Tag Archive | "Tommy Hunter"

Dan’s Plan & the Rule-5 Dilemma

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Dan’s Plan & the Rule-5 Dilemma

Posted on 01 May 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

 

He took the job that no one else wanted.

For those that are still shedding tears or pointing fingers over the way the Orioles handled this most recent off-season, just try and recall what the one that preceded it was like.

 

There are only 32 Major League GM jobs in the world, and arguably hundreds of pseudo qualified and hungry executives envisioning the opportunity to get one. Still, as the Orioles were searching for someone to take that opportunity with their club prior to the 2012 season they were rebuked, rebuffed, leveraged and otherwise used but never, it seems, seriously considered by a serious candidate. Enter Dan Duquette.

Duquette’s credentials were actually better than his 9-year hiatus/exile from Major League Baseball would have suggested but he had somehow slipped through the cracks for nearly a decade. To the Orioles’ credit, they found him. And to Duquette’s credit he not only accepted the job, but he arguably approached it like none of the other candidates would have, he approached it like none of his immediate predecessors had; Duquette approached the Orioles job like a winner, like a guy who expected to make the Orioles winners; and Duquette has made the Orioles just that.

If nothing else, Duquette should have earned our trust; he deserves our confidence. His reputation still isn’t quite in the stratosphere of Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and no one is ready to utter “In Dan We Trust” just yet, but he’s getting close.

It hasn’t all been Dan’s doing. The situation that Duquette inherited was probably better than most were ready to understand, but that shouldn’t diminish the job that he’s done. Through a series of moves and machinations, decisions and deliberations, Duquette teamed with Buck Showalter to create magic in the 2012 Orioles. Not all of his decisions have been good ones, but no one’s are. Duquette has at the very least been more hit than miss; more right than wrong, and more successful than anyone could have reasonably thought possible.

Now that we’re fully immersed in the Duquette era Orioles however, a couple of sad realizations have come to light. Foremost among them is that the Orioles are, and seemingly will be for as long as Peter Angelos is running the show, committed to winning on a budget; and it would seem that the budget part holds unquestionable precedence over the winning part. This doesn’t preclude them from winning, but does make it substantially more difficult.

The decisions where monetary considerations have trumped on-field considerations have already become evident. And last year Duquette not only proved that he could win despite them, but perhaps also began to develop and refine the blueprint by which he intended to get it done.

Throughout last season, the flexibility of the roster and the options available on players (particularly pitchers) allowed Duquette to creatively overcome a problem that had been at the heart of the Orioles biggest issues over the 14 futile years that preceded 2012. The inability of Orioles pitchers to work deep into games and the absence of a true innings eater at the back of the rotation has been a running theme for the Orioles for over a decade. More often than not it was just one in a long list ailments that the team had to overcome, but even in the seasons where the Orioles offense was high level and even in the seasons where they began the year competitively, the inability of starters to get deep into games and the resultant taxing of the bullpen has been an ongoing issue. Last year the Orioles used an active revolving door to overcome that.

This year, with fewer options available, and less opportunity to shuffle the deck day-by-day, that issue seems to be back. And while the Orioles are off to another encouraging start, it seems only a matter of time before the bullpen collapses, run differential begins trending the other way and the Orioles begin sliding down the AL East standings. This makes the presence of TJ McFarland difficult to fathom.

 

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Snapshot observations from Orioles’ spring win over Yankees

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Snapshot observations from Orioles’ spring win over Yankees

Posted on 25 February 2013 by Luke Jones

In their first spring meeting with the New York Yankees, the Orioles didn’t exactly face the 1927 Bronx Bombers in a 5-1 win in Sarasota on Monday afternoon.

New York right-hander Vidal Nuno made the start while Brett Gardner, Jayson Nix, Juan Rivera, and Francisco Cervelli were the most recognizable names in the Yankees’ batting order against left-hander Brian Matusz. The Orioles starter pitched two shutout innings to collect the victory while primarily using his fastball against an underwhelming lineup of hitters.

