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Live from Camden Yards: Orange Crush chat at 7 as Cardinals make first ever visit to Baltimore

Posted on 28 June 2011 by Luke Jones

**Join us in the Orange Crush live chat at 7:00 as the Orioles welcome the St. Louis Cardinals to Baltimore for the first time ever in an interleague three-game set with Zach Britton taking the hill against Kyle Lohse**

BALTIMORE — Feeling refreshed after an off day and a series win over Cincinnati over the weekend, the Orioles welcome the struggling St. Louis Cardinals to town for the first time ever.

Still reeling from the loss of Albert Pujols, the Cardinals (41-38) have lost 12 of 15 games and have scored just 21 runs in six games since losing arguably the best hitter on the planet, 12 coming in their only win during that stretch.The pitching hasn’t helped either, as St. Louis has posted a major-league-worst 4.95 earned run average in the month of June.

On the other hand, the Orioles (35-40) found their bats heating up over the weekend, hitting nine home runs in the Reds series to give them 32 home runs in the month of June to lead the American League. The left side of the Baltimore infield has been especially potent this month, as shortstop J.J. Hardy and third baseman Mark Reynolds make up the only left-side infield combination in baseball to have 10 or more homers each.

However, the pitching continues to be a concern as starters struggle to pitch deep into games. Rookie Zach Britton goes to the mound in the series opener seeking his sixth win of the season. The southpaw has struggled in his last five starts, posting a 5.14 ERA and a 1-3 record.

Britton will be opposed by Kyle Lohse, the former Twins pitcher who will make his fifth career start against the Orioles. The 32-year-old right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.39 ERA in 26 2/3 career innings against Baltimore, but has not faced the Orioles since 2006.

In injury news, Alfredo Simon will remain in Frederick on Tuesday night and a decision will be made Wednesday regarding whether to activate him from the 15-day disabled list or make another rehab appearance. Manager Buck Showalter said the club is “more likely than less likely” Simon is back for the second game against the Cardinals.

Simon will be viewed as a bullpen arm for the time being, though that could change given the uncertain standing of the starting rotation in recent weeks.

In his pregame comments to the media, Showalter expressed frustration with his inability to find at-bats for outfielder Nolan Reimold. The 27-year-old has not started since June 19 against Washington and has not appeared in a game since June 22 in Pittsburgh.

“It’s been a challenge, and we keep hoping that Luke [Scott] can get it going,” Showalter said. “We went through a period where there were a lot of left-handed pitchers, so it was pretty easy [getting him at-bats]. We’re going through a period now where it’s just the opposite. It’s something on my list of things that kind of bug me. That’s one of them.”

I also asked Showalter whether there was concern with Vladimir Guerrero’s lack of power and production at the cleanup position. It’s a subject about which I’ll be writing in more detail at WNST.net on Wednesday, but the Orioles manager is aware of Guerrero’s season-long power shortage and its impact on the rest of the lineup.

“We all know he’s not conventional, and you keep trying to trust that, if there’s such a thing as trusting unconventionality,” Showalter said. “That was one of the spots (where we’re struggling) I was talking about earlier — other than the average, really. In fact, his average, lifetime (.318), is higher than that.

“If we need to make an adjustment at some point, we will. We’ll see how it goes between now and the All-Star Break.”

Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

St. Louis
SS Ryan Theriot
RF Jon Jay
LF Matt Holliday
1B Lance Berkman
3B David Freese
CF Colby Rasmus
C Yadier Molina
DH Mark Hamilton
2B Nick Punto

SP Kyle Lohse (7-4, 2.91 ERA)

SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
DH Vladimir Guerrero
C Matt Wieters
1B Derrek Lee
LF Luke Scott
3B Mark Reynolds
2B Robert Andino

SP Zach Britton (6-5, 3.19 ERA)

As we do for every weeknight home game, join us in the Orange Crush live chat beginning at 7:00. Talk about the game with us as an array of WNST.net personalities visit the cyber sports bar throughout the evening! Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the latest updates and analysis regarding the happenings from Oriole Park at Camden Yards!

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Guthrie gets overdue help from offense in Orioles’ 7-5 win over Reds

Posted on 26 June 2011 by Luke Jones

It was far from Jeremy Guthrie’s best performance in a 7-5 win to give the Orioles their first series win since June 6-8.

