know he wants to be able to score from second on a single and [from] first on a double and do the things he needs to do, but we’re looking forward to getting him back. It’s been a long road.”

Hardy’s return is an encouraging development with Machado slated to miss up to four games for charging the mound against Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura in a June 7 brawl. The 23-year-old has appealed his four-game suspension, but the Orioles are not overly optimistic about the chances of the ban being reduced, which could lead to Machado potentially dropping his case ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled hearing.

Such a decision could allow Machado to begin serving his suspension on Monday when the Orioles play a makeup game against Texas in Arlington and would then mean he’d miss only the opener of next weekend’s four-game set with Tampa Bay. The fear is that Machado’s hearing could delay the start of his suspension and prevent him from playing in the bulk of that series against an AL East opponent.

Though miffed that Ventura will likely only miss one start with his nine-game suspension compared to Machado missing multiple games, Showalter is trying to put a positive spin on the situation.

“I think Manny could use a few days [off]. He won’t ever admit it,” said Showalter about the young infielder who was playing in his major-league-leading 228th consecutive game on Friday. “I think we’ll be glad to get it behind us.”

It remains unclear how the Orioles will make room for Hardy on the 25-man roster, but infielder Paul Janish being designated for assignment or utility man Ryan Flaherty being optioned to the minors would appear to be the most likely of the possible moves. Baltimore must also make roster space for the returning Yovani Gallardo, who will make Saturday’s start against the Blue Jays.

Machado has played very well at shortstop in Hardy’s absence, but Showalter made it clear there would be no controversy with the former returning to his regular position at third base where he’s won two Gold Gloves. Hardy is a three-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop and is considered the leader of the defense.

“Manny’s got a lot of respect for J.J. and so does Jon Schoop,” Showalter said. “I was talking to [Machado] a little bit the other day and he’s really looking forward to [Hardy] coming back because it makes us a better team.”

In 86 plate appearances this season, Hardy is hitting .244 with two home runs, eight RBIs, and a .701 on-base plus slugging percentage.

NOTES: On Friday, the Orioles agreed to terms with first-round pitcher Cody Sedlock at the reported slot bonus value of just under $2.1 million. The right-hander from the University of Illinois will begin his professional career at short-season Single-A Aberdeen after completing some bullpen sessions in Sarasota. … Though he won’t be cleared to catch in games until June 27, backup catcher Caleb Joseph (testicular surgery) began his rehab assignment Friday serving as the designated hitter for Single-A Frederick. He is now allowed to catch bullpen sessions, but the possibility of a foul ball to the groin area as he continues to fully heal from surgery is the reason why he won’t catch in games for 10 more days. … Despite his slow recovery from a hamstring injury, All-Star reliever Darren O’Day “had a good day” on Friday, according to Showalter. He is eligible to be activated from the DL as early as Saturday, but it remains unclear when he will able to return. … Right-hander Vance Worley continues to feel the effects of the groin injury that landed him on the DL earlier this week, but Showalter still thinks he’ll be ready to return after the minimum 15 days.

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Orioles finally send struggling Jimenez to bullpen

Posted on 15 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Sporting the worst ERA among qualified pitchers in the major leagues, Orioles pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez is finally moving to the bullpen.

Manager Buck Showalter announced the change ahead of Tuesday’s series-opening win in Boston as veteran Yovani Gallardo will be activated from the disabled list on Saturday to take Jimenez’s place in the starting rotation. After giving up five runs and retiring only one batter in Sunday’s loss to Toronto, Jimenez will now pitch in relief as he tries to work out his issues that have led to a 6.89 ERA and 1.98 WHIP in 13 starts covering 62 2/3 innings.

Over his last 28 starts dating back to last July 17, the 32-year-old has posted a 6.17 ERA in 147 1/3 innings. Still owing Jimenez just over $21 million through next season, the Orioles hope the right-hander can work out his issues in the bullpen to eventually return to a starting rotation that entered Tuesday ranked 12th in the American League in ERA.

This marks the second time in his three seasons with Baltimore that Jimenez has been moved to the bullpen because of ineffectiveness.

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hardy

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Hardy begins rehab assignment as Gallardo wraps his

Posted on 14 June 2016 by Luke Jones

As a key member of the Orioles concluded a minor-league rehab assignment, another is about to begin his.

With starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo performing well in his third and final rehab start on Monday, shortstop J.J. Hardy will begin playing for Double-A Bowie on Tuesday as he moves closer to a return from a fractured left foot suffered on May 1. Gallardo could be activated from the 15-day disabled list to make Saturday’s start against the Toronto Blue Jays while it remains unclear how long Hardy’s assignment will last.

Pitching for Triple-A Norfolk against Charlotte on Monday, Gallardo turned in a strong five-inning performance in which he allowed just one run on one hit while striking out five and issuing two walks. The lone run he allowed came on a leadoff homer before he settled in to throw 90 pitches.

Showing better velocity than he did early in the season when he posted a 7.00 ERA in four starts before going on the DL with right shoulder tendinitis, Gallardo will be asked to help stabilize a starting rotation that’s struggled mightily in recent weeks. It remains unclear whose rotation spot Gallardo will take, but veteran Ubaldo Jimenez owns a grotesque 6.89 ERA and both Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson have minor-league options and have also struggled.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are eager to welcome back Hardy to help solidify the left side of their infield. Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado has played very well shifting to shortstop, but Baltimore has had problems at the hot corner with Ryan Flaherty and Paul Janish offering substandard offense and Pedro Alvarez providing subpar defense when asked to play there.

Ideally, the Orioles would like to have Hardy return before Machado begins serving his suspension stemming from last week’s brawl with Yordano Ventura and the Kansas City Royals. Machado’s four-game suspension is pending an appeal.

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