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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-1 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 27 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 20th game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman was terrific as he turned in his deepest outing of the year with 6 2/3 shutout innings and struck out nine to match his career high. The right-hander only allowed four baserunners as Rays hitters consistently struggled to make contact with eight of his nine strikeouts coming on swings. The biggest moment of his night came in the fourth inning when he struck out Chris Dickerson on a 95 mph fastball with runners on second and third and one out and then got Desmond Jennings to fly out to retire the side. Tillman hasn’t been much of a strikeout pitcher in his career, but his velocity is up so far this season and it was good to see him reach back for a little extra against Dickerson in such a big spot. He also effectively used his slider and curveball to miss bats as the night progressed. If not for the fact that he had a rested bullpen, manager Buck Showalter could have gone a little deeper with Tillman, who struck out four of the last six batters he faced and threw 101 pitches.

2ndJoey Rickard brought a sigh of relief to the Orioles dugout when he smacked a three-run shot into the left-field seats off Matt Moore with two outs in the top of the fifth inning. The Orioles had scored only one run in their previous 30 innings before the Rule 5 pick hit his second home run of the season. It would prove to be all the Orioles would need and the rest of the lineup took that literally as Tampa Ray retired 13 in a row after Rickard’s blast. The clutch hit snapped a 2-for-22 slump for the young outfielder.

3rdBrad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning despite a two-out walk and has now allowed only one run in his 13 1/3 innings to begin the 2016 season. The right-hander entered Wednesday holding left-handed hitters to a .158 average before retiring all three lefties he faced in the inning. That’s as good as any lefty specialist many clubs would typically use in such a situation.

Home — In addition to making a sliding catch in the third inning, Nolan Reimold worked a four-pitch walk with two outs and nobody on in the fifth to begin the rally that culminated with Rickard’s home run. … Pitching for the first time since April 21, Darren O’Day retired Steven Souza Jr. for the final out of the seventh and has yet to be scored upon through his first nine appearances of 2016. … Adam Jones went 0-for-4 and is now hitting .196 on the season. … Chris Davis was also hitless, but he was robbed of an extra-base hit in the fourth when Souza made a tremendous diving catch on the warning track in right-center. … Beginning a stretch of 17 of their next 20 games at home on Thursday night, the Orioles will send Tyler Wilson to the hill to open a four-game set against lefty John Danks and the Chicago White Sox.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 01 April 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule filled with twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2016 after looking at the factors that must go right. In an effort to not be too redundant in the wake of the first piece, I tried to avoid discussing the previous points needing to go well.

1. The starting pitching collapses

Yes, we touched on the starting pitching in the previous piece, but what else could possibly top this list — the entire starting lineup adopting Marty Cordova’s tanning bed strategy for the season?

In the AL in 2015, the Baltimore starting pitchers finished 14th in in ERA, 10th in strikeouts, sixth worst in walks, and second worst in home runs allowed. On top of that, the club’s most dependable starter, Wei-Yin Chen, signed with the Miami Marlins in the offseason.

Veteran newcomer Yovani Gallardo was tabbed as the man to replace him and carries a 3.66 ERA for his career, but his strikeout rate and velocity have plummeted over the last few seasons and the Orioles renegotiated his original three-year contract because of concerns with his right shoulder. The hope is that an impressive ground-ball rate keeps the 30-year-old effective pitching at Camden Yards.

Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman provide the most upside, but the former dealt with a hip issue early in camp and is coming off his worst season since 2011. Meanwhile, Gausman will begin the season on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis and the Orioles have already pushed back his projected return date from April 10 to April 19, making you wonder if the ailment is more serious than they first indicated.

You never know what you’re going to get from Ubaldo Jimenez, but he’s been more bad than good in his first two seasons with the Orioles. And now with the Orioles having severed ties with Miguel Gonzalez, they’ll be counting on the likes of Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and veteran newcomer Vance Worley to fill out the last spot in the rotation with Wright getting the first shot.

If this group can bring middle-of-the-pack quality — probably the most upside you could reasonably hope for — the Orioles are strong enough elsewhere to be in contention. A repeat of 2015 or worse could lead to a long summer in Baltimore.

And then you’d fear how dramatic struggles from the rotation could wear out a strong bullpen, no matter how effectively it’s managed.

