Tag Archive | "ryan flaherty"

Schoop deserves major-league audition with Machado sidelined

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Schoop deserves major-league audition with Machado sidelined

Posted on 22 March 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles haven’t officially ruled out third baseman Manny Machado for Opening Day, but his chances of being ready by March 31 remind you of the Black Knight fighting King Arthur in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” at this point.

The season opener has never been the priority for the 21-year-old in the organization’s eyes as a 100-percent Machado for what will still be a significant portion of the season is preferable to a lesser version being thrown into action before he and his surgically-repaired left knee are ready. Because of the overwhelming success Machado has had in his brief major league career, we easily forget he’s far from a finished product — a .240 average in the second half of 2013 reflects that — so compromising his long-term health and development for a handful of games wouldn’t be a wise gamble.

With Ryan Flaherty expected to move to third base in Machado’s absence, Orioles manager Buck Showalter is faced with the decision of what to do at second, but the combination of spring performancs and long-term potential make for an easy choice among Jonathan Schoop, Jemile Weeks, Alexi Casilla, and Alex Gonzalez.

Weeks, acquired in the Jim Johnson trade this winter, has hit .138 in 29 spring at-bats and has minor-league options remaining.

The non-roster invitee Casilla has been hampered with injuries and didn’t do much to leave a lasting impression as a reserve on last year’s club.

Gonzalez, 37, has hit .440 this spring but has never played second base in the big leagues and hit .177 with Milwaukee in his 15th season a year ago, making him a better fit as a utility infielder than as an everyday player for a couple weeks.

Schoop (pronounced “scope”) has only done everything that’s been asked of him to earn his shot as the Orioles’ starting second baseman against the Boston Red Sox in just over a week. A .406 spring average might be fool’s gold in trying to decide whether the Curacao native is truly ready to be an everyday player in the major leagues, but Machado’s short-term absence provides a convenient window for the Orioles to evaluate what they hope will be an important part of their future.

The 22-year-old added strength in the offseason and has looked solid defensively at second base, a position at which Schoop may not remain because his 6-foot-2, 210-pound listed frame is still evolving. The Orioles would have needed to option him to Triple-A Norfolk anyway had Machado been further along in his recovery, so there appears to be no drawback to rewarding the organization’s top positional prospect with a short-term audition.

If Schoop can perform at such a high level to force the Orioles’ to revisit Flaherty’s status as the projected starting second baseman upon Machado’s return, it’s a great problem to have for an organization that’s struggled to receive consistent production at second base over the last few seasons.

In truth, there is far more evidence to support Schoop needing more seasoning at Triple A than there is proof of him being ready to thrive in Baltimore. In addition to a stress fracture in his back that cost him two months of the 2013 season, Schoop hit only .256 with a .697 on-base plus slugging percentage in 289 plate appearances for the Tides last season. And his .710 OPS as a 20-year-old at Double-A Bowie in 2012 was respectable for such a young prospect but certainly not an indicator of being on the verge of stardom.

Then again, Machado’s .266 average at Bowie two years ago made his early-August call-up to Baltimore a surprise to nearly everyone at the time. It’s safe to say that decision worked out swimmingly.

Much like there was a need for a better defensive player at third base when they called on a 20-year-old Machado, the Orioles have an opening at second base and no other option appears better than Schoop, who homered in his first major league game last September and has five extra-base hits in 32 Grapefruit League at-bats this spring.

If he’s not ready for the big stage, you send him back to Norfolk where he can play every day when Machado returns and Flaherty shifts back to second base. But rewarding Schoop for his spring performance and potential feels like the right move for the Orioles, who haven’t shied away from promoting their top prospects in recent years.

It may not result in another overnight success story like Machado — nor should Schoop be compared to such an unusual talent as he often is– but writing his name in the lineup on March 31 makes too much sense at this point.

 

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Seven Orioles players to watch closely during spring training

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Seven Orioles players to watch closely during spring training

Posted on 11 February 2014 by Luke Jones

The start of spring training will inevitably bring a new batch of clichéd stories about players being in the best shape of their lives or feeling poised for career seasons, but the Orioles will need several players to emerge from the shadows to continue the momentum started over the last two seasons.