It’s only a snapshot, but here were five thoughts taken away from the Orioles’ first televised spring training contest:

1. You want to knock on wood when you say it — or pinch yourself because you assume you’re dreaming — but healthy versions of Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold at the top of the order would do wonders for this offense. Roberts was the more impressive of the two Monday as he doubled from each side of the plate while hitting in the No. 2 spot in the order behind Reimold. The second baseman is also no longer wearing the double-flapped batting helmet he sported last season, another indication that his concussion-related symptoms might be behind him once and for all. Reimold was 0-for-2 against the Yankees after going 0-for-3 in his spring debut on Sunday, but he continues to build strength and confidence after being declared ready to go at the start of the spring.

Manager Buck Showalter has stated his preference to lower J.J. Hardy in the order after the shortstop was miscast as a top-of-the-lineup hitter in his first two seasons with the Orioles, and Roberts’ .351 career on-base percentage and Reimold’s .338 mark would fit nicely at the top of the lineup as long as you continue to see no health concerns for either player this spring. It would be a welcome change for a lineup that included low on-base percentage options such as Hardy and the departed Robert Andino at the top of the order before Nick Markakis and Nate McLouth moved into those roles out of necessity in the second half of last season.

It feels like a long shot to be able to count on a 35-year-old Roberts — who is trying to bounce back from season-ending hip surgery as well as offseason sports hernia surgery — after three injury-plagued seasons in a row, but the 29-year-old Reimold could still have plenty of good baseball in front of him if he can finally stay on the field.

2. The case of right-hander Tommy Hunter will be one to follow this spring as he is out of options. Hunter allowed two hits and struck out two in a scoreless inning of work on Monday, and it appears the 26-year-old will be eyed as a relief option this spring.

Hunter has made 75 career starts in the big leagues between Texas and Baltimore, but his stuff has never screamed starting pitcher as he’s averaged only 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and has a career 4.77 earned run average. In 12 2/3 innings pitched out of the bullpen last September, Hunter allowed one earned run and struck out 12 and featured fastball velocity in the upper 90s.

This becomes more interesting when considering Hunter would need to clear waivers to be sent to Triple-A Norfolk at the end of the spring. Other fringe starters such as Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, and Steve Johnson all have at least one option remaining, making it possible that Hunter could be viewed in a more favorable light in starting the season as the long reliever out of the bullpen while at least some of the others could find themselves pitching with the Tides to start the year.

Showalter has said the club won’t make roster decisions based on option years, but it would appear Hunter would have the inside track on a bullpen role if he has a reasonably strong spring. On the other hand, a poor performance from the right-hander would also mean he’s more likely to pass through waivers unclaimed.

3. If you’re looking for this year’s version of Lew Ford or Steve Pearce, keep an eye on Russ Canzler. The 26-year-old is capable of playing first base and the corner outfield spots and hit 61 combined home runs in his last three minor-league seasons split between Double A and Triple A.

It was a crazy offseason for Canzler, who was selected off waivers four different times with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette finally nabbing him from the Yankees on Feb. 5. The right-handed hitter drove in a run with a single in Monday’s 5-1 win and was strongly endorsed by Norfolk manager Ron Johnson prior to the Orioles acquiring him this winter.

It would be an upset to see Canzler break camp as a member of the 25-man roster — he also has two option years remaining — but his .819 on-base plus slugging percentage over nine minor-league seasons is the type of statistic that intrigues Duquette when searching for bargain-basement deals. Canzler was selected in the 30th round of the 2004 draft as an 18-year-old by the Chicago Cubs and spent seven years in that organization before spending a season each with Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

It’s a long shot, of course, that we’ll see Canzler making any tangible contribution to the 2013 Orioles, but no one expected Ford or Pearce to contribute to the Orioles’ first playoff team in 15 years at the start of the season, either.

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Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

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Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

Posted on 13 February 2013 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Who will step up to play second base?

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

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

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

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

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

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Orioles recall Matusz, activate Flaherty; ship out Hunter, Romero

Posted on 24 August 2012 by WNST Staff

The Orioles today announced that they have recalled left-handed pitcher Brian Matusz from Triple-A Norfolk and activated infielder Ryan Flaherty from the 15-day disabled list. Additionally, right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter has been optioned to the Baysox and left-handed J.C. Romero has been designated for assignment.