But the bats owed him one.

Guthrie pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs and six hits while uncharacteristically walking four batters in an afternoon in which deep counts caught up with him, forcing an early exit against the Cincinnati Reds. However, five runs in the first four innings and two late insurance runs proved to be enough despite eight walks by Baltimore pitching.

Receiving the ninth-worst run support in the American League entering Sunday, Guthrie was grateful for the extra hand in securing his third win of the season despite a very respectable 3.93 earned run average in 16 starts. It marked the first time since May 26 that Guthrie had received five or more runs and just the fifth time all season.

“Winning three games in three months, it’s frustrating,” said Guthrie, who improved his record to 3-9. “I want to be better; I want to have better results. At times, momentum seems to swing against the Orioles, so it’s nice to have held on and won this game. It’s important for the team.”

Though not his sharpest outing, Guthrie’s stuff removed any shred of doubt that might have lingered after straining his back two starts ago in Toronto. His fastball sat in the mid-90s and struck out five Cincinnati hitters despite giving up his 13th home run of the year to Brandon Phillips in the fifth inning.

Racking brains over Reynolds

No Oriole in recent memory has sparked more debate — or created more frustration — than third baseman Mark Reynolds.

Despite raising his batting average from .190 to .227, clubbing seven home runs, and walking 20 times in the month of June, Reynolds’ defense continues to suffer after committing two more errors on Sunday, giving him 18 for the year. Manager Buck Showalter is preaching patience with Reynold’s glove and arm, but the miscues haven’t yet affected his performance at the plate.

“I can’t think that way,” Reynolds said. “I have struggled over there at third base, it’s no secret. Just have to stay focused and not carry my at-bats into the field with me. Just keep going out there and making all the routine plays.”

Casual observers cringe at the low average and the high strikeout numbers (78 in 242 at-bats), but Reynolds’ .819 OPS is better than any regular in the lineup not named J.J. Hardy (.907) or Adam Jones (.823). His .356 on-base percentage makes him a strong candidate to be moved higher in the batting order if Showalter wants to maximize his return.

Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee were brought to Baltimore to be run producers for the middle of the order, but Reynolds has done a far better job than either veteran if you can look past the unconventional numbers.

Unfortunately, the glove has overshadowed what he’s been doing at the plate.

“I am working every day with [third base coach Willie Randolph] at it, trying to get better,” Reynolds said. “It’s just one of those things I can’t really explain. Hopefully, I can be more consistent in the future and keep getting better.”

Markakis on the rise

Following a three-hit afternoon in which he drove in two runs, Nick Markakis is riding a 16-game hitting streak that includes eight multi-hit games. He’s elevated his average from .236 to .277 over the 16 games in what many are hoping is a sign of better things to come for the struggling right fielder.

“He’s letting the ball travel, getting deep,” Showalter said. “He’s making them get him out. He’s not getting himself out as much, and he’s taking what they give him. Nick’s not going to sneak up on anybody. Everybody in baseball knows what kind of hitter he is, and they’re pitching him tough. Also, some of the guys around him swinging the bat better with J.J. and Jonesy and D-Lee coming on have made the focus less on him.”

Markakis has recently been choking up about an inch on the bat, with the knob noticeably taped. His 14 extra-base hits are still far below his yearly average of over 60 over the first five seasons of his career, but a homer on Saturday and three hits Sunday are encouraging to see as the All-Star Break approaches.

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Orioles’ wait for old Matusz to return coming up empty

Posted on 25 June 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles keep knocking on the door, waiting for the old Brian Matusz to reappear, but continue to get no answer.

And it’s growing more concerning with every start.

On a night when the ball was flying out of Camden Yards with a combined nine home runs hit in the Reds’ 10-5 victory on Saturday night, Matusz looked more like the batting practice guy than the left-hander projected to be the No. 2 starter entering spring training.

In just 4 2/3 innings against the Reds, Matusz gave up a season-high six earned runs, three home runs (tying a career-high), and nine hits while striking out five and walking one. His fastball touched 91 miles per hour once in the first inning, but consistently sat between 86 and 88 miles per hour for most of the evening.