After a disappointing offseason that has featured no impact signings or significant acquisitions at this late stage, manager Buck Showalter must look from within the current roster for solutions to hopefully bring the Orioles a third consecutive winning season, a modest achievement they haven’t realized in 20 years (1992 through 1994).

The Orioles face uncertainty in the starting rotation and in the back end of the bullpen as well as at second base, designated hitter, and left field, making this spring’s workouts in Sarasota as important as any in recent memory. However, most answers won’t truly come until the regular season when Baltimore is thrown back into the reality of competing in the heavyweight American League East.

Here are seven players (with their 2013 stats noted in parentheses) to watch closely over the next six weeks before the Orioles break camp ahead of Opening Day on March 31:

7. 2B Ryan Flaherty (.221, 10 HR, 27 RBI, .683 OPS)

The opinions on the 27-year-old Flaherty have been polarizing in his brief major league career with plenty of good (16 home runs in 438 plate appearances and strong defense) and bad (a 12-for-90 start to 2013 that landed him at Triple-A Norfolk in May) over the last two years. However, the former Rule 5 pick appears to be the favorite to replace Brian Roberts as the starting second baseman and hit .276 with an impressive .812 OPS in 156 at-bats after being recalled from the Tides in late May. As we saw early last season, Flaherty’s defense alone gives him a long leash in Showalter’s eyes, but the Orioles hope he finally finds consistency at the plate with no established veteran in the mix as a serious threat.

6. OF/DH Henry Urrutia (.276, 0 HR, 2 RBI, .586 OPS)

The Cuban defector was the toast of the Orioles’ farm system last season as he raked at both Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk — hitting .347 with 31 extra-base hits between the two levels — before being called up to the majors in late July. All but one of Urrutia’s 16 hits with the Orioles were singles, but far too many have written off the 27-year-old while overlooking how tumultuous the last couple years were for him in simply trying to get to the United States, let alone immediately thrive in professional baseball. There’s no question that Urrutia needs to hit for more power to stick, but nearly 20 extra pounds and a full offseason to hone his craft make this spring an interesting one for him as the Orioles are still unsettled at the designated hitter spot.

5. LHP Zach Britton (2-3, 4.95 ERA, 1.725 WHIP)

This year is likely to be Britton’s last chance with the Orioles as he’s out of options and coming off his second consecutive underwhelming season in which he pitched poorly in 40 major league innings and posted an unimpressive 4.27 ERA at Norfolk. Britton walked too many hitters and didn’t miss enough bats (striking out just 4.1 per nine innings), but the fifth starter job is open for now and the fact that other contenders such as Kevin Gausman and Steve Johnson have remaining options gives the 26-year-old lefty a slight edge in the race. His 5-1 start as a rookie in 2011 feels like an eternity ago, but Britton has no better chance but this spring to show Showalter and new pitching coach Dave Wallace that he’s finally figured everything out.

4. OF/DH Delmon Young (.260, 11 HR, 38 RBI, .715 OPS combined with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay)

One of the few players the Orioles signed this offseason who has significant major league experience, the 28-year-old Young agreed to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training and figures to have a good chance to make the club as the right-handed designated hitter. He carries off-field baggage to go along with uneven performance over the last three years, but the No. 1 overall pick of the 2003 draft is a career .303 hitter with an .812 OPS against left-handed pitchers in his career. It was only 2010 when Young had a career season by hitting .298 with 21 homers and 112 RBIs, but the Orioles simply hope he can be part of the answer in a possible DH platoon situation.

3. LF David Lough (.286, 5 HR, 33 RBI, .724 OPS with Kansas City)

The Orioles spent much of the winter talking up Lough’s potential and there’s no doubting his above-average defensive ability, but whether he can handle the starting job in left field remains to be seen. A younger and cheaper version of Nate McLouth, Lough slugged a decent .413 but walked only 10 times in 335 plate appearances with the Royals last season, which isn’t something you’d like to see given the Orioles’ poor on-base percentage as a team in 2013. The 28-year-old hit .292 against southpaw pitchers last season, which bodes well for his chances to play every day, but the Orioles really would have benefited from a substantial upgrade at the position instead of a poor man’s version of McLouth, who wasn’t exactly a world-beater in 2013.

