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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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Pearce, Roe inching closer toward return to Orioles

Posted on 19 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As the Orioles continue to search for consistent production in left field, outfielder and first baseman Steve Pearce appears to be moving closer to a return from an oblique strain.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters prior to Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets that Pearce took live batting practice in Sarasota, but the 32-year-old was hit in the back by a pitch in his third at-bat, bringing an end to his session. Should Pearce respond well to hitting live pitching and feel no ill effects from the hit by pitch, the Orioles are hoping to send him on a minor-league rehab assignment in the near future.

Baltimore is currently using a platoon of Henry Urrutia and Nolan Reimold in left field after exhausting a number of unsuccessful options over the course of the 2015 season. Of course, Pearce was in the midst of a poor campaign of his own with a .227 average in 193 plate appearances, but he might represent the organization’s best internal option of receiving production in left field if he can channel his 2014 success over the final weeks of the season.

Pearce was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain on July 22 and is eligible to be activated at any point. After a horrendous start in which he batted just .183 through June 3, Pearce was hitting .321 with an .856 on-base plus slugging percentage over his last 59 plate appearances before the injury.

In other health-related news, right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe threw off flat ground on Wednesday, the first time he’s picked up a baseball since being placed on the 15-day DL with right shoulder tendinitis. Roe will repeat that task a couple more times before throwing off a mound and could then go on a brief minor-league rehab assignment.

He is eligible to return from the DL on Aug. 25, and the club remains hopeful that he will be able to return close to that date if he isn’t quite ready at the conclusion of the minimum 15 days.

Showalter said Matt Wieters’s hamstring felt good after returning to the lineup on Tuesday. The catcher also took a foul tip off his knee in the 5-3 loss to the Mets, but he stayed in the game.

The Orioles signed left-handed reliever Mike Belfiore to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Norfolk. He made his major league debut for Baltimore in 2013, but the 26-year-old appeared in only one game.

After officially being released by the Orioles, outfielder Travis Snider has signed a minor-league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the club that traded him to Baltimore last winter.

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Lough becomes latest Orioles outfielder to be designated for assignment

Posted on 14 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles continued their purge of disappointing corner outfielders on Friday by designating David Lough for assignment prior to their series opener against the Oakland Athletics.

With Matt Wieters currently nursing a hamstring strain, catcher Steve Clevenger was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take Lough’s place on the 25-man roster. Lough, 29, became the fifth Orioles outfielder to be designated for assignment since late May, joining Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Chris Parmelee, and Travis Snider as players who failed as part of the offseason plan to replace free-agent departures Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

Originally acquired to replace former Oriole Nate McLouth in left field two winters ago, Lough never established himself at the plate and was relegated to a role as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner for much of his two seasons with Baltimore. The July 31 acquisition of Gerardo Parra made Lough even more expendable because of his ability to back up Adam Jones in center field, a role that he held for the last two years.

After hitting .247 in 197 plate appearances last season, Lough was hitting just .202 in 2015 and was mired in a 2-for-26 slump in early July.

Manager Buck Showalter expressed hope that Lough would remain with the organization and accept an outright assignment to Norfolk if he goes unclaimed on waivers. The Orioles would then consider him for a September call-up.

Clevenger went 5-for-11 in a brief stint with the Orioles earlier this year and has had an impressive season for Norfolk, batting .305 with four home runs, 32 RBIs, and a .769 on-base plus slugging percentage. The organization has also been pleased with his improved defense behind the plate, a weakness of his when acquired from the Chicago Cubs in 2013.

The Orioles have also summoned Norfolk outfielder Henry Urrutia to Norfolk and are expected to activate him for Saturday’s game, meaning another roster move is coming. The Cuban outfielder hasn’t played for Baltimore since hitting .276 in 58 plate appearances in 2013, but the lefty is batting .292 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs for the Tides this season.

It doesn’t look like the Orioles will make room for Urrutia by placing Wieters on the disabled list as the three-time All-Star catcher said prior to Friday’s game that his hamstring is feeling much better, joking that he’s closed to being back to his normal “slow speed” on the bases. The 29-year-old said he would be available off the bench if needed, but Clevenger being recalled reflects a desire to stay away from using Wieters for at least another day or two if possible.

