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Bundy starts rapidly becoming appointment viewing for Orioles fans

Posted on 03 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Dylan Bundy isn’t the only rookie pitcher to start fast for the Orioles over the last 15 years.

Check out what Josh Towers did in his first handful of major league starts in 2001.

Brad Bergesen was Baltimore’s best starter in 2009.

Even Mike Wright tossed 14 1/3 scoreless innings in his first two major league starts last year.

But this time, it looks and feels different. We long heard the hype surrounding the 2011 first-round pick and waited five years to see the young right-hander finally have the chance to perform on this stage — not counting his cup of coffee as a 19-year-old in 2012 — after three years’ worth of health problems.

After taking no-hitters into the sixth inning in back-to-back outings, Bundy is rapidly turning his starts into appointment viewing for fans while giving the Orioles a fantastic chance to win when he pitches. Asked whether he was disappointed or relieved — knowing Bundy’s pitch count wouldn’t reasonably allow him to go the distance — to see Elvis Andrus single to break up the no-hit bid in the sixth, Buck Showalter chuckled as he quipped that he’d never tell. The manager then admitted the seventh inning still would have been Bundy’s last regardless of whether a no-hitter was intact or not.

You can’t help but wonder if a similar question extends to the terrific way Bundy has pitched as he moves closer to a presumed innings limit that no one in the organization wants to discuss in any detail. How could the Orioles possibly take him out of play while fighting for the American League East title? But how can they responsibly allow Bundy to pitch into September and potentially October after he threw a combined 65 1/3 innings the previous three seasons?

Any decision to shut him down would sure be easier if his results were underwhelming, but the Orioles are obviously thrilled with the immediate return in helping a poor rotation.

Bundy has been brilliant since the end of May when the Orioles began giving him at least three days’ rest between relief appearances. In his last 40 innings dating back to May 31, the 23-year-old has posted a 2.25 ERA with 34 hits allowed, 47 strikeouts, six home runs surrendered, and only nine walks.

He was unaware that Tuesday marked the longest outing of his professional career, surpassing the 6 2/3 innings he threw for Single-A Frederick at Lynchburg on Aug. 1, 2012. His game score of 81 matched Tyler Wilson’s eight shutout innings at Boston on June 16 as the highest of the season by an Orioles starter.

Any pitcher can have a good start, but Bundy’s command is impeccable as he consistently hits the catcher’s glove within the strike zone. It’s all impressive, the mid-90s fastball, the slow curve, the terrific changeup that he didn’t begin throwing until four years ago. Of his 88 pitches on Tuesday, 60 were strikes and he walked just one batter while striking out seven.

As we’ve now seen for a couple months, Bundy appears to have the rare ability to make an incredibly difficult task look relatively easy. Of course, we know it won’t always be as easy as he’s made it look.

He’s only had four major league starts, but there’s a growing buzz inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards whenever he pitches. You just pray that he stays healthy and that the Orioles don’t completely lose sight of what’s best for him while focusing on the present pennant race.

There can be a today as long as the Orioles remember there is a tomorrow with Bundy and do whatever they can to help him continue on with good health.

The organization has long felt that he has the ability to be the true ace its lacked since the days of Mike Mussina. Bundy still has a long way to go, but seven innings of one-hit ball against an imposing lineup was another flash of that talent as more and more fans are anticipating what will happen with each start.

After his potential felt much more like a ghost over the last couple years, Bundy is here in the flesh and turning heads.

Teammate Darren O’Day might have said it best in summarizing Bundy’s growth from the beginning of the season until now.

“We enjoyed the time we had with him in the bullpen, but I think he’s moved on to better things.”

The Orioles have a good problem on their hands.

And fans can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Orioles add to depth by bringing back Pearce for stretch run

Posted on 01 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Trying to strengthen their depth for the final two months, the Orioles brought back an old friend at the trade deadline.

Minutes before the 4 p.m. non-waiver deadline, executive vice president baseball of operations acquired first baseman and outfielder Steve Pearce from Tampa Bay in exchange for minor-league catcher Jonah Heim. Pearce had spent the last four seasons with Baltimore before signing a one-year, $4.75 million deal with the Rays last winter.

