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Winning streak helped, but consistency key for Orioles moving forward

Posted on 14 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Even after a 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees on Sunday that snapped a season-high six-game winning streak, there’s a lot to like about the Orioles these days.

At 31-31 with 100 games remaining in the 2015 season, they’re just a game behind their record at this point in 2014 before that club surged in the second half of the season to win 96 games and the American League East title. When Baltimore was six games below .500 less than two weeks ago, players said they weren’t panicking, but even the most positive fans couldn’t help but fear the young season could be spiraling out of control.

Since three straight losses in Houston to start the month, the Orioles have won eight of 10, but manager Buck Showalter never assumed it was just a matter of time before snapping out of the funk. He won’t conclude that everything is just fine moving forward, either.

“It’s never too early to play better baseball,” said Showalter about whether he was worried about the 23-29 start. “It’s not one of those things where you say, ‘It’s just one of those things you’ve got to go through.’ I don’t live in that world. Let’s correct it today, yesterday.”

Those recent corrections have essentially rebooted the season for the Orioles as they’ve won as many as they’ve lost as we sit in mid-June. It may no longer be early, but it’s far from being too late with a month to go until the All-Star break.

A dominating bullpen that allowed only one run over 24 1/3 innings against the Yankees and Boston, superb defense, the return of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters, and an improved offensive attack have been the catalysts for the recent surge, but the Orioles have also received significant contributions from unexpected sources, a familiar theme to the last few seasons of winning baseball in Baltimore. If you had bet at the start of spring training on the oft-injured Nolan Reimold and non-roster invitee Chaz Roe being key cogs in a June hot streak, you probably could have won at least a nickel or two a few months ago.

But contrary to popular belief, Baltimore hasn’t really been firing on all cylinders with the rotation failing to produce a start of at least six innings in eight straight games, making the winning streak even more remarkable. If the bullpen is to continue its run of dominance — a 2.11 ERA in 127 2/3 innings since April 29 — starters need to begin going deeper into games like they did in May, but the Orioles are still enduring the struggles of Chris Tillman and Bud Norris as well as the absence of the injured Miguel Gonzalez.

Rookie Mike Wright was the latest starter with an early exit Sunday as he was lifted from the game after walking the first three hitters of the top of the fifth, which eventually led to three runs and the Yankees taking a 5-3 lead that they never relinquished. It remains unclear whether he will get another start or if the Orioles will turn to the 24-year-old Kevin Gausman, who is primed to come off the 15-day disabled list this coming week.

Recent good karma aside, the Orioles know that consistency is the real key to moving above .500 and in contention in an AL East looking better of late with Tampa Bay continuing to play better-than-expected baseball and Toronto having won 11 straight games with the best offense in the majors by a wide margin.

“I think we’re definitely starting to hit our stride,” said first baseman Chris Davis about taking five of six from Boston and New York to begin the homestand. “That’s big for us to get everybody healthy and get everybody on the field and start playing together. I think that’s what we’ve done the last few games, and we’re just trying to keep the ball rolling.

“We want to be over .500; I think we expect to be over .500. There’s so much emphasis put on the stats and standings and where you are. But right now, the biggest thing for us is to go out there and try to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

The hallmark of Showalter’s winning clubs the last few years has been consistency in regularly winning series and holding their own on the road, the latter being something the Orioles haven’t done so far in 2015 with an 11-18 record away from Camden Yards. The mere fact that the latest six-game winning streak matches the longest of the Showalter era — done two other times since the 59-year-old skipper arrived in 2010 — reflects that success has been more about steady winning and minimizing losing spells rather than roller coaster rides of prosperity or pain.

While the Orioles have excelled in most facets of the game recently, they know there’s still room for improvement — particularly with the rotation of late — if they want to show they’re more like the club we’ve seen over the last 10 games than the inconsistent one on display over the first two months of the season. They have the next 3 1/2 months to prove which one they are.

“There’s no one phase of the game that overpowers it,” Showalter said on Saturday. “You’ve got to be doing a lot of things well. There’s a good crispness to our defense and guys are very alert to try to do things. You know that the teams you play, you’ve got to be on top of your game because there’s a big inning around every corner for them.”

