Tag Archive | "ryan flaherty"

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Orioles shake up roster by designating De Aza for assignment

Posted on 27 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Struggling offensively and needing to make room for the returning Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles shook up their roster Wednesday by designating outfielder Alejandro De Aza for assignment.

The 31-year-old began the season as Baltimore’s leadoff hitter, but he struggled immensely at the plate, batting just .214 with 34 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances as he eventually lost his regular starting role. Acquired from the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 30, 2014, De Aza provided a spark down the stretch for the American League East champions, but lapses in the field and on the bases in addition to his hitting woes this season clearly led to him falling out of favor with the organization.

“In the long run, it’s going to work out better for him,” said manager Buck Showalter, who also cited a crowded outfield situation. “He’s going to end up in a better situation. I feel good for him in the long run. I think he’ll understand that as he gets away from it. We know he’s capable of better, and he’ll probably be able to do that somewhere else.”

De Aza posted a .636 on-base plus slugging percentage with three home runs and seven RBIs while seeing time in both left and right field. The 32-year-old was cited as an internal option the Orioles had to justify the decision to allow right fielder Nick Markakis to depart via free agency last December.

Even with De Aza’s struggles, the move came as a surprise as most expected the Orioles to designate infielder Everth Cabrera for assignment since Flaherty was being activated from the 15-day disabled list. However, Showalter prefers keeping Cabrera as short-term insurance with Flaherty and shortstop J.J. Hardy both dealing with recent ailments, but the veteran infielder remains on tenuous footing with a .469 OPS.

The Orioles will attempt to trade De Aza to another club, but such a move is unlikely with a hefty portion of his $5 million salary still owed for the remainder of the 2015 season. Baltimore would remain on the hook for the rest of his salary unless he’s potentially traded or claimed on waivers by another club. Some questioned in the offseason whether it was worth tendering De Aza a contract because of his previous decline with the White Sox, but the veteran posted an .877 OPS in 89 regular-season plate appearances for the Orioles last season and hit .333 in the postseason.

“What he did for us the last third of the [2014] season was indicative of what he’s capable of and probably will do this year at some point for somebody else,” Showalter said. “But that somebody else is not in the situation we’re in as a team, and each case is different. Obviously, we wish him well. A good teammate, professional guy, worked hard at it, and it bothered him that he couldn’t get to what he was capable of.”

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Counting down to Wieters return, Orioles add Clevenger to mix

Posted on 26 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same day Matt Wieters began a rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie, the Orioles recalled Pigtown native Steve Clevenger from Triple-A Norfolk and designated catcher Ryan Lavarnway for assignment.

Looking for more offense as well as some versatility off the bench, the Orioles elected to bring up Clevenger, who has played first base, second base, and third base in addition to catching in his minor-league career and was hitting an impressive .352 with an .864 on-base plus slugging percentage in 91 at-bats for the Tides. Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Lavarnway was just 3-for-28 in sporadic playing time behind starter Caleb Joseph this season.

In Sunday’s loss to Miami, Lavarnway went 0-for-4 and left seven runners on base in his final three plate appearances.

The Orioles have challenged Clevenger to improve his defense, and manager Buck Showalter said the 29-year-old has done that, throwing out 32 percent of runners attempting to steal in the International League this season. Clevenger appeared in 35 games for the Orioles last season before being demoted in favor of Joseph and Nick Hundley when Wieters was lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery.

“I went down there on a mission,” Clevenger said. “Coming into spring training this year, I wanted to focus more on my catching and I tried to do that. I went down [to Norfolk] and played very well and just tried to concentrate on my catching and helping the pitchers do what they can do best and not worry about anything else. I was playing solid defense down there.”

The initial plan for Wieters is to have him catch every other day at Bowie — he could serve as the designated hitter on the non-catching days — with the goal of activating him when he becomes eligible on June 4. His return would likely push Clevenger back to Norfolk, but Showalter didn’t rule out the possibility of the club keeping three catchers since Clevenger does provide a left-handed bat off the bench with the ability to play other infield positions in a pinch.

The Orioles would like to keep Lavarnway in the organization, but they will gauge interest from other clubs before trying to pass him through waivers and outright him to Norfolk. The former Boston Red Sox product may decline a minor-league assignment and become a free agent, however.