2. 3B Manny Machado (.283, 14 HR, 71 RBI, .746 OPS)

It remains to be seen how much the 21-year-old will play this spring — if at all — as he continues his rehabilitation from knee surgery, but his recovery is critical to not just the 2014 season but the future of the franchise. The Orioles need to be careful in easing Machado back to baseball, but it will be interesting to see if the winter disrupts his progress as a player after some of his flaws at the plate were exposed late last season. As good as he is at such a young age, Machado needs to show more patience at the plate (only 38 walks in 912 career plate appearances) and hit only .239 in the final three months of last season, making his late-season knee injury that much more frustrating in robbing him of the ability to simply hone his craft this winter.

1. RHP Kevin Gausman (3-5, 5.66 ERA, 1.343 WHIP)

For all the discussion about the Orioles failing to land an established veteran starter to anchor the rotation, the 2012 first-round pick taking a giant step forward would be a major shot in the arm to the back end of the rotation. Gausman’s blazing fastball and split-change are plus pitches, but the 23-year-old needs a better feel for a third pitch to give himself the best chance to succeed as a starter. Regardless of where he’s playing, Gausman needs to be pitching every fifth day to develop and should not be in the bullpen as he was in the second half last season. Baltimore hopes that some added bulk to his 6-foot-3 frame will put the righty over the top physically and allow him to put things together quickly at the major league level.

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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Tuesday Top 7 Local Sports Figures to Watch in 2014

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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Tuesday Top 7 Local Sports Figures to Watch in 2014

Posted on 07 January 2014 by Luke Jones

In honor of the first Tuesday Top 7 of 2014, Drew Forrester and Luke Jones of The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction selected their top seven local sports figures to watch in 2014.

Some of the names are predictable while others may just be establishing themselves on the local sports scene, but each is worth following closely in 2014 for different reasons.

To listen to Jones’ full explanation for his list, click HERE. Forrester’s breakdown of his seven names can be found HERE.

Luke Jones’ Top 7 Local Sports Figures to Watch in 2014 …

7. Towson running back and NFL Draft prospect Terrance West
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Skinny: Not only will the FCS record-breaking back be drafted, but it will be fun to watch his progress and to see how his skills translate to the next level.

6. Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs
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Skinny: Questions will linger about the Terps’ ability to compete in the Big Ten, but a breakout 2014 campaign would likely have the offensive playmaker thinking carefully about the NFL.

5. Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman
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Skinny: Assuming the Orioles’ offseason continues at its current pace, the 23-year-old right-hander’s development will be critical in determining whether the club remains in contention.

4. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs
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Skinny: The 2011 Defensive Player of the Year may have already played his final game in Baltimore if he’s not willing to adjust his $12.4 million salary cap number for the 2014 season.

3. Orioles third baseman Manny Machado
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Skinny: Coming off knee surgery and entering just his second full season in the majors, the 21-year-old will be counted on to not only be healthy but to take his already-impressive game to the next level.

2. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco
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Skinny: The spotlight on the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player will be brighter than ever after a disappointing 2013 season and considering his cap number balloons to $14.8 million in 2014.

1. Orioles manager Buck Showalter
buck
Skinny: After two poor offseasons in a row, does the Baltimore skipper reach his breaking point with an organization lacking the commitment to build on its recent success?

CONTINUE FOR DREW FORRESTER’S TOP 7 LOCAL SPORTS FIGURES TO WATCH IN 2014 >>>>>

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Orioles plan to call up top infield prospect Schoop, three others Tuesday

Posted on 02 September 2013 by WNST Staff

The Orioles will continue a series of September call-ups on Tuesday with the promotions of top infield prospect Jonathan Schoop, outfielder Henry Urrutia, infielder Ryan Flaherty, and right-handed pitcher Josh Stinson.

Flaherty will be recalled from Single-A Frederick while the other three have been playing for Triple-A Norfolk.

With minor-league seasons now concluding, the organization will also send a group of players to Sarasota to be on call in case the Orioles need them later this month. Japanese lefty starter Tsuyoshi Wada and outfielders Chris Dickerson and Jason Pridie are expected to be included in that group.

 

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Orioles activate Betemit from DL, option Flaherty to Single-A Frederick

Posted on 27 August 2013 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles announced Tuesday that they have reinstated infielder Wilson Betemit from the 60-day disabled list and optioned second baseman Ryan Flaherty to Class-A Frederick.

