Tag Archive | "Ubaldo Jimenez"

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay

Posted on 25 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 2-0 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 18th game of the 2016 season.

1st — It was only a matter of time before Rays ace Chris Archer bounced back from a horrendous start to his season, but the Orioles were shut out for the first time all season and extended their scoreless streak to 17 innings. And it’s a shame because they received a more-than-acceptable performance with only two runs allowed by Orioles pitching. Entering the night with a 7.32 ERA, Archer did a superb job commanding his changeup and slider to complement his mid-90s fastball, but the Orioles managed just five hits and didn’t have a single batter reach against the Rays bullpen. The lone offensive highlights of the night were provided by Pedro Alvarez, who collected two doubles as he tries to bounce back from a horrendous start. No other Baltimore hitter reached second base, however.

2nd — Kevin Gausman deserved a better fate, but his struggles after failing to get the call on a 3-2 slider to Steven Souza proved to be the difference in the fifth. The Orioles had to be pleased with what they saw from the 25-year-old in his season debut following a stint on the disabled list, but the terrific breaking ball he displayed over the first four innings vanished after the walk to Souza and he worked into too many deep counts and struggled to put hitters away the rest of the inning. The pitch he’d ultimately like to have back was the 3-2 fastball catching too much of the plate that Rays catcher Curt Casali lined down the left-field line to plate Souza for the first run of the game. The 32-pitch fifth brought a premature end to his outing and he probably ran out of a gas trying to keep up with a terrific pitcher on the opposing side, but Gausman removed much doubt about the health of his right shoulder by using a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s and a sharp breaking ball to strike out seven in five innings. He just didn’t get any help from his offense.

3rd — In his second appearance since coming off the DL, Brian Matusz walked the two left-handed hitters he faced and loaded the bases in the sixth. If the lefty specialist isn’t going to get lefty bats out, his place in the bullpen becomes tenuous at best as he doesn’t offer as much length as other pitchers. Yes, it was Vance Worley who clipped Casali’s jersey with a pitch to force in the second Tampa Bay run, but Matusz was the one who created the mess that led to a 2-0 deficit.

Home — The Orioles didn’t have many opportunities, but Jonathan Schoop, Joey Rickard, and Manny Machado combined to go 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. … Chris Davis was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. … Despite hitting Casali to force in a run, Worley pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings for Baltimore to save the rest of the bullpen. … Adam Jones grimaced after swinging at the second strike in his final at-bat and was captured by MASN cameras talking to trainer Richie Bancells in the dugout after he grounded out in the ninth inning. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill on Tuesday night and will be opposed by Tampa Bay right-hander Jake Odorizzi.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 loss to Boston

Posted on 14 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 4-2 defeat to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the eighth game of the 2016 season.

1st — The Orioles had their chances against Red Sox starter Joe Kelly in the early going and left nine men on base in the first five innings. They managed seven hits and five walks against the right-hander through five, but a two-run shot by Chris Davis was Baltimore’s only scoring for the night. Regardless of who’s pitching for your side, scoring two runs isn’t going to be a good recipe to win.

2nd — You can get the good Ubaldo Jimenez or the really bad one, but Wednesday brought the dentist-chair version as the right-hander threw 47 pitches through two innings, 70 pitches through three, and 90 pitches through four innings at chilly Fenway Park. Jimenez couldn’t command his slider or splitter and walked four batters while giving up six hits and four earned runs. The results probably would have been worse if not for a couple nifty double plays turned by his infield defense.

3rd — You’re never supposed to make the first or third out at third base, but the Orioles did both over the course of Wednesday’s game. First, it was J.J. Hardy being thrown out trying to stretch a leadoff double to right-center into a triple in the second inning. You could forgive the aggressiveness more if not for the fact that Kelly was already struggling with his control and you know the shortstop doesn’t run well. However, that miscue was trumped by Manny Machado getting thrown out trying to steal third base with two outs in the sixth and Davis at the plate as the possible tying run. The 23-year-old is a phenomenal player and had three hits on the night, but that was bad baseball.

HomeJoey Rickard saw his seven-game hitting streak snapped to begin his major league career and grounded out with the bases loaded in the second, hacking away at both pitches he saw after Kelly had walked two hitters in the inning. … After their first seven homers of the season were all solo shots, the last seven long balls the Orioles have hit have come with men on base. … Baltimore continued its streak of having at least eight hits in each of the first eight games to begin a season, a club record. … Tyler Wilson pitched for the first time since Opening Day, notching three shutout innings to save the rest of the bullpen. … Chris Tillman goes to the hill on Thursday night to begin a four-game set against the Texas Rangers in Arlington and will be opposed by lefty ace Cole Hamels.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Minnesota

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins to complete a three-game sweep on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the third game of the 2016 season.