2. Corner outfield wasteland repeats

The Orioles failed in their plan to use a committee of fringe veterans to handle the spots flanking center fielder Adam Jones a year ago, but questions remain for a second straight season.

Projected to be the primary starter in right field, Mark Trumbo should be an upgrade with the bat, but his limitations in the outfield are no secret and negative defensive value would wipe away much of what he brings at the plate. Fortunately, there isn’t a ton of ground to cover in right at Camden Yards, so the test will be how quickly Trumbo can get used to playing balls off the out-of-town scoreboard.

Left field was supposed to be handled by Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim, but his poor spring has his future in limbo. Putting aside the scouting failure of signing a player who isn’t able to catch up to fastballs and is poor defensively to a $7 million contract, the Orioles haven’t exactly treated Kim in the most hospitable way by benching him and then speaking at length to the media about his shortcomings as they’re trying to get him to accept a minor-league assignment, something he’s under no contractual obligation to do.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard is the wild card here after he posted a 1.029 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, but are the Orioles putting too many eggs in this basket? What did Tampa Bay not like about Rickard that the Orioles could be missing?

Veteran Nolan Reimold will factor into the mix as well, but he is better suited to be a fourth outfielder at this stage of his career. The minor-league options include Dariel Alvarez, Xavier Avery, Henry Urrutia, and converted first baseman Christian Walker, who is intriguing if he proves himself defensively.

3. Chris Davis reverts to his 2014 form

You can’t expect Davis to be any better just because he signed the richest contract in franchise history in the offseason, and it will be difficult for the 30-year-old first baseman to match what he did last season with his 47 homers.

That said, few events would be more deflating than to see Davis have a season more closely resembling what he was in 2014 when he hit .196 with just 26 home runs. If the Orioles are to contend, they’re going to need to hit a ton of home runs and Davis needs to again lead the way in that department.

His ever-increasing pull rate is something to monitor and could cause him to age poorly, but the Orioles hope Davis will continue being a great power hitter for the next three to four years before crossing their fingers that the final few years of the contract aren’t as painful as some fear they will be.

4. Buck Showalter leans too heavily on J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters

I touched on these topics at length in the offseason, but the Orioles would be wise to better manage Hardy’s health after two injury-plagued seasons and shouldn’t overlook defense when it comes to the catching pair of Wieters and backup Caleb Joseph.

Hardy has stayed healthy and slugged .521 with three home runs this spring, drastic improvement from his .564 OPS while playing the entire 2015 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The 33-year-old shortstop would likely benefit from more routine days off and should no longer be treated as the guy who missed only seven games combined in 2012 and 2013. Keeping Hardy fresh would presumably go a long way in keeping him healthy and productive at the plate and in the field.

The spring scare with Wieters’ right elbow could be a sign that he isn’t yet ready to be the guy who regularly caught 135-plus games per season prior to Tommy John surgery. Even if he is, the tools Joseph brings behind the plate shouldn’t be ignored despite Wieters being the better offensive player. If Wieters isn’t tearing the cover off the ball, the Orioles shouldn’t hesitate to use Joseph more often because of his ability to frame pitches and handle a pitching staff, especially since the former is only under contract through this season.

5. The Orioles are unable to block out the noise

It was a weird offseason a year after executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette flirted with the Toronto Blue Jays’ job promotion, and questions continue about whether members of the organization are on the same page.

The Orioles enter 2016 with a franchise-record payroll, but negotiations didn’t exactly go smoothly with Davis and the early-spring drama with both Gallardo’s physical and the twists and turns with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler were nothing short of bizarre.

The decision to release Gonzalez this week may have been the correct one from baseball and business standpoints, but it’s no secret that the well-liked pitcher’s departure didn’t sit well with his teammates. Yes, they’re professionals and will move on, but these are human beings with emotions, as Showalter often likes to remind us.

The Kim situation threatens to linger if the Orioles choose not to eat $7 million and instead carry him on the 25-man roster after saying he wasn’t good enough to make the club. Such a scenario wouldn’t exactly send a great message to the rest of the clubhouse, either.

On top of all that, the Orioles spent a great amount of money to essentially maintain a similar roster to the group that needed a five-game winning streak just to finish .500 last season. And few experts are giving the Orioles much of a chance to make the playoffs for the third time in five years after they failed to make any significant improvements to the starting rotation.