Betemit, 31, is a career .268/.334/.444 hitter in 2325 plate appearances over 10 major league seasons, including a line of .281/.349/.474 in 1757 plate appearances against right-handed pitching. He was placed on the disabled list on March 31 with a right knee ligament sprain. Betemit batted .290/.353/.339 in 17 minor league rehab games with rookie Gulf Coast (five games), Class-A Frederick (four), Double-A Bowie (five) and Triple-A Norfolk (three). He batted .261/.322/.422 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI in 102 games in 2012, including a line of .302/.357/.502 with 11 home runs and 30 RBI in 280 plate appearances against right-handed pitching.

Flaherty, 26, has batted .218/.280/.364 with eight home runs and 20 RBI in 75 games for the Orioles this season.

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Orioles hoping returning players will stick — and produce

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Orioles hoping returning players will stick — and produce

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — If you needed more evidence, the Orioles’ 11-3 win on Saturday should have done the trick.

The Orioles are better than the New York Yankees. They might be better even if — and that’s a big if — Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Curtis Granderson somehow manage to get healthy and regain their old form in the second half of the season. Until then, the Yankees lineup continues to languish to score even three or four runs on a given night while their capable but unspectacular pitching struggles to pick up enough slack.

Trailing the division-leading Boston Red Sox by just 2 1/2 games entering play on Sunday, the Orioles are one of the best clubs in the league — even with their pitching flaws. They can improve further depending on what lies ahead at the trade deadline with the potential to augment what’s already a formidable roster.

But the 25-man roster will begin undergoing an internal makeover much sooner as second baseman Brian Roberts, outfielder Nolan Reimold, and — most importantly — starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen will potentially rejoin the Orioles at different points over the coming week. It looks promising on paper, but the Orioles are certainly keeping their fingers crossed that all three will stay healthy, particularly with Roberts and Reimold, a pair of players stricken by countless injuries in recent years.

The intense doubts over the ability of Roberts and Reimold to contribute are unavoidable and certainly understandable.

“It’s tough from a human being standpoint for them,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I’ll tell you we’re excited about getting Brian and Nolan and Chen back potentially. But by talking about it a whole lot, you jinx it.”

Even if the two position players and Chen manage to come back from the disabled list successfully, the Orioles are first faced with several decisions as it pertains to the players currently on the roster. Pitcher Jair Jurrjens would figure to be optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk after pitching 2 1/3 shutout innings in relief Saturday night to make room for Roberts, who is expected to be activated Sunday for his first action since suffering a severe right hamstring injury on April 4 that eventually required surgery in early May.

Making room for Reimold and Chen becomes trickier as Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette must choose from a projected pool of pitchers Kevin Gausman and Zach Britton and infielders Danny Valencia and Ryan Flaherty to determine who goes back to Norfolk. All of them have minor-league options but bring value in different ways.

Struggling reliever Pedro Strop, who allowed an earned run in the ninth inning Saturday, is the wild-card candidate who could go at any time, but it’s well-documented the 28-year-old is out of options and would very likely be picked up by another club thinking it can fix him. However, the simple reality that reliable reliever Darren O’Day began warming up with Strop on the mound and the Orioles holding an eight-run lead spoke volumes about the lack of faith in the maligned pitcher.

Showalter and Duquette have tried to remain as patient as possible with his 2012 performance lingering in their minds, but hiding an ineffective arm in the bullpen is very difficult when he doesn’t even provide the ability to pitch multiple innings in a blowout situation like Kevin Gregg did last year before the organization ultimately parted ways with him late in the season.

Regardless of the direction they ultimately go, the Orioles must weigh the positives and negatives of shaking up a roster that’s already on pace to win 90 games.

“It’s a good problem if we can get these guys back,” Showalter said. “We tried to set up the organization with a lot of the moves where we had the potential to keep some flexibility there.”

Chen made his first rehab start for Double-A Bowie on Saturday, pitching five innings and allowing four earned runs and five hits while striking out five and walking two. The Taiwanese lefty told reporters after the outing that he continues to feel no effects of the oblique injury that’s sidelined him since mid-May. Showalter said earlier in the day that Chen was tentatively scheduled to pitch on Thursday in Chicago or Friday in New York if he was deemed ready after Saturday’s start.

