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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 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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Even by Orioles standards, superb start to 2017 tough to explain

Posted on 11 May 2017 by Luke Jones

We’ve been here before talking about the Orioles.

After another offseason in which the projection models and pundits didn’t like their chances in the American League East, the Orioles are off to their best start of the Buck Showalter era. Now a fifth of the way through the season, Baltimore entered Thursday on pace to win 108 games despite playing 24 of its first 27 games against division opponents and 21 contests against clubs currently above .500. It’s hardly been a cupcake schedule for the Orioles, who own a winning record on the road and the best home mark in the majors.

Veteran starting pitcher Chris Tillman and All-Star closer Zach Britton have missed most of the season with the latter not expected to return until the latter half of June at the earliest. Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman has a 6.63 ERA through his first eight starts. Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis have a total of eight home runs and both have slugging percentages under .400 so far. Even Manny Machado is hitting just .227 despite leading the club in homers and RBIs.

Of course, the Orioles have had their share of surprises, too, with Dylan Bundy looking every bit the part of an ace over his first seven starts, Wade Miley overcoming a slew of walks to pitch to a 2.45 ERA, and Trey Mancini ranking second on the club in home runs, but how do you best explain a .667 winning percentage through the first 33 games?

The stock answer for most of their success since 2012 has been home runs and strong bullpen work, but even those assumed strengths have been only slightly above average through the first 5 1/2 weeks of the season.

The Orioles entered Thursday sixth in the AL in both home runs and bullpen ERA. The offense ranks seventh in the league in runs and eighth in on-base plus slugging percentage. The rotation has been better than expected without Tillman, but Baltimore still ranks just seventh of 15 AL clubs in starter ERA. It hasn’t been about elite defense, either, as the Orioles are tied for 12th in the AL in defensive runs saved.

In other words, everything about this club has been ordinary except its win-loss record, which is paramount and clearly nothing for which to apologize. An 8-2 record in one-run games and a plus-13 run differential reflect good fortune in amassing a 22-11 record, but the best way to describe the 2017 Orioles so far is to say they’ve been been really good at being opportunistic.

Their .303 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks second in the AL and their pitcher win probability added (WPA) leads the league, which are both indicators of “clutch” performance. The offense has been good when it’s absolutely needed to be while the pitching has been at its best in many high-leverage moments.

Even the most optimistic of fans would concede that the Orioles won’t continue winning two-thirds of their games, but such a strong start has given them some breathing room to tread water if we assume the young and surprising New York Yankees aren’t going to keep winning at their same impressive rate, either.

It’s reasonable to expect the likes of Trumbo, Davis, and Gausman to pick up their production while acknowledging the likelihood of regression for Bundy, Miley, and Mancini, but the bullpen has to be the biggest concern even before Wednesday’s meltdown in Washington. A healthy Britton was never going to be as dominant as he was in his historic 2016, but you just don’t replace the man who ranked second on last year’s club at 4.3 wins above replacement and led all major league pitchers in WPA by a wide margin. The 2016 AL Reliever of the Year made up for plenty of deficiencies last season that would have otherwise prevented the Orioles from qualifying for the postseason for the third time in five years.

Making matters more difficult for Showalter is the current five-man bench, which leaves the Orioles with just six arms in the bullpen on a given night. Yes, the organization has effectively used the Norfolk shuttle to receive some meaningful contributions in long relief, but you’d prefer having another reliable middle-to-late relief option to use in the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning in a given night. It’s a lot to ask of Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens, and Donnie Hart to pick up the slack in Britton’s absence, and we’ve seen each struggle at times with Brach and his 10.29 ERA since April 28 most recently receiving the loudest criticism.

For now, the Orioles can feel good about their terrific start knowing they haven’t come close to firing on all cylinders yet. But if they’re going to continue to flourish, their old reliables must emerge sooner than later. The home runs need to start flying out of the ballpark more frequently and the bullpen must find a way to tighten up until Britton is hopefully ready to return early in the summer.

The latter is easier said than done, but if anyone can figure out the current relief puzzle, it’s Showalter. Once again, his club is showing to be greater than the sum of its parts.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-4 win over Yankees

Posted on 30 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles avoiding a three-game sweep in a 7-4 win over the New York Yankees in 11 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. In what was sure to be one of the strangest games of the entire season, the Orioles battled back to salvage a win in what was a pretty miserable series. I’d imagine that Buck Showalter and his club couldn’t have been happier to leave the Bronx on Sunday evening.

