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Five questions for Orioles in final 10 games of regular season

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Five questions for Orioles in final 10 games of regular season

Posted on 18 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles may have already wrapped up their first American League East title in 17 years, but a number of questions are left to be answered as they play out the remainder of the regular season.

Here’s a look at what remains on manager Buck Showalter’s mind for his 92-60 Orioles as they enter the final 10 games before the postseason …

1. Is it more important to go for the No. 1 seed in the American League or to rest everyday players?

Even though a 43-31 road record suggests the Orioles shouldn’t be afraid of playing away games in October, it’s difficult to argue with wanting home-field advantage considering Showalter’s club is a remarkable 30-8 at Camden Yards since June 30 and hasn’t lost consecutive home games since June 28-29. Entering Friday, they trailed the Los Angeles Angels by 2 1/2 games for the best record in the major leagues, a deficit that is far from insurmountable with the Angels playing Seattle and Oakland three times each — all six games are on the road — in their final nine games.

But Showalter also knows players who are fresh — or are at least as fresh as possible in October — are even more important to the Orioles’ chances of playing deep into the postseason. The early indications are that we’ll see position players such as Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Nelson Cruz, and Steve Pearce sit on a rotational basis of one or two per game, but Showalter has also said resting pitchers will be the higher priority.

The club’s top relievers have already been rested periodically over the last couple weeks as we’ve seen the likes of Ryan Webb, Evan Meek, and Brian Matusz pitch in some high-leverage situations while Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton have gone unused in certain games when they’d usually be available. Showalter could also elect to give a spot start or two to Ubaldo Jimenez or Joe Saunders to align his rotation and give some extra rest to starters who have historically benefited from extra days like Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez.

Entering Friday, the Orioles owned an eight-game lead over current No. 3 seed Detroit, so there isn’t any real danger of losing their grasp on the second seed if the Angels hold a steady lead into next week.

2. “I Don’t Know’s on third?”

While many have focused on the lost power potential of Chris Davis when news broke of his 25-game suspension last week, his absence at third base — where he was doing a solid job filling in for the injured Manny Machado — created the bigger dilemma as we’ve seen the trio of Ryan Flaherty, Jimmy Paredes, and veteran Kelly Johnson share time at the hot corner since last week.

Flaherty is the best defensive option, but his .645 on-base plus slugging percentage creates another weak spot in a lineup that’s already carrying the inconsistent rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop and one of the catching duo of Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley. Paredes and Johnson have provided some heroics with the bat in recent days, but neither provides a great deal of confidence defensively and they don’t have a track record — Johnson’s numbers in recent seasons are far inferior to the hitter he was four or five years ago — suggesting their offense will make a great impact in October, anyway.

It’s unlikely that Showalter will make a definitive choice for October, but his strong affinity for defense might make Flaherty the best bet of the three to receive extensive time — at least against right-handed starters — unless Paredes or Johnson continue to rake over the final 10 games going into the playoffs. Of course, there’s no guarantee that both Paredes and Johnson make the postseason roster.

3. Who will make up the four-man rotation for the playoffs?

Not counting Ubaldo Jimenez who appears all but certain to be left off the postseason roster, the Orioles really can’t go wrong with all five of their starters currently sporting an ERA of 3.62 or lower.

However, it would appear that Kevin Gausman is the starter left out considering he’s the least experienced of the group. Showalter’s decision to leave Chris Tillman out of the rotation in the 2012 postseason is a good indication that he’ll lean on experience, but the Orioles would be foolish not to put Gausman’s power arm in the bullpen to spell any starter showing signs of early trouble.

For the sake of ranking the remaining four from top to bottom, Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, and Norris would be a fair order based on how they’ve pitched in recent weeks.

4. Which 25 players will make up the Division Series roster?

The Orioles elected to keep 12 pitchers for the Division Series two years ago, which gave them an eight-man bullpen and plenty of flexibility to match up.

There shouldn’t be too much drama in the bullpen as Britton, Miller, O’Day, Gausman, Matusz, Brad Brach, and Tommy Hunter would fill the first seven spots with the final slot potentially going to long man T.J. McFarland or right-hander Ryan Webb. With three of the four rotation members right-handed, McFarland could be Showalter’s preference in the event of an early exit by a starter as he’d be a long reliever throwing from the opposite side to face a lineup designed for the right-handed starter.