1stUbaldo Jimenez didn’t look like he would complete seven strong innings early on, but he induced a 1-4-3 double play from Trevor Plouffe to escape a jam in the third inning and turned his outing around from there. The right-hander retired 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced, striking out eight over that stretch. Minnesota hitters were on his fastball early, but Jimenez mixed in his secondary pitches more effectively the second and third times through the order and his split-finger fastball was particularly sharp. Known for his occasional control issues, Jimenez didn’t walk a batter while striking out nine and scattering eight hits. His outing not only allowed the Orioles to remain within striking distance, but he saved a bullpen that had worked 11 innings over the first two games of the series.

2ndManny Machado was moved out of the leadoff spot for the Orioles on Thursday, but he still served as the catalyst for a lineup that was scuffling against Minnesota starter Phil Hughes for much of the evening. His home run to left with two outs in the bottom of the sixth reminded the rest of the order that a 2-0 deficit was far from insurmountable and the Orioles responded with three more runs over the next couple innings to surge ahead. The first-pitch homer came after Machado was locked in during his previous at-bat, a nine-pitch battle in the fourth that resulted in a line-drive single.

3rd Darren O’Day did have a two-run lead and has proven to be more than capable of handling the closer duties in the past, but he was very impressive in striking out the side to complete the 4-2 victory. The right-hander was also making his third appearance in four days, a heavy workload for this early stage of the season. O’Day recorded six strikeouts in three scoreless innings in the series.

HomeJoey Rickard continued his storybook start to the 2016 season with his first major league homer in the bottom of the eighth. The Rule 5 pick received a curtain call for his efforts as the crowd chanted his name repeatedly. … Jonathan Schoop knocked in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh with a single to center. … Dylan Bundy made his first major league appearance since Sept. 25, 2012 and pitched a scoreless eighth inning after he had warmed up at several other times during the series. … Caleb Joseph threw out two runners attempting to steal, one of them being Danny Santana right before Joe Mauer homered off Jimenez in the first inning. … After throwing only 22 pitches because of a rain delay on Opening Day, Chris Tillman returns to the hill on Friday where he’ll be opposed by Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer to begin a three-game set.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Minnesota

Posted on 07 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the second game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Davis homered at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the first time since Oct. 4, 2015, the game many assumed would be the slugger’s last in an Orioles uniform before he signed a seven-year, $161 million contract in January to remain in Baltimore. The 421-foot shot to center off Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson gave Baltimore the lead for good in the bottom of the third and was the Orioles’ first home run of the season. The first baseman made a good defensive play in the eighth, picking J.J. Hardy’s in-between hop on a throw and keeping his foot on the bag to record the out before tumbling over.

2ndYovani Gallardo allowed just one run and struck out four in five solid innings to win his Orioles debut. The only hits he allowed were a pair of doubles by talented Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, but Gallardo did walk three batters and induced only three grounders, which is fairly unusual for him. His velocity remains a concern as his fastball sat mostly between 87 and 88 miles per hour, but he mixed his pitches well, using his slider to strike out Byung Ho Park and Eduardo Escobar in the fourth. The 30-year-old retired seven of the final eight hitters he faced and threw 89 pitches, 52 for strikes.

3rdJoey Rickard continued to impress in his second major league game, going 2-for-3 and picking up the first RBI of his career with a sacrifice fly to left in the fourth inning. The Rule 5 pick is 4-for-7 with a double and a run scored in two games and is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Rickard also had two six-pitch at-bats on Wednesday, something manager Buck Showalter wants to see if the left fielder is to eventually become the club’s leadoff hitter.

HomeJonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters each collected RBI doubles to give the Orioles their other two runs on the night. … Zach Britton allowed a double and a walk, but the 2015 All-Star closer struck out the side to earn his first save, tying Eddie Watt for seventh on the club’s all-time saves list with 74. … Not known for his patience at the plate, Hardy drew a walk for the second straight game and saw a total of 23 pitches in four trips to the plate. The Orioles have drawn 11 walks in their first two games of the season. … Pedro Alvarez is the only regular in the lineup yet to record a hit this season, but the former Pittsburgh slugger walked twice in Wednesday’s win. … Adam Jones appeared to show some discomfort after striking out swinging in the bottom of the eighth, but Showalter said he was unaware of any issue when asked following the game. … Thursday’s announced attendance was 12,622, the Orioles’ lowest mark since April 22, 2013 if you don’t count the empty-ballpark game from last year. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill Thursday night with the Orioles in search of a three-game sweep after going 0-7 against Minnesota in 2015. He’ll be opposed by Twins right-hander Phil Hughes.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 01 April 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule filled with twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2016 after looking at the factors that must go right. In an effort to not be too redundant in the wake of the first piece, I tried to avoid discussing the previous points needing to go well.

