Tag Archive | "Tommy Hunter"

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Orioles activate Hunter from DL, option Meek to Norfolk

Posted on 08 June 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles announced Sunday that they have reinstated right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter from the 15-day disabled list and optioned right-handed pitcher Evan Meek to Triple-A Norfolk.

Hunter, 27, was placed on the 15-day DL retroactive to May 21 with a left groin strain. He has gone 1-1 with 11 saves and a 6.06 ERA (16.1IP, 11ER) in 19 games for the Orioles.

Meek, 31, is 0-2 with a 6.39 ERA (12.2IP, 9ER) in 13 games for the Orioles this season.

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Struggling Orioles reliever Hunter lands on DL with groin injury

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Struggling Orioles reliever Hunter lands on DL with groin injury

Posted on 22 May 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A week after surrendering the closer job due to his early-season struggles, Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left groin strain.

The right-hander said he suffered the strain while throwing prior to Wednesday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hunter was unavailable on Wednesday night and was replaced on the 25-man roster by right-hander Preston Guilmet, who had a brief stint with the Orioles earlier this month before being optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk on May 13.

“Anytime you do anything to move it around, it’s going to be sore,” Hunter said prior to Thursday’s series opener against the Cleveland Indians. “I shut it down as soon as it happened, so I went in and got treatment and showed up today.”

Hunter has a history of groin issues that dates back to his days with the Texas Rangers as the 27-year-old had a stint on the DL that lasted two months, but manager Buck Showalter is optimistic that the club was being proactive in shutting down the struggling reliever immediately to allow him to return quickly.

Named the Baltimore closer at the end of spring training, Hunter has a 6.06 earned run average and was 11-for-14 in converting save opportunities, but consecutive blown saves last week prompted Showalter to remove the hard-throwing pitcher from the role. Left-hander Zach Britton has converted the only situation the Orioles have had since Hunter blew a save against the Detroit Tigers on May 13.

It remains unclear whether the reliever will remain with the club for the next road trip or travel to Sarasota to continue treatment and rehab for the injury. Hunter made it known that the groin strain was not what was causing his struggles over the first two months of the season as he’s posted a 1.84 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in 19 appearances spanning 16 1/3 innings.

“There is really no excuses for those [games], sorry,” Hunter said. “If that is what everyone is fishing for. I apologize.”

The 26-year-old Guilmet has appeared in two games for the Orioles this season, striking out three without allowing a run in 1 2/3 innings. Showalter was hopeful that Guilmet could provide some length out of the bullpen if necessary after Chris Tillman was knocked out in the second inning of Wednesday’s game at Pittsburgh.

Davis healthy and expecting

First baseman Chris Davis hopes to build on the momentum of Tuesday night’s three-homer performance in Pittsburgh and says the strained oblique that landed him on the 15-day DL in late April is no longer a factor as he tries to bounce back from a slow start to the 2014 season.

The 2013 All-Star selection quipped that his left elbow was hurting after being hit by a pitch on Wednesday, but his oblique has held up well since returning from the DL on May 11.

“The first couple of games I came back, I don’t want to say it was stiff, but it was almost like it was rusty,” Davis said. “I hadn’t done anything for a couple of weeks. But it hasn’t bothered me. There were a couple times this last series when I took some hard check swings, but stopping [my swing] was something that killed me. I didn’t feel it, so it’s good to know that it is behind me.”

Davis’ wife, Jill, is expecting the couple’s first child and is scheduled to be induced on Sunday morning, meaning the Orioles are planning for Davis to miss games on Sunday and Monday before rejoining the club in Milwaukee. Of course, that timetable would change if she goes into labor prior to then, and Davis will be placed on the paternity list, which allows a player to be removed from the roster for up to three days.

Infielders Jemile Weeks and Steve Lombardozzi are considered the prime candidates to take Davis’ place on the roster.

Santana making more progress

Veteran left-hander Johan Santana continues to impress in his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery as he threw 58 pitches in a four-inning outing in an extended spring training game.

Santana allowed one run on a home run and his velocity was once again in the upper 80s as his fastball was clocked as high as 90 miles per hour. Santana is expected to pitch in one more extended spring game before being assigned to pitch for an affiliate.

After signing the former two-time American League Cy Young Award winner in early March, the Orioles estimated that Santana would need until early June to continue rehabbing his surgically-repaired left shoulder, a timetable that appears to be very accurate as he continues making progress and increasing his velocity.

More baby news

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and his wife, Amy, welcomed a baby boy named Colt shortly after midnight on Thursday morning.

 

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Orioles add veteran reliever Bell to minor league deal

Posted on 17 May 2014 by WNST Staff

The Baltimore Orioles perhaps added another turn to their already tumultuous closer situation Friday.

The Birds added veteran reliever Heath Bell via a minor league contract according to a report from FoxSports.com. The 36 year old is expected to report to AAA Norfolk Saturday after passing a physical.