Much like he was with the Orioles in 2014 when he hit .293 with 21 home runs and a .930 on-base plus slugging percentage, Pearce has been a standout performer this season, hitting .309 with 10 homers, 29 RBIs, and a .908 OPS in 232 plate appearances. The 33-year-old also brings plenty of versatility as he played first, second, and third base for Tampa Bay this season and has played extensively at the corner outfield spots in the past.

The Orioles had been in the market for another outfielder since the thumb injury suffered by rookie outfielder Joey Rickard last month. In 2016, Pearce has hit .377 with a 1.212 OPS against left-handed pitching while Baltimore has hit .236 with a .699 OPS against southpaws.

It will be interesting to see how manager Buck Showalter uses Pearce as he would appear to be a logical platoon partner with left fielder Hyun Soo Kim. However, Pearce would also provide a defensive upgrade to Mark Trumbo in right field and would allow the latter to serve as the designated hitter more often.

Heim, 21, is a good defensive catcher, but questions remained about how his offense would translate to higher levels of professional baseball. The 2013 fourth-round pick was batting .216 with 14 doubles, one triple, seven homers, and 30 RBIs over 88 games with Single-A Frederick this season.

The Orioles could still stand to add another bullpen arm — preferably a left-hander — but that would appear to be a realistic goal before the waiver deadline at the end of August.

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Despite difficult July, Orioles should still feel good about chances

Posted on 01 August 2016 by Luke Jones

July wasn’t much fun for the Orioles.

Sure, there was a five-game winning streak that included a sweep of Cleveland to temporarily give Baltimore the best record in the American League only a week ago, but the frustration certainly outweighed the prosperity. After just one losing streak as long as four games over the first three months of the season, the Orioles suffered three stretches of four or more losses in July alone.

A historic June in which the Orioles hit a record 56 home runs and averaged a whopping 6.6 runs per game was followed by a July in which they scored 3.4 runs per contest, which was 13th in the AL. The offensive futility has been even worse since the All-Star break at just 2.9 scored per game, which is last in the league.

Yet Buck Showalter’s club still turned the calendar to August in first place. A 12-14 record in July shrunk the Orioles’ AL East lead from five games at the beginning of the month to just a half-game — they did briefly fall out of first on two different occasions — but the win-loss mark was hardly catastrophic when you realize how poorly Baltimore hitters fared by on-base plus slugging percentage over the last month when the club sported a minus-26 run differential.

July OPS Season OPS
Matt Wieters .327 .678
Chris Davis .543 .783
Jonathan Schoop .714 .808
J.J. Hardy .841 .720
Manny Machado .625 .908
Hyun Soo Kim .679 .851
Adam Jones .719 .769
Mark Trumbo .784 .863
Pedro Alvarez .824 .775

A 12-14 record feels pretty fortunate when examining just how ugly the numbers were, especially from three All-Star players in Wieters, Davis, and Machado. Davis’ struggles have predictably received plenty of attention, but Wieters going 7-for-60 with only one extra-base hit is just alarming.

Only two regulars — Hardy and Alvarez — outperformed their season OPS, which means the Orioles are certainly due to bounce back significantly. That’s not to say another onslaught resembling June is on the way, but there’s no reason to think the Orioles offense won’t perform closer to the 5.1 runs scored per game in the first half of 2016 than the scuffling group we’ve seen since the All-Star break.

There are just too many good track records in that bunch.

Of course, the starting pitching remains the bigger question mark going forward.

After posting a 5.15 starter ERA in the first half, the Orioles rotation has pitched to a more acceptable 4.28 mark in the 17 games since the break. The rotation performing closer to that second-half mark the rest of the way would be key in not only wearing out a superb bullpen but keeping Baltimore in good position come late September.

The addition of left-hander Wade Miley should bring some more stability behind Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman, but how the Orioles manage the workload of the talented Dylan Bundy and account for the inability of Yovani Gallardo to pitch deep into games will be worth monitoring.

The Orioles certainly don’t feel great about their July, but the results in the win-loss column could have been much worse. The mark of good clubs is finding a way to not let the inevitable tough times spiral out of control as the 2015 club did with a 1-12 stretch in late August that took them out of serious contention.

