Tag Archive | "Ubaldo Jimenez"

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Orioles offer latest example that it isn’t 2014 anymore

Posted on 17 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A year ago, starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez too often let down his Orioles teammates in a nightmarish campaign that ultimately landed him in the bullpen.

On Saturday, the Orioles wasted a stellar outing from the right-hander in a 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels that dropped Baltimore four games below .500 for the first time since the end of the 2011 season. It was just the latest reminder that it isn’t 2014 anymore.

Continuing his excellent start to 2015, Jimenez pitched six shutout innings before two infield singles and a Chris Iannetta chopper off the glove of Manny Machado — not an easy play, but one we’re used to seeing the 2013 Gold Glove third baseman make — tied the game at 1-1 in the seventh. A single by Marc Krauss plated the second Angels run and gave them a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish in another frustrating loss for the Orioles.

Sporting a sparkling 2.43 ERA in seven starts spanning 40 2/3 innings, Jimenez was victimized by bad luck in the seventh, but the lack of support from the other phases of the game is an all-too-familiar theme so far this season as the Orioles lineup managed just one run — a Steve Pearce solo home run in the fourth — and three hits, none of them coming after the fourth inning. In fact, not a single hitter even reached base after Pearce hit his third homer of the season for the first run of the game.

“We are just not getting the timely hits right now,” Pearce said. “Hitting a lot of balls hard right at people. Tomorrow is a new game, and we have to shake it off. We’re still [only] five games back. It’s still a long season, and we are hoping to turn this thing around starting tomorrow.”

Matters weren’t helped with relievers Darren O’Day and Zach Britton allowing four more runs in the final two innings, making what was a one-run deficit an insurmountable five-run hole for an offense that’s managed just two runs and eight hits in the first 18 innings of a three-game set against the Angels, who have shaken off a slow start of their own with their current five-game winning streak. Those offensive numbers wouldn’t be as frustrating if not for the fact that Jered Weaver and Matt Shoemaker each arrived in Baltimore with ERAs of 4.98 and 6.61, respectively.

With Memorial Day just over a week away, the Orioles still haven’t been able to find that consistent winning combination they mastered in running away with the American League East a year ago. When they’ve scored plenty of runs, the pitching hasn’t gotten the job done. And when they receive good performances on the mound, the offense has too often disappeared like it did on Friday and Saturday.

Only 34 games into 2015, the Orioles know they have plenty of time, but their play has just felt off with even the defense and bullpen — arguably the two components most responsible for three consecutive winning seasons — faltering at critical times.

“We just have to deal with it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We had challenges last year. We have good people. We’ll overcome it. I have a lot of confidence in that.”

Yes, it’s still early, but the Orioles need to recapture their mojo from a season ago. Or, it could get start getting late a lot quicker than they would have anticipated.

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Orioles surprises from first month of 2015 season

Posted on 06 May 2015 by Luke Jones

One month into the 2015 season, the Orioles have hovered around the .500 mark while remaining firmly in the American League East hunt.

Below is a look at the biggest surprises of the first month of action:

1. Ubaldo Jimenez becoming the Orioles’ best starting pitcher

Much of the starting rotation and bullpen struggled over the opening month of the season, but the maligned Jimenez was the club’s best starter, posting a 2-1 record with a 1.59 ERA in his four starts. After simplifying his mechanics late last season, Jimenez steadily improved during spring training and saw that continue into the regular season where he’s walked only eight batters in 22 2/3 innings, a significant improvement from the 5.5 walks per nine innings he issued last season. It was an unusual month for the 31-year-old as he was inexplicably ejected from a start at Fenway Park and pitched in the first empty-stadium game in major league history, but the results have been a pleasant surprise for manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles.

2. Jimmy Paredes emerging as a key member of the lineup

It was one thing to see Paredes hit well last September when the Orioles enjoyed a comfortable lead in the AL East and to follow that up with a strong spring, but who would have guessed the 26-year-old would become the everyday designated hitter and occupy the No. 2 spot in the order? Paredes’ .994 OPS is second on the club behind the scalding-hot Adam Jones, and he has collected nine extra-base hits in 56 plate appearances. Showalter has credited Paredes’ aggressive but professional approach — he’s walked only once this season — at the plate and will continue to pencil his name into the lineup until Paredes proves he shouldn’t. His defensive limitations hinder lineup flexibility, but the Orioles aren’t complaining about the offense Paredes has provided, especially with key contributors sidelined.