Right-hander Chris Tillman will complete his bullpen session on Saturday and is still in line to make Monday’s start despite being struck with a line drive on the right triceps during his last start in Seattle.

Right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe received a cortisone injection in his right shoulder and is responding well, leading to optimism that he’ll be ready to return after the 15-day minimum on the DL.

Steve Pearce is now taking batting practice in Sarasota as his injured oblique continues to improve. The Orioles hope he can begin a minor-league rehab assignment as early as the beginning of next week.

Right-hander Mike Wright is still feeling “tentative” when running and pushing off with his calf as Showalter did not make it sound like his return from the DL was imminent.

According to Showalter, pitching prospect Hunter Harvey’s throwing program is proceeding well as he continues to throw off flat ground. The organization is deciding whether he will pitch this fall and where that might take place.

Showalter also said that 22-year-old pitcher Dylan Bundy will have an appointment with Dr. James Andrews at the end of the month to determine how his shoulder is progressing after extensive rest.

Right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson is currently on the minor-league seven-day DL and is improving, but his return from an oblique strain is not considered imminent.

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Orioles send Pearce to DL to make room for Gausman

Posted on 22 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles placed Steve Pearce on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday to make room for starting pitcher Kevin Gausman in the second game of a three-game set against the New York Yankees.

Pearce is dealing with a left oblique strain and hadn’t played since Saturday’s win in Detroit. He will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam before rejoining the Orioles in St. Petersburg for their weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays. He would be eligible to be activated from the DL as early as Aug. 3.

Wanting the 24-year-old Gausman to receive regular work over the All-Star break, the Orioles optioned the right-hander to Triple-A Norfolk on July 7. He made two starts for the Tides, allowing two earned runs and nine hits while striking out 11 and walking four in 11 innings of work.

With the disappointing Bud Norris now in the bullpen, Gausman is expected to receive an extended opportunity in the Baltimore rotation to begin the second half.

The 32-year-old Pearce has been unable to duplicate the magic of his 2014 campaign in which he posted a .293 average with 21 home runs and a club-high .930 on-base plus slugging percentage. He has hit a disappointing .227 with seven homers and 24 RBIs in 193 plate appearances, but his numbers have remained solid against left-handed pitching with a .270 average and .747 OPS against southpaws.

Since June 1, Pearce is hitting .292 with a .779 OPS in 69 plate appearances.

Much speculation about the Orioles’ roster move to create space for Gausman centered around the struggling Chris Parmelee and the seldom-used Nolan Reimold, who are both out of minor-league options. Since homering three times in his first two games for the Orioles last month, Parmelee is hitting .192 with one homer and a .568 OPS in 81 plate appearances while serving as the primary first baseman against right-handed pitching.

Reimold is hitting just .235 with a .728 OPS in 57 plate appearances.

In other roster-related news, the Orioles officially released left-handed reliever Wesley Wright after he was designated for assignment last week.

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Five biggest Orioles disappointments of first half

Posted on 15 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Standing at 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have faced their share of disappointments as they look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

Though just four games behind the first-place New York Yankees and sporting the fifth-best run differential (plus-39) in the league, the Orioles and their fans could certainly point to the uncertain future of executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and a disappointing offseason as the biggest factors contributing to an underwhelming first half. It’s easy to point to the decisions not to re-sign any of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller, but the problems have run deeper than that.

On Wednesday, left-handed reliever Wesley Wright was designated for assignment, becoming the fifth veteran — joining Ryan Webb, Alejandro De Aza, Everth Cabrera, and Delmon Young — scheduled to make at least $1.6 million this year to be designated since the start of the season. Not only did the Orioles fail to keep their top free agents, but they spent a lot of money poorly elsewhere.

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

Dishonorable mention: Everth Cabrera, Wesley Wright, Travis Snider

5. Alejandro De Aza/Delmon Young

It’s appropriate to lump these two together after they were both designated for assignment in the first half of the season. At the beginning of the year, manager Buck Showalter envisioned De Aza as his leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching while Young was expected to handle a larger role after the free-agent departures of Cruz and Markakis in the outfield.

Instead, De Aza hit just .214 with a .636 on-base plus slugging percentage and further saw his playing time diminish due to lapses on the bases and in the field. After being traded to Boston in early June, De Aza has provided a spark for the last-place Red Sox with a .323 average, making Orioles fans wonder where that production was earlier in the season.