Immediately after their first two losing streaks of four or more games in July, the Orioles rebounded to win six of seven and five in a row, respectively. We’ll see if that trend continues when the Texas Rangers arrive in town for a three-game set beginning Tuesday.

The Orioles have mostly weathered the storm of a prolonged offensive slump without losing too much ground in their quest for the postseason. Now the Orioles just need their talented bats to awaken in August while hoping the recent improvement — as modest as it might be — with the starting rotation continues.

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Miley could help in Orioles rotation’s quest for mediocrity

Posted on 31 July 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles trading for left-handed starting pitcher Wade Miley from Seattle is hardly exciting, but we knew there was only so much Dan Duquette had to offer with such a thin minor-league system.

Giving up left-handed non-prospect Ariel Miranda — who is only two years younger than Miley — hardly looks like a move the Orioles will regret as they didn’t think highly enough of the Cuban pitcher to even give him a shot in such a poor rotation. Miley is under contract through next year with a club option for 2018 and averaged a steady 32 starts and 198 innings per season from 2012-2015.

The 29-year-old’s 4.98 ERA this season won’t make anyone do cartwheels down Eutaw Street, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lend a hand in the Orioles’ quest to make the playoffs for the third time in five years. His career 4.07 ERA is still below average, but his 3.91 career fielding independent pitching mark (FIP) suggests Miley could benefit from a stronger infield defense behind him.

Much will be made about the Orioles finally landing a left-handed starter, but the lack of a southpaw hasn’t been the reason why their rotation entered Sunday ranked 14th in ERA and last in innings pitched in the American League. They just haven’t had enough quality starters or even mediocre ones to at least eat innings, whether right-handed or left-handed.

The bar has been set so low that Miley qualifies as a decent upgrade.

A left shoulder impingement landed Miley on the disabled list in June, but he missed only 2 1/2 weeks with the ailment and posted a 3.45 ERA in five starts covering 31 1/3 innings in July, easily his best month of the season. That recent prosperity is a small sample size, but how many stretches like that have the Orioles received from starters not named Chris Tillman or Kevin Gausman this season?

Baltimore enters August in first place in the AL East despite sporting one of the worst starting rotations in baseball. Even middle-of-the-pack performance from the starting pitching the rest of the way — perhaps a rotation ERA in the neighborhood of 4.40 and a slight increase from the current 5.4 innings per start — could be enough to make it to October if a slumping offense perks back up in August and an elite bullpen remains strong.

Relative to what it’s produced through the first four months, mediocrity would be celebrated for the Orioles rotation. And that’s exactly what Miley should be able to provide.

Last year was his first season in the AL as he pitched to a 4.46 ERA in 193 2/3 innings for Boston. That kind of ERA the rest of the way wouldn’t be great, but he has the ability to consume innings while giving the Orioles a reasonable chance to win. The lefty has also averaged just 2.7 walks per nine this season, a better rate than all but Gausman in the current rotation.

He immediately becomes the club’s No. 3 starter with promising rookie Dylan Bundy — who’s almost certain to see his innings limited in some way down the stretch — and the disappointing Yovani Gallardo slotted behind him. Such a setup would allow manager Buck Showalter to move Vance Worley back to long relief where he could be next in line to replace Bundy or Gallardo if necessary.

Of his 19 starts in 2016, Miley has completed at least six innings 13 times. That’s not something to overlook as the Orioles entered Sunday with the second-most bullpen innings pitched in the AL.

Miley may only provide modest improvement at best, but a little bit would help a bad rotation.

And it’s worth it when the Orioles didn’t give up much to get him.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-2 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 29 July 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-2 defeat to the Minnesota Twins on Thursday 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 101st game of the 2016 season.

1st — Despite collecting 11 hits, the Orioles scored fewer than three runs for the seventh time in 14 games since the All-Star break. Other factors played a part in the defeat, but Baltimore continues to flounder with the bats in the month of July, scoring just 3.3 runs per game. Adam Jones homered on the first pitch of the game from Minnesota’s Kyle Gibson and J.J. Hardy added an RBI single in the fourth, but too many other hitters simply aren’t pulling their weight over the last few weeks. The Orioles went a respectable 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position, but one of those hits didn’t even score a run. With a weekend series against second-place Toronto looming, the bats must wake up.

