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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-4 loss to Detroit

Posted on 18 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles losing for the fifth time in six games in a 5-4 final to the Detroit Tigers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Needing to give his club a deep outing after Tuesday’s 13-inning affair, Ubaldo Jimenez instead threw 95 pitches over five innings and gave up five runs. I never question the veteran’s desire, but he’s simply not getting the job done.

2. You’d probably never heard of Tyler Collins before this series and understandably so as he entered the night mired in an 0-for-30 slump. Jimenez proved to be the cure to his struggles by surrendering two home runs to the 26-year-old center fielder.

3. Scoring four times over seven innings against 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer is a respectable output, but — as I wrote earlier on Wednesday — this offense probably needs to score at least five or six runs per night to win games right now.

4. How much of a struggle was Wednesday’s outing for Jimenez? He allowed at least two baserunners in all but one of his five frames. Orioles starters are rapidly making 20-pitch innings the norm.

5. Orioles pitching is seemingly allergic to having a lead. As if Tuesday weren’t bad enough, Jimenez quickly squandered a 1-0 lead in the second and a 5-2 lead in the fifth. There’s no sugarcoating how excruciating it is watching this staff at the moment.

6. If every other starter not named Dylan Bundy were pitching better and there were more interesting alternatives, time would almost be up for Jimenez, who is in the final year of his disappointing contract. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t still be looking over his shoulder, however.

7. Think Welington Castillo paid attention to what Caleb Joseph and Francisco Pena were doing at the plate in his absence? He’s 6-for-10 since being activated from the disabled list and had a particularly impressive at-bat in the fourth that resulted in an RBI single.

8. After a few rough outings earlier in the season, Stefan Crichton fared well in his 1 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the score at a one-run deficit. The Orioles need to find another effective middle reliever, and he took advantage of the opportunity.

9. Miguel Castro needed 25 pitches to register a scoreless eighth inning, but a 22-year-old sitting comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball? He’s raw, but there’s some intrigue there.

10. In regards to his brutal call on Manny Machado’s check swing to end the game, I suppose first base umpire C.B. Bucknor just wanted to go home.

11. Donnie Hart being sent to Norfolk was mildly surprising, but he’s not an established major league reliever yet and you can’t pitch that poorly with a three-run lead in the 12th inning. He’ll be back, and the Orioles need him to get back on track after a brutal May.

12. I’m no doctor and am not privy to the rehabilitation plan, but I’m surely not the only one wondering if it’s too soon for Zach Britton to be throwing for the first time in Sarasota on Thursday. Everyone in the organization will have their fingers crossed.

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Orioles outright Gentry to Norfolk to make room for Castillo

Posted on 16 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles made room for returning catcher Welington Castillo on the 25-man roster by outrighting outfielder Craig Gentry to Triple-A Norfolk ahead of Tuesday’s series opener in Detroit.

Castillo had spent the last two weeks on the 10-day disabled list while dealing with right shoulder tendinitis, but the Orioles surprisingly elected to keep No. 3 catcher Francisco Pena on the 25-man roster — at least for one night. Manager Buck Showalter indicated to reporters that keeping a third catcher would not be a long-term plan as the Orioles have been using a six-man bullpen for quite some time.

Pena is out of minor-league options and would have to be removed from the 40-man roster, leaving his future with the organization in doubt. He hit two home runs in Saturday’s loss in Kansas City and was 4-for-7 serving as the backup to Caleb Joseph while Castillo was out.

Showalter had been dealing with a crowded outfield picture since the return of Joey Rickard from the DL late last month, which had relegated Gentry to limited duty as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner. The Orioles have been primarily using Rickard and rookie Trey Mancini as the corner outfielders against left-handed starters.

Gentry was hitting just .162 with one home run, four RBIs, and three stolen bases despite appearing in 33 of Baltimore’s 36 games. With Rickard missing action with a finger injury in April, the 34-year-old had served in the leadoff spot against left-handed starters, but he had not continued the spring success that won him a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Castillo was back in the starting lineup against the Tigers on Tuesday night and is hitting .314 with one homer, six doubles, six RBIs, and a .776 on-base plus slugging percentage.