“The velocity obviously isn’t there,” said Matusz, who believes his changeup is getting better, but is still haunted by poor location. “Being in my fifth start, I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress, but I’ve just got to continue working and get a lot better.”

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In a sad contrast, Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman was hitting 101 on the stadium gun as he struck out the side in the ninth inning.

How much are a few miles per hour on the fastball going for on eBay these days?

In his five starts since returning from the disabled list on June 1, Matusz has surrendered 31 hits, 17 earned runs, and seven home runs. His earned run average is a horrific 6.85 in 22 1/3 innings pitched.

Joey Votto, the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player, was especially tough on Matusz by hitting two home runs in his three at-bats against the southpaw. Falling behind 0-2 before working the count full, Votto blasted a hanging curveball to the right-center bleachers for a three-run bomb in the third inning. His second came in the fifth when he turned on a 2-1, 85 mph two-seamer for a two-run shot to right.

What do you do with the pitcher?

Send him down to Triple-A Norfolk?

Place Matusz on the disabled list if you’re convinced he’s not right physically despite his continued claims that he’s feeling fine and simply needs to build more arm strength?

Or keep running him out there every fifth day?

For now, manager Buck Showalter said the club will continue working with the young pitcher in hope that his velocity will return and the numbers will be more in line with the final two months of 2010, but the alarm is obviously sounding, whether anyone will admit it or not.

“This is a 24-year-old young man that has had some success in about everything he’s done pitching and finished up pretty good last year,” Showalter said. “He’s had a lot of challenges health-wise this year for the first time in his career, so I try to keep that in mind. Obviously, it affects you physically, but sometimes mentally. He’s strong enough. He’ll fight through and be better as a result of it.”

With diminished velocity, Matusz’s margin for error has shrunk exponentially, making success nearly impossible without pinpoint control. It’s a scary proposition when facing sluggers like Votto or the many dwelling in the American League East.

“Not being able to pitch with 93, 94 like I have in the past,” Matusz said, “you have to be able to have a better plan and execute pitches better, especially with their big hitters.”

None of it sounds very convincing. Something is clearly wrong with the young pitcher, even if no one knows the solution — or wants to admit it.

“We know he’s got good stuff,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it. It’s point-blank.”

It’s what everyone’s waiting for.

But there haven’t been any real signs that it’s coming.

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MacPhail speaks to fans at State of the Orioles address

Posted on 25 June 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Prior to the start of the second of a three-game between the Orioles and Cincinnati Reds, president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and manager Buck Showalter addressed season ticket holders in a question and answer forum on the state of the organization.

While many questions were of the run-of-the-mill variety on topics such as the Yankees and the health of Brian Roberts, MacPhail addressed his overall assessment of the Orioles since taking charge of the front office in the summer of 2007.

“We’re better. We’re gradually getting better, better, better,” said MacPhail. “We’re not where we want to be yet. It’s coming in some respects, truthfully, not as quickly as I hoped it would, but we’re trying to build this thing from within with an emphasis on young arms. But we’re better.

“We’re literally months ahead of the curve of where we were a year ago, and we’ve done that despite some setbacks in terms of health that really every team has to endure. We’re no different than them.”

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MacPhail quipped that the Orioles could lose their next 33 games and still be ahead of where the team was last season at that same point (a hypothetical 34-72 compared to 2010’s 33-73 record through 106 games). However, he emphasized the astonishing factoid was not something in which to take any real sense of pride.

The architect discussed how the Orioles held a .500-or-better record against the AL Central (11-9), AL West (8-7), and National League during interleague play (5-5), but needed to improve their 10-18 mark against the American League East.

He was also asked about the Orioles’ hesitancy to spend on international talent and reiterated the position he gave this past off-season:

“Part of this is my philosophy. We did spend more last year [internationally] than we did the year before, and we’ll probably spend more this year than we did last year. We’re actually making progress in that market based on what Buck and I see in terms of velocities coming out of our Dominican Summer League, our Gulf Coast League. We’re actually having some success developing some arms there.

