Tag Archive | "Tommy Hunter"

Britton continues coming up huge for Orioles bullpen

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Britton continues coming up huge for Orioles bullpen

Posted on 16 April 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Miguel Gonzalez earned the win and Tommy Hunter secured his fourth save, but it was Zach Britton who deserved a gold star for his work in the Orioles’ 3-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.

The left-handed pitcher moved his streak of scoreless innings to 11 1/3 to begin the season after blanking the Rays over three frames to bridge the gap from Gonzalez’s five-inning start to Hunter in the ninth inning as Baltimore swept an abbreviated two-game set in unseasonably cold conditions on Wednesday afternoon. Britton wasn’t perfect in his longest appearance of the season, but his strikeout of Wil Myers on a low-and-away sinking fastball in the seventh not only thwarted a bases-loaded scoring chance but provided the latest example of just how dependable the 26-year-old has been.

Entering spring training without any minor-league options remaining and coming off two straight disappointing seasons in which he battled a tender shoulder and inconsistency, Britton has embraced his middle-relief role while being one of the Orioles’ most valuable players thus far. He’s allowed just four hits and has struck out seven while walking four in his 11 1/3 innings this season.

“The first weapon is that he can get left- and right-handed hitters out,” manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s huge for a relief pitcher. He’s in a good place right now. You can see it presentation-wise as much as physically. We had other people who could pitch, but the situation puts you in a nice little rocking chair sometimes when you have a left-handed pitcher who can defend himself against right-handers. And that comes from his starting background and also comes from a pretty good sinker.”

Britton’s effectiveness with a sinker consistently in the low to mid-90s has led some to question whether the southpaw is worthy of another chance in the starting rotation. Showalter was comfortable in allowing Britton to throw 42 pitches since he hadn’t pitched since a 30-pitch outing on Saturday, but this development was particularly interesting given that the Orioles used only two relievers on Monday, were rained out Tuesday, and will enjoy another off-day Thursday before beginning a four-game set against the Boston Red Sox over the weekend.

Beyond right-hander Evan Meek, who pitched 1 2/3 innings Monday and was dealing with flu-like symptoms over the last two days, the rest of the bullpen was fresh even though Showalter alluded to other relievers potentially feeling the effects of the bug that’s been going through the Baltimore clubhouse over the last week.

Of course, Showalter isn’t going to broadcast any potential desire to stretch out Britton to the point that he would once again become a starting option and the latest turn through the rotation — sans Ubaldo Jimenez — provided improved results, but there’s no harm in having a relief option that can bring both length and results in close games like Britton has done. It’s the same way the Orioles used Arthur Rhodes — another former left-handed starting prospect — with great results in their 1996 and 1997 playoff seasons.

Before arguing that Britton should move into the rotation, it’s important to acknowledge that what he’s done while facing hitters one time through the order is a different story from being entrusted to retire batters three or four different times as a starter. Assuming success in relief translates into being an effective starting pitcher is often fool’s gold, and Britton has found a niche working out of the bullpen.

The temptation is certainly there to envision him as a starter again, even if the memory of his 4.95 earned run average, 1.725 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), and meager 4.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in eight appearances (seven of them starts) last season make it unsettling to try to mess with something that isn’t broken. But Britton hasn’t looked this good since his rookie season in 2011 when he was 5-2 with a 2.35 ERA in his first 10 starts and appeared on his way to becoming a mainstay in the Baltimore rotation.

No changes in the starting rotation are imminent — nor should be at this early stage of the season — but Britton has provided Showalter with a major bullet out of the bullpen who could become an intriguing alternative if the likes of Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, or Bud Norris slip in the coming weeks. The return of Troy Patton from suspension in the near future will also add another left-handed arm to the bullpen.

Regardless of what happens, the Orioles are pleased to simply see Britton back on track.

“He’s throwing the ball with a lot of confidence,” Hunter said. “He’s got a game plan, and he’s sticking to it. Him and [catcher Matt Wieters] are on a good page right now. I’ll pat him on the butt and hope he keeps it up.”