The Orioles were reminded of that the hard way on Sunday, but they still came out of the weekend feeling much better about themselves than they have all season.

Now, the challenge will be keeping the good vibes going in the coming days.

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Orioles recall Wilson to reinforce burdened bullpen

Posted on 14 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Needing to reinforce a bullpen that’s carried a heavy load over the last week, the Orioles recalled right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson prior to Sunday’s series finale with the New York Yankees.

Despite winning six straight games to move back over the .500 mark, the Orioles have gone seven consecutive games without a starting pitcher completing six innings, which has placed a great burden on the bullpen. Orioles relievers have more than been up to the task — allowing only one run in 19 1/3 innings in the first five games of the current homestand — but manager Buck Showalter can’t continue to ask his bullpen to pitch roughly four innings per contest if he wants the group to remain effective.

To make room for Wilson on the 25-man roster, the Orioles optioned lefty reliever T.J. McFarland to Triple-A Norfolk. McFarland had pitched on Friday and Saturday and has been struggling with his command, allowing eight walks in 9 1/3 innings with Baltimore this season. Showalter wants to see the 26-year-old work out of the bullpen with the Tides, focusing on entering in the middle of innings with runners on base.

“We want to get him in the bullpen there and simulating situations he’s coming into here in the middle of an inning,” said Showalter, who added that McFarland is also dropping down to the side too much with his arm slot. “He’s had a little problem in the middle of an inning compared to starting an inning. I think some of that’s our fault.”

On the surface, McFarland’s 1.93 ERA suggests his performance has been strong, but walking 7.7 hitters per nine innings and a 2.14 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) tell the real story of how he’s fared this season.

Left-hander Brian Matusz also rejoined the bullpen Sunday after serving the final game of his suspension on Saturday night. With rookie Mike Wright starting the series finale, the Orioles maintained a seven-man bullpen with Wilson and Matusz replacing Wright and McFarland.

In three appearances for the Orioles earlier this season, Wilson posted a 3.38 ERA in eight innings. His one start in Baltimore came on May 28 when he allowed two runs in six innings of work in a 3-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

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Orioles release infielder Everth Cabrera

Posted on 13 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After designating veteran Everth Cabrera for assignment last week, the Orioles officially announced his release prior to Saturday’s game against the New York Yankees.

In 29 games this season, Cabrera batted .208 with two doubles, four RBIs, two stolen bases, and a .479 on-base plus slugging percentage. The 28-year-old was signed to a one-year, $2.4 million contract in late February and filled in for the injured J.J. Hardy for the first month of the season.

The Orioles hoped that Cabrera might provide an upgrade as a utility infielder or potential competition for the 23-year-old Jonathan Schoop at second base, but the former San Diego Padre struggled immensely at the plate and didn’t provide as much defensive versatility as utility man Ryan Flaherty. On the hook for the remainder of Cabrera’s 2015 salary, the Orioles have now parted ways with their second veteran player this month after trading outfielder Alejandro De Aza to the Boston Red Sox on June 3.

Manager Buck Showalter expects Cabrera to draw plenty of interest from other clubs as a free agent. The infielder had a minor-league option at the beginning of the season but had since accrued his fifth full year of service time, which allowed him to to refuse a minor-league assignment.

“You don’t go down that road that we went with him last week if you didn’t feel good about your replacements,” Showalter said. “He played some shortstop for us at a pretty good level until we got J.J. back. He’s capable of swinging the bat better. He’ll get an opportunity.”

In other news, Showalter reconfirmed that the plan was to start right-hander Mike Wright on Sunday if he wasn’t needed out of the bullpen in the second game of the three-game series.

Left-hander Brian Matusz returned to the Baltimore clubhouse on Saturday afternoon before serving the final contest of an eight-game ban. The Orioles were 6-1 in the first seven games of his suspension despite playing with a 24-man roster.

The southpaw specialist will rejoin the bullpen on Sunday.

“You see how he comes out of spring when he starts out with a changeup and he pitches multiple innings every outing,” said Showalter about Matusz, who was working out in Sarasota over the last week. “I’m confident we’re going to get a pretty sharp guy tomorrow. I hope so. He’ll get a chance to pitch.”