It’s always concerning when a starting pitcher misses an extended period of time in the middle of the season, but Chen hasn’t experienced any setbacks after taking ample time to allow the injury to heal before he began throwing again. Expecting Chen to pick up right where he left off might be asking too much, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be successful after some time to get his legs back under him at the big-league level.

Chen is arguably the Orioles’ most consistent starter and would fit quite nicely with the strong work turned in by Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez. He’s not the top-of-the-rotation starter the Orioles covet, but Chen regaining his pre-injury form would be a major boost to a rotation that’s been better of late but still lacks enough consistency to make you feel comfortable in the second half.

His return would leave the Orioles with an interesting decision over whether to keep Britton or Gausman as their fifth starter. The former pitched five shutout innings Saturday before melting down in the sixth inning for the second straight outing. Gausman turned in 4 1/3 stellar innings of shutout ball in relief to earn the win Friday night and only lost his job in the rotation a couple weeks ago due to short-term bullpen needs.

One of the two is all but certain to go, but figuring out what to do to activate Reimold will be the trickiest task.

Showalter has already said that Roberts will become the starting second baseman upon returning, meaning Flaherty could be expendable with the thought that you’d like him playing regularly in Norfolk. But do you really want to send down Flaherty’s red-hot bat that’s seen his average elevate from .133 upon his return from the minors on May 29 all the way to .215 only a month later?

Flaherty hit his sixth homer of the season Saturday and currently sports an eight-game hitting streak with multi-hit efforts in six of those contests. He’s 14-for-29 with four homers and nine RBIs over that stretch and has played excellent defense at second base all season.

Fellow second baseman Alexi Casilla would need to give his consent to be optioned to the minors, meaning he isn’t a realistic candidate to go with Roberts returning. On top of that, Showalter prefers having Casilla on the bench as a late-inning pinch runner who can steal bases.

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Roberts likely to be activated over weekend against Yankees

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Roberts likely to be activated over weekend against Yankees

Posted on 27 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — After no setbacks and some impressive work in his brief rehabilitation stint with Triple-A Norfolk, Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts could make his 2013 home debut this weekend against the New York Yankees.

The 35-year-old was scheduled to play in two games with the Tides on Thursday night — likely serving as the designated hitter in the second one — and is likely to be activated from the 60-day disabled list at some point over the weekend, according to manager Buck Showalter. Roberts was 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored in his first rehab game on Tuesday and walked twice on Wednesday before rain suspended the contest between Norfolk and Columbus.

“I think we have a good chance to see Brian over the weekend,” said manager Buck Showalter, who’s received favorable reports on Roberts’ baserunning and defense from Norfolk manager Ron Johnson. “He’s progressing well.”

The Orioles skipper confirmed what most assumed in terms of Roberts’ role upon returning to action for the first time since April 4. The longtime infielder will be the starting second baseman while the club reevaluate how to handle the roles of Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla. The argument could be made to option Flaherty to Norfolk to allow him regular playing time while Casilla would remain in Baltimore, continuing to serve as the club’s utility infielder.

Casilla would have to give his permission to be optioned to the minors and is a speedy backup off the bench in late-inning situations as a pinch runner.

“We’ll spot [Roberts] here or there,” said Showalter, who added that the club has scenarios in which both Flaherty and Casilla remain on the 25-man roster as they were at the start of the season before Roberts’ injury. “[We view] Brian as the same way it was in the spring.”

Flaherty’s ability to play multiple infield positions as well as the corner outfield spots makes him more attractive as a bench piece should the Orioles want to keep him on the 25-man roster, but that would create a potential crunch once outfielder Nolan Reimold is expected to be activated from the DL sometime on the next road trip. That could push platoon DH Danny Valencia back to Norfolk.

For now, Reimold has extended his rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie — it can last up to 20 days but a player must approve it beyond 10 — though Showalter said he could rejoin the Orioles as early as the Chicago series next week. The 29-year-old is just 5-for-33 with 12 strikeouts in nine games with the Baysox.

“The good news is his leg feels really good,” Showalter said. “He’s not having any problems with the hamstring. It’s just getting comfortable at-bat wise.”

Veteran pitcher Freddy Garcia has elected to remain with the organization after weighing his options around the rest of the league over the last 72 hours. Technically, the 36-year-old opted out of his current contract, allowing the Orioles to sign him to a minor-league deal and assign him to Norfolk. This frees up a 40-man roster spot that will likely be used when Roberts is activated from the DL.