Showalter acknowledged that Clevenger is probably better equipped to handle infrequent playing time, but the Norfolk coaching staff provided favorable reports about his defensive progress this season.

“I try to be blunt to a fault about what they need to do while they’re there,” Showalter said. “I talked about continuing to be engaged with the pitcher and catching and throwing. I said, ‘You’re going to be out of options next year, you’re going to control all this. Try to present yourself for us and everybody else in the game as good as possible. Go down there and lead the league in hitting.'”

Clevenger didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify, but his average ranked second in the International League batting race at the time of his promotion.

Hardy returns to lineup

A day after being removed in the eighth inning of the series opener against Houston due to back stiffness, shortstop J.J. Hardy returned to the Orioles lineup Tuesday night.

The 32-year-old said he was feeling better and likely benefited from sleeping in his own bed after hypothesizing that a soft hotel mattress in Miami caused the problem over the weekend. Hardy spent the entire offseason focusing on strengthening his core in hopes of avoiding the nagging back spasms that limited him to just 141 games and nine home runs in 2014.

“It is definitely experience,” said Hardy about past problems giving him a good indicator. “When I first went through back issues, I didn’t know what to do, and now I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it. I think Buck definitely made the right decision, but I still wanted to stay in there [Monday].”

Bundy’s shoulder OK

After being scratched from Tuesday’s start at Bowie, pitching prospect Dylan Bundy’s shoulder examination went well with Showalter saying there were no structural concerns.

However, the 22-year-old told reporters in Bowie he planned to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on his right shoulder on Wednesday just to be on the safe side. He was prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine for a mild case of shoulder tendinitis.

The 2011 first-round pick is 0-3 with a 3.68 ERA in eight starts (22 innings) for the Baysox this season.

Flaherty returning

Infielder Ryan Flaherty was leading off and playing second base for Norfolk on Tuesday as he continues his minor-league rehab assignment.

Serving two different stints on the 15-day disabled list for a lingering groin injury, Flaherty could rejoin the Orioles as early as Wednesday, according to Showalter. His return would leave the organization with an interesting roster decision as veteran Everth Cabrera is out of options and hitting just .205 this season.

Odds & ends

Rookie Mike Wright will start one game of Thursday’s doubleheader with the other starter being either Tyler Wilson or T.J. McFarland. Both had abbreviated outings for Norfolk this week with the possiblility of Thursday in mind.

No Orioles players were leading their positions in the first All-Star Game voting update released Tuesday, but Jones ranked fourth among American League outfielders. Manny Machado ranked fourth among AL third baseman while Joseph was fifth among AL catchers.

Former Orioles first baseman Calvin Pickering has been hired as the hitting coach for short-season Single-A Aberdeen.

Baltimore ranks first in the majors in outfield assists with 12. Delmon Young is tied for third in the American League with five while Adam Jones has three.

 

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Orioles activate infielder Cabrera from 15-day DL

Posted on 22 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Prior to the start of a three-game series in Miami, the Orioles activated veteran shortstop Everth Cabrera from the 15-day disabled list and optioned infielder Rey Navarro to Triple-A Norfolk.

Cabrera was hit on the left foot by a pitch on May 6 and sent to the DL to make room for the returning J.J. Hardy a day later. In 23 games filling in for the injured Hardy at shortstop, the switch-hitting Cabrera batted .205 with two doubles, four RBIs, and two stolen bases.

The 25-year-old Navarro was batting .276 with one home run, two doubles, and three RBIs in 10 games with the Orioles.

Cabrera will likely receive some opportunities at second base with Steve Pearce and Jimmy Paredes also in the mix. Because the Orioles do not have the designated hitter this weekend against the Marlins, Paredes was starting at second base on Friday night.

It remains to be seen how long Cabrera will remain with the Orioles as he has now accumulated enough major league service time that he cannot be optioned without his consent. Infielder Ryan Flaherty remains on the disabled list with a groin injury, but he is expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment with Triple-A Norfolk by the end of the weekend.

