Tag Archive | "ryan flaherty"

Machado Suspension Not Actually A Big Deal

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Machado Suspension Not Actually A Big Deal

Posted on 03 July 2014 by Brandon Sacks

From June 6-8, the Orioles played the Oakland A’s in their first head to head series of the year.  On the sixth, Manny Machado had a bit of a meltdown and threw his helmet after an incident where he felt he was tagged too hard.  Two days later, he “accidentally” threw his bat at A’s pitcher Fernando Abad.  For these two incidents, Manny received a five game suspension from MLB, which was upheld after being appealed.

It seemed like this was going to be the most inopportune time for Machado to be forced out of the lineup, especially with his bat heating up.  The Orioles offense was not explosive as fans know it to be in the games leading up to the suspension.  He also is one of the best defensive players on the Orioles’ roster.  While he has not played to the same quality as when he won the platinum glove award last year, he has still been very dominant at third base this season.  When others were playing at third while Machado was coming back from his knee injury, it was evident that the birds missed number 13.

Not so much anymore.  Three games into the five game suspension, the Orioles are 3-0, outscoring the Rangers by a combined 21-8.  Chris Davis and Ryan Flaherty have both played well above average defense at third.  The offensive output from the position, while minimal, has included the go-ahead home run by Flaherty last night.

Is the Machado suspension really the worst thing that has happened to the Orioles this season?  It seems like this season, more than any, the birds have done really well in the face of adversity, from the Machado injury to the Wieters injury to the suspension and more.  No matter what has happened, they have found a way to continue winning, and they have been able to stay in the race for the AL East.  As long as the Orioles continue to connect on offense like they have over the past three games, they will be on the verge of becoming the AL East powerhouse that has been mysteriously absent throughout this entire season.

Now if only we could work on our starting pitching…

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Lombardozzi squeezed out of infield picture with Machado’s return

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Lombardozzi squeezed out of infield picture with Machado’s return

Posted on 01 May 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles had a decision to make about the state of their infield with the much-anticipated return of third baseman Manny Machado, and Steve Lombardozzi ended up being the odd man out on Thursday.

Despite hitting .292 in 72 at-bats, the 25-year-old infielder was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Machado on the 25-man roster, raising a few eyebrows among fans who expected the light-hitting Ryan Flaherty or the recently-recalled Jemile Weeks to be demoted. As is typically the case when faced with these decisions, manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette sided with the stronger defensive player.

Weeks provides an element of speed that the Orioles are taking advantage of for the time being.

“I think where we are as a club and what are needs are going to be with Manny coming back, just initially [Jemile] might fit us a tad better, but we’ll see,” Showalter said. “But that’s a good tough decision. Two switch-hitting middle infielders.”

With Machado and shortstop J.J. Hardy coming off injuries and the first base position in flux with Chris Davis on the disabled list, versatility is a must off the bench and Flaherty has the ability to play quality defense at all four infield positions. Lombardozzi appeared in 19 games this season at second base but did not play another position as there are questions about his arm strength to play on the left side of the infield.

Of course, the Orioles could revisit the decision if Hardy and Machado play a couple weeks without any injury concerns, which would decrease the urgency for having Flaherty at their immediate disposal off the bench.

For what it’s worth, Lombardozzi’s career .638 on-base plus slugging percentage is only slightly higher than Flaherty’s .636. Of course, the latter is off to a poor start at the plate for the second year in a row and is hitting just .188.

Veteran Steve Pearce was officially back in the Orioles clubhouse Thursday and made the start at first base in Game 1 of the doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates. While right fielder Nick Markakis and Flaherty could still factor into the puzzle at first base, Pearce figures to receive an extensive opportunity as he’s played 94 games at the position in the major leagues.

“Stevie’s been hitting, he’s stayed active during the time,” said Showalter, referencing the fact that Pearce was designated for assignment on April 22. “I don’t think he ever left Baltimore.”

Machado did not start in the opening game of the doubleheader as Showalter and the 21-year-old both agreed it would be too aggressive to try to play 18 innings in his 2014 season debut. The Baltimore manager didn’t want Machado playing in Game 1 and sitting around all evening before coming off the bench to play in the late innings if necessary.

The third baseman said he didn’t do anything special over the last three days other than his normal in-season workouts and admitted he would feel some nerves before taking the field in Game 2. Showalter quipped that Thursday night would be Machado’s Opening Day after the All-Star break, referencing the club’s three straight days off because of inclement weather.

“It’s actually been kind of good for him to take his breath and get settled here in the locker room instead of traveling back and forth to Frederick,” Showalter said. “There’s nobody more excited today than Manny.”

The Orioles will activate left-handed relief pitcher Troy Patton after the first game of the doubleheader, meaning they will need to make a roster move before the nightcap. Showalter acknowledged having a roster move in mind and an intention to keep the roster at 12 pitchers, but that was dependent on how the pitching staff made it through the opening game.

Candidates to be sent out included long reliever Josh Stinson — who would need to be designated for assignment — and fellow reliever Evan Meek, who has an option remaining.

In injury-related news, veteran left-hander Johan Santana was able to touch 86 to 87 miles per hour on a few occasions while pitching in a simulated game in Sarasota on Monday. Trying to make a comeback from shoulder surgery, Santana’s velocity has steadily increased since he was signed in the spring.

Outfielder Nolan Reimold took batting practice Wednesday in Sarasota as he continues to rehab his surgically-repaired neck on the 60-day disabled list.

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Schoop should stick with Orioles in wake of Davis injury

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Schoop should stick with Orioles in wake of Davis injury

Posted on 28 April 2014 by Luke Jones

It all appeared to be coming together as third baseman Manny Machado started his rehab assignment and the Orioles anticipated having their full lineup together for the first time all season.

