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Dear Manny Machado: Don’t let the door hit you between 1 and 3 en route to City X via City Y

Posted on 19 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

Dear Mr. Miami:

I’ve written a lot of #DearOrioles notes this summer ­– with many more coming to everyone in management and some of your poor teammates who shall remain on the S.S. Angelos for at least three more hours of the tour – and I needed to move yours a little earlier in the batting order than I wanted.

Let’s face it, you might not be here by the time I hit “publish” on this old-fashioned love letter.

So, if I stray off into the future tense or refer to your Orioles sweater in the past tense, well, that’s just me keeping it real.

You indicated earlier this week that your bags are packed but your head has been in the future here for a long time, Manny.

I’m not really sure how much time you ever spent thinking about remaining with the Baltimore Orioles after 2018 – my guess is you didn’t lose a lot of sleep over it because it never was a reality in the moment or a “decision to make” because my other guess is that the Angelos family never really approached you with anything you’d take seriously.

That’s the Oriole Way. As you can tell from my #DearOrioles letters, I’ve been at this a long time.

I honestly had to look up your birthday to put it in perspective.

I didn’t realize the week you were born was the worst week of my life.

I was sitting in the Oriole Park at Camden Yards press box on July 1, 1992 when I took an urgent call that my father had a stroke in Dundalk. You were born on July 6. My Pop died on July 11, 1992. I was sitting in a hospital watching my father leave the planet as you were in one in Hialeah, Florida entering this crazy sphere.

It’s really weird that you were born AFTER Camden Yards opened. You’re a baby, bro!

There’s no way you can understand what my eyes have seen professionally here in Baltimore as a sports journalist.

I’ve seen, talked about, written about and heard about everything except the story where the future Hall of Fame franchise every day player – the modern day Cal Ripken or Brooks Robinson – walks off at 26 to a rival franchise leaving behind whatever remnants that a desperate July fire sale will bring a MLB team with a lame duck leadership group.

I thought I had seen the worst of Orioles tragic in those 14 years of losing that made up your life from age 5 until you walked on the field in Texas that night in 2012 as a 20-year old. And when you lost in Game 5 in New York in the ALDS, you probably thought the playoffs would be a pretty regular occurrence around here just like Ripken did in 1983.

But here we are six summers later, your timer is about to go off and the franchise is 40 games under .500 in the summer of 2018 and holding an open auction for eight weeks of your services.

And we all sorta know that by Opening Day 2019, you’ll probably wind up with the New York Yankees, which as you witnessed with Mark Teixeira will make you a “special” kind of visitor here in Camden Yards in the future.

But as you’ve learned, there’s no one “special” in the Baltimore Orioles organization except the owner himself. (Well, and maybe Chris Davis and Brady Anderson, but I’ll save their #DearOrioles love letters for long after you’re gone. They ain’t going anywhere.)

Manny, you’re unique – but you’re not “special.”

If I had my press credential and really knew you, we could talk all about the history of free agency and the decisions of Peter Angelos. I’ve only met you once – in the clubhouse at CitiField in New York before the 2013 All Star Game. You seemed like a decent, unassuming fellow then when I introduced myself. Like I said, a baby – you turned 21 that week!

Ten minutes later, Adam Jones asked me on the field why Peter Angelos hated me so much. It took me a book to explain it. It’s called The Peter Principles. You should check it out.

There’s certainly a lot of history in there that pertains to you as to why you’ve done what you’ve done and never been offered a couple of hundred million of Angelos money to stick around and be a part of something “special.”

I’m sure someone around there not named Brady Anderson has told you all about when Mike Mussina was invited by Peter G. Angelos very publicly to leave for the Yankees – and then Moose did! Mussina even refused a July trade, which is what Jonesey is gonna is going to be considering during his All Star break while you’re in Washington, D.C. figuring out the itinerary for the rest of your summer and fall plans for a rent-a-ring.

And, honestly, if these Orioles folks weren’t so crazy petty and vain and paranoid, you’d be wearing a Dodgers or Yankees or Brewers or Diamondbacks hat when you come out to tip it in D.C. next week. I’m betting the “over” on July 18th being your trade date.