Showalter said the right-hander could be used in either a starting or relief role with the Tides, but it appears he will move into the Norfolk rotation for now.

“We were hoping he would [stay],” Showalter said. “It worked out good for both sides and presented some depth for us and we like the way Freddy’s handled himself professionally and pitching at times at both levels.”

The Orioles hadn’t named a starter for Friday’s game prior to the series finale against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night. Showalter acknowledged rookie Kevin Gausman had a light workday earlier this week to account for him not pitching in a game since last Wednesday when he was still with Norfolk, but the manager still wouldn’t give the official word Thursday afternoon.

Lefty long man T.J. McFarland has also remained an option to make the start in the series opener against the Yankees, but Showalter appeared to tip his hand in reference to most media and fans assuming that Gausman would get the ball before ultimately tabbing McFarland as the stater after Thursday’s game.

“You guys know who’s pitching tomorrow,” the manager said coyly at the end of his pre-game media session.

In five starts with the Orioles this season, Gausman is 0-3 with a 7.66 earned run average but fared very well against Detroit and Boston in two of his last three starts prior to being optioned to Norfolk due to needs in the bullpen. He was recalled on Monday to serve as a long man in the bullpen but wasn’t needed in the first three games of the Cleveland series.

Pitching prospect Dylan Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery in Florida at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, but Showalter hadn’t received an update when he spoke with reporters. The surgery was performed by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.

Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia was promoted from Bowie to Norfolk on Thursday, a day after being named to the MLB Futures Game at Citi Field during the All-Star break. He is hitting .365 with seven homers, 37 RBIs, and a .983 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and his defense in the outfield is improving drastically, according to Showalter.

The 26-year-old hadn’t played competitive baseball over the last couple years as he defected from Cuba but was named an Eastern League All-Star as many within the organization think he could present himself as a real option for the major-league roster before season’s end.

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Who’s your favorite in the AL East with July right around the corner?

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Who’s your favorite in the AL East with July right around the corner?

Posted on 18 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

The American League East is what we thought it would be — sort of.

The Orioles entered play on Tuesday trailing the first-place Red Sox by only two games and fourth-place Tampa Bay was only five games back in what’s been a very competitive division. The biggest surprise might be the unexpected flip-flop of Boston and Toronto as the Red Sox were regarded by many as the weak link in the division and the Blue Jays were the winners of the offseason after a plethora of big acquisitions that haven’t paid off to this point in the season.

As we approach the midway point of the season, it’s clear to see the Orioles’ biggest flaw is the starting pitching that’s posted a 4.80 earned run average, ranking 13th in the AL. The trickle-down effect on the bullpen has helped contribute to some regression that was expected anyway after a remarkable 2012 performance.

While there is some potential for improvement from within with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen on track to return by early July, questions will remain when Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have been the only consistent pitchers in the rotation. Perhaps Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman can provide a boost in the second half similar to the one offered by Tillman and Gonzalez last season, but most believe the Orioles must address their starting pitching if they’re to give themselves a good chance to win the division.

However, flaws and concerns exist with each of the other four clubs in the division as well.

As surprising as the Red Sox have been sitting in first place under new manager John Farrell, Boston is currently dealing with concerns in their starting rotation as Jon Lester has been ineffective and Clay Buchholz is dealing with a neck injury. The Red Sox lead the majors in runs scored, but they’ve also had concerns in the bullpen that could come back to haunt them in the second half.

The Yankees’ early-season fountain of youth has seemingly dried up as their offense ranks 10th in the AL in runs scored and is still without Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and has already lost Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson to the disabled list a second time. New York’s starting pitching is keeping them competitive, but you wonder whether so many absences are finally catching up as the Orioles recently moved into second place.

Tampa Bay might be the most intriguing of the AL East clubs — and not because they were my preseason pick to win the division — as the Rays lineup has been much better than anyone expected (fifth in the AL in runs). However, the pitching has been a major disappointment, ranking 11th in the AL in ERA as All-Star closer Fernando Rodney has been a shell of his 2012 form and 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price is on the DL. You’d have to think the Rays will pitch better as the year progresses, but it’s difficult imagining the lineup continuing to produce in the second half like it has.