Over the past few years, the Orioles have often thrived under such circumstances, which should give fans hope.

None of this is quantifiable, of course, but with a higher payroll come greater expectations and this is a club with a window of just three seasons before All-Star pillars Manny Machado and Adam Jones hit free agency. And the minor-league well is quite dry when it comes to reinforcements to help address deficiencies.

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Five things that must go right for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 31 March 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule full of twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that must go right for the Orioles in 2016:

1. Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman take the lead for a suspect starting rotation

It’s impossible not to be concerned with the starting five, especially with bounce-back candidate Miguel Gonzalez being released after a poor spring. That’s why Tillman and Gausman are so important to the Orioles’ chances of improving a starter ERA (4.53) that finished 14th in the AL in 2015.

Tillman will once again take the ball on Opening Day and posted a 3.42 ERA from 2012-2014 to lead the rotation, but his 4.99 mark last year was one of the big reasons why the club allowed 100 more runs than it did in 2014. A hip ailment slowed him at the start of spring, but the 27-year-old is still talented and young enough to rebound. The question will be whether it’s enough improvement to move the meter.

Gausman’s right shoulder tendinitis is cause for concern until he’s back on the mound, but the Orioles hope they were proactive in taking care of it. Finally a full-time member of the rotation, Gausman has the ability to become the best pitcher in the rotation if he can master his command of a third pitch to go with his electric fastball and tough split-changeup. At the end of last season, he expressed growing confidence in his curveball after throwing a slider earlier in his major league career.

The Orioles will hope for the best with the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, but inconsistency has followed him his entire career. Newcomer Yovani Gallardo has an impressive track record, but a declining strikeout rate and diminished velocity make him an expensive question mark. After that, the Orioles will hope the likes of Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson can handle the final rotation spot.

If Tillman and Gausman can be productive rocks for the rotation, it becomes easier to put together the rest of the group to improve from last season. If not, things could get ugly.

2. The lineup produces its highest run total since 2008

The Orioles have averaged just under 719 runs scored per season over the last four years, but it’s fair to expect more from a lineup that added sluggers Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez and hopes to have healthier versions of Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Jonathan Schoop.

Even if the starting rotation can improve from last year, it doesn’t appear to have the kind of ceiling that would make you think the Orioles will stay in serious contention without boosting their run total of 713 from 2015. After finishing third in the majors with 217 homers, the lineup now has two more bats with 30-homer ability in Trumbo and Alvarez, making it arguably the most powerful order in the majors.

The lineup will strike out too much and doesn’t have many hitters with good on-base ability, but it’s not impossible to think the power-hitting Orioles can eclipse the 750-run mark for the first time since 2008.

3. The defense returns to its 2014 level of excellence

Most focus on the demise of the 2015 club fell on the regression of the starting pitching from the previous year, but a rotation that depended on pitching to contact did not have the same quality of defense behind it as in 2014.

Sure, the Orioles committed the fewest errors in the AL, but that traditional measure doesn’t take into account factors such as range, arm strength, or the ability to make spectacular plays. After leading the league in defensive runs saved (plus-50) in 2014, the Orioles finished ninth at minus-11 last year.

Healthier versions of Hardy, Schoop, and Adam Jones should improve the overall defense at positions that suffered in their absence last year. And Machado being another year removed from his knee surgeries will likely eliminate the shaky defensive start he had in 2015, making the already-elite third baseman even better in the field.

Of course, Trumbo being projected as the primary right fielder probably won’t help a position that was abysmal for the Orioles at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2015. And it will be interesting to see how a heavier workload for Wieters will impact the defense behind the plate after Caleb Joseph finished second on the 2015 club with 12 defensive runs saved.

If the starting pitching improves enough in 2016, the defense will likely have a lot to do with it.

4. The bullpen becomes even more dominant than it was the last few years

How can you expect much more from a group that finished third in the AL in bullpen ERA over the last two years and posted a 3.21 mark in 2015?

Full-season contributions from Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy give a deep bullpen even more upside than it already had with 2015 All-Star selections Zach Britton and Darren O’Day leading the way. There is some short-term concern about the lefty specialist role with Brian Matusz ailing this spring, but the Orioles have right-handed relievers such as O’Day and Brad Brach who are effective against left-handed hitting to help pick up the slack for the time being.