1. The starting pitching collapses

Yes, we touched on the starting pitching in the previous piece, but what else could possibly top this list — the entire starting lineup adopting Marty Cordova’s tanning bed strategy for the season?

In the AL in 2015, the Baltimore starting pitchers finished 14th in in ERA, 10th in strikeouts, sixth worst in walks, and second worst in home runs allowed. On top of that, the club’s most dependable starter, Wei-Yin Chen, signed with the Miami Marlins in the offseason.

Veteran newcomer Yovani Gallardo was tabbed as the man to replace him and carries a 3.66 ERA for his career, but his strikeout rate and velocity have plummeted over the last few seasons and the Orioles renegotiated his original three-year contract because of concerns with his right shoulder. The hope is that an impressive ground-ball rate keeps the 30-year-old effective pitching at Camden Yards.

Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman provide the most upside, but the former dealt with a hip issue early in camp and is coming off his worst season since 2011. Meanwhile, Gausman will begin the season on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis and the Orioles have already pushed back his projected return date from April 10 to April 19, making you wonder if the ailment is more serious than they first indicated.

You never know what you’re going to get from Ubaldo Jimenez, but he’s been more bad than good in his first two seasons with the Orioles. And now with the Orioles having severed ties with Miguel Gonzalez, they’ll be counting on the likes of Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and veteran newcomer Vance Worley to fill out the last spot in the rotation with Wright getting the first shot.

If this group can bring middle-of-the-pack quality — probably the most upside you could reasonably hope for — the Orioles are strong enough elsewhere to be in contention. A repeat of 2015 or worse could lead to a long summer in Baltimore.

And then you’d fear how dramatic struggles from the rotation could wear out a strong bullpen, no matter how effectively it’s managed.

2. Corner outfield wasteland repeats

The Orioles failed in their plan to use a committee of fringe veterans to handle the spots flanking center fielder Adam Jones a year ago, but questions remain for a second straight season.

Projected to be the primary starter in right field, Mark Trumbo should be an upgrade with the bat, but his limitations in the outfield are no secret and negative defensive value would wipe away much of what he brings at the plate. Fortunately, there isn’t a ton of ground to cover in right at Camden Yards, so the test will be how quickly Trumbo can get used to playing balls off the out-of-town scoreboard.

Left field was supposed to be handled by Korean newcomer Hyun Soo Kim, but his poor spring has his future in limbo. Putting aside the scouting failure of signing a player who isn’t able to catch up to fastballs and is poor defensively to a $7 million contract, the Orioles haven’t exactly treated Kim in the most hospitable way by benching him and then speaking at length to the media about his shortcomings as they’re trying to get him to accept a minor-league assignment, something he’s under no contractual obligation to do.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard is the wild card here after he posted a 1.029 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, but are the Orioles putting too many eggs in this basket? What did Tampa Bay not like about Rickard that the Orioles could be missing?

Veteran Nolan Reimold will factor into the mix as well, but he is better suited to be a fourth outfielder at this stage of his career. The minor-league options include Dariel Alvarez, Xavier Avery, Henry Urrutia, and converted first baseman Christian Walker, who is intriguing if he proves himself defensively.

3. Chris Davis reverts to his 2014 form

You can’t expect Davis to be any better just because he signed the richest contract in franchise history in the offseason, and it will be difficult for the 30-year-old first baseman to match what he did last season with his 47 homers.

That said, few events would be more deflating than to see Davis have a season more closely resembling what he was in 2014 when he hit .196 with just 26 home runs. If the Orioles are to contend, they’re going to need to hit a ton of home runs and Davis needs to again lead the way in that department.

His ever-increasing pull rate is something to monitor and could cause him to age poorly, but the Orioles hope Davis will continue being a great power hitter for the next three to four years before crossing their fingers that the final few years of the contract aren’t as painful as some fear they will be.

4. Buck Showalter leans too heavily on J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters

I touched on these topics at length in the offseason, but the Orioles would be wise to better manage Hardy’s health after two injury-plagued seasons and shouldn’t overlook defense when it comes to the catching pair of Wieters and backup Caleb Joseph.