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Orioles clear first hurdle of ninth-inning experiment to start 2014

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Orioles clear first hurdle of ninth-inning experiment to start 2014

Posted on 31 March 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The first trial of the great experiment that is the ninth inning was a success in the Orioles’ season-opening win over the Boston Red Sox on Monday.

Manager Buck Showalter sent new closer Tommy Hunter to the mound with a 2-1 lead and the 27-year-old eventually shut the door on the defending World Series champions despite some nervous moments along the way. There will be other uneasy times as a club with postseason aspirations tries to fill the void of Jim Johnson’s 101 saves over the last two years with a bullpen that had just 13 combined major league saves entering Monday.

The Orioles can add one more to that total as Hunter worked around a leadoff hit by pitch and a one-out single before retiring designated hitter David Ortiz — gulp — on a fly out to left and right fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. on a called strike three to send the Orioles to their 11th victory in their last 14 season openers. It took Hunter 22 pitches to get three outs, but there was no better way to acclimate him than against an offense notorious for wearing out pitchers with foul balls and deep counts.

So far, so good.

“That was fun. Hopefully, it’s like that a lot more,” Hunter said. “I had to earn it. That is a way of life in baseball. A one-run game to start the season off against the defending world champs. Here we are.”

Hunter passed his first test and showed the bulldog toughness you often find in successful closers, but there’s no telling whether his propensity for giving up the long ball or struggles against left-handed batters will ultimately lead to his undoing as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man. As Showalter said prior to Monday’s game, the hard-throwing right-hander is merely the first to receive the opportunity to do the job with the likes of Darren O’Day and Ryan Webb waiting in the wings if he falters.

In fact, the first glimpse at the rest of the bullpen was interesting as Showalter turned to left-hander Zach Britton for two strong innings in which he enticed six ground-ball outs. The Baltimore manager then surprisingly handed the ball to newcomer Evan Meek — a non-roster invitee to spring training — to begin the eighth before the former Pittsburgh Pirates reliever walked two batters and forced Showalter to bring in lefty specialist Brian Matusz for the final out of the inning.

Meek had pitched nine scoreless innings in Grapefruit League play to make the club out of spring training, but Showalter’s confidence in a pitcher who spent the entire 2013 campaign in the minor leagues was surprising with O’Day and Webb available.

“It’s not easy,” said Showalter of his bullpen’s four shutout innings. “It’s not always going to look aesthetically pleasing, but it’s a hard thing to do. And you’re playing the world champions and there’s a fine margin for error, whether it be Zach Britton or Evan Meek or Brian Matusz.”

Perhaps his eighth-inning use of Meek was a sign that the Orioles manager himself is still trying to gain a feel for a bullpen that lacks the experienced late-inning man on which you can depend. Baltimore tried to address that need in its pursuit of veteran closer Grant Balfour this winter, but when that deal was squashed, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette decided against throwing money at a veteran reliever with gaudy save totals.

That decision likely made it possible for the Orioles to sign left fielder and designated hitter Nelson Cruz — the offensive hero of Monday’s win with his seventh-inning home run — and starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, but it remains to be seen whether the ninth inning becomes the Orioles’ Achilles heel in their quest to advance to the playoffs for the second time in three years. Deciding to jettison Johnson and his nine blown saves from a year ago was one thing, but leaving such inexperience in the closer role appears to be a treacherous path.

Of course, the club the Orioles defeated showed it can be done as Koji Uehara eventually settled into the ninth inning last year to save 21 games on Boston’s path to the title, but even the 38-year-old Japanese pitcher entered 2013 with 14 career saves, the same number the Orioles’ entire bullpen had at the close of business on Monday.

The first venture with Hunter was a success, but there must be more before anyone will rest easy in the ninth.

“I’d like to say they’ll get easier, but they won’t,” Showalter said. “One-run leads in the American League East — home or away — are hard to finish. You know you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. We gave it ours, and we were fortunate to come out with one more run than they did and 27 outs.”

 

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Markakis plays on Opening Day despite neck issue

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Markakis plays on Opening Day despite neck issue

Posted on 31 March 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Beginning the 2014 season with hopes of returning to the postseason for the second time in three years, the Orioles received good news prior to their season opener against the Boston Red Sox with the news of right fielder Nick Markakis being in the lineup.