2nd — The offensive output would have been better, but two runners were thrown out at the plate in the fourth inning. With runners at second and third and no outs and the Minnesota infield playing back, Chris Davis broke on contact when Jonathan Schoop hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Eduardo Escobar, who threw Davis out at the plate. An even bigger problem was Mark Trumbo not advancing from second to third on the tag play at the plate. Had Trumbo also broken on contact and just moved to third, he would have jogged to the plate on Pedro Alvarez’s single to right field. Instead, an ill-advised send by third base coach Bobby Dickerson resulted in Trumbo also being nailed at the plate.

3rd — Odrisamer Despaigne and Chaz Roe didn’t do their jobs in the seventh, but manager Buck Showalter was clearly saving his bullpen bullets for the Toronto series. As if it weren’t already obvious that the Orioles were punting on Thursday night by starting Ubaldo Jimenez — allowing Kevin Gausman to go against the second-place Blue Jays — Showalter sent Despaigne back out for the seventh inning of a tie game when Brad Brach hadn’t pitched since Sunday and Darren O’Day had only pitched once over the previous three nights. After allowing the game-tying homer in the sixth, Despaigne allowed three of four hitters to reach in the seventh and Roe followed by surrendering a single and a triple to give the Twins a 6-2 lead. This was a winnable game, so you hope the strategy pays off over the weekend.

Home — Still looking for his first RBI of the season, Caleb Joseph twice came up with runners in scoring position and failed to deliver. … Jimenez threw 51 pitches to complete the first two innings, but the right-hander pitched well after that, allowing just one run and striking out eight over five frames. … Alvarez collected his sixth three-hit game of the season. … Manny Machado went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and is hitting just .216 in 97 plate appearances in July. … Davis went 2-for-4 to collect only his fourth multi-hit game of the month. … The four earned runs and five hits allowed by Despaigne were season highs and elevated his ERA to 4.43. … On Friday night, the Orioles send Gausman to the hill against Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-1 loss to Colorado

Posted on 28 July 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday 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 100th game of the 2016 season.

1st — The recent offensive woes continued as the Orioles went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings alone. Baltimore entered Wednesday averaging just 3.5 runs per game in July and only 2.9 per contest since the All-Star break, but there were plenty of opportunities against Rockies starter Jon Gray in the middle innings. In the fourth, Manny Machado popped out to shallow left with runners at the corners and no outs and Mark Trumbo and Jonathan Schoop later failed to deliver with the bases loaded. An inning later, J.J. Hardy, Nolan Reimold, and Adam Jones squandered a leadoff double. Gray is talented and was the third overall pick of the 2013 draft, but this was a winnable game with even a decent offensive showing. Virtually everyone in the order has had his share of recent struggles, but Chris Davis has one hit in his last 27 at-bats while Trumbo is hitless in his last 17 at-bats. The Orioles need to get their offense going quickly with a three-game set in Toronto looming this weekend after the one-day trip to Minnesota for a makeup game on Thursday.

2nd — Dylan Bundy turned in a special performance that was only tainted by two changeups up in the strike zone that went for home runs in his final inning of work. The 23-year-old’s outing was electric as he retired the first 16 hitters he faced and struck out a career-high eight, creating quite a buzz at Camden Yards in only his third major league start. However, the lack of run support did Bundy no favors as he ran into trouble in the sixth inning. After issuing a one-out walk to Mark Reynolds to lose his perfect game, Bundy elevated a changeup that former Oriole Nick Hundley deposited into the left-field seats for the first runs of the night. Two batters later, rookie David Dahl jumped on a first-pitch changeup up in the zone for a homer to dead center. The sequence was a reminder that Bundy is still a work in progress as it relates to a full starter’s workload, but 15 swinging strikes on 89 pitches illustrated how effective he was until running out of gas. Home runs aside, he deserved better from his own offense.