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Orioles activate Britton, place Castillo on 10-day DL

Posted on 02 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles officially welcomed closer Zach Britton back to the 25-man roster while losing another key player prior to Tuesday’s game against Boston.

Catcher Welington Castillo was placed on the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis a day after being scratched with what was originally described as neck spasms. An MRI exam revealed the issue, but the ailment is not expected to sideline Castillo for long.

Signed to a one-year, $6 million contract in December, the 30-year-old is batting .314 with one home run, six RBIs, and a .776 on-base plus slugging percentage in 72 plate appearances with his new club.

“Structurally fine. He started some medication,” manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Boston prior to Tuesday’s game. “I think it’ll manage itself within the 10 days, but because of the position, we’re going to need a catcher. We’ve been thinking about it, waiting on the tests, and talking with Welington the most. This is the path that we have decided to take.”

Baltimore selected the contract of Francisco Pena from Triple-A Norfolk. He is expected to serve as the backup to Caleb Joseph for the time being. To make room for Pena on the 40-man roster, recently-acquired minor-league pitcher Damien Magnifico was designated for assignment.

The Orioles are thrilled to have Britton back at the end of the bullpen for the first time since April 14 when he felt left forearm discomfort while throwing a slider in Toronto. The two-time All-Star closer made two rehab appearances for Double-A Bowie, allowing a home run in 1 2/3 innings.

To make room for Britton’s activation from the DL, right-handed pitcher Mike Wright was optioned back to Norfolk a day after being recalled as a fresh arm for the bullpen. He did not appear in Monday’s game.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-4 win over Yankees

Posted on 30 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles avoiding a three-game sweep in a 7-4 win over the New York Yankees in 11 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. In what was sure to be one of the strangest games of the entire season, the Orioles battled back to salvage a win in what was a pretty miserable series. I’d imagine that Buck Showalter and his club couldn’t have been happier to leave the Bronx on Sunday evening.

2. The game would have ended in the 10th inning had Welington Castillo not made a terrific short-hop pick on J.J. Hardy’s throw to the plate for a force. Castillo added to that effort with three hits and an RBI single to give the Orioles more breathing room in the 11th.

3. If someone had told you Friday afternoon that Logan Verrett would be pitching in the 10th inning on Sunday, you’d guess that the series didn’t go well, but the right-hander did great work despite his mental gaffe on Brett Gardner’s bunt. He pitched two scoreless frames to collect the win.

4. The Orioles bullpen had done superb work in Zach Britton’s absence prior to this weekend, but Darren O’Day joined Brad Brach in blowing consecutive save chances against the Yankees. Fortunately, the All-Star closer is expected to be activated this week.

5. The Yankees handling an 11th-inning rundown like a Little League team allowed the third run of the inning to score. After what happened in the ninth, the Orioles needed all the scoring they could get to make Verrett’s job easier.

6. Joey Rickard’s stolen base was the pivotal moment in the 11th and the third of the game for the Orioles, the first time they’ve swiped that many in a single contest since Aug. 19, 2015. As former Kansas City nemesis Jarrod Dyson once said, “That’s what speed do.”

7. You won’t find too many pitching lines weirder than what Wade Miley produced as he gave up only two runs in five innings despite allowing a whopping 13 baserunners. His escape acts in the second, third, and fourth innings kept the Orioles in the ballgame.

8. Walks continue to be an issue for Miley and the Orioles staff as he walked at least five for the third time in five starts and Darren O’Day walked two in a brutal ninth. Baltimore is walking 4.2 batters per nine innings this season, up from 3.4 in 2016.

9. Before the blown save and extra-inning theatrics, Jonathan Schoop had been the player of the game for the Orioles with the go-ahead RBI double in the sixth and a sensational defensive play in the seventh. His .538 slugging percentage is tops among Orioles everyday players.

10. He hasn’t been asked to pitch the ninth inning, but Mychal Givens has been the MVP of the bullpen while Britton has been sidelined. Asked to pitch more than one inning again on Sunday, the right-hander pitched two scoreless to lower his season ERA to 1.29.

11. I don’t recall watching a game in which a pitcher threw an inning, moved to another position, and then returned to the mound like Bryan Mitchell did for the Yankees. It was creative maneuvering by Joe Girardi, but Mitchell gave up three in the 11th inning to take the loss.