Hardy has stayed healthy and slugged .521 with three home runs this spring, drastic improvement from his .564 OPS while playing the entire 2015 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The 33-year-old shortstop would likely benefit from more routine days off and should no longer be treated as the guy who missed only seven games combined in 2012 and 2013. Keeping Hardy fresh would presumably go a long way in keeping him healthy and productive at the plate and in the field.

The spring scare with Wieters’ right elbow could be a sign that he isn’t yet ready to be the guy who regularly caught 135-plus games per season prior to Tommy John surgery. Even if he is, the tools Joseph brings behind the plate shouldn’t be ignored despite Wieters being the better offensive player. If Wieters isn’t tearing the cover off the ball, the Orioles shouldn’t hesitate to use Joseph more often because of his ability to frame pitches and handle a pitching staff, especially since the former is only under contract through this season.

5. The Orioles are unable to block out the noise

It was a weird offseason a year after executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette flirted with the Toronto Blue Jays’ job promotion, and questions continue about whether members of the organization are on the same page.

The Orioles enter 2016 with a franchise-record payroll, but negotiations didn’t exactly go smoothly with Davis and the early-spring drama with both Gallardo’s physical and the twists and turns with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler were nothing short of bizarre.

The decision to release Gonzalez this week may have been the correct one from baseball and business standpoints, but it’s no secret that the well-liked pitcher’s departure didn’t sit well with his teammates. Yes, they’re professionals and will move on, but these are human beings with emotions, as Showalter often likes to remind us.

The Kim situation threatens to linger if the Orioles choose not to eat $7 million and instead carry him on the 25-man roster after saying he wasn’t good enough to make the club. Such a scenario wouldn’t exactly send a great message to the rest of the clubhouse, either.

On top of all that, the Orioles spent a great amount of money to essentially maintain a similar roster to the group that needed a five-game winning streak just to finish .500 last season. And few experts are giving the Orioles much of a chance to make the playoffs for the third time in five years after they failed to make any significant improvements to the starting rotation.

Over the past few years, the Orioles have often thrived under such circumstances, which should give fans hope.

None of this is quantifiable, of course, but with a higher payroll come greater expectations and this is a club with a window of just three seasons before All-Star pillars Manny Machado and Adam Jones hit free agency. And the minor-league well is quite dry when it comes to reinforcements to help address deficiencies.

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Final week of spring anything but smooth for Orioles

Posted on 28 March 2016 by Luke Jones

The final days of spring training are supposed to be used for determining the last couple roster spots and setting the starting rotation for the first few weeks of the regular season.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette are doing that, but the process couldn’t look much rockier than it does right now.

The future of newcomer Hyun Soo Kim remains in flux as he was out of the starting lineup for the sixth time in the last seven Grapefruit League games on Monday. Chris Tillman was named the Opening Day starter on Monday, but that decision was made by default with none of the projected members of the rotation having even a decent spring. The Tillman news came shortly after Showalter confirmed that the talented Kevin Gausman would begin the season on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis.

Questions about the rotation were going to persist no matter how starters performed this spring, but the Kim situation is surprising after the Orioles lauded the South Korean product as a projected starter from the moment they signed him to a two-year, $7 million deal in December. Instead, he’s been outplayed by Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard and speculation persists about him being returned to the Korean Baseball Organization since the Orioles can’t option him to the minors without his permission. A similar situation played out last March with Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon requesting his release and the Orioles obliging.

Making the situation more bizarre is the fact that Kim’s benching has come with him going 8-for-21 since beginning the spring in an 0-for-23 slump, but he has yet to record an extra-base hit and has just one walk while playing underwhelming defense in left. Despite struggling to make hard contact, Kim has struck out only six times in his 44 at-bats, which isn’t an indication that he’s completely overwhelmed against big-league velocity and off-speed pitches.

But the red flags have been there since early in the spring with Kim not expressing much confidence when speaking to reporters through an interpreter and Showalter not providing many ringing endorsements over the last month. The Orioles really must not like what they see to potentially part ways with a player at a position where they have such little depth.

Whether the Orioles are giving up on Kim much too soon and are putting too much stock in Rickard’s tremendous spring or they simply signed a player who was poorly scouted and has since shown that he’s in over his head, the situation is not a good look for an organization that’s had other missteps in the Pacific Rim since the successful signing of Wei-Yin Chen four years ago.

No matter what happens with Kim, the corner-outfield situation will not doom the Orioles in 2016 in the same way that the starting pitching could. The projected rotation entering the spring — Tillman, Gausman, free-agent pickup Yovani Gallardo, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Miguel Gonzalez — has posted an astronomical 11.51 ERA in 45 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League.