Young’s .270 average may not have looked bad on the surface, but he offered little else as he homered only twice and posted an anemic .628 OPS in 180 plate appearances. Because of a crowded outfield situation and his limited versatility, Young was designated and eventually released last week.

While neither De Aza nor Young were necessarily projected to be everyday players, both were obvious disappointments after the Orioles committed to paying them a combined $7.25 million to contribute in 2015.

4. J.J. Hardy

It’s often forgotten that Hardy was the one big-name free agent the Orioles were able to keep last fall with a three-year, $40 million extension, making the first half of his 2015 season that much more frustrating after other veterans departed.

A left shoulder injury cost Hardy more than a month, but he hasn’t been able to gain his bearings at the plate beyond a few clutch hits here and there. His defensive ability remains a clear strength, but Hardy’s .226 average and .584 OPS must improve in the second half as the Orioles try to advance to the postseason for the third time in four years.

The fact that Hardy hit only nine homers last year while dealing with a lingering back issue was concerning enough, but a second straight season of diminished power (five homers in 225 plate appearances) creates doubt whether the 32-year-old will ever again approach the power numbers he posted in his first three years in Baltimore. Even if that’s the case, the Orioles need more offensive production in terms of average and at least a few more doubles from the veteran infielder.

You never want to discredit Hardy’s value in the field, but he’d be the first to tell you much more is needed with the bat.

3. Steve Pearce

Even his biggest supporters wouldn’t have predicted Pearce to duplicate his magical 2014 campaign in which he hit 21 homers, posted a team-leading .930 OPS, and was worth 5.9 wins above replacement, but the numbers were so strong that you could reasonably hope the journeyman had finally established himself as a solid everyday player.

That hasn’t been the case as Pearce hit .176 in his first 74 at-bats of 2015 and has largely been relegated to part-time duties against left-handed pitching. An .812 OPS since May 16 shows that Pearce has done a better job over the last two months, but most of that has come against left-handed pitching as he’s hitting just .207 against right-handers and .228 overall this year.

In addition to not matching the same power he found a year ago, Pearce’s walk rate has dropped considerably, a part of his game that was solid even before the 2014 season. What has likely saved the 32-year-old’s roster spot has been his versatility as he’s able to play four or five different positions, including second base for the first time earlier this season.

It will be interesting to see if Showalter will give Pearce more opportunities against right-handed pitching with Chris Parmelee struggling immensely of late, but it’s difficult foreseeing a return to the success from a year ago as Pearce is scheduled to hit free agency at the end of the season.

2. Chris Tillman

Predicting a down season for Tillman after he posted no worse than a 3.71 ERA in three straight seasons might not have been out of the question, but a 5.40 ERA and 3.8 walks per nine innings are numbers that would have landed him in the minors if not for the fact that he’s out of options.

The 27-year-old has been better since a nightmarish start in Toronto last month that elevated his ERA to 6.22, but his struggles are a major reason why the Orioles currently rank 10th in the AL with a 4.20 starter ERA. If you eliminate his 15.00 ERA in four starts against the Blue Jays, Tillman owns a very solid 3.48 mark against the rest of the league, but you can’t dismiss that part of the picture when Toronto is one of the clubs the Orioles are competing with in a tight division race.

His strikeout numbers are fairly similar to the last few seasons, but his walk rate is his highest since 2010 and the lack of fastball command has gotten him in trouble too often in 2015. Opponents have sported a .331 batting average on balls in play against Tillman, indicating he’s run into bad luck that’s made him pay even more for the control issues.

You hope the worst is behind Tillman as he pitched too well from 2012-2014 to continue languishing in the second half, but the Orioles wouldn’t figure to have much of a chance to be playing in October if the tall right-hander doesn’t start resembling the guy who had back-to-back 200-inning seasons in 2013 and 2014.

1. Bud Norris

A look at his track record told you Norris was unlikely to win 15 games or match the 3.65 ERA he posted a year ago, but few have had a more dreadful season entering free agency in recent memory than Norris, who was demoted to the bullpen before the All-Star break.

Sporting a 6.86 ERA and being paid $8.8 million this season, Norris has been helpless against left-handed hitters who have posted a 1.005 OPS and hit nine homers against him, prompting opposing managers to stack their lineups with lefties in his starts. The changeup that worked so well against lefty hitters last year hasn’t been much of a factor in 2015, leaving Norris much too reliant on his fastball and slider.