Working under the assumption that Jones, Markakis, Cruz, Hardy, Pearce, Schoop, Joseph, Hundley, Flaherty, Delmon Young, and Alejandro De Aza are locks, Paredes, Johnson, and outfielders David Lough and Quintin Berry would be the realistic candidates fighting for two spots. It will be interesting to see if Showalter values having either Lough or Berry as a pinch-running option and late-inning defensive replacement, which would push either Paredes or Johnson off the roster with the other  guaranteed to make it as an option at third base.

The suspended Davis isn’t eligible to return until after the first eight games of the postseason, so his status isn’t a factor for the Division Series.

5. Will the Orioles be able to maintain their edge?

With so much discussion about Showalter needing to rest his everyday players, there’s a fine balance between providing a breather and accidentally turning off a competitive switch that isn’t guaranteed to come back on in October.

This could be a real concern for many clubs locking up a playoff spot in mid-September, but the mental toughness shown from the likes of Jones and Markakis all the way down to Paredes and De Aza makes you think the Orioles are incapable of losing their focus. Of course, the possibility of still being able to catch the Angels for the top seed provides extra incentive for players to remain engaged over the final 10 games.

Considering they’ve overcome season-ending losses to two All-Star players and haven’t even blinked since Davis’ suspension began last week, it would be difficult to fathom the Orioles finally having a mental letdown at this late stage. The Orioles may ultimately fall short in the playoffs, but it won’t be due to a lack of focus or going through the motions.

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Orioles’ ability to overcome adversity begins with starters

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Orioles’ ability to overcome adversity begins with starters

Posted on 14 September 2014 by Luke Jones

With Friday’s surprising news of Chris Davis being suspended 25 games for amphetamine use, the same question that’s been tossed the Orioles’ way all season was uttered once again.

How can they overcome this?

Despite an 88-60 record entering Sunday that had them days away from the American League East championship, the Orioles have faced anything but a problem-free campaign in 2014.

All-Star players Matt Wieters and Manny Machado have suffered season-ending injuries. Top free-agent acquisition Ubaldo Jimenez has not only failed to meet expectations, but has been banished to the last spot in the bullpen and is very likely to be left off the postseason roster. And even before Davis’ suspension that now bans him until at least the AL Championship Series — if the Orioles advance that far — the slugger was hitting only .196 a year after hitting a franchise-record and league-leading 53 home runs.

“The game usually gives you back kind of what you put into it,” said manager Buck Showalter after the Orioles’ doubleheader sweep of the New York Yankees on Friday. “Everybody’s putting something into it.”

The narratives of resiliency and a different hero every night have frequently rung true, but they don’t paint the entire picture of how the Orioles have managed to all but run away with their first division title since 1997. We knew the Orioles would hit home runs and play exceptional defense entering the season, and those skills have certainly been there all year.

But the biggest question would be the pitching, particularly in the rotation. Even with the struggles of their $50 million addition in Jimenez, the starting pitching has not only silenced the doubts, but has been a strength since the first two months of the season. Through the end of May, the starting rotation had posted an underwhelming 4.49 ERA as the Orioles were 27-27. Since June 1, starters have pitched to an impeccable 3.20 mark, which would be tops in the AL if extrapolated over the entire season. The Orioles have gone 61-33 over that period of time, a .649 winning percentage.

Even with the unevenness of April and May included, Baltimore ranks sixth in the AL in starter ERA, which nearly any fan would have gladly taken at the start of the season. The current team ERA of 3.50 would be the Orioles’ lowest in a full season since 1979 when the AL champions posted a 3.26 ERA.

When being compared to the other top clubs around baseball, the Orioles are often sold short for lacking a true ace, but that hasn’t stopped the starting rotation from becoming the strong heartbeat of a club nearly 30 games above .500 in mid-September. All five members of the current rotation sport an ERA of 3.74 or better, making Showalter’s job a difficult one when deciding which four will make the postseason rotation.

Not only has the quintet of Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman pitched effectively, but the group has been durable with only Gonzalez and Norris spending brief time on the disabled list this season. After using a total of 12 or more starters in each of the previous three seasons under Showalter, the Orioles have sent just seven starters to the hill in 2014 with long reliever T.J. McFarland only receiving one spot start.

Four Oriole starters — Tillman, Chen, Norris, and Gonzalez — have made 24 or more starts. For perspective, only three made 24 or more starts in 2013 and just one did it in 2012 when the Orioles earned their first postseason trip in 15 years.