The only member of the bunch with an ERA under 9.31 is Gausman (4.50), who hasn’t pitched since March 16 due to his shoulder ailment. Showalter said Monday that Gausman could still return as soon as April 10, the first time the Orioles would need a fifth starter, but it remains to be seen whether that’s realistic.

In the meantime, the performance of Mike Wright (5.74 spring ERA), Vance Worley (4.61), and Tyler Wilson (2.92) over these final spring games becomes more important to watch.

We know the spring may not mean anything — whether evaluating good or bad performances — but it really is staggering how poor the starting pitching has been statistically. The common refrain from starters is that they’re feeling good and still getting their work in despite the results, but you’d think there would have been a few more decent outings even by accident.

Fans would like a couple reasons for optimism at this point after the starting pitching was the biggest reason why the Orioles fell to 81-81 last year.

The good news is that the games don’t count until next Monday. The bad news is, well, that the games count starting next Monday, creating more scrutiny for the final turn through the rotation this week.

With Kim’s uncertain future and the starting rotation’s nightmare spring, the final week before the Orioles’ return to Baltimore is less than ideal.

But it will be interesting.

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2016 Orioles preview: Ubaldo Jimenez

Posted on 14 March 2016 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than three weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2016 Orioles every day as they try to return to the playoffs for the third time in five years this season.

March 1 – Adam Jones
March 2 – Chris Tillman
March 3 – Jonathan Schoop
March 4 – Brad Brach
March 5 – Nolan Reimold
March 6 – Yovani Gallardo
March 7 – Matt Wieters
March 8 – T.J. McFarland
March 9 – Dariel Alvarez
March 10 – Brian Matusz
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Mychal Givens
March 13 – Ryan Flaherty

SP Ubaldo Jimenez

Age: 32

Contract status: Under contract through the 2017 season

2015 stats: 12-10, 4.11 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.2 K/IP, 3.3 BB/IP, 20 HR, 184 innings

Why to be impressed: The right-hander posted an impressive 2.81 ERA in the first half last year, and it was largely because of his highest ground-ball rate (49.1 percent) since 2009. Jimenez also dramatically improved his command by allowing 2.2 fewer walks per nine innings than he did in 2014 and posting the lowest overall walk rate (8.6 percent) of his career.

Why to be concerned: After commanding his two-seam fastball exceptionally well before the All-Star break, the veteran starter lost his feel for the pitch and produced a 5.63 ERA in the second half. Jimenez issued 36 walks, gave up 12 home runs, and struck out just 7.4 batters per nine innings in his final 84 2/3 innings of 2015, ruining what had been an exceptional first half.

2016 outlook: The key to success for Jimenez will be if he can recapture the command of his two-seamer that he had in the first half of 2015 when he threw it more frequently than he had since his 2010 All-Star season in Colorado. Jimenez is at his best when he’s keeping the ball down in the zone, but he lacks the consistency to expect numbers dramatically better from what he did a year ago.

2016 not-so-scientific projections: 12-12, 3.98 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8.1 K/IP, 3.4 BB/IP, 18 HR, 182 innings

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Seven questions for Sarasota: 2016 Orioles spring training

Posted on 16 February 2016 by Luke Jones

It’s about that time.

Pitchers and catchers officially report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Thursday as the Orioles begin preparations for their 63rd season in Baltimore. With their arrival comes the annual optimism of spring training, but there are plenty of questions to be answered as the club tries to bounce back from its first non-winning season since 2011.

Below are seven questions that will begin to be answered in Sarasota this week:

1. Are any high-profile additions still on the way?

Having already invested more than $250 million this offseason, the Orioles don’t appear to be finished spending with multiple reports indicating they were moving closer to a deal with free-agent starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo last week. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette also remains interested in adding another bat with free agents Dexter Fowler and Pedro Alvarez as well as Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce all being mentioned as possibilities. Of course, any additions of this caliber would have a substantial impact on not only the club heading north to Baltimore in April but on the 40-man roster that the Orioles have manipulated as frequently as anyone in baseball over the last few seasons. Duquette hasn’t hesitated to make substantial moves with spring training already underway in the past, so we’ll see if the Orioles are willing to spend a little more than they already have.