Toronto has played better of late after winning six straight games, but the Blue Jays lineup ranks eighth in the AL in runs scored and 14th in team ERA as starters R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson haven’t lived up to expectations. The Blue Jays face an uphill climb, but they are capable of holding their own against the rest of the division as we’ve seen in their games with the Orioles.

Based on what we’ve seen over the course of the season, it’s difficult not to like Boston’s chances because of the relative consistency they’ve received from their offense and starting pitching, and Tampa Bay is also dangerous if it can get Price back while maintaining a similar level of offensive production. However, the Orioles might just be good enough to prevail in the AL East with a very good lineup, excellent defense, a solid bullpen, and even mediocre starting pitching.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still try to upgrade by the trade deadline.

Seeing doubles

Third baseman Manny Machado entered Tuesday’s game with a major-league-leading 32 doubles in 71 games and is on pace to hit 73 this season, which would break the major-league record of 67, set by Earl Webb of Boston in 1931. The franchise record is held by Brian Roberts, who hit 56 back in 2009.

At one point do we simply start referring to doubles as “machados?”

The soon-to-be 21-year-old entered Tuesday also leading the majors in hits (99) and multi-hit games (29). Over his last 51 games, Machado has 24 multi-hit games and is batting .346 with 26 doubles, two triples, three homers, 34 runs scored, and 26 RBIs in his last 51 games.

Machado hasn’t hit a home run since May 5, but it’s amazing to think what type of home-run potential he might have as he gets stronger and simply puts a bit more loft on some of those line drives as he continues to develop as a hitter. Even though he’s on pace to break a doubles record that’s more than 80 years old, Machado may only be scratching the surface of his potential as a run producer and power hitter.

With Machado leading the majors in doubles and Chris Davis hitting more homers (24) than anyone in the big leagues, they can become just the second pair of teammates to lead the majors in doubles and home runs in the same season. According to STATS, the only other time it’s happened was 1927 when Babe Ruth led the majors in homers (60) and Lou Gehrig in doubles (52).

The New York Yankees went on to win the World Series that year.

Suffering at second base

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Orioles recall Flaherty, option Navarro to Triple-A Norfolk

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Orioles recall Flaherty, option Navarro to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 29 May 2013 by Luke Jones

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BALTIMORE — It just wouldn’t be the Orioles if they went too many days without making a roster move as second baseman Ryan Flaherty was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk prior to Wednesday’s game against Washington.

The decision raised more than a few eyebrows as the club optioned infielder Yamaico Navarro and his .286 average to Triple-A Norfolk in favor of Flaherty, who was hitting .133 when he was sent to the minors on May 18. Manager Buck Showalter hopes the brief stint with the Tides provided the necessary confidence boost to the 26-year-old infielder after he clubbed two home runs and hit .265 in 34 at-bats over the last eight games. Flaherty posted multi-hit games in four of the eight contests he played at Triple A.

Reports from Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and his staff said Flaherty was handling the breaking ball much better than he was upon being demoted, but Showalter acknowledged you never know whether that will continue to apply at the next level. Critics will certainly question whether eight minor-league contests were truly enough to fix Flaherty’s ailments, but the second baseman told reporters he thought the opportunity to make adjustments in a pressure-free environment helped significantly.

Showalter said at the time of his demotion that the hope was for Flaherty to “get his legs back under him” with the Tides.

“We know the stuff is a little better here,” Showalter said. “He’s handled the breaking ball a little better. We’ll see how it plays. The good thing about him is he’s defending. We just wanted to see him get some good at-bats. It’s what was needed at the time. I hope he benefited from it.”

In his eight games with the Orioles, Navarro has shown potential at the plate but has been erratic in the field, making a few nice plays mixed in with two errors at second base. Showalter and the Orioles clearly value defense to complement a struggling pitching staff that includes several ground-ball pitchers.

The club would be more inclined to give veteran Alexi Casilla more opportunities at second base due to his strong defense, but his .183 average hasn’t exactly screamed for more playing time and the organization sees more upside with Flaherty at the plate. Showalter said the switch-hitting Casilla will continue to be in the mix, likely receiving starts against left-handed pitchers as he was doing before Flaherty’s demotion.

“[Flaherty] understands this is not an open-ended ticket,” Showalter said. “Play better. The one thing I want to see is him be a consistent force for us defensively.”