Pitching prospect Dylan Bundy will undergo a second magnetic resonance imaging exam on his right shoulder just to confirm that he was only dealing with tendinitis.

Fellow prospect Hunter Harvey remains shut down with a flexor mass strain in his right forearm, but Showalter said the 20-year-old right-hander is progressing nicely.

Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia continues to get stronger in Sarasota while recovering from right shoulder tendinitis, but it remains unclear when he will begin a minor-league rehab assignment.

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Showalter climbs to third on Orioles’ all-time wins list

Posted on 13 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Not only did the Orioles move back to the .500 mark with their fifth straight win on Friday, but the 11-3 win over the New York Yankees brought a career milestone for Buck Showalter.

The 59-year-old climbed into a tie for third place with Hank Bauer on the Orioles’ all-time managerial wins list with 407 as Showalter is in the midst of his sixth season in Baltimore. To no surprise, Showalter was more interested in talking about his players’ accomplishments against the Yankees rather than the latest addition to his career résumé.

“It means I’ve been here a long time,” Showalter said. “Obviously, the cliché-est thing is that you’ve got a lot of good players that have allowed you to be here. And your timing was real good. To see a situation that’s gotten better, I guarantee you can find a lot of people — you’ve heard me says this — who took some bullets before you got here to get it right.”

A three-time American League Manager of the Year, Showalter only trails Earl Weaver (1,480) and Paul Richards (517) on Baltimore’s career wins list. Earlier this week, he passed Charlie Grimm for 33rd on the all-time major league wins list and now owns 1,289 victories in his 17 seasons as a manager.

He is currently scheduled to manage his 2,500th game in the majors on July 5 in Chicago.

Showalter said he got to know Bauer, the manager of the 1966 World Series champions and a longtime New York Yankees outfielder, from his days managing the Yankees in the early 1990s. Bauer was hired to manage the Orioles in 1964 and lasted until 1968 when he was replaced by Weaver in the middle of the season. Bauer passed away at age 84 in 2007.

“He was pretty special,” Showalter said. “He always treated everybody the same. Very easy to talk to. You could tell how much he loved baseball. He loved talking about our team. He was on top of everything.”

Those words about Bauer could be used to describe the current Orioles manager whose attention to detail sets him apart from many others throughout the game. Earlier Friday, Showalter spent several minutes opining about the need for standardized warning tracks, citing different surfaces and varying distances from the start of the track to the outfield wall that are used in different ballparks.

It’s a mundane topic many managers have probably never considered, but Showalter is always looking for the next way to improve the game or to give his club an edge. In 2013, the warning track at Camden Yards was changed from a rubberized surface to a natural surface of crushed stone that was considered much safer for outfielders.

In reflecting on his time with the Orioles, Showalter is right in saying many others have had a part in turning fortunes around after 14 straight years of losing, but no one has meant more to changing the culture of the organization since he arrived in the second half of the 2010 season.

“My timing was good. I pinch myself every day I get a chance to do this. That won’t change,” Showalter said. “Whether it was Dave Trembley or Andy MacPhail, Dan [Duquette] and I both understand how fortunate we were to reap the benefits of some things that they did. Now, we’ve just got to keep it going.”

The timing of his arrival couldn’t have been better for the Orioles, either.

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Gonzalez expected to miss Sunday’s start against Yankees

Posted on 10 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez is expected to miss his next scheduled start against the New York Yankees on Sunday.

The right-handed starter left Tuesday’s game with a right groin strain and will likely be placed on the 15-day disabled list, but manager Buck Showalter said a roster move was unlikely to come before Thursday at the earliest. Gonzalez said he was still sore prior to Wednesday’s game against Boston.

“I would say his start Sunday is definitely in jeopardy, which is a nice way of saying he ain’t making it,” Showalter said. “Unless something really strange happens from the time he came in, it looks like we’re going to need a starting pitcher for Sunday.”