2. Can the Orioles win with the current starting rotation?

Of course, the addition of Gallardo would figure to help — even if there are real questions about him moving forward — but the Orioles lost their most reliable starter in Wei-Yin Chen and finished 14th in the AL in starter ERA last year. We won’t know whether Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have recaptured their pre-2015 form until the season begins, but it would be encouraging to see both pitch well in Grapefruit League action. Meanwhile, Kevin Gausman enters the spring knowing he will be in the rotation after being bounced between starting and relief and Baltimore and Norfolk over the last three years. The Orioles need the 25-year-old to put it together for a full season. Then, there’s the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, who had a 2.81 ERA in the first half and a 5.63 mark after the All-Star break in 2015. If Gallardo isn’t signed, the fifth starter competition is less than encouraging for a club hoping to contend.

3. Just how good is Hyun Soo Kim?

The Orioles signed the Korean outfielder to a two-year, $7 million contract in December, an indication that they believe he can be a starting-caliber player in the major leagues. However, there haven’t been many players to come to the majors from the Korean Baseball Organization, a league many consider to be comparable to the Single- or Double-A level of the American minor leagues. Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang was a big success story last season, but the Orioles hope Kim’s ability to get on base and to consistently hit line drives will translate into major league success. Early projections have compared him to Nick Markakis and Melky Cabrera, and the organization would be thrilled to get that kind of production from the 28-year-old. Kim handling a starting job would go a long way in quelling concerns about a corner outfield situation that was a nightmare in 2015 and is still a major concern.

4. How healthy is J.J. Hardy’s shoulder and back?

I discussed this situation in depth on Monday, but the Orioles must figure out a way to maximize whatever production the 33-year-old shortstop has left after the worst season of his career in 2015. Manager Buck Showalter is known for leaning hard on his veterans, but it may be time to take the foot off the gas in terms of expecting Hardy to play close to 162 games like in 2012 and 2013 when he missed a total of just seven games. It will be interesting to see if Manny Machado takes more reps at shortstop during the spring with thoughts of him playing games at his natural position when Hardy is out of the starting lineup like we saw last September. Of course, before any discussion or tinkering can take place, the Orioles need to see that Hardy’s left shoulder is healthy after he elected to forgo surgery on the torn labrum sustained late last spring. The health of his back is always something to monitor as well.

5. Will Dylan Bundy be ready to pitch in the big leagues?

The 2011 first-round pick made his major league debut as a 19-year-old more than three years ago and has pitched a total of 63 1/3 professional innings since then because of Tommy John surgery in 2013 and a shoulder problem last year. Bundy is only 23, but he’s out of minor-league options, meaning the Orioles must carry him on their 25-man roster if they don’t want to risk him having to clear waivers. Even if he is healthy — a question that will be of great interest this spring — the organization must try to marry his development with the reality of him occupying a spot in the bullpen. In a perfect world, Bundy would report to Sarasota healthy and gradually emerge as an effective middle reliever in a deep bullpen, but little has gone to plan with the prospect. His presence will resemble that of a Rule 5 pick, but there’s no finish line in sight as Bundy is now stuck in the majors unless he lands on the disabled list yet again.

6. How will Showalter handle the catcher situation?

The Orioles may not have expected Matt Wieters to accept the $15.8 million qualifying offer they made in November, but you would have to think Showalter intends to use the three-time All-Star selection as his primary catcher over Caleb Joseph. That being said, there are compelling arguments in favor of Joseph catching more and Wieters was just getting to a point in the final month of the season when he was able to catch on consecutive days, something he did only five times after returning in early June. Wieters said in December that he was happy to finally be finished with the rehabilitation process and to have a normal offseason, but he will still need to see how his elbow responds to a full spring training and full-time catching duty. The Orioles hope that Wieters stays healthy and lives up to his lofty salary, especially after Joseph showed the last two years that he was capable of being a solid starter for a fraction of the cost.

7. Who will be the biggest surprises of the spring?

Adding Gallardo and Fowler would shrink the number of open jobs, but there are a few players who could force the club’s hand in deciding who heads north in April. Outfielder Joey Rickard was considered one of the shrewder picks of the Rule 5 draft, and the Orioles are intrigued by the combined .427 on-base percentage the 24-year-old posted at the Single-, Double-, and Triple-A levels in Tampa Bay’s system in 2015. With at least one corner outfield job still open, could Dariel Alvarez or a returning L.J. Hoes have a spring strong enough to make the club and beat out veteran Nolan Reimold? And though the Chris Davis re-signing seemingly blocks Trey Mancini, could the 2015 Orioles minor league player of the year hit at such a high clip this spring that he forces the club to find a way to make room? Will someone off the radar do what Jimmy Paredes did last spring (a 1.005 on-base plus slugging percentage) to win a spot?

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Improving starting pitching complicated matter for Orioles

Posted on 19 January 2016 by Luke Jones

We know the Orioles need another starting pitcher.