Upon learning of Davis’ suspension on Friday, the Orioles responded by promptly sweeping a twin bill over the Yankees in which they allowed one run in 20 total innings. The nightcap was particularly indicative of what the Orioles have become as they fielded what looked like a spring training lineup that included only four players from the Opening Day order and three who weren’t even on the 40-man roster at the start of the year. It was no problem for Bud Norris, who pitched seven shutout innings against the fading Yankees in a 5-0 victory.

“Good pitching solves a lot of problems, issues, whatever you might want to call it,” said Showalter as he reflected on the work his club did following the Davis announcement on Friday. “That’s usually where it starts.”

And it’s why the Orioles shouldn’t be counted out, even after this latest blow to the lineup.

 

 

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Orioles temporarily option Clevenger to Aberdeen to make room for Chen

Posted on 31 August 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles announced Sunday that they have recalled LHP WEI-YIN CHEN from the Gulf Coast Orioles and have optioned CA STEVE CLEVENGER to Short-Season Class-A Aberdeen.

Chen, 29, is 13-4 with a 3.76 ERA (148.1IP, 62ER) in 25 starts for the Orioles this season.

Clevenger, 28, has batted .234/.289/.364 in 27 games for the Orioles. He batted .305/.366/.389 with two home runs and 30 RBI in 64 games for the Tides this season.

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Orioles recall infielder Paredes to take Gausman’s spot before Sept. 1

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Orioles recall infielder Paredes to take Gausman’s spot before Sept. 1

Posted on 28 August 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles took advantage of another procedural move Thursday by recalling utility infielder Jimmy Paredes from Triple-A Norfolk to take right-hander pitcher Kevin Gausman’s spot on the 25-man roster.

Just like lefty starter Wei-Yin Chen was optioned to the minors on Wednesday, Gausman was optioned to the Gulf Coast League Orioles but will be eligible to return as early as Friday since the rookie-level league is concluding its season on Thursday. Instead of making a 25-man roster move like they’ll need to do to recall Chen for his Sunday start, the Orioles will simply wait to recall Gausman to make his next scheduled start on Monday when rosters expand for the month of September.

The 25-year-old Paredes can play all four infield positions — though his strongest spots are at third base and second base — and the corner outfield spots while offering a speedy switch-hitting option off the bench. After playing with a three-man bench for several games, the Orioles will now benefit from having five positional reserves with backup catcher Steve Clevenger and Paredes being added in the last two days.

“He was probably coming up Sept. 1, anyway, and it was a way to get him here,” said manager Buck Showalter about Paredes. “It creates more depth. You never know what the game’s going to bring. You just want to be prepared.”

Paredes has been on the Orioles’ radar for a while as the organization initially claimed him off waivers in February. However, they unsuccessfully tried to sneak him through waivers to outright him to the minors, and he was claimed by Kansas City Royals a couple days later. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette acquired Paredes for cash considerations on July 24 and optioned him to Triple-A Norfolk.

After spending parts of three seasons with the Houston Astros, Paredes went 2-for-10 in nine games with Kansas City earlier this season. In 140 plate appearances with Norfolk, Paredes was hitting .258 with three home runs and 23 runs batted in.

In four major league season, Paredes has appeared in 54 games in left field, 50 at third base, 10 at second base, and one in right field. He is a career .233 hitter with three homers, 31 RBIs, 13 stolen bases, and a .272 on-base percentage in 406 career plate appearances in the majors.

Showalter confirmed he still plans to start Chen and Gausman on Sunday and Monday, respectively. The two starting pitchers are supposed to take work days with GCL pitching coach and former major league hurler Wilson Alvarez, according to the Baltimore skipper.

The Orioles announced Thursday that their Sept. 14 game against the New York Yankees has been moved from 1:35 p.m. to 8:05 p.m. after it was selected by ESPN to be the nationally-televised Sunday night game for the week.

Single-A Aberdeen catcher and Calvert Hall graduate Alex Murphy will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery and miss the organization’s instructional league. However, the 2013 sixth-round pick is expected to be ready to go for the start of spring training, according to Showalter.

Murphy was hitting .277 with three home runs and 25 RBIs for the IronBirds.

Former Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold was claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks after being designated for assignment by the Toronto Blue Jays earlier in the week. The 30-year-old hit .212 with two home runs and nine RBIs for Toronto.