Dealing with a stiff neck over the weekend, the 30-year-old took batting practice and appeared to have no limitations swinging the bat before manager Buck Showalter officially inserted him in the lineup in the leadoff spot. The Baltimore skipper did not sound overly concerned about Markakis’ status in his pre-game comments, but he expressed the desire to be cautious without buying into the hype of Markakis wanting to play on Opening Day.

Even though left-hander Jon Lester will take the hill for Boston, the Orioles will send Ryan Flaherty to third base with rookie Jonathan Schoop playing second base. There had been some thought that the left-handed hitting Flaherty would sit against the southpaw with utility man Steve Lombardozzi factoring into the season-opening order. Flaherty received only 25 plate appearances against left-handed pitching last year and went 5-for-23 with a home run.

Schoop will become the first Orioles rookie since Luis Hernandez in 2008 to be in the starting lineup on Opening Day.

It was the spring’s worst-kept secret, but Showalter confirmed Monday morning that he informed right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter that he will begin the year as the Baltimore closer. The manager also acknowledged that nothing is set in stone as he has other bullpen candidates in mind as ninth-inning options should Hunter not succeed.

Right-hander Josh Stinson will begin the season as the club’s primary long reliever, but lefties Zach Britton and Brian Matusz are also available to provide more length after being stretched out during spring training. Of course, the Orioles could always look at No. 4 and No. 5 starters Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris to give them extra options out of the bullpen if necessary with the abundance of early-season days off.

While the Orioles monitored Markakis’ status over the weekend, the Red Sox announced that outfielder Shane Victorino was heading to the 15-day disabled list, prompting Boston to recall outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. to replace him on the 25-man roster.

Here are the Opening Day lineups:

BOSTON
LF Daniel Nava
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
1B Mike Napoli
LF Mike Carp
CF Grady Sizemore
SS Xander Bogaerts
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Will Middlebrooks

SP Jon Lester (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

BALTIMORE
RF Nick Markakis
SS J.J. Hardy
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
LF Nelson Cruz
C Matt Wieters
DH Delmon Young
3B Ryan Flaherty
2B Jonathan Schoop

SP Chris Tillman (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the afternoon for live updates and analysis from Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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Davis, four other Orioles agree to contracts to avoid arbitration

Posted on 17 January 2014 by WNST Staff

Of the six Orioles players eligible for arbitration this winter, five have reportedly agreed to deals ahead of Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline for each side to submit binding arbitration figures.

First baseman Chris Davis, right-handed pitchers Tommy Hunter and Bud Norris, and left-handed pitchers Brian Matusz and Troy Patton all agreed to one-year contracts to avoid arbitration. However, catcher Matt Wieters and the Orioles will exchange figures with a hearing to be scheduled next month.

Of the five players to reach contract agreements, Davis will receive the biggest raise as his $3.3 million salary from 2013 will reportedly increase to $10.35 million with additional performance bonuses, according to CBS Sports. The 27-year-old hit a club-record 53 home runs last season and finished third in American League MVP voting.

Davis is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.

Hunter will see his salary increase from $1.82 million last season to $3 million while Norris will make $5.3 million compared to $3 million in 2013.

Matusz agreed to a $2.4 million contract, an $800,000 raise from a year ago, while Patton will make $1.27 million after collecting $815,000 a year ago.

Wieters made $5.5 million last season and would become the first Orioles player since pitcher Brad Bergesen in 2012 to take the club to arbitration if he fails to reach an agreement. The sides having the choice to continue working on an agreement prior to then.

The 27-year-old catcher is scheduled to become a free agent after 2015.

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O’s tender contracts to six, agree to terms with Pearce, Reimold

Posted on 03 December 2013 by WNST Staff

The Orioles today announced that they have tendered contracts to six of their arbitration eligible players: CA MATT WIETERS1B CHRIS DAVISRHP’s TOMMY HUNTER and BUD NORRIS and LHP’s BRIAN MATUSZ and TROY PATTON. Additionally, OF’s STEVE PEARCE and NOLAN REIMOLD have agreed to terms on contracts for 2014, and RHP EDDIE GAMBOA and OF JASON PRIDIE were not tendered contracts by the club.