2. The game would have ended in the 10th inning had Welington Castillo not made a terrific short-hop pick on J.J. Hardy’s throw to the plate for a force. Castillo added to that effort with three hits and an RBI single to give the Orioles more breathing room in the 11th.

3. If someone had told you Friday afternoon that Logan Verrett would be pitching in the 10th inning on Sunday, you’d guess that the series didn’t go well, but the right-hander did great work despite his mental gaffe on Brett Gardner’s bunt. He pitched two scoreless frames to collect the win.

4. The Orioles bullpen had done superb work in Zach Britton’s absence prior to this weekend, but Darren O’Day joined Brad Brach in blowing consecutive save chances against the Yankees. Fortunately, the All-Star closer is expected to be activated this week.

5. The Yankees handling an 11th-inning rundown like a Little League team allowed the third run of the inning to score. After what happened in the ninth, the Orioles needed all the scoring they could get to make Verrett’s job easier.

6. Joey Rickard’s stolen base was the pivotal moment in the 11th and the third of the game for the Orioles, the first time they’ve swiped that many in a single contest since Aug. 19, 2015. As former Kansas City nemesis Jarrod Dyson once said, “That’s what speed do.”

7. You won’t find too many pitching lines weirder than what Wade Miley produced as he gave up only two runs in five innings despite allowing a whopping 13 baserunners. His escape acts in the second, third, and fourth innings kept the Orioles in the ballgame.

8. Walks continue to be an issue for Miley and the Orioles staff as he walked at least five for the third time in five starts and Darren O’Day walked two in a brutal ninth. Baltimore is walking 4.2 batters per nine innings this season, up from 3.4 in 2016.

9. Before the blown save and extra-inning theatrics, Jonathan Schoop had been the player of the game for the Orioles with the go-ahead RBI double in the sixth and a sensational defensive play in the seventh. His .538 slugging percentage is tops among Orioles everyday players.

10. He hasn’t been asked to pitch the ninth inning, but Mychal Givens has been the MVP of the bullpen while Britton has been sidelined. Asked to pitch more than one inning again on Sunday, the right-hander pitched two scoreless to lower his season ERA to 1.29.

11. I don’t recall watching a game in which a pitcher threw an inning, moved to another position, and then returned to the mound like Bryan Mitchell did for the Yankees. It was creative maneuvering by Joe Girardi, but Mitchell gave up three in the 11th inning to take the loss.

12. After Mark Trumbo drove in the go-ahead run in the 11th and hit a grand slam on Friday night, the Orioles can only hope that he’s finally getting the bat going after a difficult start to 2017.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-3 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 25 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles hitting three home runs in a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Buck Showalter rarely makes much out of a single win or loss over a 162-game season, but he expressed great pride over his club’s effort on a night when the weather was miserable and no more than a few thousand people were at the ballpark.

2. Adam Jones led that effort with a 3-for-3 performance, which included the game-winning two-run shot in the seventh. He entered the game 4-for-32 in his career against Chris Archer, but he exacted some revenge. His dependability in all conditions is rare and not lost on Showalter or his teammates.

3. Archer hadn’t allowed a home run to the first 130 batters he’d faced in 2017 before the Orioles clubbed three long balls in a five-hitter span in the sixth and seventh innings. That’s the definition of an outing crumbling quickly.

4. Ubaldo Jimenez throwing more balls than strikes and issuing five walks in 3 1/3 innings told the story of his abysmal start. Shane Peterson’s two-run double in the fourth appeared to be foul, but that can’t excuse Jimenez’s inability to build on his strong start in Cincinnati last week.

5. Jimenez was saved from further damage by Vidal Nuno, who struck out both Corey Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier looking to leave the bases loaded in the fourth. The lefty long man pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings and did a superb job keeping the Orioles in the game.

6. A combined 12 walks between the teams made for a difficult product to watch. During one stretch in the third and fourth innings, eight of nine Rays hitters and five out of six Orioles didn’t even put the ball in play as strikeouts and walks dominated the action.

7. It’s no secret that starts have been sporadic for Hyun Soo Kim due to the high number of opposing lefty starters, but he took advantage of his first start since last Thursday, drawing a walk in the fourth and hitting the first homer of the night off Archer.

8. Jonathan Schoop has been on the back end of all three pairs of back-to-back homers hit by the Orioles this season. There’s nothing meaningful to take away from that, but it’s an interesting coincidence nonetheless. He continues to hit after a rough opening week.

