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Orioles surprisingly option Flaherty to make room for Gausman

Posted on 25 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Needing to make room to activate starting pitcher Kevin Gausman from the disabled list for Monday’s game, the Orioles surprisingly optioned utility infielder Ryan Flaherty to Triple-A Norfolk.

The move leaves Baltimore with a three-man bench, but it’s a reflection of the lack of innings manager Buck Showalter has received from his starting rotation, putting a heavier-than-normal workload on the bullpen through the first three weeks of the season. Most had expected the Orioles to option a relief pitcher such as lefty T.J. McFarland or right-hander Mychal Givens to make room for Gausman.

Despite residing in first place in the AL East, the Orioles entered Monday ranked next to last in the AL in starter ERA and had pitched fewer starter innings than any club in baseball.

While the move leaves Showalter with an eight-man bullpen of Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, Dylan Bundy, Brian Matusz, Vance Worley, Givens, and McFarland, the Orioles are now without a versatile utility infielder on the bench, which could lead to some interesting alignments in the event of an in-game injury. Without Flaherty, the Orioles would still have experienced short-term replacements at every infield position except second base behind starter Jonathan Schoop. An injury to Schoop could lead J.J. Hardy to shift to second, Manny Machado to move to short, Chris Davis to move to third, and either Pedro Alvarez or Mark Trumbo to play first base.

Flaherty was off to a 2-for-10 start with five strikeouts in his 11 plate appearances, but it appears this move was motivated by the concerns with the starting rotation. Of course, how long the Orioles will go with such a roster alignment remains to be seen.

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Hardy, Jones out of Friday’s lineup against Tampa Bay

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Center fielder Adam Jones was out of the Orioles lineup for a second straight night, but a veteran teammate joined him on the bench for the series opener against Tampa Bay on Friday.

J.J. Hardy experienced some calf tightness running the bases in Thursday’s win over Minnesota and was feeling better a day later, but Buck Showalter did not want to take any chances with a player who’s had several health issues over the last couple seasons. Jones was also feeling improvement in his rib area and even took swings in the batting cage on Friday afternoon, but the Orioles decided to give him another day to rest. Both players were available off the bench if needed, according to the Baltimore manager.

“I want to try to get ahead of it and make sure it doesn’t turn into something,” said Showalter about Hardy. “I was going to play Ryan [Flaherty] today anyway. Knowing the players — both of them — they know the difference between something that they should be careful with [and not]. Especially if we don’t play tomorrow [due to inclement weather], they should be ready to go on Sunday.”

Rookie Joey Rickard was leading off and playing center field for the second straight game as he prepared to play against the organization that let him go in the Rule 5 draft in December.

Instead of simply inserting Flaherty at Hardy’s position like he has in the past, Showalter chose to move Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado to shortstop, his natural position. Machado started six games there last season when Hardy was dealing with injuries.

“He enjoys being able to do something for the club [when] there’s a need there,” Showalter said. “Ryan’s probably a little better third baseman than shortstop. That’s a tough act to follow — [Machado] knows. He doesn’t want to step back. He’s playing with house money as far as going over there. It’s kind of like a new toy for him, but it’s different. The clock’s different.”

Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman was still scheduled to make a rehab start at Double-A Bowie on Saturday, but a wintry forecast could postpone that to Sunday. The Orioles are still targeting an April 19 return date for the talented 25-year-old, but Showalter reiterated Friday that they’ll be cautious with Gausman’s health and they’ll delay the process if that’s what’s best for him.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz was scheduled to pitch again for Bowie on Friday night and could be activated for Sunday’s game against the Rays.

The Orioles announced that veteran right-hander Vance Worley will be the No. 5 starter and is scheduled to start on Sunday, but that depends on what happens with the status of Saturday’s game in which Mike Wright is scheduled to pitch.