3. Matt Wieters still not being close to returning — and that being OK

The three-time All-Star selection caught six innings in an extended spring training game Tuesday, but he still isn’t catching on consecutive days, leading you to believe his return will be much closer to June than anyone would have expected a couple months ago. The good news is Caleb Joseph hasn’t made the Orioles miss Wieters too much as he’s hitting .286 with two home runs, seven RBIs, and an .836 on-base plus slugging percentage. Despite a slow start trying to control the running game, Joseph has stopped 33 percent of stolen-base attempts after gunning down 40 percent in 2014. I wrote before the season that it would be problematic if Wieters returned as a shell of himself defensively, but it’s clear the Orioles have slowed the pace of the veteran catcher’s rehab and Joseph’s strong play has made it easier to endure.

4. Steve Pearce starting games at second base

The 32-year-old has yet to approach his 2014 level of production, but Showalter using Pearce at second base illustrates how badly the injury bug has bitten the middle infield with J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, and Ryan Flaherty all on the 15-day disabled list. Fortunately, Hardy and Flaherty appear primed to return as early as this weekend, which will bring normalcy to the shortstop and second base positions. With Pearce and Jimmy Paredes seeing time at second base, Everth Cabrera may find himself in the minor leagues after posting a .464 OPS as the everyday shortstop in Hardy’s absence. Considering they’ve gotten below-replacement-level offense at shortstop and have used a carousel of options at second base, the Orioles should probably feel pretty good about their 12-12 record over the first month.

5. The Orioles playing an empty-stadium game and a “home” series at Tropicana Field

The unrest in Baltimore certainly disrupted the Orioles’ schedule, but Showalter, Jones, and the rest of the club handled the distractions with appropriate perspective while reflecting on the bigger issues facing the city. Playing a game in an empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards and then traveling to Tropicana Field for a “home” series against the Tampa Bay Rays was less than ideal for all parties, but the Orioles went 3-1 over that stretch. It’s the latest example of how prepared and focused Showalter has kept his players over the last few years, a major reason why the Orioles are aiming for their fourth straight winning season and third playoff appearance in four campaigns. You only hope a packed Camden Yards welcomes the Orioles back to town on May 11.

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Orioles still trying to recapture starter success from last year

Posted on 23 April 2015 by Luke Jones

You don’t have to look far to figure out why the Orioles are off to a 7-8 start to begin the 2015 season.

They’ve been sloppy in other areas of the game, but Orioles starting pitching entered Thursday ranking last in the majors in innings pitched (4.87 innings per start) and 27th in ERA (5.30). In looking at the first 15 games of the season solely through that lens, Baltimore might be fortunate to be just a game below .500. The bullpen hasn’t been much better with a 4.55 ERA, but relievers have already been overworked because of the starters’ failures.

Bud Norris’ struggles have garnered plenty of attention as the right-hander currently sports a 17.42 ERA, but No. 1 starter Chris Tillman entered Thursday’s start with a 5.52 ERA through three starts. Meanwhile, Wei-Yin Chen can thank his shoddy defense in Boston on Monday — one of the errors were committed by the lefty starter — for a 3.07 ERA that doesn’t accurately reflect how shaky his performance has been thus far. Chen sports a 1.70 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and a 6.49 FIP (fielding independent pitching mark), which paint a better picture of how he’s pitched.

The poor performance of the rotation has left many to wonder why the talented Kevin Gausman isn’t starting, but the 24-year-old is trying to rebound from a rough beginning of his own in the bullpen and owns a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings of work. The 2012 first-round pick finished 2014 with a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts.