Despite being a 2013 All-Star representative of the San Diego Padres, Cabrera has shown little from an offensive standpoint, posting a .456 on-base plus slugging percentage in 89 plate appearances. Flaherty carries more experience at second base and possesses more power potential while starter Jonathan Schoop continues to work his way back from a right knee injury in Sarasota.

Cabrera signed a one-year, $2.4 million contract with Baltimore in late February.

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Showalter expecting Wieters to rejoin Orioles on June 4

Posted on 12 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same day Matt Wieters caught nine innings for the first time in extended spring training, Buck Showalter gave his clearest projection yet of when the Orioles catcher might be ready to return.

The three-time All-Star selection was moved to the 60-day disabled list Sunday while continuing to work his way back to full strength from Tommy John surgery. The move made Wieters eligible to be activated on June 4, which is the date his manager is expecting to finally have him back in the Orioles lineup.

“He should join us then if everything goes well and we don’t have any other setbacks,” Showalter said prior to the second contest of a three-game series with Toronto. “It may be an every-other-day scenario here. I was only going to catch him four out of seven [games] anyway, but we may do an every-other-day thing with him. We’ll see how it goes. Today was a good step for him.”

Wieters is scheduled to catch nine innings on Thursday and Saturday as he inches closer to beginning a minor-league rehab assignment. It was expected that Wieters — who turns 29 later this month — would need to catch on consecutive days before reporting to a minor-league affiliate, but Showalter’s revelation on Tuesday possibly paints a different picture for the catcher’s immediate future.

With current starter Caleb Joseph currently hitting .295 with three home runs, 10 RBIs, and an .866 on-base plus slugging percentage in 92 plate appearances, the Orioles have been able to practice more patience since Wieters suffered a setback in mid-March. The possibility of Wieters and Joseph sharing starting duties wouldn’t appear to be a bad scenario for the club, especially with the former scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season.

“Let me get to [June 4] first,” Showalter said. “Having Matt every other day is better than not having him at all. I think that will progress from there.”

Gausman’s MRI returns clean

The results of a magnetic resonance imaging exam showed no concerns beyond the mild right shoulder tendinitis that landed right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman on the 15-day DL last week.

Showalter once again confirmed that the plan is for Gausman to enter the starting rotation at Triple-A Norfolk, but the Orioles will take it slow to make sure what remains of the inflammation in his right shoulder fully dissipates. Gausman hopes to possibly be throwing again by the weekend before eventually reporting to the Tides.

“We were contemplating [sending him to Norfolk] anyway because I don’t want Kevin to end up at [only] 50, 60 innings on the year,” Showalter said. “He figures into the potential of being in the rotation down the road [and] next year. When he went out and did that last year, he came back actually better in our bullpen. I want to keep the ball in his hand, so I think it’s going to be good.”

With Bud Norris struggling early in the season, Gausman could factor into the Baltimore rotation sooner rather than later once he is stretched out again as a starter. He has posted a 4.50 ERA in 12 innings pitching in relief this season.

While accepting a bullpen role with no complaints despite pitching to a 3.57 ERA in 20 regular-season starts last season, Gausman makes no secret about the role he’d like to fill in the long run.

“Obviously, I’ve been a starter for most of my career,” Gausman said. “That’s what I’m comfortable doing, so just to kind of get into a routine, that’s what I’m excited about.”

Flaherty back on DL, Navarro recalled

After leaving Monday’s game with a re-aggravated right groin, infielder Ryan Flaherty was placed back on the 15-day DL less than a week after being reinstated.

The Orioles recalled infielder Rey Navarro after he was optioned for the returning Flaherty on Friday. He and Steve Pearce will likely share duties at second base, but the latter was in the starting lineup on Tuesday.

Showalter is hopeful that Flaherty will not be sidelined for long, but the Orioles could not afford to carry him on the 25-man roster with a shortage of infield options behind him.

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Hardy activated, Cabrera sent to 15-day DL

Posted on 07 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy made his 2015 debut Thursday after completing a three-game rehabilitation assignment with Double-A Bowie.

Sidelined since suffering a left shoulder injury in late March, Hardy went 4-for-12 with a double and one RBI with the Baysox while starting all three games at shortstop. He was activated prior to the series opener against the New York Yankees on Thursday night.