Below are Friday night’s lineups:

TAMPA BAY
2B Logan Forsythe
1B Logan Morrison
3B Evan Longoria
DH Corey Dickerson
LF Desmond Jennings
SS Brad Miller
RF Steven Souza Jr.
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Hank Conger

SP Chris Archer (0-1, 3.60)

BALTIMORE
CF Joey Rickard
LF Nolan Reimold
SS Manny Machado
1B Chris Davis
RF Mark Trumbo
C Matt Wieters
DH Pedro Alvarez
2B Jonathan Schoop
3B Ryan Flaherty

SP Chris Tillman (0-0, 0.00)

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2016 Orioles preview: Ryan Flaherty

Posted on 13 March 2016 by Luke Jones

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

March 1 – Adam Jones
March 2 – Chris Tillman
March 3 – Jonathan Schoop
March 4 – Brad Brach
March 5 – Nolan Reimold
March 6 – Yovani Gallardo
March 7 – Matt Wieters
March 8 – T.J. McFarland
March 9 – Dariel Alvarez
March 10 – Brian Matusz
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Mychal Givens

UTI Ryan Flaherty

Age: 29

Contract status: Under club control through the 2017 season

2015 stats: .202/.281/.356, 9 HR, 31 RBI, 34 R, 0 SB, 301 PA

Why to be impressed: Flaherty is everything you want in a utility man from a defensive standpoint as he made starts at six different positions during the 2015 season. The left-handed hitter also did a commendable job filling in for the injured Jonathan Schoop, posting a .719 on-base plus slugging percentage from April 18 through July 4 when the young second baseman was sidelined.

Why to be concerned: He posted a horrendous .532 OPS from the time Schoop returned until the end of the season, an extended drought that ruined a respectable first half. Flaherty also posted a career-high 26.9 percent strikeout rate, which was behind only Chris Davis and Jimmy Paredes among Orioles regulars last season and higher than you’d like to see from a utility player.

2016 outlook: Flaherty figures to once again serve as a reliable bench player for manager Buck Showalter, and he plays respectable defense at different spots, allowing veterans to receive occasional days off. Given the uncertainty at the corner outfield positions for a second straight year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Flaherty receive some starts in the outfield in 2016.

2016 not-so-scientific projections: .230/.305/.374, 8 HR, 25 RBI, 31 R, 0 SB, 257 PA

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Orioles agree to deals with Machado, three others

Posted on 15 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles agreed to terms with four of their six remaining arbitration-eligible players on Friday when major league clubs and players exchanged arbitration figures.

Headlining the list was All-Star third baseman Manny Machado, who reportedly agreed to a $5 million contract with additional performance incentives in his first year of arbitration. The 23-year-old received the biggest raise of any Orioles player after making just $548,000 last season.

Baltimore also agreed to terms with starting pitchers Chris Tillman (a reported $6.225 million plus incentives) and Miguel Gonzalez (a reported $5.1 million) and infielder Ryan Flaherty (a reported $1.5 million). First baseman and outfielder Mark Trumbo and relief pitcher Brad Brach agreed to terms on Thursday.

Left-handed relievers Zach Britton and Brian Matusz did not come to agreements with the club and exchanged salary figures on Friday. According to multiple reports, Britton is asking for $7.9 million while the Orioles offered $5.6 million, and Matusz filed for $4.4 million with the organization countering at $3.5 million.

Hearings for both players will now be scheduled for February, but the sides are allowed to continue negotiating in the meantime. Outfielder Alejandro De Aza was the only Orioles player to go to arbitration last offseason, but he lost his case and was signed to the organization’s $5 million figure.

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Hardy heads to disabled list, Reimold designated for assignment

Posted on 24 August 2015 by Luke Jones

Adding injury to the insult of being swept in a four-game series by Minnesota, the Orioles placed shortstop J.J. Hardy on the 15-day disabled list with a groin strain.

The club also activated outfielder Steve Pearce from the DL, recalled right-handed pitcher Jorge Rondon, and designated outfielder Nolan Reimold for assignment prior to the start of a four-game series in Kansas City.

The 33-year-old Hardy had been dealing with the groin problem for several days and was expected to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam. Beginning Sunday’s game on the bench, Hardy entered the game in the ninth inning after Matt Wieters hit for Ryan Flaherty in the bottom of the eighth and remained in the game as it went extra innings.

Hardy reached on an infield single in the 11th, but it was apparent the groin was bothering him as he later advanced to second base. Jimmy Paredes then entered to run for Hardy, forcing the Orioles into a different defensive alignment that cost them dearly in the 12th inning with Manny Machado making an error at shortstop and Paredes making one at third base.

Flaherty will most likely serve as the primary replacement at shortstop in the veteran’s absence.