The rocky start has been a stark contrast from the second half of 2014 when the pitching became one of the Orioles’ biggest strengths, finishing fifth in the American League in starter ERA (3.61). Baltimore went 53-27 over the final three months of the season, a clip that translates to a 107-win season over the course of a full year. Aside from Ubaldo Jimenez, who made only five starts in the final three months of 2014, every member of the rotation finished with an ERA of 3.65 or better.

Though many continued to criticize Orioles starters for failing to go seven innings consistently last year, the more realistic standard in today’s game has become six innings as Cincinnati led the majors last year in averaging 6.32 innings per start. Over those final 80 games when the Orioles ran away from the rest of the AL East, starters completed at least six innings 49 times and seven or more innings 23 times.

So far in 2015, starting pitchers have gone six innings just four times in 15 games. And only Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez have completed seven innings in one start each.

It’s easy to point to the offseason departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller as reasons why the Orioles might fail to repeat as AL East champions, but the shortcomings of the starting pitching have told the bigger story in the early stages of 2015.

One of their biggest strengths of last season has been the weakest link of Buck Showalter’s club in April.

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Jimenez ejected from Friday night’s game

Posted on 17 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles’ four-game series with the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park got off to a bizarre start Friday night with the fourth-inning ejection of starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.

Jimenez had yet to allow a hit when he plunked Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval in the upper back on the first pitch of a plate appearance that came with two outs and nobody on base in the fourth. Without warning, home plate umpire Jordan Baker ejected the right-hander from the game, much to the disgust of manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles.

In the second inning, Sandoval had slid hard into second baseman Jonathan Schoop trying to break up a potential double play, but no one from the Orioles had appeared to react with any initial animosity. The former San Francisco Giants third baseman entered the night 11-for-34 with two home runs and five RBIs in his career against Jimenez.

After the 4-3 loss, Showalter labeled the decision to throw Jimenez out of the game “professionally embarrassing” in an interview with MASN and wanted Major League Baseball to be aware of his disenchantment with Baker’s decision.

Baker’s decision to toss the Baltimore hurler was unusual to put it kindly considering neither side had even been issued a warning and Jimenez is notorious for having control problems after walking 5.5 batters per nine innings last season. Even though he hadn’t allowed a hit, the 31-year-old had already walked three hitters on the evening.

With the Orioles facing one of the best lineups in baseball for four games at Fenway this weekend, the forced exit was not an encouraging development in forcing Showalter to go to his bullpen in the fourth inning of the opener. Right-hander Kevin Gausman came on to relieve Jimenez.

It’s clear that Baker thought Jimenez threw at Sandoval intentionally, but issuing a warning to each side would have been the more appropriate action without upsetting the competitive balance of the game — and possibly the series — and potentially creating more bad blood in the first of 19 games between the clubs this season.

Baker is a fourth-year major league umpire and has gained attention for an unusual ritual, making you wonder if Jimenez inadvertently — or intentionally, in the umpire’s mind — stole some of his bubblegum before the game.

 

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Orioles musings on the opening week of the season

Posted on 13 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Based on how they performed over the first week of the season, the Orioles are right where they belong sitting at the .500 mark while allowing one more run (32) than they’ve scored (31) through the season’s first six games.

The fact that a number of fans are concerned about a 3-3 record shows just how far the Orioles have come over the last three years under manager Buck Showalter in that they’re now expected to win. For anyone concerned about the first week of the season, keep in mind that the Orioles began last season with a 1-4 mark and were still sitting at .500 at the beginning of June before playing .639 baseball the rest of the way.

For context, the Orioles are roughly at the same point in their season now as the Ravens were when Joe Flacco tossed an interception in the third quarter of the 2014 season opener against Cincinnati last September.

Beyond Bud Norris being a “person of interest” with a poor start in the home opener that followed his concerning spring and Ubaldo Jimenez reinforcing his strong finish in the Grapefruit League with a brilliant performance Saturday night, I haven’t seen much of anything that changes my overall attitude or outlook on the 2015 campaign. The Orioles obviously need to pitch better than they did in the first week, and I think they will based on the track record of many of these hurlers over the last few seasons.

* The Orioles have given up 10 or more runs in a game twice already after doing it just five times all last season, which brings two thoughts to mind.

