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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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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

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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

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

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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Ten Orioles thoughts with April in the books

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Ten Orioles thoughts with April in the books

Posted on 01 May 2013 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles concluding the opening month of the 2013 season by tying a franchise record with 16 wins in April, here are 10 thoughts to ponder as May begins:

1. Jason Hammel leads the club with four wins, but we’ve yet to see the 2012 version of the de facto ace show up this season. That’s not to say the right-hander hasn’t been one of the Orioles’ better starting pitchers, but the two-seam fastball that led to his renaissance last season hasn’t shown nearly the same bite through six starts this year. Despite a 3.79 earned run average, Hammel is averaging just 5.9 innings per start and his 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings is down dramatically from the 8.6 rate he held last season. Always possessing strong breaking stuff, Hammel needs to find a better feel for his two-seamer in order to make the rest of his repertoire more explosive. There was little debate that 2012 was a career season for Hammel prior to the knee surgery in July, but the Orioles didn’t actively pursue an impact starting pitcher with the thought — wise or not — that they had a pitcher with top-of-the rotation stuff. They’ll need better from Hammel over the next five months of the season.

2. Chris Davis’ historic opening-week start gained the most attention, but the free-swinging first baseman also collected 16 walks in April. His nine home runs have garnered plenty of press as opponents are pitching the left-handed slugger very carefully since the beginning of the season, but the walk totals have led many — including me — to praise Davis for an improved level of patience at the plate after he walked only 37 times during the 2012 season. However, the 27-year-old is seeing just 3.79 pitches per plate appearance after averaging 4.00 pitches per trip to the plate a year ago. Part of this can be explained by Davis’ strikeout rate decreasing (one every 3.5 at-bats compared to one per 3.0 at-bats last year), but it also indicates his walk numbers may not be sustained as his bat inevitably cools off at different points in the season. Regardless of just how much more patient Davis has become at the plate or not, it’s difficult to dispute how much of a force he’s become since the beginning of last season, making his acquisition in the Koji Uehara deal in 2011 a brilliant one by former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail.

3. The decisions to let go of Mark Reynolds and Joe Saunders weren’t the problem, but electing not to replace them is looking more and more like a mistake. Anyone who expects the former Orioles first baseman to continue hitting .300 like he did in his first month with Cleveland will likely be disappointed, but his eight home runs would look very good in the Baltimore lineup right now. Considering Orioles designated hitters batted .144 and posted a .502 on-base plus slugging percentage in April, Reynolds occupying that role or first base — with Davis handling the other — would be a major boost to the lineup. Meanwhile, Saunders pitched a complete game against the Orioles on Monday night but has been abysmal away from Safeco Field (12.51 ERA) so far. As I said during the offseason, letting go of Reynolds and Saunders was fine if the intention was to upgrade each of their spots and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette expressed the desire to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat and a veteran starting pitcher. However, neither of those goals were accomplished and that could continue to plague the Orioles throughout 2013.

4. Zach Britton turned in a poor 2013 debut, but his quick demotion sends the wrong message to the organization’s young pitchers. No one expected the 25-year-old left-hander to have a long leash given the higher expectations in Baltimore these days, but I can’t subscribe to the idea of sending down a pitcher who you hope will fit into your future after only one rough start. This creates the impression that young pitchers looking for their chance in Baltimore need to be perfect, which isn’t a mindset conducive to being successful. I also wonder what kind of message it sends to Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and pitching coach Mike Griffin, who gave their recommendation for Britton to be the next call-up after Josh Stinson’s failed start last week. A spot start for an organizational depth guy like Stinson or even a journeyman like Freddy Garcia is fine, but if the expectation all along was for Britton to only receive one chance, the club would have been better served leaving him in Norfolk and not messing with his head. Again, allowing six earned runs in six innings was far from acceptable, but it wasn’t the type of disastrous outing that warranted an immediate exit.

5. It’s safe to say Nolan Reimold has yet to adjust to his new role as the club’s primary designated hitter. Reimold has two home runs, five RBIs, and a 1.029 OPS in 29 plate appearances as the club’s left fielder, but the 29-year-old has posted an ugly .477 OPS with one homer and two RBIs in 52 plate appearances while serving in the DH spot. The problem for Reimold is the remarkable play of Nate McLouth, who has been more productive at the plate and is better defensively in the outfield. Manager Buck Showalter can’t justify taking McLouth out of left field, so Reimold needs to adjust to his new role, which can be difficult for individuals accustomed to being in the game as a defensive player. The good news for Reimold is that he’s remained healthy after undergoing spinal fusion surgery last year, but the Orioles must get better production from the designated hitter or will need to begin looking at other options for the role. It’s fair to acknowledge he’s still regaining strength and is adjusting to not having quite as much range of motion in his neck after the surgery, but Reimold would be the first to tell you he needs to be better at the plate.