With Kevin Gausman stepping into the rotation, Norris has the stuff to profile as a decent reliever, but the move now leaves Showalter without the “swinging-door” bullpen spot he likes to have to summon a fresh arm from the minors when necessary.

At this point, it doesn’t look like Norris will get another chance in the rotation unless someone else falters or is injured, but he’ll need to be able to pitch effectively out of the bullpen to keep his roster spot as he is out of options. Duquette will undoubtedly try to find a trade partner, but Norris would be difficult to give away at this point with a high salary attached to him.

Very few would have expected Norris to be Baltimore’s best starter in 2015, but the most disastrous season of his career couldn’t have come at a worse time for him or the Orioles.

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Orioles part ways with veteran outfielder Young

Posted on 01 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — No longer able to endure a well-documented roster crunch, the Orioles designated outfielder Delmon Young for assignment prior to Wednesday’s game against Texas.

Baltimore needed a fresh arm in the bullpen and recalled right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson to take Young’s spot on the 25-man roster. With the recent promotions of Chris Parmelee and Nolan Reimold, the 29-year-old Young’s playing time had dwindled with just 17 plate appearances since June 13.

“They’re all difficult,” said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette about the decision to part ways with the veteran. “We wrestle with these decisions and hash them out and go back and forth, and we try to develop more options for the team to keep all the players in the organization. We couldn’t come up with a solution to this roster move because we didn’t have the flexibility on our roster that we’ve had in the past.”

Young provided arguably the most exciting moment in the history of Orioles Park at Camden Yards last fall with a three-run double in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series, sparking his club to a 7-6 victory and eventual sweep of the Detroit Tigers. However, the outfielder struggled with more extensive playing time this season, hitting .270 with just two home runs and a .628 on-base plus slugging percentage in 180 plate appearances.

With the Orioles employing a number of outfielders serving in part-time roles, Young didn’t offer as much versatility with declining power and limited defensive ability. The emergence of Jimmy Paredes this season has taken away a large number of at-bats at the designated hitter spot that the Orioles projected Young to receive at the beginning of the season.

The roster pains aren’t over for the Orioles as they must make room for right-hander Kevin Gausman to make Thursday’s start and second baseman Jonathan Schoop will finish his rehab assignment over the next few days. Manager Buck Showalter said outfielder Nolan Reimold will go on paternity leave next week, which would temporarily open a a roster spot.

“There’s not a right decision there. Nobody is trying to present it as such,” said Showalter of Young’s departure. “We’ve got good quality people, and you reach a point where you can’t keep them all. Unfortunately, we’re probably not done. It tugs at your chest.”

After being signed to a minor-league deal two offseasons ago, Young thrived in a part-time role in 2014, hitting .302 with seven homers and a .779 OPS. The first overall pick of the 2003 amateur draft was Baltimore’s best pinch hitter, going 10-for-20 in the regular season before delivering his pinch-hit two-bagger off Detroit right-hander Joakim Soria in the ALDS.

The offseason departure of slugger Nelson Cruz figured to create more opportunities for Young, who signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal over the winter to remain with the Orioles.

Duquette will now have 10 days to try to work out a trade for Young, a realistic chore considering he was able to deal Alejandro De Aza to the Boston Red Sox last month. Duquette told reporters prior to Wednesday’s game that he had already engaged in trade discussions with other clubs about Young but hadn’t gotten close to making a deal prior to Wednesday’s designation.

“Delmon is a qualified major league hitter,” Duquette said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a [landing] spot for him in a few days.”

Many fans will remember Young fondly for his heroics last October, but he isn’t the first Oriole to be let go shortly after a pinnacle playoff moment. Outfielder Tito Landrum hit the game-winning homer in Game 4 of the 1983 AL Championship Series before being traded the following spring.

 

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Orioles facing difficult roster decisions this week

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite playing their best baseball of the season over the last two weeks, the Orioles know a roster crunch is coming that will force difficult decisions to be made in the coming days.