“I am not a big believer in spending a huge amount on a signing bonus on a player that’s only worked out in a not-a-game-type environment. First, to commit millions of dollars, which some teams are willing to do and frankly I’m not, on just workouts and tryouts in a complex-type environment, I’m not there. The guy has to play. There are a lot of guys that come out here at 5:30 [for batting practice] and a lot of guys hitting home runs that don’t hit them during the game.

“To me, it’s a different thing. If I’m going to put my money down on a player and bet on his future, I want to see him in a competitive environment. Like Buck was saying, it’s those that can compete at the end. It’s not who just can run the fastest time and who can hit the ball the furthest in batting practice. A lot of the signing bonuses that you’re reading about — no doubt talented players — that are signing with these other clubs for millions out of the Dominican, they’re doing that without the benefit of playing in games. And that’s not a risk I’m willing to go ahead and take.”

Unsurprisingly, MacPhail was asked to address his expiring contract and where his future lies with the club. He restated his preference to address his status at the end of the season with majority owner Peter Angelos.

“I’ve always just taken the position — unlike one of my good friends in the game Jim Riggleman – let’s just see how we do. Let’s get to the end of the year, see how we do, see how we feel, and take it from there.

“A lot of places I’ve worked, I haven’t had a contract. I’m not a big contract guy. Let’s just see how we feel, see whether we’re helping move the ball forward and take it from there. I’m very fortunate; the owner has done everything he said he was going to do with me. We have a good relationship and we’ll just see how we feel and see how the record is at the end.”

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Orioles’ walk-off victory caps “throwback” night at The Yard

Posted on 25 June 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Friday marked the 5,000th day since the Orioles lost Game 6 of the 1997 American League Championship Series.

That’s according to a friend, who sent me the message earlier in the evening. If you’re hellbent on confirming the number and ruining your weekend, I’ll leave you the sobering math.

Needless to say, it’s been an excruciatingly long time since those exciting days and nights at Camden Yards, making the 45,382 in attendance for fireworks and the first visit by the Cincinnati Reds since the 1970 World Series all the more interesting. It was the first sellout since the Orioles’ home opener and only the second game all season in which the club drew more than 40,000 fans.

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To top it off, the Orioles didn’t disappoint, as Derrek Lee’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th finished an exciting 5-4 victory for a club badly needing a win after a 3-6 road trip and losing eight of its last 11 overall.

“I knew I got that one,” said Lee about his 381-foot drive into the left-field seats. “I put a good swing on that one. If that one didn’t go over the fence, we would have had some problems.”

Of course, it wasn’t perfect as Baltimore squandered an early 4-0 lead, stranded 13 runners, and went a combined 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. These are the last-place Orioles, after all, but it was refreshing seeing far more orange and black — with a sprinkling of red from Reds fans making the rare trip to Camden Yards — than empty, green seats at one of the most beautiful, and lonely, parks in baseball. At least for a game that didn’t include the Yankees or Red Sox.

Yes, fans came for the fireworks.

It was union night and Friday student night.

They came to see a Cincinnati team not named the Bengals — who also happens to be the defending National League Central champion — playing in Baltimore.

Regardless of the reason, the outcome gave all those people a reason to come back.

“I’ve always felt like when you have a good crowd you want to [watch] a good game and go home and want to come back and enjoy the experience,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I’ve always felt a little added, I don’t want to say pressure, but you really want them to have their day at the park and the Orioles win and then want to come back and be a part of it.”

Showalter understands how important it is for the Orioles to capitalize on these rare occasions when the ballpark is full and to provide a product people want to see again sooner rather than later. It’s a gesture far more meaningful than the single victory that pulled the team to within five games of the .500 mark.

Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight. The results on the field will dictate when — and if — the fans return to Camden Yards, but Friday night was plenty of fun for anyone who flocked to the ballpark.

“This place is a beautiful park,” said Lee, the 35-year-old veteran whose career was only getting started when Camden Yards was drawing 3.5 million people every season. “When the seats are full, it’s definitely a nice electricity. It would be nice to get a few more nights like that.”

If he only knew the half of it.

Over five thousand days ago.

