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Orioles must slow speedy Royals in quest for AL pennant

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Orioles must slow speedy Royals in quest for AL pennant

Posted on 09 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter almost sounded coy when asked about the speed of the Kansas City Royals as his club made final preparations for the American League Championship Series scheduled to get underway Friday night.

With five Royals players recording double-digit steals in the regular season and another rookie — Terrance Gore — stealing three bases in his first four postseason games, the Orioles face a tall order in slowing Kansas City’s speed demons, a factor many view as a potential tipping point between two clubs that are very similar beyond their contrasting offensive styles.

“They’re not automatically going to all of a sudden run slower tomorrow,” Showalter said. “If anything, they’re going to run faster. You don’t control that. It’s impossible. It’s one of those givens. Try to keep them off base as much as you can.”

Sure, there’s no better remedy for neutralizing speed than preventing runners from reaching first, but the Orioles don’t sound nearly as concerned about the Kansas City running game Thursday as the many outsiders trying to break down this matchup. As some ponder whether the season-ending elbow injury to Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters will finally catch up to Baltimore in this best-of-seven series, the Orioles spent Thursday pointing out that their regular style of play always involves containing an opponent’s running game.

Most of the attention falls on the shoulders of the catching tandem of Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph, but the ability to stop potential thievery runs deeper.

Even with the two-time Gold Glove selection Wieters limited to just 22 games behind the plate this season before an elbow injury eventually led to Tommy John surgery, opponents still attempted the fourth-fewest number of steals in the AL against Baltimore this season. The Orioles ranked sixth in the AL by throwing out 28 percent of runners trying to steal with Joseph — a 28-year-old rookie not known for his defensive work in the minors — and the veteran Hundley handling the catching duties for much of the season.

And that’s when you begin to see where the real responsibility lies in controlling an opponent’s running game.

“The easiest way [to neutralize it] is quick times to the plate, no question,” said former Orioles outfielder and current vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, who swiped 315 bases in his 15-year career. “As a base stealer, you steal bases off the pitcher. It doesn’t matter to me if [13-time Gold Glove winner] Ivan Rodriguez was behind the plate; if the pitcher was slow, I’m going.”

Look no further than Game 1 starter Chris Tillman to see how much emphasis the Orioles have placed on pitchers being fast to the plate and holding runners since Showalter’s arrival during the 2010 season. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was admittedly poor when it came to holding runners during his early years with the Orioles before Showalter and Wieters preached the need for him to shorten his delivery to prevent runners from going wild on the bases.

It was a mindset that several pitchers have needed to learn the hard way during Showalter’s tenure, with some even earning demotions to the minors as a result.

Tillman has not only posted back-to-back 200-inning seasons to emerge as the ace of the Baltimore rotation, but the 26-year-old has allowed only two stolen bases since the start of the 2013 season.

“When Buck got here, it was a big pet peeve of his,” Tillman said. “You’ve got to be quick and give your catchers a chance. Anytime the opposing guys get an extra 90 feet for free, you’re not doing yourself a favor. It’s an organizational thing now. Early on, I don’t think it was. I was young and immature and didn’t know any better, to tell you the truth.”

Of course, the Royals aren’t just any other club in stealing 153 bases to lead the majors in the regular season, and they appear to have only gotten better in that department with the addition of the speedy Gore to go along with Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, and Nori Aoki. They have gone a remarkable 12-for-13 attempting to steal in four postseason games.

But the Orioles feel confident in their scouting and preparation and their biggest weapon in helping to neutralize an opponent’s running game, which is none other than bench coach John Russell.

“A lot of it comes from the bench,” Hundley said. “John Russell does an unbelievable job knowing tendencies, knowing when to throw over, knowing when to pitch out. He doesn’t get enough credit. He controls all the pick-offs and all that stuff. How good he is at it helps us out — me and Caleb — a bunch. And it takes a lot of pressure off the pitchers, because they know he’ll put them in a very successful position.”

It remains to be seen how Showalter will distribute the catching duties over the course of the series, but Hundley is expected to start Game 1. The 31-year-old veteran acquired from the San Diego Padres in late May handled a larger portion of the playing time down the stretch despite throwing out only 19 percent of runners trying to steal this season. In contrast, Joseph gunned down 40 percent during his rookie season even though his defense was often viewed as a hindrance in his minor-league development for years.

Regardless of who might be behind the plate, the mindset isn’t expected to change for Orioles pitchers as they will do what they always do — even against the speedy Royals.