Triple-A Norfolk starters Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson are the top candidates to make Sunday’s start, but the maneuvering could be tricky if the Orioles want to recall the former to pitch against New York. Optioned to the minors last Friday, Wright would only be eligible to return for Sunday’s start if he is the one to replace Gonzalez — or another player — in a DL move since he hasn’t been in the minors for the required 10 days. However, the Orioles would probably prefer to go back to their customary seven-man bullpen as they continue to play a man down with Brian Matusz serving the four remaining games of his suspension.

If the Orioles were to place Gonzalez on the DL and recall another pitcher such as left-handed reliever Cesar Cabral, that would likely signal Tyler Wilson as Sunday’s starter. Baltimore could also elect to recall Wright as a reliever to replace Gonzalez with the idea of keeping him on track to start Sunday if he isn’t needed out of the bullpen in the meantime.

In four starts for the Orioles this season, Wright is 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 24 1/3 innings, striking out 16 and walking four.

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop practiced sliding for the first time Wednesday in Sarasota as he continues to recover from a Grade 1 tear of the posterior cruciate ligament and a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered on April 17. With extended spring training wrapping up this week, the 23-year-old is expected to return to Baltimore to continue working out with the Orioles before potentially beginning a rehab assignment.

Showalter said Schoop has still not been cleared to play the field in extended spring training games — he has been working on fielding elements in controlled settings — but the Orioles are still projecting him to be activated before the All-Star break. The Baltimore manager added that Schoop is now faster running straight ahead than he’s ever been, a reflection of how hard he’s worked over the last two months.

“It’s a pretty major injury he had, a pretty serious injury,” said Showalter, who reiterated that surgery is not an option being considered for Schoop. “There are things he’s going to have to do the rest of his career. There are guys playing in the NFL with that same injury who never had surgery. It’s going to be a challenge for him and the people around him. He’s going to have to continue to do some things and strengthen some things to play at the level he’s capable of.”

Lefty relief pitcher Wesley Wright (left trapezius strain) will pitch in an extended spring game Friday before being sent out on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Scheduled to make his next rehab start at Double-A Bowie on Thursday, right-hander Kevin Gausman said he felt great after Saturday’s start for Single-A Frederick and is feeling no effects of the shoulder tendinitis that landed him on the DL last month. He is expected to be kept to 65 pitches in his second rehab start.

Yankees closer and ex-Oriole Andrew Miller was placed on the DL with a strained flexor mass in his left forearm on Wednesday, meaning he won’t be available for the weekend series in Baltimore.

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An Orioles performance only a mother could love

Posted on 10 May 2015 by Luke Jones

There was something ironic about the Orioles turning in a performance only a mother could love in a 6-2 loss to the New York Yankees on the holiday Sunday.

In their fifth loss in six games, the Orioles struck out a club-record 18 times as Michael Pineda turned in the first 16-strikeout performance without a walk in the majors since Johan Santana did it in 2007. To be clear, the Yankees starter deserves plenty of credit as he lowered his season ERA to 2.72, but Baltimore’s frustration was evident throughout the afternoon, perhaps captured best in the fifth inning when Manny Machado slammed his bat in frustration after striking out.

Despite Sunday’s dubious achievement, the strikeout hasn’t been a universal problem for the Orioles — they entered the day ranked 15th in the majors — but Chris Davis struck out twice more on Sunday to give him a league-leading 48 in 116 plate appearances. Davis has managed to produce an .805 on-base plus slugging percentage with a club-leading seven home runs, but his contact rate of 61.9 percent entering Sunday was even lower than last season’s 63.6 percent, which doesn’t bode well for future performance.

Hoping to build on back-to-back quality starts, Bud Norris reverted to the pitcher we saw throughout spring training and most of April when he allowed four earned runs before being chased in the fourth inning. It would be unfair to ignore his last two outings in which he posted a 3.95 ERA over 13 2/3 innings, but the leash is shrinking rapidly as we approach Memorial Day.

Of course, the question of who would replace Norris was complicated with Kevin Gausman being placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis on Friday. Injuries are a cruel reality of the game, but it’s impossible not to wonder what role irregular work might have played in the most talented pitcher in the organization developing a cranky shoulder. It was one of the biggest concerns mentioned as a reason why some wanted Gausman to be working on a regular schedule in the starting rotation at Triple-A Norfolk if not pitching every fifth day in Baltimore.