To make room on the 25-man roster, shortstop Everth Cabrera was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised foot sustained after being hit by a pitch on Wednesday night.

Hardy deemed his shoulder ready after testing it out in a variety of ways in the three games with the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate. The last hurdle for Hardy to clear had been eliminating the lingering discomfort in his shoulder that came with the full extension of his follow-through when swinging the bat, but the Orioles gave the 32-year-old a cortisone injection on April 25 to speed up the healing.

Signed to a three-year, $40 million extension last October, Hardy will rejoin an Orioles club that’s received very little production at the shortstop position. Though the 2013 All-Star selection Cabrera has played acceptable defense, his .456 on-base plus slugging percentage and minus-0.8 wins above replacement illustrate how badly manager Buck Showalter has missed Hardy’s all-around contributions at the position.

In addition to Hardy, infielder Ryan Flaherty (groin strain) is expected to rejoin the Orioles in the Bronx and will be activated on Friday, the first day he’s eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list. Flaherty is expected to assume the primary second base duties as Jonathan Schoop continues to recover from a right knee injury in Sarasota.

With Hardy and Flaherty returning to the club for the Yankees series, the Orioles were faced with making two roster moves. The other is expected to be minor-league journeyman Rey Navarro being optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk.

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Hardy, Flaherty make it through first rehab game without issue

Posted on 04 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Receiving his first live-game action since injuring his left shoulder in late March, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy made it through the first game of a minor-league rehab assignment without issue on Monday.

The 32-year-old went 2-for-4 with a single and an RBI double in Double-A Bowie’s 8-0 win over Akron. Hardy and infielder Ryan Flaherty began a rehab assignment that could see both return by the weekend if all goes well. Flaherty went 1-for-4 with a double in the seventh inning.

Hardy played shortstop and batted third while Flaherty hit second and manned second base.

After both players exited the game at the end of seven innings, they reported no physical concerns to reporters, which is good news for an Orioles infield that’s been devastated by injuries at the beginning of the season. Hardy received a cortisone shot in his left shoulder on April 25 after he was continuing to feel slight discomfort at the end of his follow-through when swinging the bat.

It remains unclear how many rehab games Hardy will play before he’s deemed ready to be activated by the Orioles. Flaherty is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list as soon as he becomes eligible to do so on Friday after he was sidelined with a mild groin injury in Toronto two weeks ago.

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Machado might be best fit in leadoff spot for Orioles

Posted on 04 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Amidst the weirdness of a “home” series in St. Petersburg this weekend, the Orioles trotted out a new leadoff hitter in a series win against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Third baseman Manny Machado batted first in wins on Saturday and Sunday, his first games in the top spot in the order since doing it twice in 2013. With both Alejandro De Aza (a .219 batting average) and Everth Cabrera (.221) struggling at the plate, the 22-year-old Machado might be the best option the Orioles have for the role after the offseason departure of Nick Markakis.

It’s clear that using Machado in the No. 1 spot is something that manager Buck Showalter has considered for a while after the young infielder served in that role a number of times in spring training. His current .250 average is largely a product of an 0-for-15 start to the 2015 season as he’s batted .308 with a .927 on-base plus slugging percentage since then.

A deeper look reveals Machado might be a better fit as a leadoff hitter than most would think. He has already laid down a couple impressive bunt singles this season and leads the club with three stolen bases without being caught yet, signs that his well-documented knee concerns are hopefully behind him for good.

The biggest factor working in Machado’s favor is his improved patience at the plate. The 2010 first-round pick leads the club with 11 walks and has increased his walk rate from 5.7 percent in 2014 to 13.3 percent of his plate appearances this year. Of course, that will likely level off some as the year continues, but there’s no doubt that he’s showing more willingness to draw the base on balls since walking only 29 times in 667 plate appearances in his first full year in the majors in 2013.

So far, Orioles leadoff hitters have posted a .703 OPS while drawing only six walks — two coming from Machado in the last two games — and striking out 22 times. That’s just not what you’re looking for from the top hitter in the order who will receive more opportunities than any other spot over 162 games.