One, it shows how consistent the staff was in 2014 despite not having the kind of starting rotation that inflicts fear like Detroit’s last year or the current Washington group. In 2013, the Orioles allowed 10 or more runs nine times and surrendered at least that many in a game 10 times in 2012.

It also speaks to how impressive the Toronto lineup was in scoring 23 runs in a three-game series in which the Blue Jays were nearly shut out in the second contest. The Blue Jays weren’t exactly struggling to score runs anyway before the offseason arrivals of an MVP-caliber player like third baseman Josh Donaldson and veteran catcher Russell Martin, who posted a .402 on-base percentage with Pittsburgh last year.

I still have my doubts about how quickly their young pitching will come together in both the rotation and the bullpen, but the Blue Jays will hit the ball as well as anyone in the majors.

* Third baseman Manny Machado’s 0-for-15 streak to begin the 2015 season ended Sunday, but his .053 average isn’t anything to be concerned about just yet as he’s hit several balls hard and has shown improved patience at the plate in drawing three walks in 23 plate appearances. He’s only struck out three times over that span, which suggests making contact isn’t a concern.

What has been an encouraging sign that his surgically-repaired knees are not an issue is the number of “Machadian” plays — yes, I’ve coined a new adjective to describe his impeccable defense — he’s already made in the field.

Considering he won’t be 23 until July, it’s amazing to think how many highlight plays he’s already offered up in his major league career. You just hope the problems with his knees are finally behind him, so we can enjoy watching this kid play a full season.

* Right-hander Kevin Gausman is off to a rocky start in the bullpen, allowing three earned runs and four walks in 3 2/3 innings.

While I’ve made no secret about my disagreement with his handling, it’s worth noting that he’s begun throwing a curveball — seemingly abandoning his slider that was still a work in progress — for the first time since college. In talking to Gausman late last week, you got the sense that he’s trying to emulate Chris Tillman a little more by adopting the curve to change hitters’ eye levels and throwing more high fastballs, which will certainly get him in trouble if he doesn’t locate and pick his spots carefully.

You wonder if these fundamental adjustments along with some natural disappointment over not being in the rotation have led to his early-season struggles, but there’s too much talent there for him not to right himself sooner rather than later.

* I’m guessing not many would have predicted knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa as the first minor-league pitcher to be recalled by the Orioles this season, but it further illustrates how timing and flexibility have more to do with promotions than anything.

More heralded arms such as Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson had already pitched in the previous two days and the Orioles preferred to give T.J. McFarland his scheduled start with Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, paving the way for the 30-year-old Gamboa to receive his first promotion to the majors. Of course, he was only going to pitch in an extreme situation such as an injury or two taking place or the score being totally out of hand, but it once again shows how manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will utilize resources at Norfolk and even Double-A Bowie however they see fit.

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Jimenez offers reminder why Orioles wanted him

Posted on 12 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — In the same way that it would be premature for the Orioles to bury Bud Norris after his poor start in the home opener, Ubaldo Jimenez can’t erase the memory of an awful 2014 season with one terrific outing.

But catcher Caleb Joseph said it best in describing the right-hander’s seven shutout innings in which he allowed only one hit while striking out eight and walking one in a 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.

“He was like a video game out there,” Joseph said. “I haven’t caught very many major league games, but that may have been one of the [most fun]. What he’s been through over the last year or so and then working really hard and getting better each and every spring training start, and then when the lights really come on — playing for real — he did such a great job.”

Despite the frustration of a fan base that expected big things from the 31-year-old when he signed a four-year, $50 million contract 14 months ago, it’s easy to see how well liked Jimenez is by teammates and coaches. Working hard to simplify and repeat his delivery this offseason, Jimenez has been praised for his commitment to improve from the time he arrived in Sarasota for spring training two months ago.

Asked what impressed him most about Jimenez this spring prior to Saturday’s game, manager Buck Showalter was direct in saying it was the results and how the veteran had improved a little bit each time he went to the hill. Jimenez pitched on the road — meaning he would face more of the opposition’s regular hitters — in all but one of his seven spring starts, posting a 2.88 ERA in his final 25 Grapefruit League innings and walking just six batters over that span.