Of course, a left oblique strain suffered by Chris Davis has delayed that vision indefinitely, but Machado is expected to return this week, instantly boosting the infield defense as well as helping an offense now devoid of Davis’ Herculean power. Even with the All-Star third baseman’s return, the injury to Davis forces manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to alter the way in which they view the starting lineup.

Even if Nick Markakis proves capable of handling the defensive duties of first base — his errant throw on a rundown play led to a run in Sunday’s loss to Kansas City — he’s a significant downgrade offensively just like any realistic replacement would be. It’s why the Orioles may need to take chances elsewhere in trying to make up for Davis’ absence.

In addition to Nelson Cruz filling a full-time outfield role with Markakis in the infield, the Orioles would be wise to continue playing Jonathan Schoop at second base after Machado officially returns. His future appeared to be the club’s biggest roster decision a few days ago as the argument could be made that Schoop needs more seasoning and both Steve Lombardozzi and Ryan Flaherty are stronger defensive players.

But when missing a player of Davis’ ability, the Orioles would benefit from Schoop’s offensive upside while also remembering he’s handled 30 chances at second base without an error. The 22-year-old has struggled bouncing back and forth between second and third base due to the Orioles’ injury-related needs in the first month of the season, but his four errors have all come while playing the hot corner.

“He’s going to turn the double play well above average with arm strength,” said Showalter when asked to assess Schoop’s play at second base. “That’s one thing that steps out at you. He could profile down the road as an offensive run producer that can play the middle infield. We’ll see. I feel confident that Jonathan is going to be as good as he’s capable of being. That’s what makes me feel good about him.”

Truthfully, his offensive numbers don’t overwhelm you as Schoop is hitting just .241 and has struck out 26 times in his first 82 plate appearances as major league pitchers continue to challenge him with breaking balls, but his numbers dwarf Flaherty’s paltry .188 average and he has more power (.405 slugging percentage) than Lombardozzi (.333), who appears best suited for a utility role.

We’ve seen with Showalter’s patient handling of Flaherty that defense can trump offensive production with the rest of the lineup so dangerous, but the Orioles must be more judicious in that approach with Davis missing from the order. Schoop has given no reason to indicate he can’t play a solid second base — the position at which he had the most experience in the minor leagues — and is fifth on the club in total bases and first in doubles.

The rockets he hit in New York and Toronto earlier this month for his two home runs show what kind of power potential he brings to the table. It’d be interesting to see what he can do without the unrest of switching positions on a regular basis weight on his mind.

“You can be in the big leagues 10 years and it’s never going to be easy, but I think the game’s slowing down a little bit,” Schoop said. “I’ve still got to get better. In situations, I’ve got to think what I’m going to do before the ball comes to me. I’ve got to get better.”

A few days ago, it would have been easy for the Orioles to send Schoop to Triple-A Norfolk and settle on the strong defensive platoon of Flaherty and Lombardozzi at second base while watching the rest of the lineup wreak havoc on opposing pitchers. But with Davis sidelined and his teammates trying to pick up the slack, the second base position needs to provide some of the offensive lifting.

While far from a finished product, the Curacao native has shown more than enough flashes for the Orioles to take a chance that he’ll be up to the task.

“I’m glad he’s on our side. He’s got a chance to be a pretty good one,” Showalter said. “But we’ll see where he settles out and see how things go with Manny in the next few days.”

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If Davis is down, Morales should be next man up

Posted on 26 April 2014 by Tony Wisniewski

Ryan Flaherty, anyone?

Yesterday afternoon, it looked as if the Orioles’ lineup was going to be healthy and at full-tilt with the return of Manny Machado in about a week.  Now, with Chris Davis’ injury status up in the air, it’s back to counting on players like Ryan Flaherty to play everyday in an effort to pick up the slack.

Insert a hearty and collective “no thanks,” here.

Flaherty is sporting a .183 batting average to go with three RBI in 2014; certainly not the type of numbers you’d want from an everyday player, let alone a corner-infielder.

Chris Davis’ oblique strain could result in a visit to the 15-Day Disabled List, but nothing has been reported thus far. Either way, injuries like oblique strains are the type that can linger and result in season-long issues for hitters, especially free-swingers like Davis.

Enter, the solution: Kendry Morales.

Considering the Orioles had serious interest in Morales already, it’s safe to assume that the text message count between Dan Duquette and Morales’ agent, Scott Boras is rapidly increasing.

Whether Davis’ injury is serious in nature or not, signing Morales now would make all the sense in the world.  Unlike other potential suitors, such as Oakland, Seattle, and Milwaukee, the Orioles don’t have a first-round draft pick to lose if they ink Morales to a deal prior MLB’s, June 5th-7th, amateur draft.

If the Orioles were to sign Morales today, it would result in losing a third-round draft choice, as the club has already forfeited its first and second-round choices in exchange for signing Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz.

Should the Orioles continue to wait until after June’s draft, they’ll have to contend with the aforementioned teams and will most likely lose-out in a bidding war.  Prior to the draft, other teams have been reluctant to hand-away the compensatory first-round choice that it would take to sign Morales, but after the draft, the rule is no longer in play.

Whether or not Davis is headed for the disabled list shouldn’t be the deciding factor in bringing Morales into the fold.  The fact that Davis has had a pedestrian start to the season, coupled with a fresh injury that could linger, should be more than enough justification for adding an insurance policy on the player who is largely considered to be the biggest piece of a Baltimore lineup that is built for home-runs.

In a young season where the Orioles still have every chance to compete for a division title, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would welcome the sound of “now batting, first baseman, Ryan Flaherty,” for the long haul.

Kendry Morales is the answer and he’s right there for the taking.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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