“All the pitchers feel comfortable with it, because it’s something we’ve always put the onus on,” Wieters said. “It shouldn’t be anything different in their minds as far as what they need to do. They stick with their same times to the plate, and it gives us a chance. As a catcher, that’s all you want. There are certain guys that you won’t throw out, but we feel like every pitcher out there is giving the catcher a chance to make a good throw and hopefully get an out.”

Ultimately, the Orioles know they can’t reinvent the wheel when trying to slow a club that ran wild against the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card Game and continued their aggressiveness against the Los Angeles Angels in a three-game sweep in the AL Division Series. They’ll simply stick with their regular habits of being quick to the plate and holding runners effectively while likely being savvy in attempting to interrupt runners’ timing with pick-off attempts or by simply holding the ball a little longer in some instances.

Showalter isn’t going to change who the Orioles are at this late stage, nor should he try to with a club that won 96 games this season with plenty of its own strengths. And he saw firsthand in September how a pitcher can fall apart on the hill if he’s dwelling on a fast runner and not focusing on the hitter at the plate.

“We’ve talked about it, but we’re not going to rob from Peter to pay Paul,” Showalter said. “I think one time we had Quintin [Berry] pinch‑running for us late in the year, and without naming the [opposing] pitcher, you could tell his whole delivery changed trying to keep him from stealing second. He gave up three hits, back to back to back. We didn’t steal a base, but we didn’t have to.

“But we’ve got some things that they might have to adjust to, too.”

The biggest key will be maintaining their mental toughness by not allowing Kansas City’s preference for a track meet to take away from what they do best.

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Royals ALCS matchup

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Royals ALCS matchup

Posted on 08 October 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Orioles prepare to play the Kansas City Royals for the first time ever in the postseason and for the right to advance to their first World Series in 31 years, here are 10 talking points to break down their meeting in the American League Championship Series beginning Friday night:

1. It isn’t Eddie Murray vs. George Brett, but the tradition of yesteryear in each city makes this series a blast.

Yes, it’s been three decades since either the Orioles or Royals found themselves playing in the Fall Classic, but that’s what makes this series so much fun as younger baseball fan will be exposed to the history of each franchise. From 1973 through 1985, Baltimore and Kansas City combined to win two World Series titles, four AL pennants, and 10 division championships and were regarded as two of the model franchises in the major leagues. This history may not mean much to the current players or have any impact on the play on the field, but the fans’ thirst for a World Series will be palpable at both Kauffman Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

2. You won’t find more contrasting offensive styles with the stakes so high.

It’s thunder against lightning as the Orioles led the major leagues with 211 home runs while the Royals stole more bases (153) than any of the 29 other clubs. Meanwhile, Baltimore stole the fewest number of bases (44) in the big leagues and Kansas City ranked 30th with only 95 home runs. Five Royals players hit double digits in swiped bags while the Orioles’ leader in the category was David Lough with eight. Seven Orioles hit 12 or more homers — Manny Machado and Chris Davis will not play in this series — compared to just three for Kansas City. Despite their contrasting styles, the Orioles finished the regular season ranked sixth in the AL in runs with 705 compared to Kansas City coming in ninth with 651. Baltimore has the better offense over the long haul, but the Royals will try to turn a short series into a 100-meter dash while the Orioles emphasize their advantage in the shot put.

3. The Royals stack up more favorably to the Baltimore defense that Detroit did.

The Orioles still have the edge in the field, but Kansas City has a number of Gold Glove-caliber players including catcher Salvador Perez and outfielders Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. The Orioles rank third in the AL in BaseballReference.com’s defensive efficiency statistic while the Royals came in sixth in the regular season. Baltimore made the third-fewest number of errors (87) in the AL this season while Kansas City ranked 10th with 104. Both clubs made sparkling plays in the Division Series and rely on their defense to make a difference in close games.

4. Scoring early will be a high priority for both clubs.

Unlike the luxury the Orioles had against Detroit in the Division Series, they cannot expect to wait out starting pitchers for scoring opportunities in the late inning against the Royals, whose trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera might be even better than their own triumvirate of Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, and Darren O’Day. The Orioles’ 3.10 bullpen ERA ranked third in the AL while Kansas City’s 3.30 mark ranked fifth, which will cause both lineups to feel the urgency to break through prior to the sixth inning. Even with so many other great names in each bullpen, the wild cards could be right-hander Kevin Gausman and Kansas City lefty Brandon Finnegan, who made a major impact in the Wild Card Game after only being drafted in the first round out of Texas Christian a few months ago.