12. After Mark Trumbo drove in the go-ahead run in the 11th and hit a grand slam on Friday night, the Orioles can only hope that he’s finally getting the bat going after a difficult start to 2017.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 2-1 loss to Toronto

Posted on 15 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles falling 2-1 on a walk-off home run from Kendrys Morales on Saturday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You won’t find a worse breaking ball than the one Tyler Wilson threw to Morales. Since Brad Brach warmed up in the top half of the inning, I was surprised to see Wilson still out there, but Brach was only available to close, according to Buck Showalter.

2. Marco Estrada labored early for the Blue Jays, but the starter gave the Orioles lineup fits with his changeup over seven shutout innings. Baltimore consistently has problems against pitchers who are more about finesse and changing speeds than velocity.

3. You never want to lose, but the performance of Alec Asher in his Orioles debut was an encouraging development for the big picture. Showalter couldn’t have asked for more from the former Philadelphia hurler, who was only acquired late in spring training.

4. Asher threw an impressive breaking ball to get some big outs when he needed them. He’s not going to overpower you with the two-seam fastball, so he needs his secondary stuff in order to compete.

5. The right-hander left a few too many fastballs up in the zone early as he benefited from some good defense behind him. The transition from the four-seam fastball to the two-seamer last year has paid dividends, but Asher clearly wants to live lower in the zone moving forward.

6. Asher certainly earned another opportunity as the fifth starter, but it’s fair to wonder how much of his success was the result of a Toronto offense that’s been woeful so far in 2017.

7. The Orioles certainly wasted early chances against Estrada, leaving five runners on over the first three innings. They went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Saturday.

8. Jonathan Schoop missed a golden opportunity to double off Jose Bautista with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. I’m still not sure what happened there as Darwin Barney then picked up the go-ahead RBI single off Donnie Hart two pitches later.

9. Adam Jones made a strong throw to the plate on Barney’s run-scoring hit to almost nail Bautista, but the one-bounce throw skipped away from Welington Castillo. The Orioles likely would have gotten a cleaner hop if that game were being played on grass instead of turf.

10. Craig Gentry showed in the ninth why the Orioles like him, stealing second and tagging up on a fly ball to go to third before scoring on Schoop’s game-tying sacrifice fly. His speed is an asset if he can hit a little bit, but that’s a big question right now.

11. You could tell by Mark Trumbo’s reaction that he missed a very hittable pitch from Estrada as he flied out to end the top of the third with two runners on. He was 0-for-4 and doesn’t have an extra-base hit since his walk-off homer and double on Opening Day.

12. Seeing all uniformed personnel wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day has become one of my favorite traditions in recent years. The importance of this man to both baseball and America needs to be celebrated and remembered.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 2-1 win over Toronto

Posted on 13 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles earning a 2-1 victory to send Toronto to a franchise-worst 1-8 start, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was another nail-biting ninth for Zach Britton, but he converted his fourth save of 2017 and his 53rd consecutive overall, the third-longest streak in major league history. The lefty is going to blow one eventually, but the Orioles wanted to keep the struggling Blue Jays down.

2. Kevin Gausman turned in his best performance of the young season, showing much better fastball command and displaying better timing with his mechanics. His 64.9 percent strike percentage was much more in line with his career mark than what we saw in his first two outings.

3. Jonathan Schoop and J.J. Hardy drove in a run each in the top of the fifth after turning a beautiful double play in the second inning that involved a Hardy glove flip to Schoop. It was fun seeing that after their respective defensive struggles in Boston on Tuesday night.

4. Gausman was a ground-ball machine early in the game and induced 11 on the night. He only recorded three strikeouts and 10 swinging strikes, but he did a fine job keeping pitches down in the zone for most of the night.

5. The right-hander did lose his fastball command in the sixth as he missed low-and-away targets to leave fastballs up on consecutive doubles by Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson. However, he made quality pitches to Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin to conclude his night with a 2-1 lead.

6. After throwing 21 pitches in the fourth and 20 pitches in the fifth, you have to wonder if Gausman ran out of gas in the bottom of the sixth, especially after the Orioles were retired on five pitches in the top half of the inning. He needed a breather there.