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Showalter going with short bench to spread bullpen work around

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Showalter going with short bench to spread bullpen work around

Posted on 06 April 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles knew a roster move was coming with fifth starter Chris Tillman coming off the 15-day disabled list to make Saturday’s start against the Minnesota Twins, but manager Buck Showalter will keep an eight-man bullpen for the time being.

To make room for Tillman on the 25-man roster, the Orioles optioned infielder Yamaico Navarro to Triple-A Norfolk, a day after he was recalled to take the injured Brian Roberts’ roster spot. That move means Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland will remain as a long reliever in the bullpen. Many speculated that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would try to deal another reliever such as Luis Ayala or Tommy Hunter or attempt to work out a deal with McFarland’s original club — the Cleveland Indians — that would allow them to keep McFarland in the organization without him being on the 25-man roster.

Instead, Showalter will protect his bullpen arms by spreading out the workload in the early stages of the season as the current members of the starting rotation attempt to establish themselves as permanent fixtures. The Orioles manager also cited a 20-game stretch without a day off that begins on April 17. In Showalter’s eyes, it’s all about putting his top relievers in position to be at their best for the entire season.

Through the first four games of the season, no reliever has appeared in more than two games, with McFarland being the only member of the bullpen yet to appear in a game.

“We’re going to err on the side of carrying arms, especially protecting the bullpen, until guys kind of find their step as starters,” Showalter said prior to Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Twins. “[Pitching coach Rick Adair] and I spent a lot of time — mostly leaning with what Rick thinks — about protecting some of our guys’ innings, because we want to make sure we’ve got all of our bullets as we go through the season.”

Showalter expects to go back to a four-man bench at some point down the line, but he also pointed to the versatility up and down the list of position payers that allows them to play with a shorter bench. Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla can both play several infield positions while Steve Pearce was mentioned by the manager as the club’s emergency catcher in addition to his ability to play in the outfielder or first base.

Third baseman Manny Machado and first baseman Chris Davis are also capable of moving to other positions if necessary, just lending more support to Showalter’s decision to go with an extra bullpen arm.

“Right now, I’m more interested in passing the load around,” Showalter said. “We’ve got some different pieces. There will come a time where it’s not going to be that way all the time. I’m very protective of trying to make sure we get everybody off to a good start.”

For the second straight night, Flaherty started at second base on Saturday, but Showalter said Casilla will make his first start as an Oriole on Sunday. The Orioles will use both players at the position in Roberts’ absence over the next three to four weeks, but it appears that Flaherty is receiving the first chance to take the lead at second base in terms of playing time. The switch-hitting Casilla would figure to start against tough left-handed pitchers with the left-handed hitter Flaherty on the bench in this situations.

Flaherty is 0-for-6 with four strikeouts so far this year while Casilla struck out in his only plate appearance in Friday’s win over the Twins. Showalter did not rule out a strict platoon but said it will be a fluid situation based heavily on how the two perform.

Here are Saturday’s lineups…

MINNESOTA
CF Aaron Hicks
C Joe Mauer
LF Josh Willingham
1B Justin Morneau
DH Ryan Doumit
3B Trevor Plouffe
RF Chris Parmelee
2B Brian Dozier
SS Pedro Florimon

SP Vance Worley (0-1, 4.50 ERA)

BALTIMORE
LF Nate McLouth
3B Manny Machado
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Ryan Flaherty
DH Nolan Reimold

SP Chris Tillman (2012 stats: 9-3, 2.93 ERA)

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Orioles remaining optimistic despite Roberts’ trip to DL

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Orioles remaining optimistic despite Roberts’ trip to DL

Posted on 05 April 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Opening their 60th season in Baltimore on Friday afternoon against the Minnesota Twins, the Orioles were hoping for the best for second baseman Brian Roberts as he underwent an MRI earlier in the morning.

Manager Buck Showalter remained optimistic in his pre-game press conference, but the Orioles summoned infielder Yamaico Navarro from Triple-A Norfolk with Roberts heading to the 15-day disabled list. Ryan Flaherty will start in Roberts’ place at second base in the home opener and newcomer Alexi Casilla will also be counted on to fill in for the 35-year-old infielder.