Long-term depth might be even more important than dominance late in games with the serious questions about the starting rotation. Fortunately, there are a couple more capable arms such as Oliver Drake waiting in the wings at Triple-A Norfolk.

Manager Buck Showalter is as good as they come handling relievers, so you trust his ability to keep them fresh for the long haul. At the same time, the starting rotation might test the bullpen like it hasn’t faced in several years.

5. Someone other than Machado emerges as the leadoff hitter

Machado did an admirable job primarily serving in the top spot in the order with a career-high .359 on-base percentage, but his run-producing ability is better utilized in the second or third spot.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard figures to receive some early opportunities in the leadoff role after winning the starting left field job to begin the year. He had a .390 career on-base percentage in the minors, but will that ability translate to the majors considering his limited power that will prompt pitchers to challenge him with strikes and better stuff at a higher level?

Veteran Nolan Reimold could also factor into the equation as he had a .344 OBP in 195 plate appearances last year.

It isn’t as important that the Orioles move Machado out of the leadoff spot as it is to find a replacement who is truly deserving of hitting at the top of the order. If they do, the offense can better maximize its power capabilities and score more runs to help out a starting rotation that remains the biggest concern entering 2016.

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2016 Orioles preview: Nolan Reimold

Posted on 05 March 2016 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2016 Orioles every day as they try to return to the playoffs for the third time in five years this season.

March 1 – Adam Jones
March 2 – Chris Tillman
March 3 – Jonathan Schoop
March 4 – Brad Brach

OF Nolan Reimold

Age: 32

Contract status: Under contract through the 2016 season

2015 stats: .247/.344/.394, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 24 R, 0 SB, 195 PA

Why to be impressed: After undergoing serious neck surgeries in 2012 and 2013, Reimold stayed healthy in 2015, making you wonder if he’s closer to being the player he was prior to 2012. His 11.8 percent walk rate would have been second to Chris Davis among Orioles regulars in 2015, making him a sleeper candidate to hit at or near the top of the order.

Why to be concerned: Reimold didn’t show much power with just 12 extra-base hits last season and his 24.1 percent strikeout rate is on the high side if he’s not going to drive the ball with much authority. For now, the 32-year-old is the favorite to be the starting right fielder, but he hasn’t had more than 300 plate appearances in a major league season since 2011.

2016 outlook: At this stage of his career, Reimold remains a decent option as a reserve outfielder or as a platoon partner due to his .791 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handed pitching last season. However, it would be a mistake for the Orioles to expect him to produce or to stay healthy enough for an everyday starting role during the 2016 season. 

2016 not-so-scientific projections: .243/.320/.403, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 33 R, 4 SB, 265 PA

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Orioles can’t afford to experience déjà vu in outfield

Posted on 27 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The surprise expressed by some over L.J. Hoes being designated for assignment on Tuesday says all you need to know about the current state of the Orioles outfield.

Dan Duquette still has work to do with spring training only a few weeks away.

Any notion that Hoes — a former third-round pick who has yet to establish himself as a bona fide major leaguer — was even a sleeper candidate to start in right field reflects how little quality depth the Orioles have at the corner outfield spots. The acquisition of Efren Navarro from the Los Angeles Angels doesn’t change that reality, either.

The Orioles cannot afford a repeat of last year at the positions flanking five-time All-Star center fielder Adam Jones. In 2015, Baltimore left fielders combined to hit .210 with a .640 on-base plus slugging percentage and were worth minus-0.7 wins above replacement. Right field was better at 2.0 wins above replacement, but nearly half of that value stemmed from the 29 starts Chris Davis made at the position.

If the season were to begin today, Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim would likely be the starting left fielder with Nolan Reimold trotting out to right field. That combination doesn’t inspire confidence in an otherwise-strong lineup.

To be fair, the Orioles have spent gobs of money this offseason re-signing Davis and Darren O’Day to long-term deals, inking Matt Wieters to a $15.8 million qualifying offer, and acquiring slugger Mark Trumbo and his $9.15 million salary for 2016. The Kim signing at $7 million over two years could pay major dividends, but you’d prefer a relative unknown who was playing in the Korean Baseball Organization a year ago to be slated as the No. 4 outfielder to start a season for a contending club.