Baltimore still hopes Machado will settle into a spot in the heart of the order in the long run, but he is probably their best option as the leadoff hitter for the time being. Yes, it’s unconventional, but Showalter proved he wasn’t afraid to go a different route when he slotted Markakis in the top spot a few years ago with positive results.

Cabrera not getting it done

Shortstop J.J. Hardy beginning a minor-league rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie on Monday is great news as it appears an All-Star player is on the verge of returning to the lineup.

The Orioles have survived without Hardy through the first month of the season, but there’s no doubting they’ll welcome his production at the shortstop position where they’ve received very little so far this season. Cabrera has been acceptable defensively (three errors in 76 chances), but his .481 OPS was the third worst in the majors among qualified hitters entering Monday.

With Hardy and fellow infielder Ryan Flaherty potentially returning by the weekend, the Orioles are faced with interesting decisions with the 25-man roster. Career minor-league infielder Rey Navarro figures to be optioned, but might we see Cabrera — who has an option remaining — sent to Triple-A Norfolk as well?

Perhaps Showalter has experimented with Steve Pearce at second base this past weekend to determine whether he could be reliable enough to go with the combination of Hardy, Flaherty, and Pearce at the middle infield spots with Flaherty able to play either second base or shortstop. It would help solve — at least temporarily — a roster crunch that exists with other fringe position players such as David Lough not having any minor-league options.

Snider vs. Markakis

While no one doubted the Orioles would miss Nelson Cruz’s bat — he’s already hit 13 home runs for Seattle to lead the majors — the debate over Markakis’ departure was more interesting as most acknowledged he was already on the decline before undergoing offseason neck surgery.

In Atlanta, Markakis is hitting .292 and has drawn walks in 14.4 percent of his plate appearances, the highest walk rate of his career. However, the 31-year-old right fielder has collected just three extra-base hits — all of them doubles — and is slugging just .326 with a .720 OPS.

Travis Snider, who has seen the most time in right field for the Orioles so far, has batted .281 while posting a .773 OPS and is tied for third on the club with eight walks. Of course, Snider has struggled in the outfield with several gaffes in the early going, which you wouldn’t have seen from Markakis.

Could the Orioles use Markakis in the leadoff spot right now? Sure, but his numbers so far in 2015 don’t exactly suggest the Braves are getting the bang for their buck after awarding the former Oriole a four-year, $44 million contract. Meanwhile, Snider is making just $2.1 million and doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2016 season.

Gonzalez quietly on tear

He’s always among the first names observers talk about trying to replace, but Miguel Gonzalez continues to get the job done for the Orioles after pitching 7 2/3 shutout innings to earn his third win of 2015 in Saturday’s 4-0 final.

In the last calendar year, the 30-year-old right-hander has posted a 2.71 ERA over 159 2/3 regular-season innings. Entering Sunday, his 2.31 ERA since last year’s All-Star break was third in the American League (minimum 15 starts) behind Houston’s Dallas Keuchel (2.00) and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (2.07).

He rarely wows you with his stuff, but Gonzalez has been as reliable as anyone for the Orioles since 2012 and is off to another good start with a 2.59 ERA this season.

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Hardy, Flaherty to begin rehab assignments Monday

Posted on 03 May 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles are moving closer to a healthier infield as manager Buck Showalter revealed J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty are set to begin a rehab assignment Monday.

The pair will report to Double-A Bowie and could be ready to rejoin the Orioles this weekend in New York. Hardy has been sidelined with a left shoulder strain since late March while Flaherty (groin strain) is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list as early as Friday.

Showalter said the Orioles will play it by ear with Hardy, who hasn’t received any live-game action since the Grapefruit League schedule, but his return will help solidify an infield that’s turned to the likes of Everth Cabrera, Rey Navarro, and even Steve Pearce at the middle infield positions. Flaherty ran the bases at Tropicana Field prior to Sunday’s finale without any reported concerns.

How the Orioles will handle their 25-man roster when Hardy and Flaherty are activated remains to be seen. Navarro possesses minor-league options and is a logical choice to be sent out, but the other move would be more complicated. David Lough and Jimmy Paredes are both out of options, but the latter has emerged as the everyday designated hitter over the last two weeks.

The Orioles could give up on Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia, but going with an 11-man pitching staff would only be a short-term fix.