It was learned after the presser that Roberts ruptured a tendon in the back of his knee, an injury that will likely keep him out for two to four weeks. The good news is the injury won’t require surgery and it’s a tendon typically used for ACL repairs, making it inconsequential in the long run.

“Just because things are delayed doesn’t mean they’re denied,” said Showalter about Roberts’ injury that will likely send him to the DL. “It’s something that, regardless of what [the result] says, it will heal and he will play for us again.”

Right-handed pitcher Chris Tillman will be activated from the DL to make Saturday’s start, so the Orioles could have elected to wait a day with Roberts and go with a short bench instead while avoiding the need to make an additional move. Moving Roberts to the DL now means another one is coming on Saturday.

Tillman declared himself ready to go and will not have any limitations as he makes his first start of the year after dealing with abdominal soreness.

Right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta will make the start in the home opener for the third straight season, but Showalter downplayed Arrieta’s strong spring that resulted in him winning the final spot in the rotation and the exceptional start he made last year against the Twins to begin the season.

“Minnesota answers those questions. His next start, those guys will answer those questions,” Showalter said. “It’s something that you like seeing him do well [in the spring] and he did well at it, but just because he had a good start last Opening Day at home doesn’t mean it’s going to carry over.”

Here are Friday’s lineups…

MINNESOTA
CF Aaron Hicks
DH Joe Mauer
LF Josh Willingham
1B Dustin Morneau
C Ryan Doumit
3B Trevor Plouffe
RF Chris Parmalee
2B Brian Dozier
SS Eduardo Escobar

SP Liam Hendriks (2012 stats: 1-8, 5.59 ERA)

BALTIMORE
LF Nate McLouth
3B Manny Machado
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Ryan Flaherty
DH Nolan Reimold

SP Jake Arrieta (2012 stats: 3-9, 6.20 ERA)

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Orioles’ 25-man roster set as Pearce grabs final spot

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Orioles’ 25-man roster set as Pearce grabs final spot

Posted on 30 March 2013 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have set their 25-man roster for the start of the regular season as outfielder Steve Pearce won the final bench spot on Saturday.

The 29-year-old Pearce beat out fellow outfielder Conor Jackson after both complete strong Grapefruit League performances. The right-handed batter will likely serve as the club’s designated hitter against left-handed pitching to begin the season.

As expected, manager Buck Showalter named right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta his fourth starter and left-hander Brian Matusz will pitch out of the bullpen to begin the season. Next Friday will mark the third consecutive time Arrieta has taken the hill in the home opener.

Utility players Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla and catcher Taylor Teagarden will occupy three of the club’s four bench spots to begin the season. Flaherty became all but a certainty to make the team following the knee injury suffered by corner infielder and designated hitter Wilson Betemit earlier this week.

The bench took a substantial hit after Betemit tore the PCL in his right knee as Showalter would have had either Betemit, Nolan Reimold, or Nate McLouth off the bench on a typical night, depending on the pitching matchup. However, Casilla provides a base-stealing threat while Flaherty will serve as the primary pinch hitter against right-handed pitching.

Showalter must decide whether he will keep Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland in the bullpen beyond the first few days of the season after the left-hander was told he made the team to begin the season.

The 23-year-old impressed this spring but must remain on the 25-man roster in order to stay with the organization. The decision to send fifth starter Chris Tillman to the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to March 22) was made in order to buy time for the Orioles to either trade another relief pitcher or to work out a deal with the Cleveland Indians — McFarland’s original club — that would allow them to option McFarland to the minor leagues.

Right-handed pitcher Steve Johnson is expected to be placed on the DL as he deals with a back injury.

Teams have until 3 p.m. on Sunday to finalize their 25-man rosters for the start of the regular season.

Here’s a look at where the roster stands right now, including a projected lineup:

LINEUP
RF Nick Markakis
LF Nate McLouth
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
1B Chris Davis
SS J.J. Hardy
DH Nolan Reimold
3B Manny Machado
2B Brian Roberts

BENCH
INF Alexi Casilla
UTI Ryan Flaherty
C Taylor Teagarden
OF Steve Pearce

STARTING ROTATION
RHP Jason Hammel
LHP Wei-Yin Chen
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Jake Arrieta

BULLPEN
RHP Jim Johnson
RHP Pedro Strop
RHP Darren O’Day
LHP Brian Matusz
LHP Troy Patton
RHP Luis Ayala
RHP Tommy Hunter
LHP T.J. McFarland

DISABLED LIST
RHP Chris Tillman (will become fifth starter on April 6)
INF Wilson Betemit
RHP Steve Johnson
LHP Tsuyoshi Wada

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Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

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Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

Posted on 13 February 2013 by Luke Jones

The Orioles held their first workouts for pitchers and catchers to officially kick off spring training in Sarasota on Wednesday.