The 32-year-old Reimold managed to stay healthy last year, but a .247 average with a .738 OPS in 195 plate appearances doesn’t scream starting right fielder. The club’s other options don’t carry great appeal, either.

Rule 5 selection Joey Rickard, 24, hit a combined .321 at three levels in the Tampa Bay system last season, but why did the Rays — a club always needing cheap talent — leave him off their 40-man roster? At the very least, he’ll be a name of interest to watch during spring training.

Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez was promoted to the big leagues in late August, but he’s 27 and received a meager 31 plate appearances with the Orioles, making you wonder whether manager Buck Showalter has much confidence in him. He has an exceptional throwing arm, but a .305 on-base percentage at Triple-A Norfolk in 2015 isn’t what you’re looking for.

Henry Urrutia provided one of the feel-good moments of the 2015 season with his walk-off home run against the New York Mets in August, but the 28-year-old struggles to pull the ball and isn’t a graceful fielder despite some improvement over the last couple years. He was optioned back to the minors just before September call-ups and wasn’t summoned to Baltimore again.

The Orioles could always turn to Trumbo at a corner outfield spot, but the fielding metrics suggest first base as his only suitable position without compromising the overall defense. Showalter has already indicated that he’ll serve as Baltimore’s primary designated hitter with Davis back in the fold.

And there’s always Jimmy Paredes, who played right field regularly in winter ball this offseason in hopes of finding a defensive position he can handle. But the bigger problem could be Paredes’ .517 OPS in the second half of 2015 after he posted an .807 mark before the All-Star break.

This group sounds a lot like last year’s flawed collection that included Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider, Delmon Young, Steve Pearce, and David Lough. If we’re being honest, it looks even worse on paper than that group did at this point last year.

Wednesday’s report indicating that the Orioles still had a five-year offer on the table for Yoenis Cespedes even after re-signing Davis to a $161 million contract creates hope that Duquette will still make an impact addition to the outfield. A couple attractive options still remain on the free-agent market.

His signing would require the Orioles to surrender their first-round pick in this year’s draft, but Dexter Fowler holds a sparkling .363 on-base percentage in his career. His speed would also be a nice addition, and he could probably make a positive transition to a corner outfield spot after less-than-impressive defensive metrics in center over the last few seasons.

Austin Jackson is coming off consecutive years with an OPS below .700, but he’s only 29, is still a solid defender, and performed fairly well before being traded in the midst of each of the last two seasons. Perhaps some stability would help get his career back on track, and he wouldn’t command a draft pick or — one would assume — a lucrative commitment to sign him.

There’s always the possibility of a trade, but the Orioles’ shortage of quality prospects has been discussed ad nauseam. We’ll believe it when we see it.

Other platoon types such as Will Venable, David Murphy, and Matt Joyce remain unsigned as well.

In a perfect world, fans would probably like to see the Orioles add two quality outfielders to the current mix, but the rest of the lineup is strong enough to carry a question mark at one of those corner positions as long as that individual plays good defense, which was another issue at those spots.

There’s still time, but the Orioles need to do whatever it takes to fight off that feeling of déjà vu in the outfield that plagued them throughout the 2015 season.

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Showalter still considering options in leadoff spot for Orioles

Posted on 28 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With Nick Markakis in the midst of his return to Baltimore, the Orioles trotted out their fourth different leadoff hitter in the last five games for Tuesday’s contest against the Atlanta Braves.

After manager Buck Showalter moved Manny Machado down to third over the weekend, the All-Star third baseman returned to the top spot, the place in the lineup he’s now occupied 73 times during the 2015 season. Of course, the thinking with moving Machado down in the order was to create more run-producing opportunities for the 23-year-old, but the lack of an ideal option to replace him in the top spot is the bigger long-term problem.

Jimmy Paredes, David Lough, and Nolan Reimold received opportunities in the top spot while Machado hit lower in the order. Showalter has used six different players in the leadoff spot this year with two of them — Alejandro De Aza and Everth Cabrera — no longer with the organization.

“If you hit Manny first, who hits third?” Showalter said on Monday. “If you hit him third, who hits first? You take one away and then you’re trying to replace it. We put out there what we think is best. Guys know that we’re having some challenges there.”