The day also brought the latest cringe-worthy outing from Rule 5 pitcher Jason Garcia, who walked four batters and allowed an earned run in 2 1/3 innings. His performance mattered little to the final score, but the 22-year-old has now walked 11 batters in 13 2/3 innings and once again was sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, a far cry from the electric stuff club officials raved about as enough reason to try to carry him on the 25-man roster.

There are simply too many pitchers — Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Steve Johnson, just to name a few — performing well at Norfolk to justify continuing the Garcia experiment if he can’t even pitch in mop-up situations. And his diminished velocity makes you wonder if the long-term payoff of keeping him in the organization is even worth it.

The corner outfield spots continue to create cause for concern as right fielder Delmon Young threw to the wrong base to allow a run to score in the fourth inning and left fielder Alejandro De Aza got a bad read on Jacoby Ellsbury’s two-run double. Even with a proper break, De Aza likely wouldn’t have caught the deep liner, but Orioles pitching simply doesn’t strike out enough hitters to survive with the spottier-than-usual defense we’ve continued to see over the first five weeks of the 2015 campaign.

Even the 2013 Gold Glove winner Machado has struggled to find his usual consistency in the field with a club-leading seven errors this season.

On top of his shaky defense, De Aza struck out twice more to drop his average to .211 with a .632 OPS. He has the second-worst strikeout rate on the club behind Davis, but he hasn’t provided near the production to justify much playing time.

De Aza and Steve Pearce (.556 OPS) were counted on to be consistent contributors in 2015, but both have struggled to even stay in the lineup with such disappointing numbers. Their struggles have provided plenty of ammunition to criticize an offseason in which Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis departed via free agency and only Travis Snider was added to the outfield.

The Orioles return home 13-16 and 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees in the American League East. Panic and hopelessness are still premature, but it’s fair to be concerned with Baltimore having already suffered separate losing streaks of five and four games in the season’s first five weeks.

As manager Buck Showalter would say, blaming the underwhelming start solely on the losses of Cruz, Markakis, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller — who still has a 0.00 ERA in New York — would be a convenient excuse to overlook other problems. The Orioles have received poor pitching performances from Norris and No. 1 starter Chris Tillman and not nearly enough offense from the likes of De Aza and Pearce as well as former All-Star shorstop Everth Cabrera prior to the recent return of J.J. Hardy.

There’s no such thing as must-win games in mid-May, but the Orioles now play 17 of their next 20 games at Camden Yards. To quell concerns and keep pace as the geriatric Yankees continue to play strong baseball, the Orioles would serve themselves well to take advantage of the home cooking after a brutal stretch on the road.

They can start by putting an ugly Mother’s Day behind them as quickly as possible.

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Orioles remain in holding pattern with Wieters

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles catcher Matt Wieters continues to increase his activity level in Sarasota, but it remains unclear when he’ll be ready to go on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Nearly 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery and almost a month after being shut down with right elbow tendinitis in the middle of the Grapefruit League schedule, Wieters still hasn’t caught, but he had five at-bats serving as the designated hitter in an extended spring training game on Tuesday. The 28-year-old also threw from 150 feet and hasn’t experienced any further setbacks since he began throwing again.

“You can tell he’s feeling pretty good,” manager Buck Showalter said prior to Tuesday’s game against the New York Yankees. “He had some of that normal soreness (from throwing) that wasn’t there today.”

Showalter said he wouldn’t be surprised if Wieters were to begin a rehab assignment by the end of the month, but it’s clear the organization and the three-time All-Star selection are thinking over the long-term scope of a 162-game season after the original hope of him being ready for Opening Day did not come to fruition.

The Orioles hope Wieters could still be back in early May, but it’s too soon to tell until he gets behind the plate to start catching again in live-game situations. The disappointment of the mid-March setback aside, the 28-year-old is still on a faster track than many pitchers who come back from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery.

“I know what Matt thought when I left spring training. He gave me an idea date-wise,” Showalter said. “I’m not going to give that up, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was potentially earlier than that. But he and J.J. [Hardy] both, we want to get it right the first time.”