Wieters, 27, batted .235/.287/.417 with 22 home runs and 79 RBI in 148 games in 2013.

Davis, 27, finished third in the American League MVP voting, leading the major leagues with 53 home runs and 138 RBI while batting .286/.370/.634 in 160 games.

Hunter, 27, was 6-5 with a 2.81 ERA (86.1IP, 27ER) in 68 relief appearances.

Norris, 28, went 4-3 with a 4.80 ERA (50.2IP, 27ER) in 11 games (nine starts) for the Orioles after being acquired from Houston on July 31. He went 10-12 with a 4.18 ERA (176.2IP, 82ER) in 32 games (30 starts) in 2013.

Matusz, 26, was 2-1 with a 3.53 ERA (51.0IP, 20ER) in 65 appearances.

Patton, 28, went 2-0 with a 3.70 ERA (56.0IP, 23ER) in 56 outings.

Pearce, 30, hit .261/.362/.420 with four home runs and 13 RBI in 44 games.

Reimold, 30, played in 40 games, batting .195/.250/.335 with five home runs and 12 RBI.

Gamboa, 28, had his contract selected on November 20. He went a combined 6-11 with a 4.43 ERA (142.1IP, 70ER) and 114 strikeouts for Double-A Bowie (16 GS) and Triple-A Norfolk (nine GS) in 2013.

Pridie, 30, had his contract selected on September 25 after batting .269/.333/.434 in 118 games for Triple-A Norfolk. He went 2-for-10 in four games with the Orioles.

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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

Posted on 16 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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

Standing at 53-43 and sending five representatives to Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, the Orioles had quite the memorable first 3 1/2 months of the season filled with plenty of highs and also some lows.

Before manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles get back to business in Texas on Friday, I’ve composed my list of All-Star break awards. Some are more serious than others, but there was plenty to remember over the first 96 games of the 2013 season.

Most Valuable Player: Chris Davis
Skinny: Manny Machado deserves more consideration here than most will give him if you take his remarkable defense into account, but the Orioles first baseman is on pace to break franchise records for RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS, extra-base hits, and total bases as well as surpass the American League home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. Who else could it really be?

Best Starting Pitcher: Miguel Gonzalez
Skinny: Chris Tillman received the All-Star nod, but Gonzalez has been the Orioles’ best starter, especially since posting a 2.88 earned run average in his last 10 starts upon returning from a May stint on the 15-day disabled list. The 29-year-old posted seven straight quality starts heading into the All-Star break and his 3.48 ERA is the best in the starting rotation.

Best Relief Pitcher: Tommy Hunter
Skinny: Darren O’Day earned consideration here, but Hunter’s ability to pitch more than one inning has saved the bullpen numerous times. With Luis Ayala traded early in the season and Pedro Strop unable to bounce back from his late-season struggles from a year ago, the Orioles would have been in major trouble with their bullpen without Hunter’s 2.41 ERA and 52 1/3 innings of work.

Biggest Surprise: Manny Machado
Skinny: With Davis taking aim at the record books, it’s difficult not to give him the nod here, but I would have predicted Davis to be more likely for a breakout season than Machado, who just celebrated his 21st birthday less than two weeks ago. We now see the third baseman as a doubles machine with a shot at the single-season record, but many thought Showalter had gotten too much Florida sun when he put the unproven Machado in the No. 2 lineup spot at the start of the season.

Biggest Disappointment: Jason Hammel
Skinny: The Opening Day starter was counted on to be the de facto ace and has instead looked like the weak link in the current starting rotation. His 5.24 ERA is worse than his career mark, but most of his other numbers align closely with his career statistics prior to his arrival in Baltimore last season.

Most Overrated Performer: Nick Markakis
Skinny: The Orioles right fielder was close to being voted into the All-Star Game, but he is on pace for career lows in batting average and OPS and has become more of a singles hitter in recent years except for his 2012 injury-plagued campaign. Markakis is still a good player, but the clamoring for his inclusion in the Midsummer Classic was more about his popularity and less about his production. Many will argue that catcher Matt Wieters deserves this distinction, but few tried to say he was deserving of All-Star honors with his poor offensive output this season.