The injury is the latest development in a very disappointing season for Hardy, who is in the first season of a three-year, $40 million contract extension signed last October. His defense has remained at an above-average level, but Hardy is in the midst of the worst offensive year of his career with a .222 average, a .253 on-base percentage, and a .315 slugging percentage.

Hardy has also missed time due to shoulder and back issues this season.

The Orioles summoned Rondon to Kansas City to assist a bullpen feeling the effects of Sunday’s 12-inning loss to Minnesota.

In his second stint with the Orioles after signing a minor-league deal in the offseason, Reimold had appeared in 39 games while hitting .227 with three doubles, one triple, two home runs, and eight RBIs.

 

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of the first half

Posted on 16 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Though standing at just 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have benefited from their share of surprises as they now look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

A staple of the prosperity during the Showalter-Duquette era has been the emergence of at least a couple relative unknowns to make key contributions each season while counting on established players to either rebound from previous disappointments or to take their talents to a new level. Even if their season hasn’t gone exactly to plan through the All-Star break, the Orioles have experienced a little bit of everything in terms of pleasant surprises.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season:

Honorable mention: Darren O’Day, Ryan Flaherty

5. Zach Britton

Why does an All-Star closer with an ERA just a shade higher than it was a year ago belong on the list of surprises? A deeper look at the numbers shows just how dominant Britton has been in his second year as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man.

Relying on a heavy sinker to induce grounder after grounder last season, Britton converted 37 of 41 save opportunities and pitched to a 1.65 ERA, slightly lower than his 1.72 mark this year. However, the lefty benefited greatly from opponents batting .219 on balls in play (BABIP) in 2014, much lower than the league average of .297.

Such numbers would have made it reasonable — if not very likely — to expect some regression similar to what fellow sinkerballer Jim Johnson endured in 2013, but Britton has been even more imposing despite not being nearly as fortunate. Opponents have a .304 BABIP against Britton, but he’s overcome that with an improved slider to help increase his strikeout rate per nine innings (7.3 in 2014 to 10.1) while decreasing his walk rate per nine (2.7 to 2.0).

Simply put, Britton hasn’t been nearly as “lucky” as he was a year ago, but he’s pitching to less contact and still inducing a boatload of grounders when opponents do hit the ball. Britton had a great season in 2014, but he’s established himself as one of the best closers in the game by converting 23 of 24 save chances so far in 2015, numbers that rightly earned him a trip to his first All-Star Game.

4. Manny Machado

It was difficult to know what to expect from the 23-year-old third baseman after he suffered a second serious knee injury in less than a year last August. Machado’s defense and gap power established him as an All-Star-caliber player in 2013, but he’s blossomed into one of the best players in the AL this season and the kind of performer the Orioles hoped he might become one day.

Serving in the leadoff role out of necessity — who else could even handle the role right now? — Machado is hitting .298 with a .361 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, 35 walks, and 13 stolen bases, numbers which are all already career highs. And while the Orioles will continue to knock on wood and keep their fingers crossed for his health, Machado has started all 88 games at third base and you’d never know he has two surgically-repaired knees while watching him play.

Machado has been the club’s best player by a significant margin, continuing to play Gold Glove defense and providing the kind of offense that’s turned him into an MVP candidate in 2015. According to Baseball Reference, the 2010 first-round pick ranks second behind only Mike Trout in the American League with 4.8 wins above replacement.

Taking nothing away from Adam Jones who is having a fine year and has been the club’s best player for several years, we could be seeing the passing of the torch this season with Machado emerging as the kind of rare superstar who makes the game look easy. The Orioles and their fans just pray the injuries are finally behind him.

3. Chaz Roe

Though it’s also a reflection on a disappointing winter, I doubt anyone would have projected the minor-league signing of a 28-year-old reliever with a career 4.44 ERA last December to be their best offseason addition so far in 2015.

Beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk, Roe quickly established himself as a viable option for manager Buck Showalter in the late innings with a two-seam fastball and a devastating slider that’s helped him strike out 30 hitters while posting a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings with the Orioles.