The Orioles are gonna milk you for one more sideshow on the way out the door.

I don’t get it.

You are one rolled ankle or hamstring pull away from being a

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Britton’s return, Machado’s absence bring Orioles’ expected sell-off into focus

Posted on 11 June 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles cleared the final real hurdle for their anticipated sell-off with the activation of two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton from the disabled list on Monday.

There are no more excuses for waiting to dive into the trade market with the deadline now seven weeks away.

The Memorial Day checkpoint came and went two weeks ago with Baltimore hopelessly in last place. The amateur draft is in the books, removing that important task from the ledger. And now Britton has returned less than six months after tearing his right Achilles tendon, giving him several weeks to rebuild his trade value that’s taken a hit over the last 14 months because of injuries.

Opposing scouts were already watching the left-hander during his five-game minor-league rehab assignment, which concluded with a 1.69 ERA and six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. The Orioles now hope Britton resembles the closer who recorded 120 saves and a 1.38 ERA from 2014-2016 to make him that much more attractive to contending clubs aiming to bolster their bullpen.

“Every time I get the ball, pitch well and help the team,” said Britton, who’s trying his best not to view his return as an audition for other teams. “Regardless of our standing or the trade discussions, the mindset’s just going to be to go out there and pitch well.”

Manager Buck Showalter said he’d prefer not throwing Britton into a save situation immediately, but the organization knows opposing teams will want to see how he handles high-leverage situations sooner than later. Pitching effectively in minor-league games was an important step, but there’s no simulating the pressure and adrenaline of the ninth inning of a major league game. Hopefully the reeling Orioles can scrounge together enough save chances to help him further prove his worth over the next few weeks.

Britton’s return coincided with the absence of shortstop Manny Machado, who was out for the series opener against Boston due to illness. Machado not being in the lineup for the first time all season initially sparked fan chatter about a potential trade before Showalter confirmed the star infielder was dealing with the same bug that sidelined third baseman Danny Valencia in Toronto on Sunday.

Not seeing Machado batting third and playing shortstop Monday previewed the reality the Orioles are facing at some point in the near future.

“I’d be less than frank if I said that I hadn’t already thought about that,” Showalter said. “You should’ve already thought about it. You should think about all guys. If somebody’s hurt, what’s your ‘what if?’ There’s not anybody on the horizon or maybe in baseball that’s a ‘what if’ that’s available like Manny. I don’t need a reminder of watching it tonight.”

Entering Monday 26 games below .500 and 24 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East, the Orioles imagining how much worse it could get without their best player isn’t pleasant to say the least.

But it will be their reality all too soon.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 loss to Boston

Posted on 15 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their third straight defeat in a 3-1 final against the Boston Red Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles led 1-0 three batters into the game and didn’t score again as the bottom six lineup spots were 0-for-20 with one walk and 12 strikeouts. No one expects 10 runs per game with the tough schedule and cold weather they’ve endured in April, but this is ridiculous.

2. Sixteen games into the season, three regulars against right-handed starters — Manny Machado, Trey Mancini, and Pedro Alvarez — have swung the bat well. Two part-timers — Chance Sisco and Craig Gentry — have been OK. The overall performance of everyone else has ranged from poor to below-replacement level.

3. In the four games in which Dylan Bundy has started, he’s posted a 1.40 ERA while the Orioles have scored a total of seven runs. To channel Gisele Bundchen, he can’t pitch the ball and hit the ball. If only he were Shohei Ohtani.

4. Bundy recorded five of his six strikeouts on his slider and has now gotten a swing and miss on 35.3 percent of his sliders this season. That’s up from 24.4 percent last year. Impressive.

5. It’s tough to pitch when you have to get five outs in the sixth inning of a tie game. Maybe it wasn’t a great idea to cut payroll by 10 percent without bothering to acquire a real utility infielder. Danny Valencia’s career minus-36 defensive runs saved aren’t a secret.

6. Until this season, the infield had done a good job masking the Orioles’ overall defensive decline since 2014 when they led the American League in defensive runs saved. Baltimore entered Sunday 12th in the AL in DRS and has finished 11th or 12th every season since its division title campaign.