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Orioles temporarily option Chen to minors to add extra bat off bench

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Orioles temporarily option Chen to minors to add extra bat off bench

Posted on 27 August 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles furthered their reputation for manipulating their roster as much as any club in the majors by optioning left-handed starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen to their Gulf Coast League affiliate and recalling catcher Steve Clevenger from Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday.

The procedural move provides another left-handed bat off the bench for manager Buck Showalter, but Chen will be allowed to be recalled for his regular turn to pitch against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. Since the Gulf Coast League completes its season on Thursday, the Taiwanese lefty would be eligible to return to the majors the following day and would not need to wait the normally-required 10-day minimum in the minors.

Clevenger was hitting .305 with two home runs and 30 runs batted in in 64 games for the Tides this season. He hit .240 in 26 games for the Orioles earlier this year. The Orioles have been playing with a three-man bench since recalling right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez and designating infielder Cord Phelps for assignment in Chicago on Sunday.

“We’ve been playing short a position player for a while,” Showalter said. “We thought this was an opportunity to take care of that problem and give us a better chance to win tonight. That’s what it’s about. And a better chance to win tomorrow night.”

Not factoring in the decision after his second-shortest outing of the season in Tuesday’s 4-2 win, Chen will pitch on regular rest despite Showalter briefly considering waiting to recall Chen until Monday when major league rosters will expand. The Orioles will need to make a temporary 25-man roster move to make room for Chen on Sunday.

Chen leads the Orioles with 13 wins and has posted a 3.76 ERA in 25 starts this season. The 29-year-old has allowed 158 hits, struck out 109, and walked 28 in 148 1/3 innings.

With Kevin Gausman, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez also possessing minor-league options and scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Orioles may choose to send down other starting pitchers over the next few days should a need arise.

“We’ll consider anything that gives us a better chance to win the game that night and doesn’t jeopardize anything we’re doing in the future down the road,” Showalter said. “We’ll see what the game brings tonight. We’ll let each game dictate where we are and what our needs are.”

Machado surgery successful

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado underwent successful surgery to repair a partially-torn ligament in his right knee.

Machado traveled to Los Angeles Tuesday before Dr. Neal ElAttrache — who handled last year’s surgery on his left knee — completed the procedure early Wednesday morning. The 22-year-old is expected to remain in California for the next three weeks before either traveling to Sarasota to continue rehabbing or rejoining the Orioles for a while.

“Manny’s surgery went real well. That was good to hear,” Showalter said. “Doctors say everything went well [and] as expected, without mentioning the doctor’s name. They had a good [grasp on] what they thought was going to happen and what they thought they were going to find.”

The Orioles and Machado expect his surgically-repaired knee to be 100 percent and cleared before the start of spring training.

Bundy ready for “normal” offseason

Pitching prospect Dylan Bundy visited Showalter and the Orioles to discuss his offseason plan on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old right-hander has nearly recovered from the lat strain that landed him on the disabled list and prematurely ended his season pitching for Single-A Frederick. Bundy is expected to participate in the Orioles’ Sarasota minicamp in late January.

“The goal and the hope now for him is to have a normal offseason of a healthy pitcher,” Showalter said. “They talked about him ending the season active and marked as healthy just so he can start his offseason, which in some cases would be doing nothing for a while. I think that would be good for him.”

Bundy made his return in June from last year’s Tommy John surgery, going 1-3 with a 3.27 ERA in nine starts spanning 41 1/3 innings split between short-season Single-A Aberdeen and high Single-A Frederick.

O’Day receives his due

Right-handed relief pitcher Darren O’Day has been exceptional since arriving in Baltimore in 2012 and received some novel recognition with his own T-shirt (below) given to fans before Wednesday night’s game.

“I’m glad [he's] being recognized,” said Showalter, who wasn’t aware of the O’Day T-shirt prior to Wednesday. “If you just throw a blanket over all relief pitchers, you can make a case there’s nobody in baseball having a better year out of the bullpen than Darren O’Day. This year, it’s been left, right, switch-hitters, it doesn’t matter. Darren’s just been solid.

“When you get your ERA under 1.00 with those amount of appearances, you’re not sneaking up on anybody. They all know what he features; they all know what he’s trying to do.”

O’Day is 4-1 with a 0.94 ERA in 57 2/3 innings of relief work, which includes 61 strikeouts and 16 walks.