Roe has struggled of late by allowing six earned runs in his last five outings, but it’s clear the Orioles saw something in the right-hander as he’s throwing his two-seamer more than ever and the movement on his slider has baffled hitters since he was called up in May. His stuff should allow him to remain an effective member of the bullpen even as he’ll need to make adjustments in the second half.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez

Perhaps his track record suggests his rebound shouldn’t have been so surprising, but anyone who watched Jimenez pitch in 2014 couldn’t have easily imagined him being one of their two best starters in his second season in Baltimore.

Simplified mechanics, the heaviest reliance on his two-seam fastball since his 2010 All-Star season with Colorado, and a dramatically improved walk rate (just 2.9 per nine innings this year after an awful 5.5 in 2014) have made Jimenez the pitcher the Orioles envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract last year. His improvement is a major reason why the Orioles remain firmly in contention despite poor seasons from Chris Tillman and Bud Norris.

After throwing his two-seamer just 16.4 percent of the time a year ago, Jimenez has used the pitch more than a third of the time (37 percent) this year to induce more grounders while still striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings. It was a brilliant adjustment to make for the 31-year-old to better take advantage of one of the best defensive infields in baseball.

In the second half, consistency will be the key for Jimenez as it has been throughout his career, but the Orioles couldn’t have asked for much better from him than a 7-4 record with a 2.81 ERA and a 3.21 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark that is easily the best of the rotation. Other than maybe only Wei-Yin Chen, there’s not another starter Showalter would want to take the ball more on a given night as Jimenez will make the first start of the second half in Detroit on Friday.

1. Jimmy Paredes

Who else could it really be?

After hitting .302 in 55 plate appearances late last year, the 26-year-old was a name of interest in spring training but hardly someone most predicted to make the 25-man roster. Paredes was out of minor-league options and lacked a position with the defensive-minded Orioles, but he stated his case by hitting .364 with a 1.005 OPS in 55 Grapefruit League at-bats before a back injury landed him on the disabled list to begin the year.

Once Jonathan Schoop went down with a knee injury in mid-April, Paredes got the call and hit an astounding .353 in his first 143 plate appearances this year. A 4-for-41 slump that dropped his average 59 points in two weeks appeared to signal the end of a nice story, but the switch hitter has bounced back to hit a very steady .310 in his last 91 plate appearances dating back to June 12.

Clearly better from the left side of the plate, Paredes hinders Showalter’s lineup flexibility with his defensive limitations — the Orioles want him to learn to play the corner outfield spots this winter — but it’s difficult to nitpick a man who was such an unknown. Paredes is hitting .299 with 10 homers, 39 RBIs, and an .809 OPS in 277 plate appearances this year and has been the club’s third-best offensive player behind Machado and Jones.

His 69 strikeouts are the highest on the club behind only Chris Davis, but Paredes has drawn six walks in his last 51 plate appearances, which the Orioles hope is a sign of improved discipline at the plate. Time will tell whether Paredes sticks, but it’s hard not to be impressed — and really surprised — with what he’s accomplished so far in 2015.

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Orioles remain in holding pattern with Schoop

Posted on 30 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles know Jonathan Schoop is ready to be activated, but they’re not in a rush to make it happen.

The second baseman once again worked out at Camden Yards on Tuesday and will continue his rehab assignment at Single-A Frederick in the next day or two. What happens after that remains to be seen as Schoop’s assignment is scheduled to expire on Friday and the Orioles are discussing their options, including sending him down to the minor leagues temporarily.

A well-documented surplus of outfielders on the 25-man roster remains a sticking point as executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are currently using a six-man bullpen and will need to make space for Kevin Gausman to start Thursday’s series finale against the Texas Rangers. Schoop is not expected to travel with the Orioles to Chicago for the weekend series against the White Sox.

“Obviously, he can be optioned. There are a lot of things there for us,” Showalter said. “Jonathan will benefit by every day he can get the knee that much stronger. It’s a pretty significant injury, so I want to keep that in mind, but we feel like Jon — if we had to — could be activated [or] he could benefit by playing in the minor leagues.”

While many have questioned the Orioles’ hesitation in activating Schoop, there is a baseball argument in favor of optioning him to the minors that goes beyond the roster crunch and wanting to take it slow with his rehabilitated right knee. Few would dispute Schoop’s potential or standing as the second baseman of the future, but the Orioles have received better-than-expected play from Ryan Flaherty at second base this season.