Despite Reimold going 2-for-4 with a double and a walk in the No. 1 spot in Monday’s 2-1 win, Machado struggled in the third spot in the order, going 2-for-15 with four strikeouts and a walk. One certainly shouldn’t draw strong or permanent conclusions from that sample size, but it might have been the level of anxiousness Machado displayed in two at-bats on Monday that reinforced the idea that maybe it’s unwise to mess with a good thing.

Machado came to the plate with two runners on base in the eighth and 10th innings of Monday’s game and struck out each time, swinging at several pitches outside the strike zone. One of the biggest factors in the young infielder’s leap at the plate this season has been his improved plate disciplined with a career-high 42 walks in 423 plate appearances entering Tuesday’s game.

Did the move to the No. 3 spot alter Machado’s mindset?

“I actually asked him about that today. ‘Do you feel any different mentality there? Are you getting bigger?'” Showalter said prior to Tuesday’s game.  “He said, ‘No, it’s just a [slump].’ Since he’s been here — up until the last two or three games — that’s as long as I’ve seen him engaged with a good approach where he was not letting them get him out other than [on] stuff within the zone. He was walking.

“You always think it’s a day away. It’s like he said today, ‘I’ve got to get back to what I was doing. It’s got nothing to do with where I’m hitting him in the order.’ Of course, what’s he going to say?”

Machado looks the part of a hitter who will eventually settle into the No. 3 spot for a long time, but it would be wise to leave him in the role where he’s thrived in 2015, especially with few other options inspiring confidence in the leadoff spot right now.

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Orioles part ways with veteran outfielder Young

Posted on 01 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — No longer able to endure a well-documented roster crunch, the Orioles designated outfielder Delmon Young for assignment prior to Wednesday’s game against Texas.

Baltimore needed a fresh arm in the bullpen and recalled right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson to take Young’s spot on the 25-man roster. With the recent promotions of Chris Parmelee and Nolan Reimold, the 29-year-old Young’s playing time had dwindled with just 17 plate appearances since June 13.

“They’re all difficult,” said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette about the decision to part ways with the veteran. “We wrestle with these decisions and hash them out and go back and forth, and we try to develop more options for the team to keep all the players in the organization. We couldn’t come up with a solution to this roster move because we didn’t have the flexibility on our roster that we’ve had in the past.”

Young provided arguably the most exciting moment in the history of Orioles Park at Camden Yards last fall with a three-run double in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series, sparking his club to a 7-6 victory and eventual sweep of the Detroit Tigers. However, the outfielder struggled with more extensive playing time this season, hitting .270 with just two home runs and a .628 on-base plus slugging percentage in 180 plate appearances.

With the Orioles employing a number of outfielders serving in part-time roles, Young didn’t offer as much versatility with declining power and limited defensive ability. The emergence of Jimmy Paredes this season has taken away a large number of at-bats at the designated hitter spot that the Orioles projected Young to receive at the beginning of the season.

The roster pains aren’t over for the Orioles as they must make room for right-hander Kevin Gausman to make Thursday’s start and second baseman Jonathan Schoop will finish his rehab assignment over the next few days. Manager Buck Showalter said outfielder Nolan Reimold will go on paternity leave next week, which would temporarily open a a roster spot.

“There’s not a right decision there. Nobody is trying to present it as such,” said Showalter of Young’s departure. “We’ve got good quality people, and you reach a point where you can’t keep them all. Unfortunately, we’re probably not done. It tugs at your chest.”

After being signed to a minor-league deal two offseasons ago, Young thrived in a part-time role in 2014, hitting .302 with seven homers and a .779 OPS. The first overall pick of the 2003 amateur draft was Baltimore’s best pinch hitter, going 10-for-20 in the regular season before delivering his pinch-hit two-bagger off Detroit right-hander Joakim Soria in the ALDS.

The offseason departure of slugger Nelson Cruz figured to create more opportunities for Young, who signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal over the winter to remain with the Orioles.

Duquette will now have 10 days to try to work out a trade for Young, a realistic chore considering he was able to deal Alejandro De Aza to the Boston Red Sox last month. Duquette told reporters prior to Wednesday’s game that he had already engaged in trade discussions with other clubs about Young but hadn’t gotten close to making a deal prior to Wednesday’s designation.

“Delmon is a qualified major league hitter,” Duquette said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a [landing] spot for him in a few days.”