The three time All-Star has 136 career saves now in his 11th major league season. Bell made 13 appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays this year, allowing 14 earned runs over 17.1 innings pitched.

The decision to sign the hard-throwing righty was likely aided by the recent struggles of O’s closer Tommy Hunter. Since last Saturday, Hunter blew saves in each of his two appearances-including the Orioles’ 4-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers Tuesday night.

Hunter appeared to have been replaced in the role by lefty Zach Britton Thursday night. Britton retired the side (something Hunter has not done all season) in protecting the team’s 2-1 win over the Kansas City Royals.

Manager Buck Showalter has been non-committal about the situation in recent days.

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No easy answer for Orioles to solve closer dilemma

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No easy answer for Orioles to solve closer dilemma

Posted on 14 May 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles didn’t need a closer Wednesday afternoon as they were swept by the Detroit Tigers in a 7-5 final, but manager Buck Showalter offered few clues as to who might be taking the ball the next time his club has a save situation.

Struggling incumbent Tommy Hunter wasn’t ruled out by the Baltimore manager prior to the series finale against Detroit, but Showalter implied he would not receive the same leash as former Orioles closer Jim Johnson. Before being traded to Oakland over the winter, Johnson blew a career-high nine saves in 2013 but was only a year removed from an All-Star campaign in which he collected a franchise-record 51 saves for the playoff-bound Orioles.

“The difference between Tommy and Jimmy is, Jimmy had a track record,” said Showalter, alluding to the former entering the 2014 season with only four career saves. “Tommy does, too, in certain other things. So, there’s some unknown with where it is we’ll go with Tommy.”

Sporting a 6.60 earned run average and 1.87 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) so far this year, Hunter is on thin ice to put it mildly, but the Orioles knew this was a possibility when they elected not to sign an established closer after a two-year, $14 million agreement with Grant Balfour was scrapped due to a failed physical over the winter. The problem is figuring out where to turn next if three blown saves in 14 tries are enough in Showalter’s mind to demote Hunter from the role — at least temporarily.

Many have called for a closer-by-committee approach in which Showalter can play the matchups on any given night, but such a strategy only thrives with starting pitching that consistently works deep into games to leave some combination of the club’s top relievers available for the ninth inning and the opposing hitters it might bring. If the starting pitching is substandard,  a manager must then lean more on long and middle relief for the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, decreasing the likelihood of even getting to the ninth inning with a narrow lead intact.

Of course, the possibility of an outside addition exists as the Orioles still sit in first place in the American League East, but here’s an assessment of the most likely alternatives currently on the 25-man roster who would be in line to receive the ball in the ninth inning instead of Hunter:

RHP Darren O’Day (0.60 ERA, two saves)
Case for: The veteran sidearm pitcher has the longest track record with Showalter and has averaged 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, proving he misses plenty of bats despite his unorthodox style and underwhelming velocity.
Case against: Left-handed hitters batted .309 against him last season and have posted a .300 average so far this year, making him an easy target for opposing managers to use left-handed pinch hitters in the ninth inning.
Is he a good option to try next? Maybe, but O’Day would need to recapture the success he had against lefties in 2012 when they hit only .205 against him.

LHP Zach Britton (0.84 ERA)
Case for: The 26-year-old’s sinker has been devastating against nearly everyone he’s faced as right-handed hitters are batting .167 and lefties only .156 against him in 21 1/3 innings this season.
Case against: The left-hander has only been a reliever for seven weeks, and moving him to a defined closer role would mean he would no longer be stretched out enough to be able to save the bullpen as he has on a number of occasions already this season.
Is he a good option to try next? Yes, he’s the perfect example of riding the hot hand even if you’re concerned about rattling his confidence for the remainder of the season if he fails in the role.

RHP Ryan Webb (3.94 ERA)
Case for: His career splits against left-handers (.284) and right-handers (.238) are balanced enough to suggest he might be able to handle regular appearances in the ninth, and his sinker also plays well at Camden Yards.
Case against: His lifetime 1.36 WHIP is on the high side and his career 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings isn’t ideal for the closer role where you typically want a pitcher to miss more bats.
Good option to try next? Yes, Webb’s splits aren’t dramatically skewed to one side of the plate or the other unlike other candidates currently in the bullpen, and he has more relief experience than most in the Baltimore bullpen.

LHP Brian Matusz (3.46 ERA)
Case for: Lefties hit only .168 against the southpaw in 2013 and his background being stretched out as a starter as recently as spring training suggests he may have the durability for a regular closer role.
Case against: His 1.77 WHIP so far this season is far too high, right-handed batters hit .302 against him last season, and he’s more valuable as a lefty specialist to use in a big spot against an imposing left-handed bat such as Boston’s David Ortiz.
Good option to try next? No, Matusz simply hasn’t been effective enough this season and right-handers feast on his stuff too often to take him out of his current specialist role.

Who should be next in line for the closer job? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

 

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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

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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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