9. Seeing Showalter use his bullpen without Zach Britton is hardly ideal for the Orioles, but it’s been fun as he once again unleashed Mychal Givens for multiple innings like he did against Boston over the weekend. He’s becoming an even more dangerous — and much-needed — weapon.

10. It was another rough night at the plate for Mark Trumbo, who left four men on base in his first two at-bats. He’s started fast most of his career, but that certainly hasn’t been the case in 2017.

11. The crowd at Camden Yards was very small but spirited on Monday. I was particularly amused by the group of fans who heckled Rays hitters by slowly chanting their names à la the classic Darryl Strawberry taunt. If you’re going to brave the elements, why not have some fun?

12. News of Boston pitcher Matt Barnes’ four-game suspension broke shortly before the game. Based on precedent, it’s what I expected. I fear it’s going to take a serious injury occurring for Major League Baseball to ever crack down on the pathetic act of intentionally throwing a baseball at a hitter.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 win over Boston

Posted on 23 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their fourth straight game in a 2-0 final over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There was nothing fancy about his outing with a fastball maxing out around 90 miles per hour, but Jayson Aquino fetched the desired results by allowing two earned runs over six innings for his first major league win. He limited hard contact and made good pitches when he needed to.

2. Steven Wright appeared to be on his way to avenging his nightmare outing against the Orioles last week before completely losing the feel of his knuckler in the fourth. One of the good stories in the American League from a year ago is currently a mess for the Red Sox.

3. Wright will have nightmares about Trey Mancini, who now has two home runs in three at-bats against the right-hander. Mancini continues to dazzle and tied the major league record for home runs in his first 17 career games with eight.

4. The only real blemish on Aquino’s night was a hanging slider thrown to Jackie Bradley Jr. for a long two-run homer in the third. That was the first ball hit onto Eutaw Street this season and the 89th in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

5. Aquino’s best moment of the night was his curveball to strike out Hanley Ramirez and strand two runners in the top of the fifth. The rookie needed that shutdown frame after his offense gave him four runs in the previous half-inning.

6. Orioles pitchers have now allowed only three runs over their last 42 innings and have registered quality starts in eight of the last nine games. That’s not too shabby with Chris Tillman and Zach Britton currently on the disabled list.

7. Darren O’Day needed only one pitch to register the save, but Mychal Givens did the heavy lifting in the bullpen. He retired the top six hitters in the Boston lineup over two perfect innings. Lefties are also just 1-for-9 against him so far in 2017.

8. I understood Boston’s displeasure over Manny Machado’s hard slide into Dustin Pedroia on Friday — the All-Star third baseman has to wear his reputation stemming from the bat-throwing incident in 2014 — but it was nice to see no retaliation. Hopefully that continues moving forward.

9. The Orioles are now eight games over .500 less than three weeks into the season. It’s only April, but stacking more wins now means a lighter burden down the stretch. A strong first half last year carried them to the playoffs despite mediocre play after the All-Star break.

10. Adam Jones stole his second base of the season to match his total from 2016. It only took him 16 games to do it this time around.

11. Regardless of the number of opposing lefty starters and Buck Showalter pointing to his lack of familiarity with knuckleballers — no hitters see them regularly — Hyun Soo Kim should be getting more at-bats and certainly shouldn’t be losing so many to Craig Gentry, who’s hitting .167.

12. The results weren’t pretty, but Chris Tillman told Showalter it was the “best he’s felt” in a rehab outing for Double-A Bowie against Harrisburg on Saturday. The recent performance of the starting rotation should ease some temptation to rush him back before he’s ready.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 9-3 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 18 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles falling 9-3 to Cincinnati on Tuesday to begin the final series of a three-city road trip, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Kevin Gausman turned in one of the worst starts of his career, matching a career high with eight runs allowed and lasting only 2 2/3 innings. Giving up a grand slam to Adam Duvall on an 0-2 pitch in the second inning summed up his night.

2. After seemingly straightening himself out in his last start, Gausman once again battled command problems with his fastball while walking three and throwing 79 pitches. He has now issued 12 walks in 18 2/3 innings this season after entering 2017 with a career walk rate of 2.5 per nine innings.

3. Gausman’s split-changeup continued to largely be a non-factor despite facing a Reds lineup featuring five lefty-swinging hitters. He’s throwing it less frequently in 2017, and the pitch hasn’t been very good when he has used it. That needs to change.