Most Underrated Performer: Nate McLouth
Skinny: Even McLouth’s biggest supporters had to wonder if the second-half success he enjoyed last season was a fluke, but the left fielder continues to be a spark plug at the top of the order and on the base paths with a team-leading 24 stolen bases. He doesn’t do anything that blows you away, but McLouth makes a substantial contribution just about every night, whether it shows up in the box score or not.

Most Improved Player: Ryan Flaherty
Skinny: The second baseman hit .133 in his first 102 plate appearances before being demoted to Triple-A Norfolk and has batted .300 in 94 plate appearances since being recalled at the end of May. The simple fact that many are clamoring for Flaherty to play over veteran Brian Roberts says all you need to know about his improvement since the start of the season.

Biggest Injury: Wei-Yin Chen’s strained right oblique
Skinny: The Taiwanese lefty went down with the injury in mid-May, leaving a major hole in the rotation for nearly two months. Ironically, the long layoff may pay off in the long run for Chen, who tired down the stretch last year and should now feel strong for the remainder of the season after less wear and tear on his pitching arm.

Most Important Win: A 2-1 victory over the Yankees thanks to Adam Jones’ homer off Mariano Rivera on July 7
Skinny: Even Showalter downplayed the significance of the dramatic victory in early July, but the Orioles were on the verge of dropping their third straight one-run game to New York to complete a 1-5 road trip before Jones tagged the greatest closer of all time for his first blown save at Yankee Stadium since 2010.

Most Disappointing Loss: Jim Johnson’s meltdown in Toronto on May 26
Skinny: The Orioles sent Johnson to the mound with a 5-2 lead and needed only three outs to take three of four from the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. A double, two singles, a walk, and a Munenori Kawasaki double later, the closer had blown his fourth save in his last five chances and the Orioles had suffered a stunning 6-5 loss on a Sunday afternoon.

Most Exciting Moment: Chris Dickerson’s walk-off homer against the Tigers on May 31
Skinny: All-Star Game starter Max Scherzer had pitched brilliantly for eight innings before Detroit manager Jim Leyland turned the game over to Jose Valverde with a 5-3 lead in the ninth. Before an electric crowd of over 46,000, the Orioles staged a rally as Markakis hit a homer to lead off the inning and the part-time player Dickerson hammered a three-run blast into the right-center bleachers for one of the most exciting regular-season moments in Camden Yards history.

The Kevin Gregg-Michael Gonzalez Fireman Award: Pedro Strop
Skinny: The Orioles tried to stick with the volatile but talented Strop as long as they could, but you knew time was running short for the 28-year-old on June 29 when Showalter felt the need to warm up O’Day in his bullpen as the struggling reliever was working the ninth inning with an 11-3 lead over the Yankees. Sporting a 7.25 ERA in 29 appearances, Strop was dealt along with Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs a few days later in exchange for starting pitcher Scott Feldman.

The Justin Duchscherer “Yes, He Was an Oriole” Award: Mike Belfiore
Skinny: If you’re asking who Belfiore is, you’re probably not alone as the left-handed reliever has twice been recalled to the 25-man roster this season but hasn’t appeared in a game. Chances are good he’s near the top of the list of players currently on the 40-man roster who could be designated for assignment should the need for a roster spot arise, but Belfiore does have a 3.67 ERA for Triple-A Norfolk this season.

The Jack Cust Baserunning Award: Alexi Casilla’s ninth-inning blunder against the Red Sox
Skinny: Trying to rally against Boston closer Andrew Bailey on June 15, the Orioles sent the speedy Casilla into the game to run for J.J. Hardy at first base with one out. After Ryan Flaherty lined a ball sharply to right fielder Shane Victorino, Casilla was inexplicably standing on third base as he was doubled off first to end the game. The utility infielder said after the game he knew the number of outs and simply misread the ball off Flaherty’s bat, but the play may have gone down as the Orioles’ worst pinch-running debacle since Manny Alexander was picked off upon running for Cal Ripken in a 1996 game that then went into extra innings.