3rd — A couple questionable replay reviews may not have decided the outcome of the game, but Matt Wieters appeared to hit a home run down the right-field line that was ruled foul as he led off in the third inning. We’ve seen multiple balls directly down the line and higher than the foul pole causing problems at Camden Yards this season. Whether the solution is to extend the pole higher, find a way to improve the TV camera angle down the line, or both, something needs to be done to help make calls more definitive on these towering flies that have often looked fair despite being called foul on the field and replay not being definitive enough to overturn the ruling. Manager Buck Showalter was not happy with how that one played out and hasn’t been with a couple others this year.

Home — It was a close call, but Wieters being thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double was a bad play with the Orioles trailing by two runs in the seventh. What made it even more painful was Hardy drawing a walk right behind him, which would have meant the tying runs were on base. … The Orioles dropped only their second home series of the season and first since losing two of three to Seattle from May 17-19. … Manny Machado slugged his 21st home run of the season in the sixth inning while Wieters recorded the 150th double of his career in the fifth. … Davis ended an 0-for-24 streak with a bunt single in the second inning. … Ubaldo Jimenez will make his first start — and first appearance — since July 8 on Thursday while the Twins send right-hander Kyle Gibson to the mound at Target Field.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-3 loss to Colorado

Posted on 27 July 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-3 defeat to the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday 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 99th game of the 2016 season.

1st — After spoiling the Orioles with an outstanding 1.29 ERA in four July starts, Chris Tillman just couldn’t put away hitters with two strikes in the four-run third inning. The right-hander appeared to be carrying good stuff early, but he ran into trouble with one out in the third as Colorado loaded the bases with three singles all coming with two strikes. After Nolan Arenado popped out, Carlos Gonzalez hit a two-run double to the opposite field on a 2-2 count and Trevor Story singled in two more runs on a 1-2 pitch. Tillman credited Colorado for hitting some good pitches, but he got a couple key pitches up and just didn’t have the good swing-and-miss slider that we’ve seen so many times in 2016. His six runs allowed matched his season high as he took just his third loss of the season.

2nd — Rockies starter Chad Bettis effectively used his sinker and hard slider, and the Orioles just couldn’t take advantage of the few opportunities they had against a pitcher who entered the night with a 5.31 ERA. Going 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position is rarely going to get the job done unless you’re hitting the long ball, but the No. 3 through No. 8 hitters went a combined 1-for-23 with one walk. On a rare off-night for Tillman, you would have liked to see his offense be able to pick him up.

3rd — He wasn’t the only one who struggled on Tuesday night, but Chris Davis continues to look lost at the plate. The first baseman is hitless in his last 24 at-bats and has seen his average plummet to .223. His most frustrating at-bat came in the eighth with runners at the corners, one out, and the Orioles trailing 6-2. After getting ahead 2-0 against lefty reliever Boone Logan, Davis expanded the strike zone and struck out on the next three pitches. Of course, we’ve seen Davis go through plenty of stretches like this in the past before going on a monster tear, but you wonder if a day off to clear his head might help.

Home — It was correctly ruled a wild pitch, but Matt Wieters failed to backhand a pitch that could have been blocked, allowing Colorado’s sixth and final run to score. … The Orioles saw their five-game winning streak snapped as they suffered their first loss at home since July 8. They had won six straight contests at Camden Yards. … Adam Jones hit a two-run homer in the fifth and walked twice as he’s already eclipsed his walk total from 2015. … In his return from the disabled list, Hyun Soo Kim went 1-for-3 with a walk and now owns a .412 on-base percentage to lead the team. … Tyler Wilson pitched four perfect innings of relief to save the rest of the bullpen after Tillman lasted only five innings. … Buck Showalter announced that Ubaldo Jimenez will make Thursday’s start in Minnesota as the manager wants to give the other members of his rotation an extra day of rest. … Dylan Bundy will take the hill on Wednesday in search of a series win while right-hander Jon Gray will start for Colorado.

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After missing out on Upton, Orioles welcome Kim back to lineup

Posted on 26 July 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After learning earlier in the day that veteran outfielder and trade target Melvin Upton was instead going to Toronto, the Orioles thankfully welcomed back Hyun Soo Kim on Tuesday.

The 28-year-old Korean outfielder was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list and was back in the starting lineup for the first time since straining his hamstring on July 10, the final game before the All-Star break. Kim was batting second and playing in left field for the second game of an interleague set with the Colorado Rockies.