4. I had to chuckle at the suggestion that Bronson Arroyo’s home run rate would make him a favorable matchup for the Orioles. Arroyo was far from great over his five innings, but this lineup rarely has success against soft-tossing finesse pitchers.

5. The Orioles trailed 9-1 after three innings, but you wouldn’t know it from the play of Adam Jones. He made a superb running catch in shallow left-center in the fourth and then hit a two-run shot in the fifth inning.

6. The Reds didn’t really need it, but you can see how disruptive Billy Hamilton can be on the bases with his elite speed. His problem has been getting on base consistently in his career.

7. Seth Smith leaving the game with a right hamstring strain added injury to the insult of a blowout loss. Buck Showalter told reporters it could result in a trip to the disabled list, but the veteran outfielder expressed optimism that it wasn’t serious.

8. It was encouraging seeing Mychal Givens sit in the mid-90s with his fastball after his velocity was down in his last outing in Boston six days ago. Showalter said after the game that the hard-throwing reliever had been dealing with a back issue.

9. Credit Vidal Nuno and Tyler Wilson for eating 4 1/3 innings in a lopsided loss, but you would think that the Orioles will need to make a roster move for a fresh long man to back up Ubaldo Jimenez on Wednesday.

10. Facing the red-hot Yankees, ex-Oriole Miguel Gonzalez partied in the Bronx like it was 2012 by taking a shutout into the ninth. He has a 3.62 ERA in 154 innings with the Chicago White Sox since being dumped by Baltimore last spring in favor of Mike Wright and Wilson.

11. Perhaps his status will change with Smith’s injury, but Joey Rickard is expected to go on a rehab assignment in the near future. With Trey Mancini hitting the way he is, there isn’t room on the current roster for both Rickard and Craig Gentry.

12. Consider this my annual complaint about how dull it is to watch the pitcher hit in National League-style baseball. Talk all you want about Madison Bumgarner and the five other NL pitchers who can actually swing the bat a little bit; I’ll enjoy the designated hitter.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-3 loss to Yankees

Posted on 09 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their first loss of the season in a 7-3 final against the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Baltimore pitching staff tested its fate throughout the afternoon by walking a total of 11 batters before the floodgates finally opened in the ninth inning. Frankly, the Orioles were fortunate to even have a chance to win with that kind of pitching performance.

2. Darren O’Day getting off to a poor start is concerning after an injury-plagued 2016 season that included hamstring and shoulder ailments. He walked three and gave up four earned runs in the ninth inning and has now issued five free passes in his first two innings of 2017.

3. You won’t find many starts stranger than what Wade Miley offered as he matched a career high with seven walks while giving up one hit in five scoreless innings. For a guy with a career walk rate of 2.8 per nine innings, you don’t expect control problems like that.

4. Even with those optics, I’d guess most fans would have gladly taken five scoreless frames from the inconsistent left-hander. Of course, it didn’t help that Ubaldo Jimenez and Kevin Gausman had short outings the previous two nights.

5. You knew the Orioles wouldn’t have their full bullpen Sunday after closer Zach Britton and setup man Brad Brach had pitched four times in the previous six days. Buck Showalter confirmed after the game that those two as well as Oliver Drake were not available for the series finale.

6. Of course, the offense didn’t help matters by managing only three runs before the final 14 Baltimore hitters were retired in the defeat. With Miley on the hill and a short bullpen behind him, the Orioles had to figure they’d need plenty of runs to stay undefeated on Sunday.

7. Tyler Wilson snapped the bullpen’s streak of 17 1/3 scoreless innings to begin the season by giving up a two-run triple to Ronald Torreyes in the sixth. Showalter leaned heavily on his pen to secure the first four wins, but it will catch up to you, especially without much offense.

8. It was good to see Mychal Givens get a key out against lefty-swinging Chase Headley to end the seventh, but he blew his second save by giving up the game-tying home run to right-handed bat Aaron Judge in the eighth. My main concern with Givens is still getting out lefties.

9. The Orioles haven’t seen a ton of Matt Holliday as he’s mostly played in the National League, but the new Yankees designated hitter capped off an impressive weekend by drawing a career-high five walks. The 37-year-old remains a dangerous hitter.

10. Caleb Joseph had a chance to end his long RBI drought, but he grounded out with runners at second and third in the second. He showed in 2014 and 2015 that he can be a good backup catcher, so I’m rooting for him to get through this embarrassing spell.

11. There had to be plenty of groaning in both dugouts after the clubs combined for just two runs despite 13 hitters reaching base over the first three innings. This one was hardly a classic.