5. The spotlight will be much brighter on Adam Jones to produce in this series.

It’s cruel to judge any player on a sample size of only 37 at-bats, but the Orioles center fielder has amassed only four hits in his postseason career and will feel the heat if his bat doesn’t wake up in the ALCS. Being an aggressive hitter throughout his career, Jones must fight the urge to over-swing, especially when he has opportunities to drive in runs. The 29-year-old singled and walked in his final two plate appearances of the ALDS, which the Orioles hope are signs of better things to come this October for a player who’s meant so much to the club’s success over the last three years. Nelson Cruz carried the Orioles in the ALDS, but Jones waking up would make them even more difficult to beat in a best-of-seven series.

6. The Orioles are better equipped to handle Kansas City’s jackrabbits on the base paths.

The Royals are an incredible 12-for-13 attempting to steal in the postseason, which has certainly provided Buck Showalter with some restless nights this week. However, the Orioles will have more success in slowing Kansas City runners than either Oakland or the Angels because of their focus on slowing an opposing club’s running game. Baltimore ranked sixth in the AL by throwing out 28 percent of runners attempting to steal, but the fact that they faced the fourth-fewest number of stolen base attempts is a reflection of how well pitchers hold runners and how quick they are to the plate to help catchers Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley. Of the two, Joseph is more adept at gunning down runners (a 40 percent success rate to Hundley’s 19 percent), so it will be interesting to see how much more Showalter might lean on the younger catcher in this series after Hundley started two of the three ALDS games.

7. Former Oriole starter Jeremy Guthrie pitching against his former club in the ALCS will be somewhat surreal.

With apologies to Baltimore reserve Jimmy Paredes, Guthrie is the most intriguing name to face his former team in this series and had the misfortune of being dealt away from the Orioles just before their resurgence in 2012. The classy right-hander has found a home with the Royals where he’s continued to be a solid member of the rotation and has been rewarded with a taste of the postseason after pitching respectably on some otherwise awful Orioles clubs from 2007 through 2011. Though Guthrie probably wouldn’t be slated to start before Game 4 unless the Royals elect to go with Danny Duffy in the rotation and put him in the bullpen, it will be interesting to see the Orioles face the 35-year-old, who acts as a symbol of the club’s past as they seek their first AL pennant in 31 years.

8. Neither club received enough credit for its starting pitching during the regular season.

The Orioles and Royals are known for their stout bullpens, but their rotations have been very effective despite lacking big names. The projected Game 1 starters, Chris Tillman and James Shields, are two of the better pitchers in the AL — the latter for a longer period of time — but each has just one All-Star appearance to his name. Baltimore’s starter ERA of 3.61 ranked just a hair below the Royals’ fourth-ranked 3.60 mark in the AL. The strong bullpens for both sides decrease the chances of any starter pitching particularly deep into games, but there’s no reason to think either side will have problems in this department.

9. This series may feature the two best relievers in baseball right now — and neither are closers.

While Britton and Holland have been two of the best ninth-inning men in baseball in 2014, Miller and Davis are the scariest weapons in their respective bullpens as they combined to strike out 212 hitters in 134 1/3 innings during the regular season. Miller’s ERA was 1.35 in 23 regular-season appearances for the Orioles after being dealt by Boston while Davis posted a 1.00 ERA in 71 appearances for Kansas City this year. Showalter has already demonstrated he’s not afraid to use Miller for more than one inning in the postseason while Davis was a starter as recently as last season, making you think he can be stretched out as well. Regardless of who ends up winning this series, it would be shocking if Miller and Davis aren’t the busiest bullpen arms in the best-of-seven showdown.

10. Buck Showalter has a sizable advantage over Ned Yost on this stage.

The strong sentiment shared among many around baseball is that the Royals have won in spite of their manager, who prefers the small-ball tactics detested by sabermetricians. Meanwhile, Showalter often speaks of his preference to not waste his offense’s 27 outs per game and rarely calls for sacrifice bunts and other tactics such as the hit and run. You do wonder if the Orioles’ strong bullpen will press Yost to lean even more on manufacturing runs than he normally does, but Showalter is more likely to stay the course with his lineup — even against the Royals’ stingy relievers. As for bullpen management, the skipper who is more willing to break the standard thinking of when to use his relievers will give his team the edge. Showalter is the superior tactician and has already shown his willingness to stretch his best relievers during the Division Series.

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Tillman ready for next step as Orioles’ postseason ace

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Tillman ready for next step as Orioles’ postseason ace

Posted on 01 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Just a few years ago, not many would have believed Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman would be the one taking the ball for the opening game of a playoff series.

Acquired with outfielder Adam Jones as the centerpieces of the Erik Bedard trade in February 2008, Tillman carried a career 5.58 ERA in 36 starts over his first three major league seasons in which he shuffled back and forth between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk. The struggles left him as an afterthought in many minds as the Orioles embarked on what turned out to be a surprising 2012 season that resulted in their first postseason appearance in 15 years.