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Positive signs all around for the O’s

Posted on 03 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

The Orioles earned their 48th win of the season tonight with a 4-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. Tonight’s game was a complete 180 from last night’s 5-2 loss. Tomorrow, the teams will square off at 2:10 p.m. to determine the winner of the series.

Tonight’s game was filled with positive signs. Scott Feldman made his Orioles debut and was as advertised. Feldman went six innings while giving up two earned runs and six hits. Feldman will be able to eat up more innings but the fact that he was thrown into the fire and performed well was impressive to me.

As always, the bullpen was stellar. Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter, and Jim Johnson pitched one inning a piece and gave up just one combined hit through the three remaining innings.

How could there be an Orioles blog without mentioning Chris Davis? The man is crazy good. We are truly watching one of the greatest regular seasons in baseball history! Davis scored a run, knocked in three more, and is now hitting for an average of .331.

Davis has hit nine RBI in his last four games which date back to June 29 against the New York Yankees. Davis’s stats will continue on their record pace and could even improve. If Brian Roberts can be productive at the bottom of the order, he will act as another lead off man which in turn will put more men on base for the offense.

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Orioles acquire OF Thames from Mariners

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Orioles acquire OF Thames from Mariners

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Ryan Chell

While awaiting the big roster move today involving the activation of 2B Brian Roberts from the 60-day DL, the Orioles made another small move on Sunday.

The Orioles acquired OF Eric Thames from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Bowie INF Ty Kelly.

Thames, 26, was designated for assignment by the Mariners on June 22nd in order to make room for OF Franklin Gutierrez off the 60-day DL.

Thames, who was hitting .295 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs for Seattle’s Triple A Tacoma Rainiers, was optioned to the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides.

The former Blue Jay has two years of major league service, and has a career .250 BA, 21 HRs and 62 RBIs.

Thames has not played since June 15th after suffering a fractured left hand colliding with an infielder. The infielder spiked his hand with his cleats.

Thames will report to the Orioles training facility in Sarasota and will resume baseball activities next week.

Thames, who the Orioles have shown interest in previously, had an interesting exchange with the Orioles last season.

Not only did Thames become the 58th player to hit a HR onto Eutaw Street when he connected off reliever Tommy Hunter last April, he also became quite the viral video when an attempt to catch a foul ball off the bat of 1B Chris Davis caused his cleats to let off sparks when his shoes hit the garage door in the right field corner.

Kelly, a utility man playing mostly 3B for the Baysox, was hitting .283 AVG, 1 HR, 47 RBI for Bowie. He also had four SB’s and 21 doubles.

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

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

Posted on 18 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing doubles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suffering at second base

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

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Strop’s collapse exposes concerning truth about Orioles bullpen

Posted on 12 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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BALTIMORE — It’s only getting worse for Orioles relief pitcher Pedro Strop.

Fresh off a stint on the 15-day disabled list with what was labeled a lower back strain — many have drawn their owns conclusions on the injury — Strop displayed the same form seen over the first two months of the season Wednesday as he allowed four earned runs and saw his ERA balloon to 7.58 while retiring just one batter in the seventh inning. The implosion turned what was a 4-2 Orioles lead into an eventual 9-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

Despite a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a slider with good movement that enabled him to serve as an elite member of the Baltimore bullpen through the first 4 1/2 months of the 2012 season, Strop is looking more and more like a pitcher whose time with the Orioles is running out.

“Not good,” Strop said in an interview with MASN before leaving the clubhouse as the rest of the media talked to manager Buck Showalter. “Only thing I can say. I couldn’t do the job.”

The Orioles aren’t hiding from Strop’s problems, evident by their decision to place him on the DL and circumvent the reality of the right-hander being out of options. Manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair used the 15-day period as a way for Strop to work on his mechanics in hopes of improving his command after he walked 14 batters in 17 2/3 innings through his first 22 appearances.

However, the organization decided not to send Strop on a minor-league rehab assignment that could have lasted up to 30 days and would have allowed him to continue working on adjustments to his mechanics while rebuilding his confidence against minor-league hitters. There was some thought of that possibility before last week’s oblique injury to Steve Johnson, which prompted the club to activate Strop instead of looking to Triple-A Norfolk for another option.