Would Showalter continue the Pearce experiment at second base and choose to option Cabrera or Flaherty to Triple-A Norfolk? The veteran super utility player has survived thus far at his new position, but he has only been tested there for a couple games.

It should be interesting.

In other injury-related news, Matt Wieters continues to catch in extended spring training games every other day in Sarasota, but there is still no timetable for him to begin a rehab assignment with a minor-league affiliate. The three-time All-Star selection told reporters in St. Petersburg that recovery from soreness between games is still an issue.

Wieters is two weeks away from the 11-month mark from undergoing Tommy John surgery on June 17, 2014.

Left-handed relief pitcher Wesley Wright (left trapezius strain) is scheduled to pitch in his first extended spring game on May 19, according to Showalter.

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Orioles place Flaherty on 15-day DL, recall infielder Navarro

Posted on 24 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Returning to Camden Yards to begin a long homestand in the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Orioles have lost another infielder as Ryan Flaherty was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday afternoon.

Flaherty suffered a right groin strain in Wednesday’s loss to the Toronto Blue Jays and did not play in the series finale at Rogers Centre. Infielder Rey Navarro has been recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take Flaherty’s place on the 25-man roster to begin a weekend series against the Boston Red Sox.

Manager Buck Showalter said Flaherty was projected to miss five to seven days, but this would have been too much time for the club to endure with a shortage of middle infielders. After Jonathan Schoop suffered a right knee injury last weekend that landed him on the DL, Flaherty had been filling in as the starting second baseman. The 28-year-old is hitting .300 with two home runs and four RBIs in 35 plate appearances this season.

Flaherty joins Schoop, shortstop J.J. Hardy, catcher Matt Wieters, and left-handed reliever Wesley Wright as the latest member of the Orioles’ regular 25-man roster to visit the DL.

The 25-year-old Navarro signed with the Orioles in the offseason after spending time in the Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Arizona organizations. Making his major league debut on Friday, Navarro was batting seventh and playing second base after being activated from the minor-league disabled list earlier this week. Like Flaherty, Navarro was nursing a groin injury.

In 885 games over nine minor-league seasons, Navarro is a career .265 hitter with 47 homers, 363 RBIs, and 74 stolen bases.

In other injury-related news, Hardy took live batting practice with Triple-A Norfolk for the second straight day on Friday. Showalter wants Hardy to hit live without any left shoulder discomfort in consecutive days before he begins a rehab assignment, making Friday’s session an important one. The Orioles manager confirmed that Flaherty’s injury would not change how the Orioles view Hardy’s timetable.

Wieters caught a few innings in extended spring training for the second consecutive day. He made throws to second and third base on Thursday, and Showalter was anxious to hear how the catcher fared on Friday as he moves closer to potentially starting a minor-league rehab assignment.

On Friday, Norfolk catcher Steve Clevenger has been placed on the minor-league seven-day DL with a bruised left thumb.

Showalter will not be with the club Saturday as he attends the memorial service of his father-in-law in Nashville.

Below are Friday night’s lineups:

BOSTON
CF Mookie Betts
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
LF Hanley Ramirez
1B Mike Napoli
3B Pablo Sandoval
RF Daniel Nava
SS Brock Holt
C Ryan Hanigan

SP Rick Porcello (1-2, 6.63 ERA, 1.47 WHIP)

BALTIMORE
LF Alejandro De Aza
3B Manny Machado
DH Jimmy Paredes
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
RF Delmon Young
2B Rey Navarro
C Caleb Joseph
SS Everth Cabrera

SP Gonzalez (2-1, 2.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

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Jones not missing his pitch in hot start for Orioles

Posted on 20 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Even after an 0-for-2 showing in Monday’s 7-1 loss that snapped a nine-game hitting streak, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is off to one of the best starts of his career through the first two weeks of the 2015 campaign.

The numbers resemble something from a video game as Jones is hitting .438 with five home runs, 16 RBIs, and a 1.294 on-base plus slugging percentage, but the most encouraging stat that could make room for Jones to sustain improvement in 2015 is his impressively-low number of strikeouts. Entering Monday with a career 19.3 percent strikeout rate, Jones has gone down on strikes just five times in 54 plate appearances this season.