It wasn’t until that July that Tillman finally got another chance in the rotation and established himself as a major league starter by going 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts. Even with Tillman having such an impressive second half, manager Buck Showalter elected to send him to the bullpen in the 2012 playoffs where he did not pitch.

Last year, he established himself as the staff ace and was named to his first All-Star Game. And after being named the Opening Day starter for the first time earlier this year, Tillman will take another step in his dramatic progression by making his postseason debut against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Thursday night.

“It has been a journey, to say the least,” Tillman said. “I had a couple of rough years early on and kind of turned things around come 2012. I think that goes to show where the organization is at, not just personally, but all the way throughout. … For myself, like I’ve always said, it’s a big puzzle, and you’re trying to find the pieces to it and put the puzzle together.”

Completing his second consecutive 200-inning season and posting a 20-start streak of allowing three or fewer earned runs that wasn’t snapped until his final outing of the regular season, Tillman’s final 2014 numbers that included a 13-6 record with a 3.34 ERA weren’t such a sure thing as late as early June. Slow starts in the early innings and poor fastball command led to Tillman holding a 5.20 ERA through his first 13 starts.

His early-inning pains and a lingering groin issue led many to wonder if a market correction was finally taking place after his superb 1 1/2 years, but the 26-year-old instead made adjustments and went on the most successful run of his career, posting a 2.38 ERA over his final 21 starts to not only silence doubters but make it an elementary choice for Showalter to choose him as the Game 1 starter against the Tigers.

“He’s just a really hard worker. I know his talent is really immense,” catcher Nick Hundley said. “I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for how good he is. It’s a tough game. You don’t roll out here and put up Nintendo numbers like he has the last three or four months without being really good.”

Tillman will be opposed by 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, leading many to overlook the tall right-hander once again, but his numbers since early June suggest he is as dangerous as any starting pitcher remaining in the postseason. The only question will be how he responds to the limelight of his first playoff appearance, but Tillman is often praised by teammates and coaches alike for his even demeanor, which should allow him to handle what’s sure to be a raucous crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

For the California native, it’s just another step and just another start, even while anticipating some butterflies.

“The only difference is the stakes are higher. I take every game the same way,” Tillman said. “They’re all important. There is not one that’s less important than the other. Once the game starts and the bell rings, that’s where we’re comfortable as a team. Might have extra feelings before the game, be nervous, but if you’re not nervous, you need to find another job.”

Hot corner, hot topic

When asked about how he anticipated handling the third base position, Showalter wasn’t tipping his hand Wednesday as the Orioles have given starts to Ryan Flaherty, Jimmy Paredes, Kelly Johnson, and Alexi Casilla at the hot corner since Chris Davis was suspended for amphetamine use on Sept. 12.

The growing pains have been clear as the Orioles had appeared to settle on Davis as their regular replacement for the injured Gold Glove winner Manny Machado before the slugger was banned for 25 games, a stretch that makes him ineligible until the ninth game of the postseason should the club advance. Baltimore made seven errors at third base over the final 10 games of the regular season.

“I feel confident in the people that will be playing and they’ve got a good track record,” Showalter said. “I don’t think anybody is trying to be as good as Manny. [He] had a historical year defensively, but we’ve been able to present ourselves well over there. I feel confident that we will continue to do that.”

Most believe Showalter will go with the strongest available defensive option in the postseason, which would be Flaherty despite the utility infielder committing three errors over his final four starts at third.

The 2012 Rule 5 pick said he is feeling more comfortable after getting extensive time at third base for the first time since the beginning of the year when he was filling in for the still-rehabbing Machado. Flaherty has made five errors in 27 starts and 255 1/3 total innings at third base this season.

“Part of my job here was to be able to be flexible and move around,” Flaherty said. “Getting over there the last couple weeks with Manny being gone, with Chris being gone [has helped]. You feel a little more comfortable the more you’re there.”

Rotation, roster remain secret

Showalter said Wednesday that he won’t announce the rest of his starting rotation until the conclusion of Game 1, but Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris will be the three starters behind Chris Tillman — in some order.

The 23-year-old Kevin Gausman was told to be ready for Game 1, a surefire sign that he will pitch in relief during the Division Series. However, it remains to be seen how many will be joining him in the bullpen as the Orioles are debating whether to go with a six-man group of relievers and a six-man bench or seven relief pitchers and five on the bench. A six-man bullpen would include Gausman, closer Zach Britton, right-handers Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter, lefty Andrew Miller, and either righty-hander Brad Brach or left-hander Brian Matusz.

“The decision for us is going with 10 or 11 [pitchers], and we’ve kicked it around until we’re blue in the face like everybody does,” Showalter said. “If you knew exactly what was going to be needed for each game, it would be real easy to do.”