In an ideal world, they’d add two to help fill the void of free-agent departure Wei-Yin Chen — their most consistent starter over the last four seasons — and provide more assistance to a staff that finished 14th in the American League in starter ERA last year.

But even if executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette does add a starter between now and the start of the season, refining from within will be paramount if the Orioles are to improve from the 81-81 record that left them on the outside looking in last October.

The starting pitching details from the end of 2015 are all too familiar by now.

Bud Norris was downright awful before finally being jettisoned in late July.

A declining strikeout rate (7.8 per nine innings in 2013 down to 6.2 last year) and a nightmarish 11.72 ERA in six starts against Toronto — his ERA against the rest of baseball was a respectable 3.84 — led to Chris Tillman’s worst ERA (4.99) since the 2011 season when he was still trying to establish himself as a major league pitcher.

Miguel Gonzalez had a shiny 3.33 ERA in his first dozen starts before a groin injury sent him to the disabled list in mid-June. He was never the same after that, posting a 6.53 ERA in his remaining 14 starts and going on the DL again in September.

For the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, improved command and a greater reliance on his two-seam fastball led to a 2.81 ERA in the first half of 2015 before he relapsed with a 5.63 mark following the All-Star break.

And the Orioles are hoping that a full season in the starting rotation for the 25-year-old Kevin Gausman will allow him to take the giant step forward many believe he’s capable of.

It’s easy to say that manager Buck Showalter needs more from these four starters, but what about other factors impact their pitching results?

As discussed extensively at the end of last season, the defense performing more like it did in 2014 would go a long way in helping a starting rotation that largely pitches to contact. However, the man receiving the pitches is also an important factor in their results.

That’s where the discussion becomes complicated with Matt Wieters accepting the $15.8 million qualifying offer for the 2016 season. The three-time All-Star catcher is better than Caleb Joseph offensively, but is Wieters — who won Gold Glove awards in 2011 and 2012 — the best catching option for Orioles pitching at this point?

Not according to the 2015 numbers with the departed Chen included below:

     2015 ERA pitching to Joseph      2015 ERA pitching to Wieters
Tillman 3.51 in 77 IP 4.88 in 83 IP
Gonzalez 4.18 in 71 IP 5.98 in 46 2/3 IP
Jimenez 2.87 in 144 1/3 IP 8.62 in 39 2/3 IP
Gausman 4.07 in 59 2/3 IP 4.38 in 51 1/3 IP
Chen 3.67 in 108 IP 3.18 in 65 IP

 

To be clear, these numbers alone don’t prove anything conclusive as Chen was the Orioles’ top starter and the only one to find more success with Wieters than Joseph last year. There are plenty of other factors impacting pitcher performance in this breakdown such as the opponents and the ballpark. Wieters also received most of his work behind the plate in the second half of 2015 when Gonzalzez and Jimenez were out of whack, and it would be wrong to significantly attribute their struggles to the veteran catcher’s return.

With Wieters being another year removed from Tommy John surgery, it would be fair to assume he’ll be more comfortable with pitch-calling after not catching in the majors for over a year and still spending time rehabbing even after his return in early June. It’s not as though Tillman and Gonzalez weren’t successful working with Wieters in 2012 and 2013 when both had consecutive seasons pitching to ERAs well below 4.00.

But more and more data is quantifying pitch-framing and how important it can be to a staff’s success, and this is where Joseph has proven to be valuable over the last two seasons. According to Baseball Prospectus, Joseph ranked ninth in the majors in called strikes above average and 10th in framing runs among qualified catchers last season after ranking seventh in CSAA and ninth in framing runs in 2014 when the starting rotation was among the best in the league in the second half.

Simply put, Joseph positions himself and receives the ball so effectively that he receives more called strikes on borderline pitches than the average catcher.

In contrast, Wieters — who is listed to be two inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Joseph — has been a below-average framer over the last few years after being a top 10 performer in that area early in his career. Before posting below-average framing numbers in parts of the last two seasons, Wieters ranked 25th in CSAA and 26th in framing runs in his last full season in 2013 and finished 13th in both categories in 2012.

When you have starters who mostly lack the electric stuff required to miss bats consistently, pitching along the edges of the strike zone becomes even more important than it already is. Stealing as many borderline strikes as possible may not turn a terrible pitching staff into a great one, but it can still go a long way over the course of a full season. This is how Orioles pitching would benefit having Joseph behind the plate more often than Wieters.

We’ll see how Showalter ultimately distributes the playing time, but all signs point to Wieters being the primary catcher and that wouldn’t be surprising given the steep financial commitment being made to him for the 2016 season. This will likely provide a boost from an offensive standpoint, but you hope the hidden cost won’t be too harmful to a starting rotation needing all the help it can get if the Orioles are to jump back into serious contention after their first non-winning season since 2011.