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Is moving to a six-man rotation what’s best for the Orioles?

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Is moving to a six-man rotation what’s best for the Orioles?

Posted on 05 June 2014 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter often quips how his best-laid plans and toughest decisions tend to be made by the baseball gods, making Wednesday’s news of starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez possibly going to the disabled list with a strained oblique unfortunate but also fitting.

The injury came just a day after Showalter acknowledged the possibility of moving to a six-man rotation with left-handed pitcher and former two-time American League Cy Young Award winnter Johan Santana slated to be ready to return to the major leagues later this month. Baltimore’s starting pitching ranks 12th in the AL in earned run average and 14th in innings pitched, but no one starter has struggled significantly more than the others in trying to decide who might be replaced by the 35-year-old Santana.

Traditionalists still pining for the days of a four-man rotation and the 1971 Orioles will scoff at the notion of using six starters, asking why Showalter and the organization would want to make such a change when they don’t even have five starters consistent enough for their liking. One of the biggest arguments against a six-man rotation is that it limits the amount of work for your best pitchers, but no Orioles starter has performed well enough so far this season to really have such a gripe.

Assuming Gonzalez’s potential trip to the DL isn’t a lengthy one, what are the benefits of using a six-man rotation when Santana is ready to be activated?

The fundamental change does reduce the average starter’s workload by just over five starts in the course of a 162-game schedule, but it also adds an extra day of recovery time, which is an interesting variable considering how often Showalter has tried to gain an extra day of rest for the likes of Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen over the last couple seasons. Never one to shy away from thinking outside of the box, Showalter could reason that a six-man staff might require tinkering with pitchers’ between-start regimens — perhaps each member of the rotation has a day in which he’s available in the bullpen to account for the lost roster spot — but could also result in fresher arms come September.

Would a schedule in which a pitcher works every sixth day allow him to throw 15 extra pitches per start or — more importantly — to simply be more effective and efficient when he takes the hill because he feels stronger?

With the alarming increase in Tommy John surgeries for major league pitchers this year, some have discussed the merits of using the six-man rotation to alleviate stress on the elbow while pointing to Japanese baseball’s significantly lower rate of Tommy John surgeries compared to the major leagues. In this era of increased specialization and the desire to protect pitching investments reaching nine figures, it only seems to be a matter of when — not if — clubs begin shifting to six-man rotations in the same way that the standard changed from four starters to five beginning in the 1970s. It has already started with some clubs occasionally moving to six-man rotations to protect young pitchers’ innings limits and is likely to trickle down to underwhelming rotations — like the Orioles’ current group — before ultimately becoming the standard around the major leagues at some point down the road.

Moving to a six-man rotation would allow Showalter to add Santana to the mix without relegating a current starter to the bullpen where he might struggle to get regular work. One of the more overlooked challenges for a pitcher can be the in-season shuffle between starting and relieving, which can put significant strain on the arm. Should Santana’s surgically-repaired left shoulder not hold up or he simply prove ineffective after not pitching since 2012, the Orioles could either transition back to a five-man rotation or look to add 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman to the starting mix, which would also quell concerns about his innings limit in 2014.

There’s no clear-cut answer as some pitchers such as Chen and Gonzalez have thrived with extra rest while Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris have historically performed better working on four days’ rest. Perhaps a six-man rotation in which one or two starters take a higher priority in staying on turn would need to be designed, but Showalter’s mere acknowledgement of it being a possibility tells you the Orioles skipper has put extensive thought into it and has collected as much information as possible to make a potential decision.

Maybe we’ll see it or perhaps the baseball gods will intervene to prevent it from happening, but below is a look at the current starters’ results based on four, five, and six or more days of rest in their major league careers.

Chris Tillman
Four days: 4.47 ERA in 54 starts, 5.75 innings per start
Five days: 4.56 ERA in 18 starts, 5.59 innings per start
Six days or more: 3.82 ERA in 24 starts, 5.5 innings per start

Ubaldo Jimenez
Four days: 3.64 ERA in 131 starts, 6.23 innings per start
Five days: 4.31 ERA in 65 starts, 5.85 innings per start
Six days or more: 4.74 ERA in 27 starts, 5.42 innings per start

Bud Norris
Four days: 4.10 ERA in 65 starts, 5.81 innings per start
Five days: 4.49 ERA in 50 starts, 5.93 innings per start
Six days or more: 5.07 ERA in 21 starts, 5.49 innings per start