Not only are pitchers Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen expected to return to the starting rotation this week, but the Orioles could welcome back second baseman Jonathan Schoop after he began a rehab assignment over the weekend. The current roster consists of 14 position players, three starting pitchers, and eight relievers. One roster spot will be taken care of by optioning either Oliver Drake or Mychal Givens back to the minors, but what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter plan to do beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Of their current position players on the roster, only Caleb Joseph, Manny Machado, and Ryan Flaherty have minor-league options, illustrating how little flexibility the Orioles have. Machado and Joseph clearly aren’t going anywhere while optioning Flaherty to make room for Schoop would leave Steve Pearce as the closest remaining piece resembling a utility infielder.

The Orioles are too crowded in the outfield, but barring a trade or an injury sending a player to the disabled list, they’ll have no choice but to possibly lose two players by designating them for assignment.

Below is a look at the candidates in danger of losing their roster spots and a chance to vote in our poll to determine who should go with Gonzalez, Chen, and potentially Schoop all returning to the 25-man roster this week:

If the Orioles must part ways with two of the following, who would you pick?

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David Lough
Age: 29
Contract status: Under club control through the 2019 season
Argument for: Lough is arguably the second-best defensive outfielder on the club behind Adam Jones and has been used as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner.
Case against: The left-handed hitter has never developed at the plate and currently sports a .605 on-base plus slugging percentage while showing little ability to use his speed to consistently steal bases.

Chris Parmelee
Age: 27
Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season
Argument for: The 2006 first-round pick’s strong numbers at Triple-A Norfolk immediately carried over to the tune of three homers in his first two games with the Orioles last week.
Case against: The owner of an underwhelming .720 OPS in 923 major league plate appearances, Parmelee is 1-for-12 since going 5-for-7 with three homers to begin his run with the Orioles.

Steve Pearce
Age: 32
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: His ability to play four different positions brings needed versatility and his 2014 success (.930 OPS) is far more than most of the other candidates have ever accomplished in the majors.
Case against: Pearce has struggled to overcome a poor start and has seen his playing time dwindle, a sign that Showalter either has lost faith in him or is simply trying to evaluate his less-familiar pieces.

Nolan Reimold
Age: 31
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: Reimold has played good defense, shown speed, and displayed the plate discipline and power that once had the Orioles very excited about his potential to be an everyday player.
Case against: Even his biggest supporters have a tough time feeling confident that he’ll finally remain healthy, making you take pause before jettisoning other players off the roster in order to keep him.

Travis Snider
Age: 27
Contract status: Under club control through the 2016 season
Argument for: His .349 on-base percentage is second on the club behind only Manny Machado among regulars, and his defense has actually been solid since some early-season issues in right field.
Case against: The lefty hitter hasn’t shown nearly as much power as the Orioles would like to see, and he goes through prolonged stretches where he struggles to make good contact.

Delmon Young
Age: 29
Contract status: Free agent after the season
Argument for: The .271 batter is 3-for-9 as a pinch hitter after going 10-for-20 in that department a year ago and is among the American League leaders with eight outfield assists.
Case against: The veteran doesn’t inspire confidence in the field and is slugging just .343 with four walks to give him a .634 OPS, which is comparable to the likes of Pearce and ex-Oriole Alejandro De Aza.

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Thoughts on Tillman’s struggles, Pearce, Jones

Posted on 01 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Even as Orioles pitching took a step forward with the second-best team ERA in the American League in the month of May, staff ace Chris Tillman has been unable to shake his early-season woes.

The 27-year-old allowed six runs (five earned) in 4 2/3 innings in Sunday’s 9-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, dropping his record to 2-7 with a 5.94 ERA after he went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA a year ago. Many have wondered if Tillman’s back spasms last month have continued to linger — he’s no stranger to needing to manage his cranky back over the last few years — but the 6-foot-5 hurler insisted again Sunday that he’s fine from a health standpoint.

If Tillman isn’t dealing with a physical issue, then what’s been different for the right-hander in 2015?

It’s important to note that early-season struggles plagued Tillman a year ago before he posted a 2.38 ERA over his final 21 regular-season starts of 2014. In his first 13 starts of the season, he pitched to a 5.20 ERA and had two different starts that lasted just one inning apiece before an impressive stretch of 20 consecutive starts in which he allowed three or fewer earned runs.

There’s plenty of time for a pitcher who’s posted 200-plus innings in consecutive seasons to turn it around, meaning the Orioles must remain patient for the time being.