7. I’ve been a Caleb Joseph guy, but he really needs to start hitting. His defense is his strength, but a .286 on-base plus slugging percentage is unacceptable with Sisco behind him. He needs to produce in the neighborhood of what he offered last year (.700 OPS) or 2015 (.693).

8. Richard Bleier pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings isn’t shocking, but registering two strikeouts is rare after having only three in his first 9 2/3 innings of 2018 and striking out only 3.7 per nine frames last season. The lefty sinkerballer is a fascinating contrast to the strikeout-heavy relievers of today.

9. Even before Monday’s postponement, the Orioles were listing Chris Tillman’s turn in the rotation as TBD for the Detroit series. I expect him to receive a few more opportunities, but that’s still pretty telling. Then again, an 8.28 ERA since the start of last year says it all.

10. Jonathan Schoop expressed hope Sunday that he’d only be on the disabled list for the minimum 10 days before returning. I admire his desire, but oblique injuries can linger all season if not handled carefully. I expect the training staff to protect the All-Star second baseman from himself if necessary.

11. Alex Cobb had an awful debut, but overreaction has been silly. There’s much over which to be concerned, but declaring someone who signed less than four weeks ago a bust is a bit much. That said, Baltimore is already running out of time for Cobb to get up to speed.

12. We’re only 10 percent of the way through the schedule, but Sunday was only the third of 11 losses in which the margin of defeat was three runs or fewer, reflecting the struggle to even be all that competitive. It’s going to start getting late very early if this continues.

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2018 American League East preview

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Luke Jones

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

1. BOSTON (2017 record: 93-69, first place)
Notable arrivals: DH/OF J.D. Martinez
Notable departures: SP Doug Fister, RP Addison Reed, OF Chris Young, RP Fernando Abad
Why to like them: Most teams dream of having a Chris Sale or David Price atop their rotation, but the Red Sox have both as well as former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and all-world closer Craig Kimbrel.
Why to dislike them:
Health is a concern with Dustin Pedroia beginning the season on the disabled list, Price needing to prove he’s over his elbow problems, and other pitchers currently ailing.
Player to watch:
Martinez was paid handsomely for his career year at the plate in 2017, but the Red Sox are counting on him to fill the void of David Ortiz, whom the lineup missed dearly last year.
2018 outlook (94-68):
The other AL East giant owned the winter spotlight, but Martinez’s power bat and a healthier version of Price will be the difference in what should be an outstanding divisional race.

2. NEW YORK (2017 record: 91-71, second place)
Notable arrivals:
OF Giancarlo Stanton, INF Neil Walker, INF Brandon Drury
Notable departures: 2B Starlin Castro, 3B Todd Frazier, DH Matt Holliday, SP Michael Pineda
Why to like them: A team that was one win away from going to the World Series added the reigning NL MVP (Stanton) and his 59 home runs to a lineup that led the majors in long balls in 2017.
Why to dislike them: Despite their daunting lineup and elite bullpen, the Yankees didn’t improve a rotation counting on Masahiro Tanaka to rebound and CC Sabathia to fight off Father Time again.
Player to watch: It’s easy to point to Stanton or Aaron Judge, but the 24-year-old Luis Severino building off his superb 2017 season would make the rest of the rotation look that much better.
2018 outlook (90-72, wild card): The youthful Yankees were ahead of schedule last year, but Joe Girardi’s exit can’t be overlooked and even Houston stubbed its toe in 2016 before winning it all in 2017.

3. BALTIMORE (2017 record: 75-87, fifth place)
Notable arrivals: SP Alex Cobb, SP Andrew Cashner, OF Colby Rasmus
Notable departures: C Welington Castillo, OF Seth Smith, SP Wade Miley, SP Ubaldo Jimenez
Why to like them: The lineup will still hit plenty of home runs and the bullpen still has enough firepower to protect late leads until Zach Britton is ready to return to action.
Why to dislike them: The additions of Cobb and Cashner will help, but the embarrassment of finishing with the worst starter ERA in baseball just isn’t forgotten — or fixed — overnight.
Player to watch: How Manny Machado handles the pressure of his pending free agency and the move to shortstop will significantly impact the Orioles’ fortunes — now or potentially for the future in a trade.
2018 outlook (82-80): The late arrival of Cobb offers a more plausible path to a wild-card spot, but a few too many variables must break right for a club facing substantial changes at season’s end.