Matusz went 2-1 with one save and a 4.21 ERA (47.0IP, 22ER) in 10 games (six starts) with the Tides. He made his last four appearances as a reliever (6.0IP, 4ER, 9K), including consecutive outings on August 21 and 22. Matusz held left-handed hitters to a .258/.288/.274 line in 62 at-bats at Triple-A.

Flaherty batted .289/.341/.526 in nine rehab games with Norfolk, hitting safely in each of his last six games. He appeared at first base, second base, third base, left field and right field.

Hunter has gone 4-8 with a 5.95 ERA (121.0IP, 80ER) in 23 games (20 starts) over four stints with the Orioles this season.

Romero pitched to a 6.75 ERA (4.0IP, 3ER) in five appearances with the Orioles.

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If the season ended today, how much better off would the Orioles be for the future?

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If the season ended today, how much better off would the Orioles be for the future?

Posted on 22 July 2012 by Luke Jones

With Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Indians, the Orioles ended the weekend tied for the American League wild-card lead on the heels of a five-game winning streak in Minnesota and Cleveland.

As I’ve written many times over the last few months, the 2012 season has been a fun and romantic ride for Orioles fans stricken with suffering through listless summers toward losing season after losing season. The late-inning comebacks and unlikely heroes have left nearly everyone scratching their heads in disbelief as the numbers suggest they shouldn’t be nearly as prosperous as they’ve been.

Left for dead less than a week ago after falling to only two games above .500 for the first time since April, the resilient Orioles suddenly have a pulse again with an impressive turn through the current starting rotation that started with Tommy Hunter on Wednesday and ended Sunday with Zach Britton, who tossed six shutout innings to earn his first victory of the season.

The winning streak will inevitably turn up the volume on trade deadline discussion and the Orioles’ wild-card chances, but a much louder question has sounded in my head over the last month as we’ve watched the offense struggle and Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Hunter be demoted to Triple-A Norfolk.

If the season were to end today, how much better off would the Orioles be for the future than they were at the start of the 2012 campaign?

My answer — at least entering the final week of July — sounds like the ultimate wet blanket, especially when you remember where the Orioles currently sit in the standings after 95 games.

But truthfully, I’m not sure the club is markedly improved in terms of being able to compete long-term.

Yes, we can discuss the potential psychological breakthrough of ending a spell of 14 straight losing seasons and the effect it might have on potential free agents viewing Baltimore as a more viable destination, but that only matters if majority owner Peter Angelos and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette make the financial commitment to capitalize in the offseason.

The bullpen has been outstanding with Jim Johnson leading the way to eliminate any doubts that may have lingered last offseason about his ability to close out victories. However, the collective performance of a bullpen from season to season is as dependable as the stock market, meaning the likelihood of getting the same outstanding performances from each Orioles reliever next year and beyond is highly unlikely.

Offensively speaking, center fielder Adam Jones is enjoying a career year and received a six-year contract to keep him in Baltimore, but his production since early June has leveled off, suggesting 2012 is a year of steady improvement for the 26-year-old rather than a quantum leap to MVP candidacy on an annual basis. Catcher Matt Wieters is having another good season in becoming one of the best catchers in baseball, but his offense hasn’t taken a step forward from his first All-Star campaign a year ago. Of course, that’s not a knock on either player as they’re the Orioles’ two most dependable run producers, but we already knew that entering the season.

Aside from the surprisingly versatile Chris Davis looking like a solid — but unspectacular — everyday player, some combination of injury, ineffectiveness, and poor defense has hamstrung every other regular in the Baltimore lineup. The club needs to address multiple positions in the offseason, with the corner infield positions, second base, and left field all included.

And that brings us to the starting pitching, the area in which the Orioles have been most disappointing beyond the surprising performances of newcomer Jason Hammel and Taiwanese rookie Wei-Yin Chen. The regression of Matusz and Arrieta has been discouraging at best and devastating at worst when considering the high expectations for each pitcher.

As encouraging as this last turn through the rotation as been, I’m not ready to sign off on Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, or Britton as mainstays of the rotation a month from now let alone a year from now.