Another factor that’s clearly been a concern in the first two months is Tillman’s rate of 4.8 walks per nine innings, his worst since averaging 5.2 free passes per nine in 2011. Both innings in which Tampa Bay scored multiple runs against Tillman on Sunday involved a critical two-out walk, one to .077 hitter Nick Franklin in the second inning and another to slugger Evan Longoria after the starter had struck out the first two hitters of the fifth.

Tillman walked only 2.9 batters per nine innings last year and 3.0 in 2013 when he was named to his first All-Star team.

Perhaps the most interesting change from 2014 to now is the absence of veteran catcher Nick Hundley, who departed via free agency in the offseason. Hundley caught 18 of Tillman’s career-high 34 starts last season with the pitcher posting a 2.78 ERA in those outings. In contrast, Tillman had an inflated 5.29 mark in the seven starts in which Caleb Joseph caught.

It’s neither an excuse for Tillman nor an indictment of Joseph — who’s more than proven his defensive capabilities behind the plate in the last two seasons — but could there simply be some chemistry issues between the two? That’s not to suggest a personal rift by any means, but many of us have experienced times in life when we haven’t necessarily worked best with certain individuals for whatever reason.

In fairness to Joseph, Tillman sports a 4.19 ERA with him behind the plate this season while the starter gave up 15 earned runs in three starts when now ex-Oriole Ryan Lavarnway was catching.

Asked late last season about the frequent pairing of Tillman and Hundley, manager Buck Showalter made it clear he was uneasy about pitchers having personal catchers because it can act as a crutch. Even if Tillman isn’t as comfortable with Joseph behind the plate as he was with Hundley, he’s not one to make excuses and needs to be able to adjust to someone who’s had plenty of success with the rest of the pitching staff.

The idea of certain pitchers having personal catchers is nothing new as Dennis Martinez famously preferred Dave Skaggs over Rick Dempsey years ago. In 1997, backup Lenny Webster caught 30 of Scott Erickson’s 34 starts when the sinkerballer enjoyed his best season in Baltimore.

Of course, Hundley isn’t walking through that Orioles clubhouse after signing a two-year, $6.5 million contract with Colorado in early January. But perhaps the return of Matt Wieters will help Tillman regroup as he pitched to a 3.41 ERA in 28 starts with the veteran catcher behind the plate for him in 2013.

As it stands now, Wieters is slated to catch his first game with the Orioles in Cleveland on Friday night.

That also happens to be the next date for Tillman’s regular turn in the rotation.

First-pitch Pearce

Arguably the most frustrating moment of Sunday’s loss came in the bottom of the fifth when Steve Pearce grounded out to shortstop with the bases loaded and the Orioles trailing 6-2 to the Rays.

What made it worse was that Pearce swung at the first pitch — a split-fingered fastball from Jake Odorizzi — after the previous two hitters had walked on a total of nine pitches. It continues a surprising trend for Pearce, who is hitting just .189 but has been known for being a patient hitter throughout his career.

The 32-year-old is swinging at the first pitch in 33.1 percent of his 2015 plate appearances despite a career 22.5 percent mark and only swinging at the first pitch 24.5 percent of the time in his career 2014 campaign. This has contributed to his walk rate falling from 10.4 percent last year to just 7.3 percent this season, which is below the major league average.

He does have two key home runs when swinging at the first pitch in recent weeks, but his .222 average when connecting on the first pitch — that’s not including the number of times in which he’s falling behind in the count when not putting the ball in play — makes you wonder if he needs to return to a more patient approach. This and a .195 batting average on balls put in play (his career mark in that department is .286) explain why Pearce hasn’t come close to matching his career-best .930 on-base plus slugging percentage from a year ago.

Showalter and the Orioles love Pearce’s work ethic and versatility and are trying to remain patient that his fortunes will turn around, but they need him to start producing soon as he was a key cog on which they were counting after a largely-inactive offseason.

As Jones goes, so do Orioles

It’s unfair to attribute the successes or struggles of any club to one player, but it’s difficult to completely ignore how the Baltimore offense has aligned with center fielder Adam Jones so far in 2015.

In April, Jones posted a remarkable .400 average and 1.147 OPS with five homers and 19 RBIs while the Orioles ranked first in the American League in team OPS and were tied for first in home runs.