4. TORONTO (2017 record: 76-86, fourth place)
Notable arrivals: OF Randal Grichuk, OF Curtis Granderson, SP Jaime Garcia, SS Aledmys Díaz
Notable departures: OF Jose Bautista, INF Ryan Goins, INF Darwin Barney, RP Tom Koehler
Why to like them: The Blue Jays aren’t that far removed from back-to-back ALCS appearances and still have a strong rotation that finished first in the AL in starter ERA in 2016.
Why to dislike them: The days of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion anchoring a loaded lineup are long gone as former AL MVP Josh Donaldson doesn’t have nearly as much help these days.
Player to watch: The 25-year-old Aaron Sanchez looked to be on the verge of stardom before his 2017 season was derailed by recurring blister problems that limited him to eight starts.
2018 outlook (80-82): Like the Orioles, the Blue Jays have enough talent to make a run at a playoff spot if things go their way, but the lineup and bullpen won’t give the starting rotation enough help.

5. TAMPA BAY (2017 record: 80-82, third place)
Notable additions: 1B C.J. Cron, OF Carlos Gomez, OF Denard Span
Notable losses: 3B Evan Longoria, SP Alex Cobb, SP Jake Odorizzi, OF Corey Dickerson, OF Steven Souza, 1B Logan Morrison
Why to like them: Chris Archer, Blake Snell, and Jacob Faria still give the Rays enough upside in a starting rotation that should remain competitive despite the subtractions of Cobb and Odorizzi.
Why to dislike them: The long list of Rays’ departures says all you need to know about outside expectations for 2018, even if Tampa Bay’s front office proves to be geniuses with its maneuvering.
Player to watch: The 29-year-old Archer has posted back-to-back seasons with an ERA above 4.00, making one wonder if he needs the change of scenery so many former teammates received this winter.
2018 outlook (73-89): The projection systems are higher on this team than casual observers, but the Rays are relying too heavily on spare parts and youth to be able to seriously contend this season.

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Saturday’s loss illustrates problem keeping Jimenez in Orioles bullpen

Posted on 04 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was criticized as soon as Ubaldo Jimenez jogged in from the bullpen to pitch the top of the eighth inning on Saturday night.

Trailing only 2-1 to the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles still had a decent chance, prompting many fans to see red even before Jimenez gave up two runs to make it a three-run deficit entering the bottom of the eighth. The harsh reaction was fair with the struggling veteran now sporting a horrendous 6.89 ERA, but it illustrates how problematic stashing him in the bullpen is for a club currently without its All-Star closer or a starting rotation consistently pitching deep into games.

Asked why he used Jimenez in a one-run game, Showalter said right-handers Mike Wright and Mychal Givens were unavailable because of their recent workload and that he wasn’t going to use top relievers Brad Brach or Darren O’Day unless the Orioles had a lead. That left Jimenez and Donnie Hart as his only options to begin the eighth after Richard Bleier had already pitched two scoreless innings.

You may disagree with the philosophy of taking O’Day and Brach out of the equation there, but Showalter shying away from using his top relievers when the Orioles have trailed late in a game is hardly a new development. Especially with Zach Britton on the disabled list, the Baltimore skipper is trying to keep his best relievers fresh for the most winnable games, which will lead to some instances such as Saturday’s when he won’t use his best bullets despite facing only a small deficit. It looks strange when it happens and draws plenty of detractors, but there’s a method to his madness that’s worked extremely well for a long time with last year’s wild-card game being the ugly exception.

Yes, Showalter could have used Hart to begin the eighth, but the lefty specialist hasn’t been pitching well, either, and was only recently recalled from Triple-A Norfolk after being demoted last month for ineffectiveness. We don’t know how Hart might have fared against the top of the Boston order in the eighth, but he gave up a run in the following inning to make it a four-run deficit.