Wei-Yin Chen
Four days: 4.52 ERA in 30 starts, 5.84 innings per start
Five days: 3.89 ERA in 25 starts, 6.11 innings per start
Six days or more: 3.32 ERA in 11 starts, 5.91 innings per start

Miguel Gonzalez
Four days: 4.18 ERA in 25 starts, 6.12 innings per start
Five days: 2.77 ERA in 13 starts, 6.26 innings per start
Six days or more: 3.31 ERA in 14 starts, 5.83 innings per start

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Not all 2012 similarities provide feel-good reminder for Orioles

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Not all 2012 similarities provide feel-good reminder for Orioles

Posted on 27 May 2014 by Luke Jones

Nearly two months into the 2014 season, the similarities are there between this year’s Orioles and the 2012 club that broke a streak of 14 straight losing seasons and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Contributions from unexpected heroes, a 5-1 record in extra-inning games, an 11-6 mark in one-run contests, and an ability to overcome a slew of injuries to this point are all themes reminiscent of two years ago. A bullpen that ranks fifth in the American League in earned run average and now appears stabilized — knock on wood — with Zach Britton stepping into the closer role appears to be emerging as a strength for manager Buck Showalter.

But another similarity to 2012 doesn’t make one feel inclined to print the playoff tickets just yet as the Orioles currently rank 11th in the American League in starter earned run average and tied for 13th in innings pitched by starters entering play on Tuesday. Two years ago, the Orioles ranked ninth in starter ERA and starter innings, but that improved ranking only came after substantial improvement in which they had the fifth-best ERA in the AL in the second half.

Of course, it didn’t take a shrewd prognosticator to anticipate struggles with the starting pitching this season, but the current state of the rotation still has an upside-down feel to it. Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez occupied the top two spots in the Opening Day rotation and have been the weakest — or, at least, the most frustrating — links through the first two months of the season. Jimenez’s inconsistency shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s paid close attention to his career and his unorthodox mechanics, but Tillman’s struggles after his first three starts of the season in which he posted a 0.84 ERA have become very alarming.

In his last eight starts, the 2013 All-Star selection has posted a 6.64 ERA, and that’s even including a complete-game shutout against Kansas City on May 16. What initially looked like a stretch of simple inconsistency is quickly becoming a long-term concern with Memorial Day now in the rear-view mirror and many fans wondering if the de facto ace is hiding an injury.

The 26-year-old right-hander has maintained he’s fine physically aside from some minor groin tightness a couple weeks back, but his fastball command has failed him, making it difficult to use his other pitches effectively. He’s walked 24 batters in his last 42 innings after walking only three in his first 21 1/3 innings of work in 2014.

Meanwhile, the trio of Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Wei-Yin Chen have pitched more effectively despite plenty of clamoring for upgrades to replace any combination of the three earlier this spring. Norris has quietly been the club’s best starter with a 3.83 ERA and has averaged more than six innings per outing, the only member of the rotation to do so.

Fans were screaming for Gonzalez to be removed from the rotation after he allowed 10 earned runs in his first two starts, but the right-hander has posted a strong 3.19 ERA since those horrific outings and has turned in three consecutive quality starts. Chen may cause plenty of nerves once he hits the 90-pitch mark in a given outing, but his 4.08 ERA is acceptable in the AL East.

Despite Norris, Gonzalez, and Chen keeping the rotation afloat while Tillman and Jimenez try to rebound from their poor starts, Showalter and the Orioles clearly need more from the starting pitching. It’s a common theme that played out in 2012 — when Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter occupied the top two spots in the Opening Day rotation — before Tillman and Gonzalez provided second-half shots in the arm to a rotation that improved over the course of a 93-win campaign.

Making changes may prove more complicated this time around as Tillman’s track record suggests Showalter will continue running him to the hill every fifth day — and he probably should for the time being. Of course, there are 50 million reasons why you shouldn’t expect Jimenez’s spot to be in any real jeopardy despite a 4.98 ERA, and you simply hope he discovers one of his customary hot stretches at the right time in what’s been a consistently inconsistent career.

But it’d be difficult to convince anyone that the Orioles will make the postseason with the same five starting pitchers in their rotation all year. Reinforcements will be necessary as they are for any team in any season.

At this point, it appears that 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman and veteran reclamation project Johan Santana are the most likely candidates to receive opportunities.