The deadline to finalize the Division Series roster is 10 a.m. Thursday.

“Cheerleader” Machado progressing well

Machado was back at Camden Yards to watch Games 1 and 2 of the Division Series before reporting to Sarasota to continue rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee.

The 22-year-old remains optimistic that he’ll be 100 percent for the start of spring training in February.

“I’m doing everything,” said Machado, who is embracing the role of cheering for teammates despite not being able to play. “Activating the muscles and trying to get my quads back. I’m basically full-go [in a] couple weeks, hopefully. I have full range of motion already, and hopefully in a couple weeks, I’ll start riding the bike and get that going.”

Mr. Oriole pays visit

Hall of Fame third baseman and Orioles legend Brooks Robinson was a special guest speaker before the 2014 Orioles completed their workout at Camden Yards on Wednesday.

“His message was that he’s excited to see how excited Baltimore is,” Tillman said. “To us, that’s special. He’s been there. He’s been there for the World Series, for the playoffs, and he said this is the most fans he’s ever seen walking around the streets wearing their Baltimore Orioles jerseys and are proud of it.”

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Aiming high only way to go if Orioles want to add starting pitching

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Aiming high only way to go if Orioles want to add starting pitching

Posted on 16 July 2014 by Luke Jones

You can never have too much starting pitching, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has repeated that sentiment despite the Orioles enjoying a four-game lead in the American League East at the All-Star break.

The Orioles rank fifth in the American League in pitching and 11th in starting pitching, but unlike the last couple seasons in which they were often desperately looking for just a warm body or two to add to the mix, the starting rotation appears to be moving in the right direction. Even with the season-long struggles of the injured Ubaldo Jimenez, the starting pitching has posted a 3.18 ERA over the last 33 games spanning 198 innings, lowering the starting pitching ERA from 4.61 to 4.09 since June 9.

No one will mistake this rotation for the 1971 Orioles, but Duquette should be picky in any quest to add starting pitching between now and the trade deadline at the end of the month. Wondering whether the club has the quality to compete with the front end of other playoff rotations in October is fair, but the upside of Kevin Gausman and even the second-half track record of Jimenez — who has been dominant for stretches of his career when his mechanics are in order — will be worth monitoring down the stretch with an eye toward the postseason.

Even if the Orioles still lack top-half quality, they have more stability in their rotation than they’ve enjoyed in a long time.

Manager Buck Showalter has used just seven starting pitchers all year with one of them — lefty reliever T.J. McFarland — receiving only one start. In 2013, 14 different pitchers made starts and 10 made at least four starts. The year before that, 12 different hurlers made starts with 10 making at least four starts.

Stability — with relatively decent health — has afforded Duquette the luxury of not needing to look for the likes of Scott Feldman, Joe Saunders, Jair Jurrjens, and Freddy Garcia on this year’s market. That’s what made the recent news of the Orioles scouting Colorado lefty Jorge De La Rosa that much more perplexing as he doesn’t represent an apparent upgrade over anyone — including Jimenez — in the current rotation with his 4.56 ERA in 2014 and 4.69 career mark.

The Orioles have also been linked to San Diego’s Ian Kennedy, who has posted a 3.47 ERA in 20 starts, but he’s a career 3.94 ERA pitcher who’s spent most of his career in the National League. The Padres will likely be asking for a lot for the right-hander, and Duquette shouldn’t part ways with the precious few top prospects he has unless he’s positive he’s gaining a substantial upgrade. Kennedy may provide that, but his talent level should only be the baseline at which the Orioles are looking at this point.

More so than even in 2013 or 2012, the Orioles have plenty of quality when it comes to filling out the back of the rotation. They have an abundance of No. 4 and No. 5 starters.

An injury or two could obviously change that tune quickly, but Duquette must aim high if the Orioles are to add starting pitching between now and the end of the July. Jeff Samardzija has already been dealt to Oakland and David Price may not be traded at all — and they probably don’t have the freight to acquire the AL East pitcher, anyway — but those are the types of arms to be examining.

Anything less is just a waste of time and resources.

Standing pat at catcher

Many have asked about the possibility of the Orioles adding another catcher to the mix as Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley have handled the workload since Matt Wieters underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery, but Duquette has said on several occasions that they’re unlikely to make another move in that department.

Boston officially released A.J. Pierzynski on Wednesday, but the Orioles don’t view him as a significant upgrade offensively — the 37-year-old posted just a .633 on-base plus slugging percentage with the Red Sox — to compromise the rapport Joseph and Hundley have built with the pitching staff and the defensive work they’ve displayed over the better part of two months. And that’s not even mentioning Pierzynski’s outspoken personality that could potentially compromise a strong clubhouse.