Hardy is still experiencing a “little catch” in his left shoulder when he extends the follow-through of his swing, something the Orioles want to remedy before he goes on a rehab assignment. The shortstop could be ready to go later this week along with utility player Jimmy Paredes (lower back strain), who played seven innings in an extended spring game on Tuesday.

The Orioles are hoping both could report to Double-A Bowie as early as Thursday or Friday if all goes well between now and then.

Lefty reliever Wesley Wright is expected to report to Sarasota on Wednesday and will be shut down completely for a week after a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed left shoulder inflammation. The Orioles are projecting him to miss four to six weeks after he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left trapezius strain on Saturday.

Below are Tuesday night’s lineups:

NEW YORK
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
3B Chase Headley
RF Carlos Beltran
1B Mark Teixeira
C Brian McCann
DH Garrett Jones
LF Chris Young
2B Stephen Drew
SS Didi Gregorius

SP CC Sabathia (0-1, 6.35 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

BALTIMORE
SS Everth Cabrera
3B Manny Machado
CF Adam Jones
1B Steve Pearce
RF Delmon Young
DH Chris Davis
2B Jonathan Schoop
C Caleb Joseph
LF Alejandro De Aza

SP Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 1.59 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

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Orioles let one get away against Yankees

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It’d be tough to sugarcoat the Orioles’ 6-5 loss to the New York Yankees on Monday night.

That one stung.

No, it isn’t crushing in the sense that the Orioles currently own a 3-4 record, and it’s premature to be concerned about an up-and-down week to begin the season. But Monday brought the kind of defeat that you can’t help but feel should have been a win if not for a series of missteps. Those are the losses on which you’ll reflect, depending on where you ultimately stand in the pennant race a few months from now.

Of course, right-hander Tommy Hunter received much of the blame for failing to locate a 3-1 fastball that resulted in a go-ahead grand slam off the bat of pinch hitter Stephen Drew in the top of the seventh inning. Despite only giving up a bloop single to Chris Young and an infield hit to Jacoby Ellsbury — a play that could have resulted in the third out of the inning had Chris Davis corralled Jonathan Schoop’s bullet throw from close range — Hunter had walked John Ryan Murphy earlier in the inning and had already labored through 24 pitches when Drew stepped to the plate.

Manager Buck Showalter had Brian Matusz ready in the bullpen before electing to let Hunter face Drew, explaining after the game that he was trying not to use the lefty specialist who had thrown 26 pitches in Sunday’s loss. Drew was 0-for-5 in his career against both pitchers, but the decision to stick with Hunter appeared counterintuitive since Matusz was ready to go and is paid to get lefty hitters out. Drew owns a career .227 average against southpaws and had batted .129 against them in 2014.

With Wesley Wright expected to miss the next four to six weeks with left shoulder inflammation, the Orioles currently have just one lefty in the bullpen aside from closer Zach Britton.

“I was trying to stay away from Brian,” Showalter said. “We’ve had a couple short starts and we only had three pitchers we were going to use in the bullpen, so it’s tough. [Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s] also got another weapon over there in [Chase] Headley, so he can [then hit for Drew] if he wants to.”

Matusz eventually pitched to two batters in the ninth inning anyway, but the damage had already been done.

That sequence aside, the Orioles didn’t help themselves by making three outs on the bases with Alejandro De Aza and Adam Jones both being thrown out trying to steal and catcher Caleb Joseph failing in trying to stretch a single into a double with two outs in the fifth. Jonathan Schoop would have made another out on the bases trying to stretch an RBI single into a double in the second inning, but a nifty slide resulted in the original out call being overturned after a Showalter replay challenge.

Many clamored this offseason for the Orioles to be more aggressive on the bases, but there’s a fine line between pushing the envelope and wasting precious outs, something they’ve been guilty of doing on several occasions in the opening week. There’s no way of knowing if any of these instances could have resulted in more scoring had they been handled differently, but you’d like to think the Orioles having three extra outs might have made a difference in a one-run game.