In other news, pitching prospect Dylan Bundy has a followup appointment with Dr. James Andrews regarding his right forearm and elbow. Bundy received a platelet-rich plasma injection a month ago and has a full range of motion with the elbow after rest. Showalter told reporters the 20-year-old pitcher hasn’t experienced any pain in the last week, signs indicating he could begin throwing very soon.

“I think that’s the final thing for [Dr. Andrews] to sign off on,” Showalter said.

Infield prospect Jonathan Schoop received a second opinion on the stress fracture in his lower back on Wednesday that provided a slightly more optimistic prognosis of four weeks of rest. The hope is that the 21-year-old could be back playing in five to six weeks, which would have him back in action at around the All-Star break.

Reliever Pedro Strop completed a unique workout at his old position of shortstop Wednesday afternoon in an effort for the pitcher to refine as well as repeat his throwing motion. The struggling reliever was placed on the 15-day disabled list over the weekend with what was listed as a lower back strain, an ailment many have viewed as a veiled excuse to allow the club to work on Strop’s 6.11 earned run average and failures on the mound.

The move does not signal a position change for Strop, who broke into professional baseball as a shortstop but hit .207 in 633 plate appearances in the minors.

Starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen continues to improve from a strained right oblique, but the lefty isn’t pain-free just yet, according to Showalter.

Injured infielders Brian Roberts and Wilson Betemit are each hitting off a tee and throwing as they continue their respective rehabs in Sarasota.

Catcher Taylor Teagarden caught seven innings in an extended spring game on Wednesday and could be sent out on a minor-league rehab assignment as early as Thursday.

Outfielder Nolan Reimold continues to rehab his right hamstring and told reporters that he’s spent some of his time rehabbing at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The 29-year-old says he is now running but not at full speed just yet. The timetable for his return remains unknown, but Reimold said it “won’t be forever.”

Not exactly much clarity in that statement.

Showalter also echoed what he said following Tuesday’s loss in Washington that rookie Kevin Gausman will once again start for the Orioles on Sunday against the Detroit Tigers.

“He’s a mature guy,” Showalter said. “He’s going to seek his level. There’s a process. Talent plays. If you’re good enough, you can’t hide it.”

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Orioles option struggling Flaherty to Norfolk, recall Valencia

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Orioles option struggling Flaherty to Norfolk, recall Valencia

Posted on 18 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Already losing designated hitter Nolan Reimold to the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day, the Orioles elected to send out struggling second baseman Ryan Flaherty following their 10-6 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

Red-hot Norfolk infielder Danny Valencia was recalled to take his place on the 25-man roster and in the lineup as the designated hitter on Sunday.

Not in the Tides lineup on Saturday night, Valencia was hitting .306 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs in 160 at-bats at Triple A this season. His .939 on-base plus slugging percentage would seem to be an appropriate fit for an audition at the designated hitter spot while Reimold is sidelined with a hamstring injury.

With Tampa Bay left-hander Matt Moore scheduled to take the hill against the Orioles on Sunday, Valencia was deemed a good fit for the lineup after receiving the promotion. He’s hit .316 with an .831 OPS in his major league career against southpaw pitching. Valencia has primarily played third base for Norfolk, but he has also seen time at first base and the outfield this season.

The 28-year-old is already on the 40-man roster and owns a .257 career average with 25 home runs and 133 RBIs in 1017 at-bats in the big leagues split between the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox. In 2010, Valencia finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting after hitting .310 with the Twins.

He will wear No. 35 for the Orioles.

The 26-year-old Flaherty was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk as he was hitting just .133 in 29 games this season while serving as the club’s primary option at second base in the absence of the injured Brian Roberts. Flaherty spent the entire 2012 season on the 25-man roster as a Rule 5 pick and hit .216 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

Playing improved defense at second base this season, Flaherty is held in high regard by manager Buck Showalter, but it was becoming increasingly clear that his immense struggles at the plate weren’t improving enough for a contending club. Flaherty owns just 227 career plate appearances at the Triple-A level and could benefit from the opportunity of playing every day in a pressure-free environment to regain his confidence at the plate.

Showalter said the bullpen should be fine in terms of available arms for Sunday’s game despite starter Jair Jurrjens going just five innings on Saturday, and the club would have been down to a three-man bench if it had decided to promote another pitcher instead of tabbing Valencia for a promotion.

 

 

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