12. Some uneasiness about O’Day’s performance is fair after Sunday’s defeat, but the Orioles still finished off a 4-1 homestand to begin the season. The irrational dream of a 162-0 season is over, but you’ll gladly take that kind of a week against two AL East foes.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on Opening Day win over Toronto

Posted on 04 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles topping Toronto in a 3-2 final on Opening Day, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Asked Sunday whether he was concerned that he hadn’t hit a home run in the Grapefruit League, Mark Trumbo cited how he didn’t hit any in the spring of 2013 before hitting 34 in the regular season. I’d say he further proved his point on Monday.

2. It takes a lot for Manny Machado to surprise me with anything he does in the field at this point, but his diving stop and throw to get Toronto’s Devon Travis — who has good speed — reminded us how lucky we are to watch him work at the hot corner.

3. Despite showing great fastball velocity, Kevin Gausman struggled with his command and walked four hitters over 5 1/3 innings, but he made good pitches in key spots to give his club a chance to win. He walked more than three in a start just once all last season.

4. The Orioles are now 7-0 in season openers under Buck Showalter. Yes, it’s only game and they even had a good Opening Day record during their 14 straight years of losing, but his clubs have clearly tried to set an early tone during his tenure.

5. Hyun Soo Kim would have been my choice to lead off against right-handed starters to begin the season, but it’s tough to take too much issue with Seth Smith and his .344 career on-base percentage in the top spot for now.

6. After being left in the bullpen in last year’s American League wild-card game loss in Toronto, Zach Britton pitched two scoreless innings against the Blue Jays in a tie game. Baseball’s funny.

7. How important is home-field advantage to the Orioles, who are 241-162 at Camden Yards since the start of 2012? “This is one of those places where you never feel good when they get the last at-bat,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “They’re probably the top power-hitting team in the game.”

8. After left-handed bats posted a 1.025 on-base plus slugging percentage against Mychal Givens in 2016, the right-hander gave up an RBI double to the lefty-swinging Ezequiel Carrera in the sixth inning. He needs to continue to hone the use of his changeup to combat those struggles.

9. It doesn’t show up in the box score, but Chris Davis made several superb scoops at first base to save his fellow infielders over the course of Monday’s game. He doesn’t get enough credit for the dramatic improvement he’s made there since coming to Baltimore in 2011.

10. Kudos to the home crowd for giving former Oriole Steve Pearce a nice ovation during pre-game introductions. Pearce had three hits against his old club, but that reception meant a lot to him and was much deserved.

11. Playing in his first Opening Day, Trey Mancini came off the bench to single off lefty Aaron Loup in the 10th and is 5-for-11 with three homers against southpaws in his brief career. He becomes an intriguing piece for the future if he can play a respectable right field.

12. File this one in the #FashionTweets department, but the Orioles debuted their new matte batting helmets, which better replicate the look of their caps and don’t have the glossy look.

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2017 Orioles preview: Mychal Givens

Posted on 15 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than three weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

Manny Machado
Kevin Gausman
Adam Jones
Darren O’Day
Seth Smith
Mike Wright
Caleb Joseph
Donnie Hart
Jonathan Schoop

RP Mychal Givens

Opening Day age: 26

Contract status: Under club control through the 2021 season

2016 stats: 8-2, 0 saves, 3.13 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 6 HR, 74 2/3 IP

Why to be impressed: Givens missed even more bats in his first full major league season than he did in 2015 as he led the 2016 club in strikeout rate and was second in swing-strike rate to only All-Star closer Zach Britton. The right-hander also turned in his best work in the final month of the season with a 0.71 ERA over his final 12 2/3 innings of work.

Why to be concerned: He improved against left-handers in the second half of the season, but hitters from that side of the plate still posted a .366 average with a 1.025 on-base plus slugging percentage, making it difficult to trust him in certain situations. Givens’ walk rate was also problematic from time to time after he surrendered only 1.8 walks per nine innings in 2015.

2017 outlook: With Darren O’Day coming off an injury-plagued year and Brad Brach unlikely to duplicate his 2016 first half, Givens needs to continue to hone his changeup to become an attractive option for any matchup. It will be worth monitoring how he fares early after participating in the World Baseball Classic, but all signs point to Givens again being a major contributor in the Baltimore bullpen.

2017 not-so-scientific projections: 6-4, 2 saves, 2.72 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 5 HR, 68 IP

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