There was also the reality of Craig Kimbrel and his 0.75 ERA looming and the Orioles offense having, at most, three outs to work with before the Boston closer would be summoned. Showalter probably would have considered using O’Day — who briefly warmed up in the bullpen after Manny Machado homered to lead off the bottom of the seventh to make it 2-1 — had he known Kimbrel would give up his first two hits of the season against right-handed batters and allow a run for the first time since April 20. Managers don’t have the benefit of a crystal ball when making those decisions, however, and using your best relievers when you’re already losing and will be facing a terrific closer isn’t a great bet and will likely harm you more than help you in the long run.

Critics will say that’s waving the white flag, but you just can’t play every day of a 162-game schedule like it’s the seventh game of the World Series if you want to keep your bullpen healthy and effective.

I won’t argue if you want to blame Showalter for Saturday’s loss, but the real problem is having Jimenez in the bullpen and not having any trust that he can pitch in a semi-meaningful situation from time to time. In today’s game with such heavy bullpen use, few clubs are equipped to carry a long reliever who can neither be optioned to the minors nor be trusted to keep his team close when trailing by a run or two when other pitchers need a break. If Jimenez is relegated solely to mop-up duty, the Orioles will essentially be limiting themselves to a six-man bullpen most nights, and we already saw how that turned out earlier this season.

Asked last month about the possibility of Jimenez moving to a relief role before he was subsequently removed from the starting rotation in favor of Alec Asher, Showalter posed the question of whether that would be good for the Orioles bullpen.

We got our answer Saturday night.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-2 win over Boston

Posted on 03 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their third straight game in a 3-2 victory over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Alec Asher bounced back from his last start in a major way, registering his second quality start against the Red Sox and validating Buck Showalter’s decision to give him the ball again despite a disastrous showing in Houston.

2. After setting a major league record for home runs in June last year, the Orioles have hit six long balls in the first two days of the new month with two in the first inning Friday. Giving Asher an early lead was critical after his last outing.

3. Manny Machado becoming the first hitter to reach the second deck at Camden Yards since Mark Reynolds in 2011 was an amazing feat, but I was impressed with him admitting that the mammoth blast messed up his approach for his remaining at-bats Friday. He’s slowly getting himself straightened out.

4. Asher didn’t pitch out of the stretch until the sixth inning. It’s easy to see that the Boston lineup isn’t firing on all cylinders right now, but that’s quite an accomplishment for a pitcher who began the season in the minors.

5. His stuff doesn’t scare anyone, but Asher effectively commanded his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, throwing those two pitches 68 percent of the time and inducing plenty of weak contact throughout the night.

6. Hyun Soo Kim delivered the eventual game-winning RBI double in the fourth inning on an 0-2 pitch from Rick Porcello. The emergence of Trey Mancini has understandably diminished Kim’s role, but I’d still like to see his name in the lineup more frequently.

7. The Orioles missed a golden opportunity to add to their lead in the sixth inning when they had runners at the corners with one out. You’d really like to squeeze across one run there in a close game.

8. Despite Asher throwing more pitches in an outing than he had in a month, I didn’t have a problem with him starting the seventh. Showalter was wise to pull him when he did, however, and admitted after the game that he let him go a little longer than he intended.

9. Caleb Joseph throwing out Jackie Bradley Jr. attempting to steal to end the seventh inning was a big play, especially when you consider that the Boston center fielder had been caught stealing only two other times in his major league career.

10. There was much angst about Darren O’Day at the beginning of the season, but he’s now struck out 20 batters over his last 11 innings of work dating back to May 5. I’d say he’s put the rough start behind him.

11. Brad Brach has now converted all three of his save opportunities and has pitched five scoreless frames since his blown save at Detroit on May 16. Regardless of what happens with Zach Britton in the coming weeks, that’s an encouraging development.

12. Many were ready to give up on the Orioles just five days ago after they had lost 13 of 16 games, but they improved to a superb 21-11 against the American League East on Friday. Some home cooking and familiar opponents were just what they needed apparently.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-3 win over Boston

Posted on 05 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles finishing off a rocky 3-4 road trip with an 8-3 win over the Boston Red Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles didn’t enjoy their four-game series in Boston for a variety of reasons, but you had to be impressed with their fortitude when it would have been easy to just look forward to going home Thursday night. Salvaging a split really showed something underneath the hood.