Even before Wednesday’s implosion, it was perplexing to see the Orioles forgo that strategy with nearly everyone concluding his DL stint was more about ineffectiveness than any legitimate health concern.

It’s understandable to not want to give up on a talented 28-year-old who only became a pitcher in 2006 after beginning his professional career as a shortstop. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette knows at least a few clubs would take a chance on Strop should he be placed on waivers in hopes of getting him to the minor leagues, but the Orioles are also a contending club in the American League East that needs production from every player on the 25-man roster.

“He’s just not getting results,” Showalter said. “He understands it. Nobody cares more about pitching well for this team than Pete.”

It’s easy to criticize Showalter for turning to the volatile Strop after starter Jason Hammel allowed a single to Alberto Callaspo and walked Brad Hawpe on four pitches to begin the seventh inning, but a quick inventory of the bullpen made it easy to see Showalter’s options were limited at best as he acknowledged “two or three” relievers were unavailable without revealing names. Closer Jim Johnson had pitched in three straight games and Tommy Hunter had thrown a total of 51 pitches on Sunday and Monday.

Showalter wouldn’t reveal his late-inning plans when asked, but that presumably left Darren O’Day available for the ninth inning and lefty Brian Matusz to pitch the eighth. As a result, Showalter faced the prospects of sending a tiring Hammel out for the seventh with 94 pitches under his belt and having Strop and lefty Troy Patton — who’s also struggled this season — as his options if the starter ran into trouble. Showalter was rolling the dice for a quick inning by Hammel, but the right-hander was obviously gassed before being replaced by Strop.

Perhaps the Orioles manager could have resisted the urge to use Hammel — who wasn’t exactly dominating hitters despite a statistically-effective outing through six innings — with the thought of a fresh inning with the bases empty being more conducive to Strop having success, but that’s looking with 20-20 hindsight. The reality is Showalter didn’t have great choices at his disposal in the seventh.

“I was hoping [Hammel] could get us through seven, but it wasn’t there,” Showalter said. “That’s kind of where we were. We keep a pretty good log on innings pitched and [pitchers warming up in the bullpen], and I’m not going to put anybody in harm’s way.”

The real issue with the Orioles bullpen is more concerning than the individual struggles of Strop. Beyond the reliable quartet of Johnson, O’Day, Matusz, and Hunter, the Orioles have three other pitchers in the bullpen — Strop, Patton, and Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland — that they can’t really trust in important situations. All have long-term potential to varying degrees, but none can be moved off the 25-man roster without significant risk of losing them.

In fairness, McFarland has pitched respectably as a long reliever in blowout situations, but that’s a role typically held by a pitcher who can easily be moved on and off the roster to address a club’s needs at a given point in the season. It’s a major reason why we saw the one-and-done approach applied with several ineffective starting pitchers earlier in the season and it has further hamstrung the roster flexibility that Showalter and Duquette enjoy having.

The Orioles’ problems in middle relief have led to a heavier dependence on their best relievers, which jeopardizes the club’s long-term viability for the second half of the season. It’s not uncommon for even the best teams in baseball to have shaky options beyond the top three or four pitchers in the bullpen, but the keystone of the Orioles’ 2012 success included the effectiveness of middle relievers like Luis Ayala and Patton in the sixth and seventh innings that spared other late-inning options on occasion.

Baltimore needs improvement from its middle relievers or starting pitching — preferably both — to improve its chances in a tight division in which fourth-place Tampa Bay trailed first-place Boston by only four games entering play on Wednesday.

“We can’t pitch the same guys every night,” he said. “It just doesn’t work, and [Strop] was one of those guys for us last year and has been at times this year, and we hope that he will again. He pitched well and got physically fine and had a couple really good outings, as you saw. It just wasn’t there for him today.”

Bullpens are typically quite fluid over the course of a season, but the Orioles currently have just two pitchers (Matusz and O’Day) with remaining minor-league options and they obviously aren’t going anywhere. That means time is running out for Strop — you can say the same for Patton — to right himself after roughly four months of struggles going back to last year’s regular season.

The talent is there, but the Orioles need last year’s effectiveness to resurface.

They don’t have the flexibility to wait much longer.

 

 

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