Putting aside an ill-advised call-up to start on three days’ rest earlier this month, Gausman remains the crown jewel of the minor-league system and is still expected to be a contributor for a large portion of the 2014 season. His 2.41 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Norfolk has kept him on the fast track to Baltimore, but it remains to be seen if his slider has developed enough to make him the kind of pitcher that can go through a lineup three times in a given night.

The most intriguing pitcher to watch over the next couple weeks will be Santana, who appeared to be nothing more than a lottery ticket the Orioles purchased in spring training as he was recovering from a second surgery on his left shoulder. His fastball velocity is now in the high 80s — about where it was with the New York Mets — giving him the desired 10-miles-per-hour difference with his famous changeup that the Orioles feel is necessary to be successful.

The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner completed his final extended spring training start on Monday and has an opt-out clause that can be used at the end of the month, but he’s expected to be assigned to a minor-league affiliate with the potential to receive a shot in the Baltimore rotation in the not-too-distant future. Reports and results from Sarasota have been favorable on the 35-year-old, but there’s no way of knowing whether his health or current stuff will hold up at the major league level.

Even with all the feel-good comparisons to the 2012 Orioles tossed about by media and fans alike, this year’s club knows it needs better starting pitching to stay afloat in what’s been a mediocre AL East this season. Their best hopes are with Tillman or Jimenez — preferably both — to reverse their early-season struggles, but the Orioles will inevitably need to lean on reinforcements because of injuries or ineffectiveness at some point.

Those reinforcements worked in 2012, but it remains to be seen if that’s another trend that will resurface for the Orioles.

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Gausman to make 2014 Orioles debut on Wednesday

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Gausman to make 2014 Orioles debut on Wednesday

Posted on 13 May 2014 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 5:30 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — The Orioles announced right-hander Kevin Gausman will make his 2014 season debut in a start against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday.

The news comes as a surprise considering Gausman was dealing with a bout of pneumonia less than two weeks ago and made his most recent start for Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, meaning the 23-year-old will be working on just three days’ rest. Gausman is scheduled to be opposed by former American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander on Wednesday afternoon.

“I threw kind of a shorter bullpen two days ago,” Gausman said. “I feel good. I feel good physically. I had a little bit of sickness there for a little bit, but [it] ended up being nothing too serious. Just happy to be feeling healthy, 100 percent, and feeling great.”

The Orioles had originally listed Wei-Yin Chen as Wednesday’s starter as it was his regular turn in the rotation, but manager Buck Showalter preferred giving the Taiwanese southpaw an extra day and implied that he didn’t want to use the lefty against a Detroit lineup dominated by right-handed hitting. Chen will start the opener of a four-game set against the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night.

Gausman threw a season-high 77 pitches in 4 2/3 shutout innings at Indianapolis Saturday night as the Orioles have been limiting his innings in hopes of keeping the 2012 first-round pick fully available late in the season. Considering he will be working on short rest and hasn’t been fully stretched out this season, Gausman will unquestionably be on a limited pitch count with Miguel Gonzalez available in long relief.

“I feel good about all my pitches,” said Gausman, who feels he would be fine to throw 90 to 100 pitches against Detroit. “It was just good to get out there especially after being on the [minor-league disabled list]. That was my first time being on the DL. It’s kind of frustrating to be around baseball all day and not play.”

In six starts for the Tides this season, Gausman is 0-1 with a 2.08 earned run average and has struck out 26 and walked 14 in 26 innings of work. The right-hander missed nearly two weeks of action with what was initially diagnosed with an intercostal strain before it was determined he was suffering from pneumonia.

Gausman appeared in 20 games and made five starts for the Orioles last year, going 3-5 with a 5.66 ERA in 47 2/3 innings. However, he completed the best start of his career against Detroit last season when he allowed one run and five hits in six innings on June 2, 2013.

Chris Tillman is tentatively penciled in to pitch on Friday, but he’s been dealing with some groin soreness and Showalter wanted to make sure he made it through his bullpen session before declaring him ready to go. The Orioles are also waiting to hear about any potential discipline handed down from Major League Baseball for Saturday’s starter Bud Norris after his incident with Torii Hunter on Monday.

Gonzalez would be the prime choice to fill in for either Tillman or Norris if necessary.