Hundley has come on lately with the bat, raising his average to a respectable .250, while Joseph has posted a .690 OPS since the beginning of June and had a solid offensive track record in the minor leagues despite his current .187 average. Neither will fool you as quality offensive catchers, but trying to add an impact backstop while bringing him up to speed with the pitching staff will be extremely difficult.

If the Orioles are looking for an offensive boost, they could take another extended look at Steve Clevenger, but Showalter is going to value defensive work behind the plate and the current duo — particularly Joseph — has done an admirable job in that department.

Left-handed bat still needed

The emergence of Steve Pearce has been one of the great stories of the 2014 season, but the Orioles shouldn’t assume the 31-year-old will continue to perform at a rate that warrants everyday playing time with no questions asked.

His .316 average, 11 home runs, and 31 runs batted in are a major reason why Baltimore currently sits in first place, but it’s still a stretch to expect his current .300 average and .846 OPS against right-handed pitching to continue. For his career, Pearce is hitting just .237 with a .667 OPS against right-handers and that’s including his amazing numbers this season.

In other words, a left-handed hitting outfielder that feasts against right-handed pitching should be a priority to add for the stretch as the only left-handed bats to make real contributions this season are Nick Markakis and the struggling Chris Davis. The speedy Lough has been a major disappointment at the plate, and the Orioles must anticipate the possibility of needing to platoon Pearce if he reverts to his career form.

Even if Pearce continues to thrive as an everyday player, the Orioles would benefit from a left-handed version of Delmon Young to come off the bench in the late innings as Lough and utility player Ryan Flaherty just don’t provide formidable options at the plate. The Orioles had looked into the services of Padres outfielder Seth Smith, who feasts against right-handed pitching, before he signed a two-year extension with San Diego earlier this month.

A player of that ilk would make perfect sense for the roster.

Pondering futures of Cruz and Davis

It’s incredible to think how much can change in a year as Orioles fans were clamoring for the organization to sign Davis to a long-term contract as he entered the All-Star break with 37 home runs last year and would go on to hit a franchise record 53 in 2013. Meanwhile, Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz was a couple weeks away from beginning a 50-game suspension stemming from his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.

A year later, Davis sits with a lowly .199 average at the break while Cruz has parlayed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles into what looks like a pending lucrative payday as he’s second in the majors with 28 home runs and has often carried the Baltimore offense this year while Davis and others have struggled.

It’s interesting to see so many fans crushing Davis for his poor first half — that’s not to say criticism hasn’t been warranted — while screaming for the Orioles to sign the 34-year-old Cruz to a long-term contract when many of those same fans wanted to give Davis the keys to the city last offseason.

The Orioles will certainly make Cruz a qualifying offer after the season to at least recover a draft pick and should see if he’s willing to sign a short-term extension at a higher annual cost per year, but giving him more than two or three years at the most would be a mistake for an aging player coming off what looks to be his career year.

Davis’ future will be more interesting to figure out as he tries to rebound from a miserable first half and remains under team control through next season.

 

 

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Orioles hoping for best, bracing for worst with Wieters’ follow-up appointment

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Orioles hoping for best, bracing for worst with Wieters’ follow-up appointment

Posted on 13 June 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Matt Wieters is scheduled to make his follow-up visit to Dr. James Andrews on Monday while the Orioles hope for the best and prepare for the worst regarding their injured catcher.

On the 15-day disabled list with right elbow soreness since May 11, Wieters hasn’t progressed as well as he’d hoped since beginning a throwing program two weeks ago and faces the prospects of needing season-ending surgery to correct the problem. The Orioles have laid out July 1 as the deadline for Wieters to go under the knife without missing any time at the start of the 2015 season with a normal rehabilitation scheduled.

Manager Buck Showalter wasn’t about to reveal his gut feeling about how Wieters’ appointment will go with the renowned orthopedic surgeon but didn’t paint a rosy picture about the two-time All-Star catcher’s status for the rest of the 2014 season.

“It’s another one of those where I know a little more than I’m going to talk about,” Showalter said. “I don’t want to say something that’s not honest. He’s still got a chance. I think we’re all curious to see what Dr. Andrews is going to say. We’ve got it set up both ways. He’ll [either] be returning to us and get right back into his program or we can proceed with the other option, which I have trouble saying out loud. There’s only really two options here.”

In Wieters’ absence, the Orioles have used the trio of Nick Hundley, Caleb Joseph, and Steve Clevenger behind the plate. Acquired from the San Diego Padres on May 24, Hundley initially looked like he’d be the starting catcher for the foreseeable future, but Joseph made his fourth start in the club’s last five games on Friday night.