The rotten cherry on top of a frustrating night was watching former Oriole and new Yankees closer Andrew Miller convert a five-out save to hand Baltimore its fourth loss in the last five games. It’s no secret that Miller is a dominating presence, but the early-season struggles of the Orioles bullpen have only magnified his departure.

After the game, there was no panicking about a bullpen that’s now allowed at least one run in each of the club’s first seven contests.

“I have the utmost faith and respect for those guys,” said Jones, who hit a clutch two-run homer to break a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the sixth. “Hey, get it out of the way now. No one wants to see that in August or September. It is just how it works. I am pretty sure they are all frustrated, but me being the center fielder, I have all the faith in those guys.”

Losing is a part of the game as even the best teams will likely experience it upwards of 60 times this season, but letting potential wins slip away will wear on you. Because you never know where you might be in September and how much losses like this one can potentially cost you in the long run.

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2015 American League East preview

Posted on 04 April 2015 by Luke Jones

No team has won the American League East with fewer than 95 wins since the 2000 New York Yankees won just 87 games in the regular season before eventually winning the World Series.

That 14-year run will end this season with the division showing more parity — and vulnerability — than it has in a long time.

Below is a capsule of the five AL East clubs in their predicted order of finish:

1. BALTIMORE (2014 record: 96-66, first place)
Notable additions: INF Everth Cabrera, OF Travis Snider, LHP Wesley Wright
Notable losses: OF Nelson Cruz, OF Nick Markakis, LHP Andrew Miller
Why to like them: The defense remains excellent, which will again transform a solid but unspectacular rotation and an already-strong bullpen into a pitching staff good enough to seriously contend.
Why to dislike them: Dan Duquette rested on his laurels by not bringing in a safer bet to replace either Cruz or Markakis, which puts much dependence on players returning from injuries.
Player to watch: Snider is a former first-round pick and is coming off an excellent second half with Pittsburgh, making him a solid candidate to be the Orioles’ annual surprising performer.
2015 outlook (89-73): I don’t love this Orioles club, but the Buck Showalter effect as well as bounce-back years from Manny Machado and Chris Davis will be enough to offset the void left behind by Cruz and Markakis. It’s tough to shake the feeling that 2014 was their last best chance to win a pennant with this core, but the Orioles don’t have as many glaring weaknesses or questions as their AL East foes.

2. BOSTON (2014 record: 71-91, fifth place)
Notable additions: 3B Pablo Sandoval, OF Hanley Ramirez, RHP Rick Porcello, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Justin Masterson
Notable losses: OF Yoenis Cespedes, 3B Will Middlebrooks
Why to like them: After struggling to score runs last season, the revamped Red Sox are primed to have one of the best lineups in baseball with dependable veterans and high-upside youth.
Why to dislike them: Four of their five projected starting pitchers weren’t on the roster a year ago and all but Porcello posted an ERA above 4.00 in 2014.
Player to watch: Center fielder Mookie Betts has raked all spring as teammates and observers have gushed over his potential at the top of the Boston order.
2015 outlook (87-75): If a similar roster were constructed 10 years ago, the Red Sox would be the overwhelming favorite to win the AL East with such an imposing lineup and they still might do it anyway. However, the current pitching-rich era in baseball makes you doubt an underwhelming rotation and a suspect bullpen. The pitching is what will ultimately prevent Boston from seizing the AL East title.

3. TORONTO (2014 record: 83-79, third place)
Notable additions: 3B Josh Donaldson, C Russell Martin, OF Michael Saunders
Notable losses: OF Melky Cabrera, INF Brett Lawrie, LHP J.A. Happ
Why to like them: After already scoring plenty of runs last year, the Blue Jays have a more potent lineup with the addition of an MVP-caliber player like Donaldson and the veteran Martin.
Why to dislike them: The bullpen is suspect and the rotation will lean on graybeards R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle while hoping youngsters Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris develop quickly.
Player to watch: The 21-year-old lefty Norris has plenty of talent and will begin the season in the Toronto rotation despite logging just 58 1/3 innings above the Single-A level in the minors.
2015 outlook (83-79): Nothing gets people going more about a club’s potential than talented young pitching, but it rarely comes together as quickly as you’d like. That reality along with a bullpen lacking the arms to consistently back them up will be the Blue Jays’ undoing late in the season as they fade behind Baltimore and Boston.