2. Considering he found out he’d be starting less than 24 hours before first pitch, Tyler Wilson turned in a crucial six-inning performance to not only give the Orioles a good chance to win but also save a pitching staff that had its rotation turned upside down a day earlier.

3. Retiring 12 of the final 13 hitters he faced, Wilson again showed he isn’t intimidated pitching at Fenway, the same place where he threw eight shutout innings in a win last season. It remains to be seen whether he can succeed in the majors long term, but the kid battles.

4. His profanity-laced rant garnered some unflattering attention — even if he made very sound points — but Manny Machado can hold his head up over how he handled himself on the field. He clobbered his third homer of the series to give the Orioles the lead in the fourth.

5. An unusual number of opposing lefty starters has limited the at-bats for Seth Smith early on, but the veteran collected four hits to raise his average from .222 to .286. His .397 on-base percentage thus far is exactly what the Orioles were looking for when they acquired him from Seattle.

6. Smith’s swipe of home on the back end of a double steal gave the Orioles their eighth and ninth stolen bases of the year after a total of 19 in 2016. With the offense not exactly firing on all cylinders, it’s been good to see them force the issue some.

7. I’m guessing more than a few fans were afraid early on that the Orioles were going to be shut down by Kyle Kendrick in his first major league appearance since 2015. It took a little while, but the third time through the order did the trick.

8. It paled in comparison to what happened at Yankee Stadium last week, but the Orioles bullpen made it interesting in the seventh as Donnie Hart and Mychal Givens combined to load the bases with two outs. You hope the group now being back to full strength will stabilize things.

9. Joey Rickard received praise for his inning-ending catch in the seventh, but Statcast rated the play as having a routine 96-percent catch probability. It wasn’t a graceful grab, but Buck Showalter was certainly relieved that he made the play.

10. Zach Britton allowed one hit and struck out Jackie Bradley Jr. on an impressive slider in a scoreless ninth inning, but he didn’t get much movement on his sinker for the second straight outing since his return from the disabled list.

11. Just over nine months removed from Tommy John surgery, Hunter Harvey will complete a 25-pitch bullpen session on Friday. That’s certainly encouraging news for the former first-round pick who’s just 22 years old.

12. Given how mentally draining these last seven games with New York and Boston were, the Orioles have to be happy to conclude a season-opening stretch of 24 of 27 games against the American League East. Nineteen of their next 22 come against opponents outside the division.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-2 win over Boston

Posted on 02 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles opening a four-game road series with a 5-2 win over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. He was a hated man at Fenway Park after the recent drama with the Red Sox, but Manny Machado reminded us why he’s one of the game’s best players with a monster home run and several defensive plays that were terrific even by his standards. Don’t make him angry.

2. Dylan Bundy quelled recent concerns about his velocity by averaging 91.6 miles per hour with his fastball and turning in his sixth straight quality start. You know you’re off to a terrific start to 2017 when you allow two runs over seven innings and your season ERA increases to 1.82.

3. Despite matching a career high with four walks, Bundy did a superb job pitching out of jams by inducing two double plays and taking a shutout into the eighth. The free passes appear to be contagious, however, as Orioles pitching entered Monday with the highest walk rate in the majors.

4. I was genuinely surprised to see Bundy back on the mound to start the eighth after 99 pitches and with no one warming in the bullpen. Is it really a good idea for him to be throwing a career-high 111 pitches five days after his velocity was markedly down?

5. It was disturbing to learn what Adam Jones had to face on Monday night, making his performance in center field that much more impressive as he made a terrific catch to end a problematic eighth inning and added another nifty grab in the ninth.

6. Trying to protect a slim lead, Bundy didn’t appear to be in a spot to plunk Mookie Betts on purpose, but the optics were shaky after coming inside two pitches earlier. Either way, I’m sick of this saga that started with a slide not even considered malicious by the victim.