Ultimately, the Orioles need better performance from their incumbent starting pitchers and that responsibility mostly falls on their shoulders, but effective framing and stronger defense would further augment the strides they hope to make in 2016.

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Despite focus on offensive woes, rotation has sealed Orioles’ 2015 fate

Posted on 08 September 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles’ offseason departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis need to be rehashed about as much as Chris Tillman desires another start against the Toronto Blue Jays at this point.

We get it.

Even if you might have agreed with the decision not to sign either outfielder to a four-year contract, there’s no excusing an offseason plan that essentially consisted of writing checks to a long list of arbitration-eligible players and trading for a failed former first-round pick (outfielder Travis Snider) after one good half in 2014.

But even with the corner outfield woes that have lingered all year, the reeling Orioles entered Tuesday averaging 4.36 runs per contest, a mark nearly identical to last season’s 4.35 scored per game. It may not feel that way with the offense’s extreme peaks and valleys during a difficult 2015 season, but the numbers don’t lie.

Would the Orioles still be in contention for a playoff spot with Cruz and Markakis? Certainly.

But would Buck Showalter’s club be even with Toronto and the New York Yankees in the American League East race? Based on the way the starting rotation has performed, probably not.

That failure has ultimately sealed the Orioles’ fate as they entered Tuesday a season-worst seven games below .500 and 7 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot.

After ranking fifth in the AL with a 3.61 starter ERA in 2014 — the rotation was even better after the All-Star break with a 2.98 ERA — Orioles starters had a 4.59 ERA through their first 137 games, ranking 13th in the AL. Baltimore posted no worse than a 3.55 ERA in each of the final four months of 2014 while this year’s rotation has pitched to no better than a 3.84 mark in any single month.

You simply can’t expect to sustain success when your starters have been nearly an entire run worse per nine innings than they were a year ago. When you strip away the names and perceptions, the offensive numbers and bullpen ERA are very similar to 2014 while the starting rotation has woefully fallen short of last year’s pace.

Entering Tuesday, the Orioles had scored three or fewer runs in 46 percent of their games this season and held a 9-54 record under such circumstances. A year ago, Baltimore scored three or fewer 44.4 percent of the time and was 21-51 in those games.

Say what you will about the offensive struggles putting pressure on the pitcher, but it’s a two-way street when only one member of the starting rotation holds an ERA below 4.00. The offense has prompted much hair-pulling over significant stretches of 2015, but the times when Orioles starters have picked up the lineup have been few and far between.

Even if Dan Duquette anticipated the Orioles offense matching last year’s overall run production, he failed in leaving no margin for error for a rotation that exceeded expectations in 2014. That said, even the executive’s biggest detractors couldn’t have expected the starting pitching to be quite this poor.

Short of the Orioles making a marquee signing for an ace such as 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, few called for Duquette to make significant changes to the rotation this offseason after such a strong 2014. Less than a year later, the Orioles are left wondering who will even fit into the 2016 equation.

Tillman sports an ERA above 5.00 after three straight years of pitching to a 3.71 mark or better to establish himself as the club’s de facto ace.

After three straight years as a reliable starter, Miguel Gonzalez has been a disaster since late June and is currently on the disabled list.

Kevin Gausman was not only mishandled at the beginning of the season, but the 24-year-old hasn’t been able to build on a 2014 season in which he posted a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts.

A 15-game winner a year ago, Bud Norris didn’t even make it to August with a 7.06 ERA.

Ubaldo Jimenez has followed the narrative of most of his career with a strong first half (2.81 ERA) followed by a 6.88 ERA since the All-Star break, but there has been no attractive option to replace him like there was with Gausman last year.

Wei-Yin Chen is the only starter you can feel good about this season, but even he has allowed a club-leading 28 home runs. On top of that, the Taiwanese lefty is set to become a free agent at the end of the year and appears unlikely to return.

It’s easy to say the Orioles would be fine if they still had Cruz and Markakis — they’ve clearly been missed — but the story of last year’s 96-win club was more about a starting rotation that took off over the final four months of the season than offensive firepower. At a time when the Orioles needed to bear down this season, the starting rotation has instead saved its worst performance for August (5.23 ERA) and September (8.76 in the first six starts).

Most of the attention has naturally remained on an inconsistent offense after such a failure of an offseason, but the starting rotation that picked up the Orioles a year ago has instead helped hammer the final nails into the coffin for 2015.

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