That success carried over and then some on Saturday as Jimenez stifled a Blue Jays lineup that had piled up 12 runs and 16 hits just a day earlier. It began with fastball command and impeccable control as Jimenez delivered first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 23 hitters he faced. He also effectively mixed in his split-fingered fastball and curveball while his two-seam fastball induced 11 grounders that were turned into outs by the excellent defense behind him.

Jimenez is gradually learning to trust that defense, adopting pitching coach Dave Wallace’s philosophy of pitching to weak contact and not always needing to rely on the strikeout. Unlike other starters in the current rotation, Jimenez has the ability to consistently miss bats — he still averaged 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings last season — but it can’t come at the expense of control.

Yes, it’s only one start, but it was a glimpse into what the Orioles envisioned when they made a four-year commitment to the 2010 All-Star Game starter for the National League. While a career-worst 5.5 walks per nine innings average and a 4.81 ERA from last year are fresh in observers’ minds, Jimenez has pitched at a high level at various times in his career, which is the upside that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was attracted to.

For now, Jimenez can only take it one start at a time, one strike at a time while observers will understandably remain skeptical until he proves himself consistently.

“The only thing I’m worried about is being there for the team,” Jimenez said. “If I pitch good, they will forget [last year], but my main goal is be there for the team. I can’t be worried about what everyone is thinking.”

Saturday reinforced that the Orioles were right to give Jimenez a chance to reestablish himself in the rotation. He’ll need to prove he can remain there, but owing a pitcher $39 million over the next three years has a way of making an organization provide as many opportunities as humanly possible to fetch a return.

The Jimenez who’s surfaced over the last month dating back to spring training is one the Orioles would like to see pitching meaningful games in September and beyond. It’s the reason why they brought him to Baltimore in the first place despite his opening act being a dud.

“Nobody’s worked harder than him. You can tell he did it in the offseason, too,” Showalter said. “He came in here with a real purpose. Tonight was a good reminder why he’s been a good quality major league starter for a long time.”

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2015 Orioles preview: Ubaldo Jimenez

Posted on 29 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just a week away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter
March 20 – Manny Machado
March 21 – Brad Brach
March 22 – Steve Pearce
March 23 – Darren O’Day
March 24 – Caleb Joseph
March 25 – Wesley Wright
March 26 – Delmon Young
March 27 – Miguel Gonzalez
March 28 – Ryan Flaherty

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

Opening Day age: 31

Contract status: Under contract through the 2017 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: 6-9, 4.81 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 8.3 K/IP, 14 HR, 125 1/3 innings

Why to be impressed: Despite a disastrous first year in Baltimore, Jimenez has four seasons in which he’s posted an ERA below 4.00 in his major league career. His 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings last season was still the best mark among any Baltimore starters as Jimenez has an ability to miss bats that can be valuable if his control improves in 2015.

Why to be concerned: Even if Jimenez can improve on his horrific 5.5 walks per nine innings from a year ago, throwing strikes consistently has been a point of contention throughout his career as he’s averaged 4.2 free passes per nine innings. The right-hander is owed just under $39 million for the next three years, which means he’ll likely have a long leash again this season as he did in 2014.

2015 outlook: Mechanical adjustments have led to improvement this spring as Jimenez has allowed only two walks in his last 19 spring innings with all of that work coming in road games against the opposition’s best lineups. Jimenez will be better than he was last year, but his history of command issues are likely to surface again, keeping his ERA in the 4.50 range and the Orioles looking to replace him in the rotation for the stretch run.

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Taking stock of Orioles starting rotation

Posted on 25 March 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have a problem with their starting rotation less than two weeks away from Opening Day.

It’s far from the worst dilemma as many clubs don’t have two or three quality arms, let alone enjoy the luxury of choosing among six starters for five spots. It’s a good problem to have quite frankly, even if you roll your eyes thinking about the possibility of Ubaldo Jimenez taking the ball every fifth day.

Fans and critics will understandably remain skeptical, but the steady improvement of Jimenez this spring has the veteran right-hander in position to be in the rotation to begin the season. After averaging 5.5 walks per nine innings last season, Jimenez has walked just one batter in his last three outings spanning 13 innings. A new windup and a quieter delivery have led to better results for the 31-year-old with a career 4.00 ERA in nine major league seasons.