Trying to build on a 93-win campaign that included their first trip to the playoffs in 15 years, the Orioles have several questions marks after a quiet offseason void of significant moves.

Here are five questions to ponder as Baltimore begins preparations for the 2013 season:

1. Can Nolan Reimold stay healthy and be the impact bat the Orioles failed to acquire in the offseason?

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette failed in his quest to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat, but a healthy Reimold would go a long way in providing the extra offense the Orioles are looking for after they finished ninth in runs scored and 11th in on-base percentage in the American League last season. Of course, expecting Reimold to stay injury-free has only resulted in frustration over the years as the left fielder missed most of last season after undergoing spinal fusion surgery.

The good news is Reimold is already taking live batting practice and appears to be 100 percent for spring training as he will compete with Nate McLouth for the starting job in left field. McLouth is the superior fielder and has more speed, but few would argue Reimold’s ability at the plate as he hit .313 with five home runs in 67 at-bats last season.

The club could elect to use Reimold as the designated hitter more frequently to keep him healthy, and he would be an ideal fit in the No. 2 spot because of his plate discipline (a career .338 on-base percentage in 916 plate appearances in the majors) or in the fifth or sixth spot because of his power. At 29, Reimold appears to be running out of time as a viable option on which the Orioles can depend moving forward, but the club signed him for $1 million in the offseason and maintains control of him through the 2015 season.

Duquette didn’t acquire an established veteran bat and also parted ways with slugger Mark Reynolds, so this spring will be critical for Reimold to prove he can provide extra punch to the lineup. If he’s again unhealthy, the Orioles will be forced to lean more heavily on McLouth, who carries his own baggage despite a 2012 renaissance in Baltimore.

2. What will the starting rotation look like when the Orioles come north to Baltimore?

The starting rotation would appear to have a more definitive outline than it did as this time last year as Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman all put forth career seasons in 2012, but none of those four come without questions this spring. Concerns over Hammel’s knee were eased with his ability to pitch effectively in the postseason, but the Orioles hope he can replicate his first half last season when he looked like an ace and was included in the fan vote for the final spot on the AL All-Star team.

Chen and Gonzalez will need to prove their rookie campaigns weren’t flukes as the rest of the league will be more familiar with each and the latter’s 170-pound frame will always cause some to question his durability over a full season. Adjustments made to Tillman’s mechanics by director of pitching development Rick Peterson paid major dividends last year, but the 24-year-old will need to replicate that success over an entire season in the big leagues.

Even if those four pick up right where they left off, manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair must sift through a number of other candidates to replace the fifth spot in the rotation left behind by veteran left Joe Saunders, who signed with Seattle last week. Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson, Zach Britton, and Tommy Hunter will all be in the mix, but each comes with their limitations and concerns.

The Orioles continue to point to strength in numbers as it pertains to the starting rotation as 12 pitchers made starts for Baltimore last season. And to offer some perspective on how quickly things can change due to injury or ineffectiveness, three-fifths of the rotation that began the 2012 season landed in the minor leagues by the All-Star break.

The top four will have the inside track for rotation spots entering the spring, but Showalter won’t hesitate to make changes quickly if anyone isn’t up to the task.

3. Who will step up to play second base?

Yes, Brian Roberts is still with the Orioles as he enters the final season of a four-year contract that’s seen him play 115 games combined in the last three years. The 35-year-old infielder appears to be recovered from hip surgery and an offseason surgery to correct a sports hernia, but viewing Roberts as a viable option feels more like you’re being polite than at all realistic.

The Orioles acquired the slick-fielding Alexi Casilla off waivers from the Minnesota Twins after the switch-hitting second baseman played in a career-high 106 games last season. The 28-year-old is a career .250 hitter and provides good speed (21 stolen bases in 2012), but it remains to be seen whether he can handle full-time duties at the plate or he’ll be exposed over a bigger sample of at-bats.

The most intriguing option from an offensive perspective would be Ryan Flaherty, who split duties at second base with the departed Robert Andino at the end of last season. Thought limited defensively, Flaherty hit six home runs in 153 at-bats as a Rule 5 player who stuck on the 25-man roster all season.

Because of Showalter’s preference for strong defense up the middle, Casilla would appear to be the favorite to handle the bulk of the duties at second base due to Roberts’ frailty and Flaherty’s limitations in the field. However, this will remain a very fluid position to watch as the spring progresses.

4. How will Showalter handle the designated hitter spot in the order?

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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