It was easy to get caught up in Schoop’s hot start to 2015 with three home runs in 29 plate appearances, but the young infielder is far from a finished product after hitting .209 with a .598 on-base plus slugging percentage as a rookie. Entering Tuesday, Flaherty was hitting .254 with a very solid .734 OPS, which ranked seventh in the American League among second basemen with at least 150 plate appearances.

To be clear, there is no second base controversy, but the position has been in good hands during Schoop’s recovery and will remain that way while the Orioles bide their time with the roster crunch and making a decision on when to activate the 23-year-old. Once Schoop returns, Flaherty has earned the right to remain in the mix at second base while also occasionally spelling J.J. Hardy at shortstop.

“He’s a lot more than a safety net,” said Showalter of the utility infielder and former Rule 5 pick. “He’s a guy you can run out there at about six positions that I feel comfortable with him. You don’t really appreciate those guys until you don’t have them. Everybody’s always looking for that guy.

“Ryan’s showing some things that you look for in an everyday player too. He’s made some adjustments in his swing and mentality that have been very evident. Some guys figure it out at 28 or 29. He’s a guy that’s easy to trust.”

NOTES: Right-handed pitcher Jason Garcia is expected to begin a rehab assignment in the near future after a couple more bullpen sessions. The Rule 5 selection was placed on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis on May 15. … Chris Davis was making his fourth start in right field in the last five games with Chris Parmelee back at first base on Tuesday night. … Manny Machado entered Tuesday ranked sixth in batting average (.307), fifth in hits (91), and ninth in OPS (.891) in the American League.

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Orioles prospect Bundy unlikely to pitch again this year

Posted on 29 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, Orioles pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is unlikely to pitch again in 2015 due to right shoulder inflammation.

After being assigned to Double-A Bowie at the start of the season, Bundy was shut down after a start on May 21 due to right shoulder tendinitis and hasn’t thrown since. Buck Showalter chose not to reveal specific details about Bundy’s visit to renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, but the manager made it clear the 22-year-old won’t be pitching anytime soon.

He is 0-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 22 innings for the Baysox this year.

“I’m not going to elaborate on doctors’ evaluations and whatever, but I know Dylan throwing again is not imminent,” Showalter said. “I haven’t heard surgery mentioned — not at this point. He’s just kind of shut down for the near future. Kind of let everything calm down and see where we are.”

According to The Sun, Bundy is dealing with calcification in the back of the right shoulder that is causing the inflammation. Surgery is not being discussed as an option at this point.

The news is concerning for Bundy and the Orioles as he is out of minor-league options next year since he signed a major league contract when he was selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft. Continuing health problems are concerning enough, but the right-hander has missed valuable experience in only making 40 professional starts in four years and would need to be on the 25-man roster next season if he’s healthy.

Bundy has been coveted by other clubs in potential trades over the last few years, but the Orioles were always hesitant to part with him because of his potential to become a top-of-the-rotation starter. This latest setback makes that projection feel even more tenuous as many have pointed to his past workout habits and heavy workload in high school as factors that have contributed to his ailments as a professional.

“Depending on how you look at it, it’s probably as good of news as we could expect,” said Showalter of Bundy’s prognosis. “We’ll see. I obviously know a lot more than I’m going to talk about here. I don’t think it’s good for anybody right now, the timing. But he won’t be throwing for a little while. We’ll see how long that is.”

In other prospect-related news, 2013 first-round pick Hunter Harvey is set to begin a throwing program soon after being shut down with a flexor mass strain earlier this year. Harvey received a platelet rich plasma injection and was prescribed rest when he visited Andrews last month.

Harvey was shut down early last year with the same ailment.

Right-handed pitcher Matt Hobgood, the Orioles’ first-round pick in the 2009 draft, will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, the latest setback in a disappointing professional career. Hobgood will become a minor-league free agent after the 2015 season.

NOTES: Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman remains on track to start Thursday’s series finale against the Texas Rangers. Barring something unforeseen, Showalter doesn’t anticipate the 24-year-old staying with the club after that as the organization wants him to continue pitching every fifth days. … Entering Monday, the Orioles were 10-1 at home and 18-8 overall in the month of June. The last time Baltimore posted 20 wins in a calendar month was September 1999. … In the latest American League All-Star voting update, Manny Machado ranked fourth among third basemen and Adam Jones was seventh among outfielders. The starters will be announced on Sunday night with reserves, pitchers, and the “Final Vote” candidates being unveiled on Monday night. A special will be televised on ESPN both nights. Five Kansas City Royals players remain in the lead to start after eight were leading the voting at their positions earlier this month.