The reality is that short of a disastrous spring, Jimenez — who’s owed more than $38 million over the next three years — was always likely to at least receive a chance in the rotation to start the year. Whether he remains in the rotation for long will be the question.

Assuming Jimenez doesn’t implode over his final couple spring outings — far from a given, of course — manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will have interesting decisions to make in how to proceed with the rest of the rotation.

If Ubaldo Jimenez makes the starting rotation, who is the odd man out and where does he end up??

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The possibility of Duquette trading one of his starting pitchers has been discussed since the start of the offseason, but the chances of needing only five starters all season is extremely remote, making that a dicey plan of attack unless the return in the trade provides a major boost elsewhere.

Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen are obviously safe and both have pitched well this spring.

Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman each have a remaining minor-league option and have been discussed as the two likeliest candidates to be the odd man out to make room for Jimenez, but neither has had a poor spring.

Gonzalez has posted a 4.26 ERA and has yet to walk a batter in 12 2/3 innings of Grapefruit League action. The right-hander could be used in long relief, but you run the risk of him not being stretched out enough to rejoin the rotation if he’s in the bullpen for too long.

The Orioles have handled Gausman differently than the other starters this spring as he comes off the biggest workload of his professional career a year ago. Brought along more slowly, Gausman has pitched primarily in minor-league spring games and has logged only three Grapefruit League innings. Perhaps it’s a sign that the Orioles envision the 24-year-old beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk despite the fact that he was one of the club’s best starters last season. It wouldn’t make sense to relegate Gausman to a bullpen role early in the year where he either wouldn’t pitch regularly or would be shortened up and used too frequently to safely return him to a starting role at some point later in the season.

Optioning Gonzalez or Gausman to the minors would give the Orioles more flexibility to potentially stash one of their two Rule 5 picks — Logan Verrett or Jason Garcia — in the bullpen, but it’s difficult to argue that being the best possible 25-man roster for a club trying to defend the American League East title.

Bud Norris might be the most interesting case of any of the Baltimore starting pitchers at the moment. The 30-year-old is out of options and is coming off arguably the best season of his career, but he has dealt with back stiffness this spring while posting a 9.26 ERA, which includes nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.

It would be crass to draw a strong conclusion from such a small sample size, but Norris’ struggles might indicate his back is a bigger problem than he’s leading on. Either way, the Orioles need to see better results from the right-hander in his final outings before the start of the season or they may need to look at his health with more scrutiny. The bullpen would also be a possibility for Norris should his woes continue over the next couple weeks and into the regular season.

So, how should the Orioles proceed if we’re to assume Jimenez begins the season with a shot in the rotation?

It isn’t the worst problem to have, but there’s no easy answer for Showalter with the season rapidly approaching. And whatever decision he makes will come while holding his breath that Jimenez’s improvement isn’t just a brief aberration.

 

 

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Orioles musings on starting rotation and more

Posted on 16 March 2015 by Luke Jones

The debate has continued all winter and spring over what Orioles manager Buck Showalter will do with his starting rotation in 2015.

Ubaldo Jimenez has done little to quell concerns — an 11.05 ERA and five walks in 7 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League — but his place on the roster is secure with just under $39 million going into his bank account over the next three years. Even if Showalter makes the right baseball decision by sending Jimenez to the bullpen and including both Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman in his rotation — they both have minor-league options remaining — there’s another question that we should be asking.

Who’s next after that?

The Orioles were one of 10 teams in the majors last season to have at least four starters make 25 or more starts, but it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to get away with simply stashing Jimenez in the bullpen all season without any worries. Last season, only two clubs had five starters make 25 or more starts — Washington and Kansas City — and just 36 teams have accomplished that feat since 2000 with 23 of them making the postseason.