However, the four-time All-Star selection hit just one home run while posting a .239 average and .556 OPS in the month of May. Jones wasn’t alone in his struggles, of course, as the Orioles ranked last in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in May while scoring fewer runs than every club in the league except Boston.

Jones was bound to cool off from his absurd April production, but the Orioles obviously need his bat to turn around once he returns from a mild ankle sprain. It’s never as simple as one player being responsible for prosperity or shortcomings, but the club needs its best player and leader to get going for the summer months.

Road “w-O’s” must end

There was obvious disappointment that the Orioles didn’t take advantage of a stretch of 17 of 20 games played at home — going just 10-10 over that time — and now they will play 15 of their next 23 on the road.

Baltimore tied for the second-best away mark (46-35) in the AL last year, but an 8-14 road record this season is a major reason why the Orioles have hovered below .500 for much of the first two months. Of those eight road victories, four have come at Tropicana Field, which included two in a series moved from Camden Yards to St. Petersburg in which the Orioles acted as the home team and batted last.

Even if Showalter’s club simply wants to remain within striking distance of first place and the .500 mark, the road failures need to be reversed starting this week against Houston and Cleveland.

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Orioles activate infielder Cabrera from 15-day DL

Posted on 22 May 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rest of AL East best thing going for Orioles

Posted on 21 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It doesn’t take long to explain why the Orioles fell 4-2 to Seattle on Wednesday night, snapping an all-too-brief two-game winning streak.

A lineup that sleepwalked through seven innings, a few poor pitches in an otherwise solid seven-inning outing from Wei-Yin Chen, and an eighth-inning baserunning blunder from Jimmy Paredes all played major parts in the Orioles once again falling three games below .500 at 17-20. No matter how you slice it, the Orioles haven’t been able to put it all together as Memorial Day is nearly upon us.

“We haven’t played consistent baseball all year,” said Steve Pearce, who’s just one of several key players who have significantly underperformed so far in 2015. “It’s still early. We haven’t been playing good baseball all year and we’re still right [there in the standings]. We have a chance to turn this around; we’re not pressing yet. We’re only a quarter of the way through the season.”

Even with an array of injuries and significant concerns at the corner outfield spots, the Orioles find themselves just one game behind New York and Tampa Bay in the loss column for first place in the American League East. The best thing going for the Orioles is the performance of the rest of the division through the first 6 1/2 weeks of the 2015 season as all five teams lost on Wednesday.

After jumping out to a 21-12 start, the Yankees have now lost seven of eight with leadoff hitter and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury joining starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka on the 15-day disabled list. The Yankees are old, injury-prone, and too dependent on the back end of their bullpen, making it difficult to love their chances over a 162-game marathon.

So far, Boston has been the biggest disappointment in the AL East despite its spending spree over the winter. The pitching has improved of late — it still doesn’t inspire much confidence and already cost pitching coach Juan Nieves his job earlier this month — but a Red Sox lineup touted as baseball’s best entering the season has scored fewer runs than any club in the AL East.

The Toronto Blue Jays have hit as well as everyone predicted, but their pitching has been as poor as anyone could have feared, allowing the most runs in the league. Their poor play and reports of unrest in the clubhouse have led to speculation of manager John Gibbons’ job being in danger.

Under new manager Kevin Cash, the Rays have been the biggest surprise, overcoming a slew of injuries to begin the season with a 22-19 mark to pull into a first-place tie with New York. Tampa Bay has pitched well and scored more runs than most would have expected, but the season-ending loss of Alex Cobb and the prospects of Drew Smyly trying to rehab a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder will create doubt about the Rays’ long-term chances for prosperity.

Those realities do not mean that all will be fine for the Orioles as you can spell out their issues in a similar manner, but they do remind you that expressions of concern exist throughout the AL East. No team has separated itself from the pack to this point as it’s looking more likely that we’ll see an AL East champion fall shy of the 95-win mark for the first time since 2000 when the Yankees won only 87 contests.

For now, I’ll stand by my preseason prediction of the Orioles winning the AL East with 89 victories even though I share in the same concerns of many fans. But even if Baltimore isn’t the one left standing at the end of the season, I’m feeling confident about that win total getting it done for the winning club.

In short, you can be as concerned about the Orioles as you’d like after 37 games.

Just know that they’re not alone in what’s been an underwhelming AL East so far.

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