7. It’s laughable for anyone in Boston to take offense to Machado’s trot around the bases on his sixth-inning blast considering the retired David Ortiz just now reached home plate on the final home run of his career clubbed last September.

8. After collecting his first RBIs since Sept. 11, 2015 on Saturday, Caleb Joseph picked up an RBI in his second straight start with a double in the fifth. He’s a machine!

9. As if the Red Sox defense wasn’t bad enough, Hanley Ramirez rushing into second as Andrew Benintendi was standing on that very base was a bold strategy in the eighth. The Orioles took full advantage of the Boston ineptitude late in the game.

10. Chris Davis striking out three times isn’t exactly unusual, but I continue to be amazed by how many called strike threes he continues to take. He struck out looking twice and has already done it 17 times this year after shattering a career high with 79 last year.

11. Brad Brach provided an uneventful ninth inning to secure his fifth save and final opportunity before Zach Britton is activated on Tuesday. That was a pleasant change after what went down on both Friday and Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

12. Hyun Soo Kim sat in favor of Ryan Flaherty’s small-sample success against Rick Porcello. With two lefties and knuckleballer Steven Wright starting the next three games, Kim will likely sit more. There sure seem to be a lot of reasons not to play a .302 hitter from a year ago.

(Update: The Red Sox announced after Monday’s game that Wright would be going to the 10-day disabled list with a knee injury.)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-2 loss to Boston

Posted on 23 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles failing to complete a sweep in a 6-2 loss to Boston on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Manny Machado had every right to be upset after Boston reliever Matt Barnes’ pitch nearly hit him in the head, but the young third baseman showed impressive composure that wouldn’t have been there in the past. The Orioles couldn’t afford to lose him to suspension, and he’s apparently learned that.

2. Dustin Pedroia deserves credit for handling the weekend-long saga with more class and maturity than some of his teammates and even his manager. You only hope his unfortunate knee injury doesn’t keep him sidelined for long.

3. Even if you buy Barnes’ claim that he wasn’t trying to throw at Machado’s head — it was obvious that he was trying to hit him somewhere at least — that’s why intentionally hitting a batter is dangerous and shouldn’t have a place in the game. Pitchers miss spots all the time.

4. The day was ruined for Kevin Gausman after his first eight pitches as he allowed a three-run home run to Mookie Betts on a fastball and a solo shot to Hanley Ramirez on a hanging slider. His performance after that was OK, but a 7.50 season ERA speaks for itself.

5. How much of an issue has control and command been for Gausman? He walked three batters or more for the fourth time in five starts. He walked three or more in just three of his 30 starts last year.

6. A silver lining to Gausman’s outing was some improvement with his split-changeup, which had largely been nonexistent in his first four starts. However, that pitch failed him in the fifth inning when Mitch Moreland hit one over the center-field fence for a solo shot.

7. Despite giving up a career-high 28 home runs last year, Gausman surprisingly hadn’t had problems with the long ball this season before Sunday. He surrendered three to the Red Sox after giving up only one in his first 18 2/3 innings.

8. Concern with Gausman’s 2017 start is more than fair, but let’s pump the brakes on the hyperbole of him being a bust and comparing him to Jake Arrieta in Baltimore. The 26-year-old posted a 3.77 ERA from 2014 to 2016 and was the Orioles’ best starter last year.

9. Eduardo Rodriguez was impressive over six innings of one-hit ball to earn his first victory of the season. Yes, I’m still fine with the Orioles trading him to the Red Sox for Andrew Miller in 2014.

10. It was a rough day for Trey Mancini, who struck out three times and left five runners on base over his final two at-bats. Of course, he wasn’t alone as the Orioles left 10 men on base and were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

11. Even with Sunday’s defeat, the Orioles still ended the weekend with the best record in the American League at 12-5. With Chris Tillman and Zach Britton out with injuries and Kevin Gausman struggling mightily, who would have guessed that three weeks ago?

12. Watching Barnes throw at Machado in the eighth, I couldn’t help but think of the thousands of kids at Camden Yards who were waiting to run the bases, a great Sunday post-game promotion. I’m sure that nonsensical garbage they had to watch will really help grow the sport though.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 win over Boston

Posted on 23 April 2017 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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