Jones has only walked three times, but he’s making more contact on pitches in or out of the strike zone. Of course, we’re dealing with a small sample size, but even a reasonable improvement from his career 73.5 percent contract rate — Jones entered Monday making contact on 78 percent of his swings — could make an already-dangerous hitter even better.

Manager Buck Showalter has also noted that several of Jones’ big hits early in the season have come on pitches well outside the zone, which should serve as a reminder for those who like to harp on his lack of plate discipline and inability to draw walks. You take the good with the bad with Jones, and there’s been much more of the former in his eight years with the Orioles.

** The final numbers showed that all five runs that Wei-Yin Chen surrendered on Monday were unearned, but anyone who watched his performance knows nearly all of the damage was self-inflicted for the Taiwanese lefty.

Committing an error and walking four batters in the third — he walked no more than three in any of his 31 starts last season — Chen struggled to shake off the fielding miscue and allowed it to affect his performance on the mound. Of course, the error committed by Manny Machado with the bases loaded led to two more runs and a 5-1 deficit.

The defensive gaffe and the control problems are uncharacteristic for Chen, who is regarded as an exceptional fielder and walked only 1.7 hitters per nine innings last year. For now, you chalk it up as one of those days even though he’s now walked eight batters in 14 2/3 innings in 2015.

** With another strikeout on Monday, Chris Davis has now gone down on strikes 21 times in 50 plate appearances to begin the year.

It isn’t news that Davis strikes out a lot as he fanned 199 times in his 53-homer season in 2013, but the left-handed slugger striking out in 42 percent of his plate appearances is alarming even for his standards. Despite this, Davis has still managed to produce with two home runs, seven RBIs, and a .457 slugging percentage.

What might be more concerning than the strikeout rate is the fact that Davis has only drawn two walks this season. Despite his nightmarish 2014 season that included a .196 average, Davis still drew 60 walks in 525 plate appearances to at least salvage a .300 on-base percentage.

With the increased use of the shift against him, Davis will do himself no favors if he doesn’t have patient at-bats. Of course, pitchers may not feel the need to pitch him as carefully this season, which could also impact his ability to earn free passes.

** Once J.J. Hardy returns, many assume Everth Cabrera will become the primary second baseman in place of the injured Jonathan Schoop, but I’m not convinced.

Cabrera has just 12 games of major league experience at the position while Ryan Flaherty has proven he can play above-average defense at second. The former has also shown little at the plate with a .244 slugging percentage this season after posting a .572 OPS in his final season in San Diego last year.

Flaherty is a polarizing figure among Orioles fans, but he’s off to a strong start in 2015 with a .333 average and two homers in 24 at-bats. If you view him in his proper context as a utility player who can play six different positions well, it’s easier to see why manager Buck Showalter likes him so much.

Because of Flaherty’s power potential and his ability to play good defense at second, I’d be inclined to give him an extended look at the position before automatically handing the job over to Cabrera when Hardy is back at shortstop.

** The silver lining in Monday’s rain-shortened game was the Orioles bullpen receiving a breather aside from Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia, who pitched for the first time since April 10.

Orioles relievers pitched 12 1/3 innings in the first three games at Fenway and will now travel to Toronto to take on a potent Blue Jays lineup that entered Monday ranking first in the majors in runs scored. On top of that, Baltimore will not have another day off until April 30.

** The Orioles Hall of Fame has come under criticism in recent years with a number of players being inducted who were viewed as unworthy, but Melvin Mora shouldn’t be mentioned in that group after it was announced that he and former platoon partners John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke will be enshrined this August.

Mora, a two-time All-Star selection, is 13th in all-time wins above replacement in club history and ranks in the top 10 in a number of categories including doubles, RBIs, home runs, runs, and total bases. That sounds like a player deserving of inclusion, regardless of whether you think the overall standard has dropped.

His 2004 campaign in particular goes down as one of the most underrated seasons in franchise history and Mora was one of the lone bright spots in a very dark time period for the Orioles.

In the same way that we don’t attach the stench of 1988 to Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, Mora shouldn’t be classified as an unworthy inductee for the Orioles Hall of Fame because of the terrible teams on which he played.

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