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Live from Camden Yards: Orange Crush chat at 7 as Reds come to Baltimore for first time since 1970

Posted on 24 June 2011 by Luke Jones

**Join us in the Orange Crush live chat at 7:00 as the Orioles welcome the Cincinnati Reds to Baltimore for an interleague three-game set with Chris Jakubauskas taking on the talented Edinson Volquez**

BALTIMORE –Returning home after a disappointing 3-6 road trip, the Orioles welcome the Cincinnati Reds to town for the first time since the 1970 World Series.

It also marks the second time the teams have met in the regular season since 2005 when the Reds took two of three at the Great American Ball Park. The reigning National League Central champions (39-37) bring an imposing lineup to Camden Yards that includes 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto and power-hitting outfielder Jay Bruce (17 home runs).

Manager Buck Showalter is not concerned with the Orioles’ unfamiliarity with Cincinnati, pointing to veterans such as Derrek Lee and J.J. Hardy with a wealth of National League experience.

“One thing about baseball, more than probably any sport, people are really willing to share information,” Showalter said. “There aren’t many tight lips in baseball. It’s on paper and what people tell you, but we’ll see. I think it’s good for the fans, I think they like it.”

Of course, similar information didn’t seem to help against the Nationals and Pirates.

Willie Randolph will continue to coach third base with John Russell moving to bench coach on a permanent basis. Russell has been dealing with knee issues that forced him to the bench earlier in the season and has been criticized for several questionable decisions to send runners.

The most recent occurred last weekend in Washington when Russell tried to score Chris Jakubauskas all the way from first base on a double. It resulted in the starting pitcher being gunned down by several feet.

“We want to get John a little close to the catchers between innings,” Showalter said. “Initially, it kind of worked out too with Pittsburgh, his familiarity with Pittsburgh, too. Just a better fit for the club, all things concerned [with] where we are right now.”

Following a critical fifth-inning error that resulted in two runs scoring in the eventual 5-4 loss on Wednesday, Blake Davis will again start at second base in an effort to remove the bad taste in his mouth and restore his confidence. Prior to his promotion, Davis had not made a start at second base in the minors this year.

“The young man has done a lot to get an opportunity, and I thought he had some good at-bats in Pittsburgh, too,” Showalter said. “I don’t want [the error] sitting with him too long either. But, at some point, you have to take advantage of your opportunities, too.

In injury-related news, Jake Arrieta will throw a light bullpen session on Friday and a more intensive one on Saturday. If all goes well, he is slated to return to the mound for Wednesday’s start against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Reliever Alfredo Simon threw in Sarasota on Friday and experienced no setbacks. He is slated to pitch in Bowie on Sunday and could be activated as early as Tuesday if he feels no discomfort.

Showalter also disclosed that second baseman Brian Roberts will have his wisdom teeth removed while he continues to recover from concussion-related symptoms.

Despite the Orioles being 10 games out and mired in last place, Showalter mentioned receiving his All-Star Game ballot on Friday, prompting reporters to ask who his favorites would be for the Midsummer Classic. While trying to remain diplomatic, the Orioles skipper mentioned the same three names most have discussed at different points during the first half of the season.

“I can’t imagine anyone having a better defensive year than J.J. Hardy,” said Showalter, who also mentioned Adam Jones and Matt Wieters as deserving candidates. “Now that I’ve said that, he’ll have three errors tonight.”

There was no mention of Michael Gonzalez.

Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

LF Chris Heisey
2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
3B Scott Rolen
RF Jay Bruce
DH Jonny Gomes
CF Drew Stubbs
C Ramon Hernandez
SS Paul Janish

SP Edinson Volquez (4-3, 5.61 ERA)

SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
DH Vladimir Guerrero
LF Luke Scott
1B Derrek Lee
C Matt Wieters
3B Mark Reynolds
2B Blake Davis

SP Chris Jakubauskas

As we do for every weeknight home game, join us in the Orange Crush live chat beginning at 7:00. Talk about the game with us as an array of WNST.net personalities visit the cyber sports bar throughout the evening! Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the latest updates and analysis regarding the happenings from Oriole Park at Camden Yards!

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In miserable day for Orioles, concerns over Matusz growing

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In miserable day for Orioles, concerns over Matusz growing

Posted on 12 June 2011 by Luke Jones

There’s little point in belaboring an awful day of baseball for the Orioles in a 9-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday to conclude a 5-4 homestand.