“It kind of fits best for our club and some of the situations that changed over the last couple of days that we needed to be prepared for down the road,” said Showalter about Gausman’s promotion. “Obviously, some guys pitch better with extra rest and some guys don’t. Kevin, because of some of his inactivity down below and where they’ve shortened him up, his innings management is in good shape right now as we sit here in the middle of May.”

In injury news, Showalter said Norfolk outfielder Henry Urrutia’s sports hernia surgery was successful as he’ll need six to eight weeks to fully recover.

Right-handed pitcher Dylan Bundy threw live batting practice for the first time since Tommy John surgery on Tuesday. The 2011 first-round pick threw 20 pitches and reached 93 miles per hour with his fastball.

Outfielder Nolan Reimold is now participating in all baseball-related activities and is getting closer to becoming an option again for the 25-man roster. He is currently on the 60-day disabled list as he continues to work his way back from a second spinal fusion surgery and is eligible to come off the DL on May 29.

Left-handed pitcher Johan Santana (shoulder) will pitch in his next extended spring training game on Friday. Young lefty Eduardo Rodriguez will pitch four innings Wednesday in Sarasota as he’s currently on the minor-league DL with a knee injury.

Rule 5 selection Michael Almanzar will have a doctor appointment regarding his knee later this week.

Veteran relief pitcher Luis Ayala was assigned to Double-A Bowie.

 

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Britton continues coming up huge for Orioles bullpen

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Britton continues coming up huge for Orioles bullpen

Posted on 16 April 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hardy moving closer to return to Orioles lineup

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Hardy moving closer to return to Orioles lineup

Posted on 08 April 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles lineup finally broke out in a 14-5 win on Tuesday and received good news about the status of shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Though the 31-year-old was sidelined for the fourth time in five games while dealing with lower back spasms, manager Buck Showalter said prior to Tuesday’s game that Hardy would have been available to come off the bench if necessary. Of course, the convincing win over the New York Yankees made Hardy’s use unnecessary as the Orioles provided more than enough offense to support a shaky outing from starter Wei-Yin Chen.

“A lot better, much more available,” Showalter told reporters of Hardy’s status prior to Tuesday’s win. “I’m optimistic he’d be an option [Tuesday]. We’ll see how the rest of the day goes. I wouldn’t have said that [Monday]. He’s improved, very close to being ready to start. … You can tell just by his face. So that’s good.”

With All-Star third baseman Manny Machado still on the 15-day disabled list while recovering from offseason knee surgery, the Orioles have been without a pair of Gold Glove defenders on the left side of the infield.

Left with a short bench, Showalter has been forced to use Ryan Flaherty, Steve Lombardozzi, and Jonathan Schoop at three infield positions, but the trio combined to go 8-for-15 with four runs scored on Tuesday to ease concerns about the bottom of the order.

With the Orioles scheduled to play a night game Thursday to conclude their three-game set with New York before an off-day, Showalter could elect to keep Hardy on the bench for one more game to be on the safe side before the Orioles return to Camden Yards to begin a six-game homestand.

Chen struggles again

Lost in the offensive explosion occurring in Tuesday’s win was another lackluster effort by Chen, who earned the win despite allowing four earned runs and nine hits in five innings of work.

In two starts, Chen has allowed eight earned runs and 21 hits over 10 2/3 innings. The Taiwanese lefty has yet to issue a walk this season, but he’s often been up in the strike zone while catching too much of the plate.

The Yankees and Red Sox did have their share of hits that weren’t exactly clobbered against Chen — suggesting he’s been unlucky on top of his overall ineffectiveness — but his start to the 2014 season continues a disturbing trend from the end of last season. Over his last nine starts dating back to Aug. 27, 2013, Chen has allowed 72 hits over 46 innings of work while posting a 6.65 earned run average and a 1.85 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).

Of course, Chen’s track record over the first two-plus seasons of his career suggests he’s much better than what he’s shown recently, but his lack of command within the strike zone has been alarming.

Bats finally wake up

After being held to just 22 runs in their first seven contests, the Orioles plated 14 runs and bashed 20 hits to quell premature panic about the offense. The last time the Orioles collected 20 hits was May 10, 2011.

All nine starters collected at least one hit and all but one (Matt Wieters) had multi-hit games. Wieters, Adam Jones, and Delmon Young each hit home runs to match the Orioles’ total of three long balls in the first seven contests of the year.

Wieters and Young each collected three runs batted in against Yankees pitching.

 

 

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