Clevenger has hit .455 in 44 at-bats since being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, but his less-than-stellar defense was a deciding factor behind his demotion.

Showalter was amused when asked by a reporter if he was satisfied with his current options behind the plate should Wieters’ appointment bring bad news from Gulf Breeze, Fla. on Monday.

“What am I supposed to say, no?” Showalter said. “‘By God, Dan [Duquette] better go get an All-Star catcher right away just like Matt.’ I am [comfortable]. I think they’ve done a good job all things considered. We’ve tried real hard to create some depth here catching.

“We’ve got some things to pick from. That’s really been a challenge for us in the last few years. We always said, ‘What if Matt [gets hurt]? What are we going to do?’ Well, here we are. I hope that we get some good news on Monday, but you better prepare like you’re not.”

Machado appeal date not imminent

Showalter and the Orioles know the date that third baseman Manny Machado’s appeal will be heard on a five-game suspension stemming from the bat-throwing incident against the Oakland Athletics, but the organization is not commenting.

The manager only said that it isn’t imminent and that the 21-year-old will be available for the remainder of the weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Many have speculated that Machado’s appeal could be heard when the Orioles arrive in the Bronx to take on the New York Yankees next weekend, but that’s not a guarantee.

The club will need to add a backup infielder to the mix when Machado’s suspension begins with the assumption that Ryan Flaherty will handle third-base duties. This means Showalter will only have 11 pitchers at his disposal with Machado still counting against the 25-man roster while he serves his penalty.

“It’s not like you can pick the date and take the suspension,” Showalter said. “‘OK, he’s suspended and we’ll take it in September.’ You can’t do that. That’s not the way it’s designed. Once they render a decision, it’s right away. If you look at the precedent for situations like this, we feel like and Manny feels like [five games is a] little strong.”

Rotation still not set for Tampa Bay series

Lefty Wei-Yin Chen will pitch the series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, but Showalter wasn’t prepared to name his starters for Games 2 and 3 on Friday afternoon.

“I think after [Friday night], I’ll be able to give you [scheduled starters for] Tuesday and Wednesday,” said Showalter. “No, probably [Saturday].”

Many are clamoring for both Kevin Gausman and Miguel Gonzalez — who is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Sunday — to remain in the rotation while questioning the status of Ubaldo Jimenez, who entered his Friday start with a 5.01 ERA in 13 outings this season. Of course, the $50 million investment the Orioles made in him this offseason provides a longer leash, but a club aiming to win now may want to consider a temporary shift to the bullpen or a trip to the disabled list for the struggling right-hander if his fortunes don’t improve quickly.

Tough day for knuckleballers

Norfolk knuckleball pitcher Eddie Gamboa was suspended for 50 games on Friday for testing positive for exogenous testosterone. His suspension begins immediately after he began the season 4-5 with a 4.06 ERA in 14 games (12 starts).

“I know some people are going to make comments about a knuckleball guy and the connection with whatever,” Showalter said. “They’re missing the point on why. Obviously, I know a lot more about why and looking into it. He was on the radar here, so it’s unfortunate.”

Another converted knuckleball pitcher in the organization received bad news on Friday as UMBC product Zach Clark was released.

 

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Orioles option Clevenger to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for returning Davis

Posted on 27 May 2014 by Luke Jones

As expected, the Orioles activated first baseman Chris Davis from the paternity leave list prior to Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

What wasn’t expected was the decision to option catcher Steve Clevenger to Triple-A Norfolk in order to make room. The Orioles figured to option one of their three catchers on the 25-man roster following the Saturday acquisition of veteran Nick Hundley, but many assumed rookie Caleb Joseph would be sent back to the Tides.

Clevenger had been serving as the starting catcher with Matt Wieters on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow discomfort, but it appears that the 30-year-Hundley will now step into the primary starting role. Hundley is a career .238 hitter and provided the game-winning hit in the top of the 10th inning of Monday’s 7-6 win over Milwaukee.

Joseph is just 1-for-23 with the Orioles since being promoted earlier this month, but the 27-year-old is 4-for-10 throwing out runners attempting to steal. Never known as a strong defensive catcher in the minor leagues, Joseph has impressed manager Buck Showalter with his work behind the plate.

The right-handed-hitting Hundley is only a .199 career hitter against left-handed pitching, making it likely that Joseph will receive regular work against southpaw starters. This alignment would make more sense than Clevenger remaining with the Orioles since he doesn’t hit left-handed pitching well (a .128 career average).