With reserve outfielder Joey Rickard out with a thumb injury until September, the Orioles were attempting to acquire Upton in exchange for struggling right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and a prospect or two. However, the sides could not finalize the financial realities of a deal — with one report saying owner Peter Angelos changed an agreement — as Jimenez is still owed just over $18 million through next season and Upton will make roughly $22 million through 2017.

It would have been interesting to see how manager Buck Showalter would have used both Upton and Kim in the outfield. Upton plays better defense and hits more home runs, but Kim’s .410 on-base percentage dwarfs the veteran’s .304 mark and his skill set complements the rest of a homer-driven lineup nicely.

The optimal solution would have been a platoon with Kim playing against right-handed starters and Upton starting against lefties, but might the Orioles have been tempted to overlook the latter’s inferior hitting profile to utilize his speed and defense?

Coincidental or not, the Orioles enjoyed their best offensive month of the season (6.6 runs per game) in June when Kim became a regular against right-hand starters. In contrast, Baltimore has averaged just 2.9 runs per game in Kim’s absence since the All-Star break.

To make room for Kim and right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez — who was reinstated from the paternity leave list — the Orioles designated outfielder Julio Borbon for assignment after optioning outfielder Dariel Alvarez to Triple-A Norfolk late Monday night. This means the Orioles entered Tuesday night’s game with 13 pitchers and 12 position players on the roster.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-2 win over Colorado

Posted on 26 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night?

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 98th game of the 2016 season.

1st Yovani Gallardo continued the run of good work from the starting rotation as he turned in his best performance of the season. Allowing only two runs and five hits while striking out a season-high six over 6 2/3 innings, Gallardo said after the game that he’s trying to be more aggressive in the strike zone and it appears to be working as he’s pitched into the seventh in each of his last two outings. He effectively used the cutter and had good command of all of his pitches, getting eight swinging strikes and walking only two over the course of the night. Gallardo lowered his home ERA to 3.33 in five starts and gave the Orioles a chance to win on a night when they struggled to score against Colorado’s Jorge De La Rosa.

2ndAdam Jones scored the winning run on an error by Rockies pitcher Jordan Lyles, but there wouldn’t have been extra innings had it not been for the center fielder driving in the other two Orioles runs. His single to right scored the first run of the game in the second inning while his grounder to short in the seventh plated the tying run. Some might ask why Jones broke home on a comebacker to the mound in the bottom of the 10th inning, but manager Buck Showalter said he did exactly what he was supposed to do. With runners at the corners and one out, the runner at third is instructed to run on any moderately-hit grounder to try to deter the defense from otherwise turning an inning-ending double play. Jones’ second-inning RBI moved him ahead of Rafael Palmeiro and into sole possession of seventh place on the Orioles’ all-time RBI list with 702.

3rdZach Britton made his fifth appearance in the last six days and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the heart of the Rockies lineup, striking out Carlos Gonzalez and Trevor Story in the process. The Orioles closer hasn’t surrendered an earned run over his last 34 appearances dating back to May 5. He lowered his season ERA to a remarkable 0.63 and continues an incredible season.

HomeMychal Givens took over for Gallardo with two outs in the seventh and retired four in a row. Two were left-handed batters, who entered Monday hitting .385 with a 1.080 on-base plus slugging percentage against him this season. … Chaz Roe stranded the potential go-ahead run in scoring position in a scoreless 10th inning and earned his first victory of the season. … The Orioles improved to a season-high 18 games above .500 and increased their lead in the American League East to 2 1/2 games. … Baltimore is now 4-2 in extra-inning games this season. … Jonathan Schoop hit his 28th double of the season and is now just two shy of Manny Machado for the club lead. … Making his return after a six-game absence due to a bruised right foot, Matt Wieters went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. … Playing his second rehab game at Double-A Bowie on Monday night, Hyun Soo Kim went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run and could be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday, the first day he’s eligible to return. … In search of their sixth straight win, the Orioles will send Chris Tillman to the hill on Tuesday night while Colorado hands the ball to right-hander Chad Bettis.

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With trade options limited, recent rotation surge encouraging for Orioles

Posted on 25 July 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 10:30 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — The Orioles clearly want starting pitching help.