Even considering Jimenez’s struggles, Baltimore was fortunate to use only seven starting pitchers last season with lefty long reliever T.J. McFarland making one spot start. In their previous five years, the Orioles used an average of just under 12 starting pitchers per season. Of course, that time frame includes some poor clubs with rotations in a state of flux, but even the 2013 Boston Red Sox used 11 starting pitchers on their way to a World Series title, showing that it’s not a rule that only affects poor clubs.

This is why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is so reluctant to trade away any of his starting pitchers as the odds suggest the Orioles will need to look beyond those first six for help at various points in 2015 due to health concerns or poor performance. In fact, there’s a 65 percent likelihood they will have two starting pitchers ailing at the same time, per FanGraphs.

So while we continue to monitor Jimenez’s progress — or lack thereof — and wonder what it means for Gonzalez and Gausman over the next few weeks, we should probably be paying more attention to how the likes of T.J. McFarland, Mike Wright, Dylan Bundy, Steve Johnson, Tyler Wilson, Tim Berry, and even the 20-year-old Hunter Harvey are performing this spring. The odds suggest we’ll see some combination of them take the hill at some point in 2015 for at least a start or two.

Wieters taking off training wheels

Matt Wieters is set to crouch behind the plate for the first time in Grapefruit League action on Tuesday, which represents his biggest test yet after catching several times in controlled settings where runners were instructed not to steal.

It will be the first time Wieters is allowed to “cut it loose” in a live-game setting as he’s essentially completed his throwing progression and rehabilitation. The early indications from Sarasota have been positive with the Orioles timing Wieters’ throws in recent days, but seeing how he responds in a regular game will go a long way in determining whether he’s behind the plate for the April 6 opener.

This timetable will give Wieters more than two weeks of spring games in which he could catch to gauge his progress before the club makes a decision on his status for the start of the season. He’d also like to get himself on track at the plate as he’s hitless in 20 Grapefruit League at-bats.

Who’s in right?

Upon being acquired in late January, Travis Snider was considered by many to be the favorite to replace Nick Markakis as the regular right fielder, but you wouldn’t know it based on how the spring has gone.

That isn’t to say Snider won’t have a meaningful role with the Orioles this season, but the former Pittsburgh and Toronto outfielder hasn’t started in right since an intrasquad game played on March 1. Since then, he’s started six games in left field and once as the designated hitter, making you wonder if Showalter views him as a better option at the other corner outfield position.

Snider collected three hits in Sunday’s loss to the Pirates and is 7-for-22 this spring.

Over the last 10 days or so, it’s been a steady trend of Steve Pearce and Chris Davis alternating between first base and right field, which isn’t shocking considering Showalter has regularly complimented Pearce’s work at first base and Davis’ ability to play the outfield since the end of last season. Both figure to be in the lineup nearly every day, but where each will be playing in April could be interesting.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Showalter is prone to using many different alignments based on the matchup any given night, so we can’t read too much into there trends with more than two weeks of spring games remaining.

Spring woes

The Orioles entered Monday holding a 3-11 record, the worst mark of any club in the Grapefruit League or the Cactus League.

This has led some to ask whether this is cause for concern for a club that lost Markakis, Nelson Cruz, and Andrew Miller and didn’t make a big-name acquisition over the winter. The Orioles have managed just 39 runs in those 14 games.

There are obvious question marks with the Orioles — just like any major league club — but I just can’t put much stock into anything we’re seeing this spring when players are simply preparing for the season and many hurlers are using games as times to experiment with certain pitches. When you look at the daily box scores, you’ll see there are too many players involved in these games who won’t be with the club once the season starts.

Beyond unique cases like Jimenez and individuals coming back from serious injuries like Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado, what happens in Florida is of little consequence in terms of projecting what will happen over a 162-game marathon. I’ll take the last seven seasons of evidence from Adam Jones over his current .174 average in 23 spring at-bats to determine what to expect from him in 2015.

Showalter always says you can’t be fooled by what you see in March — good or bad. And I believe him.

 

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Fixing Jimenez one of Orioles’ biggest challenges this spring

Posted on 21 February 2015 by Luke Jones

It was exactly what the Orioles had envisioned when they signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract seven months earlier.