4. TAMPA BAY (2014 record: 77-85, fourth place)
Notable additions: OF Steven Souza, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, OF/C John Jaso
Notable losses: UTI Ben Zobrist, OF Wil Myers, RHP Jeremy Hellickson
Why to like them: If they’re able to overcome some early injury concerns, the Rays probably have the best starting rotation in the division, which will keep them competitive.
Why to dislike them: Offense was always a weakness even in their best years, but no one scares you at all in the current lineup except for third baseman Evan Longoria.
Player to watch: The 25-year-old Souza shows promise, but the Rays desperately need the offensive success he enjoyed at Triple-A Syracuse last season to carry over with his new club.
2015 outlook (80-82): The overall makeup of this division would have screamed for you to bet on the underdog Rays in past years, but that was before the departures of manager Joe Maddon and general manager Andrew Friedman. With starting pitchers Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore currently on the mend, the Rays will lag behind in the division early before improving as the year continues.

5. NEW YORK (2014 record: 84-78, second place)
Notable additions: SS Didi Gregorius, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Nathan Eovaldi
Notable losses: RHP Hiroki Kuroda, RHP David Robertson, SS Derek Jeter
Why to like them: The upside of starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda speaks for itself if they can stay healthy.
Why to dislike them: Old, injury-prone, and expensive is no way to go through a 162-game season, which is exactly what the Yankees are trying to do at this point.
Player to watch: Reliever Dellin Betances is coming off a terrific season, but his velocity is down and his command has been poor this spring, which will cause him to share closer duties with Miller early on.
2015 outlook (78-84): The names you’ll find up and down the Yankees’ lineup would have had you salivating in 2011, but age and injuries will put too much pressure on a starting rotation praying that Tanaka’s elbow holds up and the 34-year-old Sabathia bounces back from knee surgery. The Yankees won’t be awful, but they will finish in last place for the first time since 1990.

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Ravens release Canty to clear $2.66 million in cap space

Posted on 27 February 2015 by Luke Jones

Defensive end Chris Canty became the second veteran player to be released by the Ravens this week.

The 32-year-old had his contract terminated on Friday morning, a move that saves the Ravens $2.66 million on their 2015 salary cap. Canty was entering the final season of a three-year, $8 million contract and had been pondering retirement this winter, but many predicted he would be a roster victim due to the Ravens’ tight salary-cap situation.

Return specialist Jacoby Jones had his contract terminated earlier this week.

“I am very proud to be a Raven,” Canty said in a statement released by the organization. “They are a great franchise, and I was privileged to be a contributor to that outstanding tradition of defense that is part of the team’s lore.

“I am going to continue to prepare to play again and will explore other possibilities to play the game I love.”

In 26 games over two seasons with Baltimore, Canty didn’t make a big impact on the field, but he was one of the most respected veterans in the locker room, a detail that shouldn’t be overlooked after the turbulent nature of last year with the Ray Rice saga and four other player arrests. However, with the Ravens selecting defensive end Brent Urban in the fourth round of the 2014 draft — he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in last year’s training camp — and also having younger options on the roster such as DeAngelo Tyson and Kapron Lewis-Moore, Canty was viewed as expendable.

The Ravens could also re-sign veteran Lawrence Guy, who played effectively at the 5-technique in the defensive line rotation after being picked up from the San Diego Chargers in early October. General manager Ozzie Newsome did not rule out the possibility of bringing back Canty at a reduced rate, but the Ravens will likely be content in going with younger, cheaper options at defensive end.

“We are a better franchise for having Chris Canty with us the last two years,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. “He added maturity and leadership. Chris played well and played a lot of snaps for us, especially last season. He was an outstanding contributor to our playoff season in 2014.”

Canty missed five games during the 2014 campaign while dealing with a staph infection in his wrist in October and an ankle injury at the end of the regular season. He finished the year with 33 tackles, two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a half-sack.

In his 10-year career, Canty has also played for the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, earning a Super Bowl XLVI championship ring.

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