We can certainly debate to what degree they need more starting pitching as Baltimore entered Monday holding the best record in the American League despite a 4.91 rotation ERA ranking 24th in the majors.

But we should be realistic about this final week leading up to Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. There isn’t much out there, plenty of contenders are looking for starters, and the Orioles have few commodities to give up unless they’re planning to surrender impact talent from their current roster, which doesn’t sound all that appealing when you’re trying to improve.

These realities don’t excuse the Orioles, who knew they had rotation problems entering the offseason before letting their 2015 ace, Wei-Yin Chen, depart via free agency and replacing him with Yovani Gallardo, who’s dealt with shoulder issues that were first flagged during his February physical and eventually landed him on the disabled list in April after only four starts. The options may not have been plentiful this winter, but no one can say the Orioles’ Achilles heel is remotely surprising a few months later.

There just isn’t a whole lot to be done about it right now.

“We’re going to try to add to our rotation,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said over the weekend. “We need some more consistency from the guys we have here, and we’re going to try to add to it via the trade route. This is a really thin market. There’s a lot of teams chasing a few pitchers. It’s about as thin as I’ve ever seen the market, but we’re going to see what we can do.”

It remains to be seen whether Duquette can deliver a starter who represents a marked upgrade over what the Orioles already have — forgive me if I’m not doing cartwheels over the likes of San Diego’s Andrew Cashner — but the executive was right about the need to find some improvement from within. That’s what has made the start of the second half uplifting for Baltimore.

In their first 10 games since the All-Star break, the Orioles have posted a 3.03 starter ERA after a robust 5.15 mark in the season’s first 87 contests. It’s a very small sample that includes seven games against two light-hitting clubs — Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees — but six starts of six or more innings have allowed manager Buck Showalter to rest a little easier of late.

The rotation isn’t fixed, but you’ll take any positives you can find after the first half.

Arguably the club’s most valuable player behind Manny Machado, ace Chris Tillman has rebounded from a rocky June with four straight starts in which he’s lasted seven innings and allowed only one run to lower his season ERA to a tidy 3.18. Kevin Gausman has also elevated his performance as the No. 2 starter, surrendering two runs and striking out 13 over his two starts covering 13 1/3 innings since the break.

After signing him to a two-year, $22 million contract, the Orioles desperately want to see Gallardo as their true No. 3 starter in a perfect world, but the questions about his ability to pitch deep into games haven’t disappeared despite back-to-back outings last at least 6 2/3 innings. His track record makes provides optimism that he can build on what he’s done over the last week.

But what we witnessed on Friday and Sunday provides some hope beyond the clearly-defined top two and Gallardo in the rotation. These names aren’t definitive rotation answers, but we’ll call them “maybes” for right now.

Facing a Cleveland offense currently ranking third in the AL — and ahead of the Orioles — in runs scored, Dylan Bundy allowed only one unearned run in five strong innings in the series-opening win. You can’t cross your fingers any harder that the 23-year-old will stay healthy and that the Orioles will take care of him as they stretched him out from 70 pitches in his first start to 87 on Friday night, but the ability is undeniable and his season results have been better than anyone could have expected entering 2016. What we don’t know is how the organization will handle his workload to keep him in play as a contributor in September and October, but he’s been fun to watch.

Veteran Vance Worley provided the other shot in the arm on Sunday by allowing just two runs over seven innings as the Orioles completed the series sweep over the AL Central-leading Indians. In a perfect world, Worley would have remained in his role as an effective long man, but he owns a respectable 3.89 mark as a starter in his career. After seeing the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Mike Wright struggle with extensive opportunities in the first half, the Orioles had few choices but to go with Worley, who received little more than a cameo as a starter in April before moving to the bullpen.

At least for the time being, Bundy and Worley have done enough to continue giving them the ball for the time being. The Orioles rotation isn’t magically going to transform into a top five group, but rising to even the middle of the pack in the AL in the second half would go a long way in complementing a powerful offense and a bullpen back to full strength with the return of Darren O’Day.

Finding that kind of improvement would be much easier if Duquette can somehow find another viable arm to slot into the rotation, but the start of the second half has brought some encouragement.

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