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Orioles activate Hunter, designate Bergesen for assignment

Posted on 18 July 2012 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles Wednesday announced that they have recalled right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter from Triple-A Norfolk and designated right-hander Brad Bergesen for assignment.

Hunter is 3-4 with a 6.11 ERA (81.0IP, 55ER) in 15 games (13 starts) over three stints with the Orioles this season. He is 2-1 with a 4.66 ERA (19.1IP, 10ER) in three starts with the Tides.

Bergesen had his contract selected Tuesday. He went 4-3 with one save and a 4.03 ERA (80.1IP, 36ER) in 22 games (10 starts) with the Tides this season.

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Five biggest Orioles disappointments of first half

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Five biggest Orioles disappointments of first half

Posted on 11 July 2012 by Luke Jones

After recognizing the biggest individual surprises of the Orioles’ first half, it’s strange finding a large number of individual disappointments despite the club’s 45-40 start.

Amazingly, the Orioles have managed to find so much success despite their obvious flaws as a number of individuals have failed to meet expectations and others have been injured, leaving major holes and question marks as the club begins the second half on Friday. Even though they currently hold the second wild card position in the American League, the club’s minus-36 run differential (12th in the AL) is indicative of a group due for a substantial market correction in terms of wins and losses.

Many wonder how much longer the Orioles will remain afloat — in terms of staying in the wild card race, at least — after losing 13 of their last 19 game and scoring only 61 runs in their last 22 contests. In addition to their recent offensive struggles, three-fifths of the starting rotation entering the season was recently demoted to Triple-A Norfolk, putting an even greater strain on the Orioles’ dominating bullpen to keep them in games.

Regardless of how optimistic or pessimistic you might be about the Orioles’ chances, the next two weeks of baseball will go a long way in determining how active the club will be at the trade deadline.

Here are my five biggest individual disappointments of the Orioles’ first half:

Not-so-honorable mention: Tommy Hunter, Kevin Gregg, Nolan Reimold’s neck injury, Tsuyoshi Wada’s elbow injury, Brian Roberts’ hip injury

5. Endy Chavez

The 34-year-old wasn’t signed to be a full-time starter, but the Orioles figured they were getting a decent insurance policy for Opening Day left fielder Nolan Reimold when Chavez inked a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. Instead, the 170-pound outfielder hasn’t even hit his weight in an injury-plagued, miserable first half.

While Chavez has made two different trips to the disabled list with intercostal and hamstring injuries, his abysmal .162 average in 105 at-bats makes him fortunate to even have a job at this point. Chavez figured to become the default left fielder when Reimold went down with a herniated disc in his neck, but his poor play has created a colossal hole in left field that manager Buck Showalter has attempted to fill with converted infielders (Steve Tolleson and Ryan Flaherty), journeymen veterans (Steve Pearce and Bill Hall), and a raw rookie (Xavier Avery).

Having completed his minor league rehab assignment over the All-Star break, Chavez is expected to rejoin the club on Friday, but his .402 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) must climb immediately for the organization to justify keeping him around much longer. The left-hander has a career .269 average over 11 major league seasons and hit .301 over 256 at-bats in a part-time role with Texas last year, making his horrendous first half even more shocking.

4. J.J. Hardy

Coming off a tremendous year in his first season in Baltimore, the shortstop has dealt with a tender shoulder since spring training and his production at the plate has dropped dramatically in 2012.

Hardy has never been a great hitter for average (.259 in eight seasons), but his .224 mark at the break reflects the horrendous slump he’s endured since late May. In his last 37 games, the 29-year-old is hitting .172 with two home runs and nine runs batted in.

The club’s widespread struggles at the plate and injuries to Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis have limited questions about Hardy remaining in the No. 2 spot in the order, but Showalter will have no choice but to drop Hardy in the order if his .262 on-base percentage doesn’t improve soon. Even if Hardy’s production reflected his career numbers, he’s more suited to hit in the No. 6 or 7 spot to drive in more runs with his above-average power at the shortstop position.

Hardy’s defense is still a major asset for a defensively-challenged club, but the Orioles desperately need him to look more like the hitter he was in 2011 if they’re going to remain in the playoff hunt in the second half.

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