Clevenger was hitting .243 with eight runs batted in and appeared to have the higher offensive upside, but Tuesday’s move appears to be the latest example of manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette going with the stronger defensive option in Joseph. However, it’s a tough sell convincing critics that Joseph’s edge in defense is greater than the discrepancy in offensive production between Clevenger and Joseph in Baltimore this season.

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Hundley

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Orioles Sign New Catcher, Could Spell Trouble For Wieters

Posted on 24 May 2014 by Brandon Sacks

It was fairly well known that the Orioles were in the market for another catcher.  It was pretty much expected that this catcher was going to replace Caleb Joseph in the depth chart.  Most people believed that this new catcher would be backing up Steve Clevenger.  However, this was not exactly the case.

Before the third game in the series against the Indians, the birds announced a trade with the San Diego Padres.  In exchange for Troy Patton, the Orioles received catcher Nick Hundley and cash considerations.  That’s right.  The Orioles just traded for a starting catcher.

Troy Patton served a 25 game suspension at the beginning of the season for testing positive for amphetamines.  Since coming off his suspension, he made 9 appearances in the orange and black.  He allowed four walks and picked up five strikeouts while only pitching 6.2 innings to an ERA of 8.10 and a WHIP of 1.950.

In exchange for Patton, the Orioles picked up Nick Hundley.  In his seven years with the Padres, he has caught 27.7% of runners trying to steal a base, which is around the league average.  As a comparison, Wieters has caught 32.5% of runners in his seven years with the Orioles.  Hundley has only committed five more errors than Wieters during that span.

Here is the problem.  Wieters is scheduled to come off the 15-day DL on May 26, but does not look like he is ready to come off immediately.  That would be fine, but the Orioles already had two catchers on their roster.  If they had signed another catcher to simply replace Joseph, that would have just been seen as a simple transaction.  The issue is that the birds traded for a starter in the last year of his contract.  This might signal that there is a serious problem with Wieters’ elbow that could keep him out of the game much longer.

Wieters has been resting his elbow for the past two weeks in order to try and avoid surgery.  A few days ago, Wieters received a platelet rich plasma injection, which is normally given to pitchers that are trying to avoid Tommy John surgery.  Putting these two parts together, Wieters could very well be heading to getting the surgery, which would end his season.  If he were to get this surgery, it would be a huge loss for the Orioles.  Wieters has hit over 20 home runs in each of the past three seasons.  The birds will lose a serious power threat if he ends up getting season ending surgery.

While the Orioles will once again have a starting catcher behind the plate, it seems like there are some more serious problems at hand.  Hopefully this trade is just to unload a pitcher that could not do his job rather than to pick up someone for damage control.

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Orioles acquire veteran catcher Hundley in exchange for Patton

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Orioles acquire veteran catcher Hundley in exchange for Patton

Posted on 24 May 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Moments before the start of their Saturday afternoon game against the Cleveland Indians, the Orioles announced the acquisition of veteran catcher Nick Hundley from the San Diego Padres in exchange for left-handed pitcher Troy Patton.

The deal also includes cash considerations and provides the Orioles with an established veteran option to complement current starter Steve Clevenger with Matt Wieters on the 15-day disabled list. Rookie Caleb Joseph remained on the roster for Saturday’s game but is expected to be sent down to make room for the 30-year-old Hundley.

Hundley was hitting .271 with a homer and three runs batted in in 59 at-bats for the Padres this season and is a career .238 hitter in seven seasons with San Diego. The right-handed hitter is considered a solid defensive option, so it will be interesting to see how the playing time is divided between Hundley and the more offensive-minded Clevenger.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has been searching for a veteran catching option since Wieters was sent to the DL earlier this month with right elbow soreness. The All-Star backstop continues to receive treatment and rest his elbow in hopes of avoiding Tommy John surgery, but his uncertain status made Hundley’s acquisition a necessity for at least the short-term future.

The 28-year-old Patton had struggled this season after serving a 25-game suspension for amphetamines use to start the year and had posted an 8.10 earned run average in nine appearances spanning 6 2/3 innings. Originally acquired from the Houston Astros in the Miguel Tejada in late 2007, Patton was 5-2 with a 3.26 ERA in 140 career appearances over five seasons with the Orioles.

With Hundley still in transit to Baltimore on Saturday afternoon, the Orioles recalled infielder Steve Lombardozzi to take Patton’s place on the 25-man roster for Saturday’s game, giving manager Buck Showalter additional infield depth with Manny Machado still sidelined with a groin injury.

The Orioles are expected to recall right-handed relief pitcher Preston Guilmet on Sunday to take Chris Davis’ spot as the first baseman will be going on short-term paternity leave as his wife is expecting the couple’s first child.

 

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