Many fans will remember Young fondly for his heroics last October, but he isn’t the first Oriole to be let go shortly after a pinnacle playoff moment. Outfielder Tito Landrum hit the game-winning homer in Game 4 of the 1983 AL Championship Series before being traded the following spring.

 

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Orioles facing difficult roster decisions this week

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite playing their best baseball of the season over the last two weeks, the Orioles know a roster crunch is coming that will force difficult decisions to be made in the coming days.

Not only are pitchers Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen expected to return to the starting rotation this week, but the Orioles could welcome back second baseman Jonathan Schoop after he began a rehab assignment over the weekend. The current roster consists of 14 position players, three starting pitchers, and eight relievers. One roster spot will be taken care of by optioning either Oliver Drake or Mychal Givens back to the minors, but what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter plan to do beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Of their current position players on the roster, only Caleb Joseph, Manny Machado, and Ryan Flaherty have minor-league options, illustrating how little flexibility the Orioles have. Machado and Joseph clearly aren’t going anywhere while optioning Flaherty to make room for Schoop would leave Steve Pearce as the closest remaining piece resembling a utility infielder.

The Orioles are too crowded in the outfield, but barring a trade or an injury sending a player to the disabled list, they’ll have no choice but to possibly lose two players by designating them for assignment.

Below is a look at the candidates in danger of losing their roster spots and a chance to vote in our poll to determine who should go with Gonzalez, Chen, and potentially Schoop all returning to the 25-man roster this week:

If the Orioles must part ways with two of the following, who would you pick?

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David Lough
Age: 29
Contract status: Under club control through the 2019 season
Argument for: Lough is arguably the second-best defensive outfielder on the club behind Adam Jones and has been used as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner.
Case against: The left-handed hitter has never developed at the plate and currently sports a .605 on-base plus slugging percentage while showing little ability to use his speed to consistently steal bases.

Chris Parmelee
Age: 27
Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season
Argument for: The 2006 first-round pick’s strong numbers at Triple-A Norfolk immediately carried over to the tune of three homers in his first two games with the Orioles last week.
Case against: The owner of an underwhelming .720 OPS in 923 major league plate appearances, Parmelee is 1-for-12 since going 5-for-7 with three homers to begin his run with the Orioles.

Steve Pearce
Age: 32
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: His ability to play four different positions brings needed versatility and his 2014 success (.930 OPS) is far more than most of the other candidates have ever accomplished in the majors.
Case against: Pearce has struggled to overcome a poor start and has seen his playing time dwindle, a sign that Showalter either has lost faith in him or is simply trying to evaluate his less-familiar pieces.

Nolan Reimold
Age: 31
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: Reimold has played good defense, shown speed, and displayed the plate discipline and power that once had the Orioles very excited about his potential to be an everyday player.
Case against: Even his biggest supporters have a tough time feeling confident that he’ll finally remain healthy, making you take pause before jettisoning other players off the roster in order to keep him.

Travis Snider
Age: 27
Contract status: Under club control through the 2016 season
Argument for: His .349 on-base percentage is second on the club behind only Manny Machado among regulars, and his defense has actually been solid since some early-season issues in right field.
Case against: The lefty hitter hasn’t shown nearly as much power as the Orioles would like to see, and he goes through prolonged stretches where he struggles to make good contact.

Delmon Young
Age: 29
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: The .271 batter is 3-for-9 as a pinch hitter after going 10-for-20 in that department a year ago and is among the American League leaders with eight outfield assists.
Case against: The veteran doesn’t inspire confidence in the field and is slugging just .343 with four walks to give him a .634 OPS, which is comparable to the likes of Pearce and ex-Oriole Alejandro De Aza.

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Orioles thoughts on pitching and outfield situation

Posted on 15 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Sunday was a forgettable day for Orioles rookie Mike Wright, but manager Buck Showalter was correct in pointing out the starting pitcher experienced some tough luck, especially early in the game.

The 25-year-old gave up a number of hits that weren’t exactly tattooed by the Yankees, but the biggest problem for Wright has been his inability to put hitters away — New York fouled off 13 pitches with two strikes in his four-plus innings of work — which often leads to a pitcher making a mistake. This not only drives up the pitch count, but it puts more pressure on the pitcher as Wright crumbled in the top of the fifth walking three straight hitters to conclude his afternoon.