Fielding miscues, baserunning mistakes, and missed opportunities at the plate were disheartening enough but pale in comparison to the growing concern over starting pitcher Brian Matusz.

The hideous final line included 1 1/3 innings pitched, four earned runs, five hits, four walks, no strikeouts, and a home run allowed in the shortest outing of his career not including a one-inning stint cut short after being hit by a line drive against Toronto last Sept. 13.

However, the numbers only begin to explain why manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles are concerned with Matusz, who was making his third start of the season after missing the first two months of the season with an intercostal strain. As was the case in his first two starts, Matusz only threw his fastball in the 86-88 miles per hour range. Unlike the first two starts, however, the lefty was all over the place with his command, looking uncomfortable from the start.

“From the get-go, I didn’t get a good feel warming up in the bullpen,” Matusz said. “It’s just one of those days where you’ve got to be able to battle without your good stuff. They were able to find some holes and get some things going early, and I was just unable to get on track today.”

Statistically speaking, Matusz was effective enough in his first two starts since being activated from the disabled list on June 1. He entered Sunday’s game with a career-high seven-game winning streak dating back to last August after picking up his first victory of the season against Oakland on Monday.

The story was much different against the Rays as Matusz was visibly frustrated throughout his brief outing in which he left the game trailing 3-0 with the bases loaded and one out in the second inning. His body language suggested a pitcher searching for answers and feeling uncomfortable on the mound.

In fairness, Matusz’ start to the 2011 season has been anything but smooth. A wart on his finger and a line drive to the forearm interrupted his spring training routine before he was ultimately placed on the disabled list on Opening Night. However, with a few extended spring training outings, three minor league rehab starts, and three starts with the Orioles, it’s reasonable to think there should be improvement with his stuff by now, right?

“There should.” Showalter said. “Yeah. He’s telling us he feels fine. Just not a whole lot coming out right now.”

Matusz claimed he was “100 percent healthy” when asked after the game, but only the 24-year-old really knows the truth at this point. Whatever the case, it’s clear the Orioles manager was unhappy with the pitcher’s performance on the mound, including his inability to hold runners.

The Rays stole four bases in the first inning alone with Matusz’s slow delivery to the plate barely giving backup catcher Craig Tatum a chance to throw out runners. Improving his ability to hold runners is a topic the club has discussed with Matusz, but Showalter questioned whether the message is getting through.

“He keeps telling us he can read them,” Showalter said. “It’s been a challenge for him. Maybe we’ll be able to get his attention a little bit more.”

Matusz’s struggles Sunday are certain to grab everyone’s attention, especially with the news that Zach Britton’s next start will be pushed back to Friday in an effort to limit his innings, so he’s available to pitch in September.

The Orioles need Matusz to be healthy and effective if they want to continue to hover around the .500 mark as the summer advances. As terrific as Britton has been, he’s likely to experience growing pains as teams see him more than once, and he’ll likely be shut down at the 175- to 180-inning mark after pitching 153 1/3 innings in the minor leagues last season.

Jake Arrieta leads the club with eight wins, but his command issues makes him an uncertainty to pitch deep into games with any consistency.

And Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen continue to work through their respective issues at Triple-A Norfolk.

Entering the season, Matusz and Jeremy Guthrie were assumed to be the two “sure things” in the Baltimore starting rotation.

Showalter wouldn’t commit to saying with certainty that Matusz would make his next scheduled start. He had yet to talk with the young pitcher when the manager spoke to the media following the game.

Judging from his comments, you can bet Showalter will be asking — with conviction — whether Matusz is truly alright.

“I’m fine confidence-wise,” Matusz said. “I know I have the stuff and what it takes to get outs and be successful. It’s just a matter of getting locked in and getting on a roll.”

For now, the Orioles can only take the pitcher at his word, but the eyeball test was troubling in a frustrating day in all regards at Camden Yards.

It’s a testament to Matusz that a small sample size of diminished velocity and one horrid start raises such concern, but it also speaks to just how important the left-hander is to the present — and future — state of the Orioles. He needs to get himself on track as quickly as possible for the club to have its best chance to remain competitive over the season’s final 100 games.