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Road improvement big part of Orioles turnaround

Posted on 23 June 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated 10:25 p.m.)

Many reasons have been discussed for the Orioles’ June turnaround, but one of the biggest has been a revitalization away from Camden Yards.

Upon losing their fifth straight game and dropping their third in a row in Houston on June 3, the Orioles had not only fallen a season-low six games below .500 but sported an 8-17 record on the road, tied for the second-worst mark in the majors. A 3-2 victory over the Astros the following afternoon started a run of 14 wins in 18 games that continued with a 6-4 victory over Boston at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.

Their current 15-20 road record is still no shining achievement, but the Orioles have won seven of their last 10 away from home including this past weekend’s important series win against Toronto at Rogers Centre, a place where they were swept in April.

The Orioles entered Tuesday tied with Kansas City for the second-best home record in the American League at 22-13, but continued improvement on the road will be critical to their ability to contend in the tight AL East. In running away with their first division title in 17 years last season, manager Buck Showalter’s club sported a 46-35 record on the road, which was tied for second in the AL.

You can simply look at the previous three seasons to see how critical road performance has been to the Orioles’ postseason aspirations. In making trips to the playoffs in 2012 and 2014, the Orioles sported matching 46-35 regular-season records away from Camden Yards. Two years ago, they finished a strong 46-35 at home, but an underwhelming 39-42 road record led to an 85-77 mark and third place in the AL East.

July will bring a major test to the Orioles’ mettle as they’ll play 15 of 22 games on the road.

Pondering Schoop and Flaherty

After beginning his rehab assignment going 1-for-11 in his first three games for Double-A Bowie, second baseman Jonathan Schoop exploded Monday night with a home run and two doubles.

The Orioles have made sure that Schoop has taken his time in rehabbing a right knee injury suffered in mid-April, but the 23-year-old’s return and potential will be welcomed at the bottom of the lineup. What this means for Ryan Flaherty remains to be seen, however, as he had a very solid .744 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Tuesday.

Schoop clearly possesses more upside, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Showalter continue to give the 28-year-old Flaherty some playing time as he can spell the young second baseman as well as veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy to keep them fresh. With Hardy’s well-documented back issues and Schoop’s knee, Flaherty should continue to receive at least two or three starts per week.

And he deserves it with his improvement at the plate this season.

Another outfield option on the horizon?

As the Orioles ponder how to figure out a crowded outfield picture, another potential option at Triple-A Norfolk has begun emerging recently.

Dariel Alvarez has been on the organization’s radar for quite some time, but the 26-year-old Cuban outfielder has collected multiple hits in 11 of his last 14 games entering Tuesday. Over that time, the right-hander is batting .410 with four home runs, five doubles, and 12 RBIs over 61 at-bats.

A call-up probably isn’t imminent with the 25-man roster already too crowded, but Alvarez possesses an electric throwing arm and has improved his average to .282 with 11 homers, 38 RBIs, and a .761 OPS. If he continues his recent trend at the plate, the Orioles will certainly be tempted to take a look at him in the second half of the season.

All-Star Game voting fix

Much has been said — including from this writer — about the All-Star Game voting that currently features seven Kansas City Royals in line to start for the AL, but ESPN’s Jayson Stark pointed out one of the biggest — and easily correctable — problems with the system.

A simple visit to the voting website illustrates how one can mindlessly vote for every player on their favorite club by simply clicking the team’s logo at the top of the page. If you give people an excuse to be lazy, many will take the bait to save even a minute or two of time.

To be clear, the Royals, Orioles, or any major league team can campaign for their players to be All-Star selections as much as they’d like, but can we at least make homers hellbent on only voting for their own players — in Kansas City or anywhere — to put in some effort by voting manually for each position?

At the very least, this would force fans to look at other names in the process, which isn’t too much to ask if we’re going to let them vote for the players participating in a contest that determines home-field advantage in the World Series.