His mid-90s fastball certainly plays at the major league level, but Wright’s slider and changeup haven’t been impressive, making you wonder if he’ll have the stuff to make it as a starting pitcher in the long run. I’m not ready to give up on the idea of Wright as a major league starter, but I do think his fastball could be very tough to handle in a late-inning relief role in which he’s only working an inning or so at a time. It wouldn’t be difficult seeing Wright eventually stepping into the role occupied by Tommy Hunter, who is a free agent at the end of the 2015 season.

Either way, Wright has work to do to improve his secondary stuff.

* I have no idea how long outfielder Nolan Reimold can continue this, but he’s provided a nice lift in his first week back with the Orioles.

I never doubted the 31-year-old’s ability early in his career, but you had to wonder whether the talent would still be there after two serious neck injuries in 2012 and 2013. Acknowledging it’s only been a handful of games, we’ve seen the combination of power, speed, and defensive ability that had the Orioles and their fans salivating about his potential years ago.

You can only cross your fingers that a guy who’s had terrible luck with injuries can stay healthy and the Orioles shouldn’t assume that he can stay on the field for the long haul, but Showalter should pencil his name into the starting lineup every day until there’s a reason not to.

* Speaking of outfielders, you probably wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d told you in February that Travis Snider would be hitting .252 in his first 150 plate appearances for the Orioles, but his lack of power has been startling.

After hitting nine home runs and slugging .524 in the second half for Pittsburgh last year, the Orioles hoped they were getting a 27-year-old and former first-round pick who was finally blooming at the plate after years of struggles, but Snider is slugging a career-low .326 with just one homer and seven extra-base hits and rarely makes sharp contact or shows the ability to drive the ball. In contrast, ex-Oriole Nick Markakis has a higher slugging percentage at .367 — still a poor mark — despite not yet hitting a home run for Atlanta this season.

You have to wonder if Snider is running out of chances as the Orioles desperately need an effective lefty-hitting outfielder and Chris Parmelee is producing at Triple-A Norfolk.

* The Orioles hope to see Bud Norris improve enough to finish out the season in the starting rotation, but I wouldn’t be keen on the idea of re-signing him this winter.

A club will likely overpay for the right-hander based on his 2014 season, but Norris hasn’t been able to duplicate his success against left-handed hitters this season. Relying on an effective changeup to hold lefties to a .255 average and .753 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014, Norris has been lit up by lefty bats this season to the tune of a 1.035 OPS as he’s been unable to command the off-speed pitch as effectively.

Norris has always handled right-handed hitters, but his problems against lefties have plagued him for most of his career, which is the biggest reason why he’s been nothing more than an average starting pitcher other than last season. In reality, he’d probably be better suited for the bullpen on a competitive club, but Norris would hardly embrace such a role in a contract year.

* You get the sense that Showalter is beginning to use Delmon Young more and more like he did last season, which isn’t a bad thing for the Orioles.

Young has shown little power (a .358 slugging percentage), but he does sport a .327 average against left-handed pitching, making him an obvious start against southpaws. It was interesting to see David Lough hit for Young against right-hander Sergio Santos on Saturday night — Showalter said he wanted to give the young outfielder an at-bat even though the Orioles only led by three runs at the time — and then Matt Wieters was sent to the plate in Young’s place to face Dellin Betances in the ninth inning on Sunday.

It would be helpful if Dan Duquette could at least find an effective platoon partner for Young for the rest of the season.

* With southpaws Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland both struggling to throw strikes this season, the Orioles are hoping that Wesley Wright can settle into the lefty specialist role upon completing his minor-league rehab assignment.

On the disabled list since the first week of the season with a left trapezius strain, Wright is expected to join an affiliate any day now and could make Matusz expendable if he proves he’s healthy and can throw strikes.

* Adam Jones is a four-time Gold Glove center fielder and certainly doesn’t need validation, but there have been a couple points in his career when he was probably a little overrated as a defender.

But strictly going off the eyeball test — his fielding metrics have been good, for what it’s worth — Jones has never played better defense than what we’ve seen from him this year. The 29-year-old has not only been steady and consistent, but he’s made countless sensational plays — just ask the Boston Red Sox about last week’s series — running down balls in the gap or making exceptional throws to gun down runners trying to take an extra base.

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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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