“He didn’t have his stuff working for him,” Luke Scott said. “He had an off-day. Usually Brian is crisp with his pitches and his location. He just didn’t have a good feel. That happens, that happens in this game.”

Not a good feel at all.

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Orioles, Markakis hope 6-RBI night begins turnaround of frustrating season

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Orioles, Markakis hope 6-RBI night begins turnaround of frustrating season

Posted on 11 June 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Nick Markakis shyly quipped to reporters that they finally wanted to talk to him for something good in a nightmarish season for the six-year veteran.

There was no doubt about it Friday night after the right fielder hit a grand slam and added a two-run double to collect a career-high six runs batted in in the Orioles’ 7-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. It ended a drought of 88 at-bats without an extra-base hit for Markakis and temporarily halted concerns about a disappointing 2011 season. His six RBI matched the total he had over his last 27 games since May 8.

“I guess you could say it was a relief for me, but it was a relief for the whole team,” said Markakis, who entered the game with only eight extra-base hits in 240 at-bats. “We got a big hit in a big situation.”

His grand slam off Jeremy Hellickson in the second inning gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead and provided enough for starter Jake Arrieta to collect his team-leading eighth win. Arrieta carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and pitched seven shutout innings to guide the Orioles to their fourth straight win, but the right-hander could credit his right fielder for driving in six of the Orioles’ seven runs.

“I’m really happy for Nick to get that hit,” said Arrieta, who completed seven innings for only the second time this year. “I feel like he’s been one hit away like that.”

The Orioles and fans alike envision it as the start of a turnaround for the right fielder. Before Friday, endless hours of watching video and working on his swing had appeared fruitless over much of the last two months as Markakis tried to get himself back to the level of production he enjoyed over his first five seasons when he averaged over 61.2 extra-base hits per year.

Always quiet and stoic, Markakis barely cracked a smile when asked whether the weeks of extra work had finally paid off.

“There’s still a lot more hard work to come. I’m feeling better. I still don’t feel like I’m where I need to be. I’m just going to keep plugging away. You got to take it game by game, at-bat by a-bat. You can’t worry about what has happened or what’s coming. You have to stay within yourself where you are right now.”

Only time will tell whether Markakis’ career night was a start of the law of averages swinging back in his favor or a temporary aberration in a season of frustration for the Orioles’ highest-paid player.

The Orioles (30-31) hope it’s the former as they once again climbed to within one game of the .500 mark after picking up their sixth win in 10 games against the Rays. With Brian Roberts still out with concussion-related symptoms, the club needs Markakis’ production in the No. 2 spot to produce runs for an offense that’s struggled through the season’s first 61 games.

“Everybody sees the work Nick’s been putting in,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He feels such a responsibility to the team and the Orioles and fans. We see it, he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. He grinds it, almost to a fault, but that’s why you love him. He’s a piece for us because of the things that he does to give himself a chance to be successful.”

To see how excited his teammates were following the second-inning grand slam was a clear indication of just how much Markakis means to the Orioles and how sorely his production has been missed. They wish that it’s only a preview of what’s to come with the Orioles still hanging around in a competitive American League East.

Everyone — including Markakis — can only wait and wonder.

“If it’s there, you’ll see it,” Markakis said. “You’ll see the results. I’ve got a lot more work to do. I’ve been getting as much [work] in as I can and not wearing myself out, and that’s the beauty of this game. We have a whole lot of games left to play.”

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Live from Camden Yards: Orange Crush chat at 7 as Arrieta, Hellickson face off

Posted on 10 June 2011 by Luke Jones

**Join us in the Orange Crush live chat at 7:00 as the Orioles welcome the Tampa Bay Rays to town in the opener of a three-game set with Jake Arrieta and Jeremy Hellickson both in search of their eighth win of the season**

BALTIMORE — Little has made sense through the first nine games between the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays in 2011.

Though holding a 5-4 edge in the season series, Baltimore is 0-3 against Tampa Bay at Camden Yards, but has gone an impressive 5-1 against the Rays at Tropicana Field. The Orioles (29-31) will attempt to break the early trend this weekend and move closer to the .500 mark before embarking on a nine-game road trip next week.