 

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Five questions pondering Schaub, Orioles bullpen, Flaherty

Posted on 12 June 2015 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of BaltimoreRavens.com)

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or could the Orioles be in good position to pull off a trade at this year’s deadline? Much will depend on the next few weeks with a starting rotation currently battling health issues with Miguel Gonzalez on the disabled list and inconsistency from Chris Tillman and Bud Norris, but the depth could be there to orchestrate a trade to make a push for a second straight division title. The ability to trade Alejandro De Aza freed the remainder of his $5 million salary from the books and Norris and Wei-Yin Chen will both be free agents at the end of the season, making it desirable to at least explore what they might be able to fetch for one of them. Of course, this is assuming the Orioles would feel comfortable with Kevin Gausman being back in the rotation as the 24-year-old is still being stretched out as a starter in the minors. It’s no secret that the corner outfield situation is less than ideal, but Dan Duquette has shown a willingness to make in-season deals to try to help his club over the last couple seasons and there appears to be the cash and assets available to do it again.

2. Is it just me or have the early reviews of new Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub not been encouraging? I’m the last person to put much stock into what we see at organized team activities in the spring, but it hasn’t been a strong start for the 33-year-old backup, who has been intercepted frequently and has made too many errant passes in workouts open to media. This wouldn’t be too much of a concern until you remember how poorly Schaub played in his final season in Houston and last year when he was beaten out by rookie Derek Carr in Oakland. Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of the signing after years of pumping little money into the backup spot, but I figured Schaub would at least provide a decent upgrade from Tyrod Taylor at the backup position. It’s still very early, but I’m not convinced he will give the Ravens any more of a chance to win than Taylor should Flacco go down with an injury this season.

3. Is it just me or is Ryan Flaherty putting together a fine season after years of criticism? The utility infielder has been a target for many fans who tire of the Orioles’ micromanaging of their roster in recent years, but he is hitting a very respectable .260 with an .801 on-base plus slugging percentage in 90 plate appearances this season. Buck Showalter has valued the 28-year-old’s ability to play above-average defense at several spots over the last few years, but it’s been nice to see his offense catch up to his work in the field. In fact, had Jonathan Schoop not gotten off to such a strong start at the plate before hurting his right knee in mid-April, you wonder how many might be clamoring for Flaherty to remain the starting second baseman even after the 23-year-old returns. Make no mistake, Schoop is the future at the position, but Flaherty has done a fine job solidifying his place as the Orioles’ utility man despite missing a month with a groin issue this year.

4. Is it just me or is this season critical for the Ravens’ 2013 draft class? There’s no sugarcoating how disappointing Matt Elam and Arthur Brown have been in their first two seasons, making this a “make or break” year for both. Elam will be competing with Will Hill for the starting strong safety job while Brown needs to have a strong camp to simply avoid being cut after playing less in his second year than he did as a rookie. Beyond those two, this year looms large for Kyle Juszczyk, who will need to prove he can produce in offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s system that didn’t prominently feature a fullback in Chicago. It also figures to be an important year for 2013 sixth-round defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore after he missed his first two seasons with injuries. The selections of defensive tackle Brandon Williams in the third round and right tackle Rick Wagner in the fifth were terrific, but you can’t give a draft two thumbs up when you whiff so badly in the first two rounds.

5. Is it just me or are the Orioles in ideal position with their bullpen? Baltimore figured to have a good back of the pen with closer Zach Britton and setup man Darren O’Day, but the Orioles have been able to distribute the workload in an encouraging manner so far. A big difference with this year’s pen compared to previous seasons is its improved ability to strike out opposing hitters as Orioles relievers rank fourth in the American League in strikeouts and are averaging 9.2 per nine innings. The bullpen averaged just 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014, 8.1 in 2013, and 7.5 in 2012. Strikeouts certainly aren’t everything, but there’s no disputing how helpful they can be when a reliever is summoned to escape a tough jam. On the open market, strikeouts are expensive — it’s the biggest reason ex-Oriole Andrew Miller received a four-year, $36 million contract — so it’s extremely beneficial when you can find inexpensive arms like Brad Brach (11.4 strikeouts per nine) and Chaz Roe (10.5 strikeouts per nine) who are able to miss so many bats. Though needed in the rotation at the moment, rookie Mike Wright figures to be another candidate who could settle into a bullpen role at some point this year.

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