With a chance to clinch their first division championship in 17 years last Sept. 16, the Orioles sent the right-handed starter to the hill against Toronto and Jimenez pitched solidly — two earned runs allowed in five innings — to earn the victory. Of course, it was one of the few bright spots of a disastrous season in which Jimenez eventually lost his spot in the starting rotation and was left off the American League Championship Series roster.

Spring training breeds optimism and hope for transformation, and there would be no bigger breakthrough than the Orioles getting Jimenez on track as they try to defend their 2014 AL East title. Pitching coach Dave Wallace believes confidence was as big a problem as any as Jimenez tried to prove himself worthy to his new club. Jimenez acknowledged Saturday that he didn’t follow his normal offseason routine last year as he didn’t sign with the Orioles until after spring training had already started, and it likely led to problems in being able to repeat his complicated delivery.

In 25 games (22 starts) and 125 1/3 innings, Jimenez went 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA and posted a career-worst 5.5 walks per nine innings.

“Who knows what was going through his mind last year? New team, new contract, all that stuff,” Wallace said last month. “Hopefully, that’s all pushed aside. He actually came up with a couple things last year that he made changes with in September that helped him a little bit. We’ll see if we can continue that.”

It’s hardly the first time that Jimenez’s unorthodox mechanics have come into focus as Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway was credited for rebuilding the veteran starter after a career-worst 5.40 ERA in 2012. Jimenez rebounded in the second half of 2013 to finish with a 3.30 ERA, his best season since his 2010 All-Star campaign in Colorado.

Jimenez previously brought his hands high above his head in his windup, which he believes created too many moving parts in his mechanics that hindered his control. In September, Jimenez abandoned that approach, keeping his hands quieter and in front of him as he pitched to a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings with 12 strikeouts. His seven walks reflected that his control was still a problem, but the small sample size brings a glimmer of hope that Jimenez can bounce back in 2015.

He wouldn’t be the first Orioles starter to adjust his windup in recent years as ace Chris Tillman has credited a simpler motion for the success he began enjoying in 2012 and Kevin Gausman has also quieted the movement in his windup since being selected in the first round of the 2012 draft. Jimenez hopes his adjustments will lead to similar results.

The Dominican pitcher estimated that he threw five bullpen sessions and live batting practice this winter in preparation for the start of spring training after the disruptive offseason last year. Manager Buck Showalter was impressed with the pitcher’s first bullpen session in Sarasota on Friday as he continued the simplified approach he used late last year.

“It was all about not going over the top of my head because I was going way too far and that makes my mechanics go everywhere,” Jimenez told reporters in Sarasota on Saturday. “Right now, I’m able to simplify everything by grabbing the ball and just going straight to home plate. Once I saw everything was working, I was staying with it and I’m not changing anything.”

With Showalter and Wallace needing to choose among six starters for five spots in the rotation, Jimenez will need to pitch effectively this spring, but just under $39 million remaining on his deal mean he’ll receive every opportunity to prove last year was a fluke. Historically, Jimenez’s fastball velocity has been the key in determining whether his mechanics are right as his average of 90.6 miles per hour last season was the slowest of his career and continued a steady decline since 2010 when his fastball averaged 96.3.

Much of that can be attributed to wear and tear, but an increase closer to his 2013 level (92.1 miles per hour) would indicate he’s on a better track. Opposing hitters also made contact on 80.8 percent of their swings a year ago, up from his career mark of 78.3 percent. Jimenez still averaged 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings a year ago — the same as his career mark — but hitters were more patient than ever (4.15 pitches per plate appearance) against him as he struggled to throw strikes.

It’s easy to say the Orioles regret their rich investment in Jimenez after one season, but his track record suggests better results are likely in order for 2015. Whether that improvement will be enough to justify a spot in the rotation is the real question after the Orioles’ other five starters each posted an ERA of 3.65 or lower a year ago.

“Hopefully, everything changes and I’m going to be able to compete better and be able to give the team a chance to win,” Jimenez said. “Last year was a disappointing year. It was a really bad year. There’s no doubt about it, but just changing my mechanics makes everything better. I’m going to be able to compete.”

For the price they’re paying Jimenez over the next three seasons, the Orioles certainly hope so.

 

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