Right-hander Jake Arrieta will take the bump in search of his eighth win despite a 4.93 earned run average and averaging 4.5 walks per nine innings this season. With a win tonight, Arrieta would become the first Oriole pitcher to record his eighth win as early as June 10 since Sidney Ponson did it on June 7, 2003.

Even with a win, let’s hope Arrieta’s career doesn’t follow the same path as Sir Sidney’s.

Opposing him will be right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who is also seeking his eighth win of the season and has pitched 14 shutout innings in two starts against the Orioles this season, both Tampa Bay victories. Something will have to give in tonight’s game as Hellickson has received the second-best run support in the American League while Arrieta’s run support is fourth-best in the Junior Circuit.

In fact, Arrieta’s average run support (7.14 runs per game) is more than that of Jeremy Guthrie (3.15) and Zach Britton (3.84) combined.

First baseman Brandon Snyder has been recalled to take Derrek Lee’s place on the 25-man roster as the veteran first baseman mourns the passing of his grandfather. Lee is eligible to return Sunday, but is not expected to rejoin the club until the Toronto series on Tuesday.

Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

Tampa Bay
DH Johnny Damon
2B Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
1B Casey Kotchman
CF B.J. Upton
C John Jason
LF Sam Fuld
RF Justin Ruggiano
SS Reid Brignac

SP Jeremy Hellickson (7-3, 2.64 ERA)

SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
DH Vladimir Guerrero
C Matt Wieters
1B Luke Scott
3B Mark Reynolds
LF Felix Pie
2B Robert Andino

SP Jake Arrieta (7-3, 4.93 ERA)

As we do for every weeknight home game, join us in the Orange Crush live chat beginning at 7:00. Talk about the game with us as an array of WNST.net personalities visit the cyber sports bar throughout the evening! Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the latest updates and analysis regarding the happenings from Oriole Park at Camden Yards!

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Live from Camden Yards: Orange Crush chat at 7 as Orioles try to reverse 2010 misfortune against Toronto

Posted on 03 June 2011 by Luke Jones

**Join us in the Orange Crush live chat at 7:00 as the Orioles welcome the Toronto Blue Jays to town in the opener of a three-game set with rookie Zach Britton taking the hill in search of his sixth win.**

BALTIMORE — After a forgettable 1-5 West Coast trip, the Orioles return home to host the Toronto Blue Jays in the first series between the teams in 2011.

The Orioles (25-29) can only try to forget about the nightmarish 3-15 showing against Toronto (28-28) a year ago in which the Blue Jays took the first 12 before Baltimore could finally taste victory. Thankfully, this weekend’s series will be played in the friendly confines of Camden Yards and not Rogers Centre where the Orioles have dropped 14 straight games and 23 of their last 25.

Rookie Zach Britton will take the hill in search of his elusive sixth win after giving up a career-high six earned runs in his last start against Oakland. His last win came on May 1 against the Chicago White Sox.

The Orioles received a brief scare prior to the game when Felix Pie fouled a ball off his foot during batting practice. He limped into the tunnel with trainer Richie Bancells, but the left fielder deemed himself well enough to play and will occupy the leadoff spot despite not having a walk all season.

In injury-related news, first baseman Derrek Lee will make a rehab start for Double-A Bowie tonight, serving as the designated hitter and leading off for the Baysox. There is no firm date for his return, but the veteran appears close to returning to the Baltimore lineup.

Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

SS Yunel Escobar
LF Corey Patterson
RF Jose Bautista
1B Juan Rivera
C J.P. Arencibia
2B Aaron Hill
DH Edwin Encarnacion
CF Rajai Davis
3B Jayson Nix

SP Carlos Villanueva (2-0, 2.62 ERA)

LF Felix Pie
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
DH Vladimir Guerrero
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy
1B Luke Scott
3B Mark Reynolds
2B Robert Andino

SP Zach Britton (5-3, 2.93 ERA)

As we do for every weeknight home game, join us in the Orange Crush live chat beginning at 7:00. Talk about the game with us as an array of WNST.net personalities visit the cyber sports bar throughout the evening! Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the latest updates and analysis regarding the happenings from Oriole Park at Camden Yards!

Comments Off on Live from Camden Yards: Orange Crush chat at 7 as Orioles try to reverse 2010 misfortune against Toronto