7. Darren O’Day is looking more and more like himself after pitching a 1-2-3 seventh inning that included a Kevin Pillar strikeout and two grounders. It looks like he’s rediscovered his command after his first two rough outings in Baltimore.

8. After being the butt of jokes with a 135.00 ERA after his disastrous season debut, Francisco Liriano pitched exceptionally well with 10 strikeouts. It’s impressive to strike out that many on only 91 pitches in 6 2/3 innings.

9. I’m a bigger defender of Bobby Dickerson than most since third base coaches universally aren’t nearly aggressive enough, but his send of Trey Mancini with no outs in the fifth was brutal. He had no chance of scoring without a horrendous throw to the backstop or something of that nature.

10. Welington Castillo deserved a pat on the back from Britton after that ninth inning with several balls in the dirt. The catcher is also off to a good start at the plate hitting .385 with his new club.

11. It’s still early, but Craig Gentry is now 0-for-12 with six strikeouts. Buck Showalter playing him over Hyun Soo Kim — who’s never gotten any semblance of a real opportunity against lefty starters — is one thing, but batting Gentry in the leadoff spot is questionable at best.

12. The Orioles struck out 15 times with Gentry and Davis combining for seven of them. A strong pitching performance was exactly what they needed to win their third straight game over Toronto this season.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-1 loss to Boston

Posted on 12 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles surrendering a total of six runs in the seventh and eighth innings of an 8-1 loss to Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Infield defense is one of the Orioles’ greatest strengths, making J.J. Hardy’s error on what should have been an inning-ending double play in the seventh so surprising. What followed after that was downright brutal. Kicking the ball around to give the Red Sox lineup extra outs is begging for doom.

2. Lost in the ugliness of the last few innings was the fact that the Baltimore lineup has scored just twice in its last 16 innings. One run at Fenway Park isn’t going to cut it.

3. The final line for Darren O’Day doesn’t reflect him looking better than he did in his first two outings. He induced what should have been an easy double play and a pop fly that should have been caught. Few survive when they have to get five outs in an inning.

4. Dylan Bundy wasn’t carrying stuff or command as dominant as we saw against Toronto, but he gave his club a good chance to win over 6 1/3 innings. He didn’t miss many bats with just nine swinging strikes, but he still turned in a quality start against a superb lineup.

5. Considering how much he labored without a single 1-2-3 inning on the night, Bundy throwing a career-high 106 pitches against a club that led the majors in scoring last year reflects how much confidence manager Buck Showalter has in the 24-year-old.

6. Tuesday marked the latest example of Orioles hitters faltering against left-handed pitching. Baltimore was one of the worst teams in baseball against southpaws last year, a trend that can’t continue in 2017.

7. Give Drew Pomeranz credit for those struggles as he turned in a strong performance after an unsettling spring. The Red Sox lefty’s fastball velocity was strong early, and he did a good job pitching inside against right-handed hitters.

8. Their defensive mistakes in the seventh stood out, but Hardy and Schoop are each hitting .105 through the first six games and aren’t offering much at the bottom of the order thus far.

9. Welington Castillo had two hits and threw out Hanley Ramirez trying to steal, but his baserunning cost the Orioles a run in the second inning and hurt them again in the seventh. The Orioles lack speed, but they have to take extra bases when presented the opportunity.

10. His strong spring earned him a roster spot, but Craig Gentry being in the leadoff spot against a lefty is a tough sell for me. There may not be a natural fit with Joey Rickard sidelined, but I’d still go with virtually anyone else at the top of the order.

11. Trey Mancini did a respectable job playing left field in front of the Green Monster on Tuesday and showed why you like having his bat in the lineup against a lefty when he put a charge into one for a double to deep right-center in the second.

12. Despite Mancini’s potential, Hyun Soo Kim seemed to be a good candidate to hit for him with runners at the corners and no outs in the seventh and right-hander Heath Hembree pitching. The Orioles needed a good at-bat there, and Kim’s approach is one of the best on the club

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-4 win over Yankees

Posted on 08 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles rallying to beat the New York Yankees in a 5-4 final to win their fourth straight to start the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The home run is their calling card, but the Orioles used some unlikely small ball to win Saturday’s game as Mark Trumbo stole second base off Dellin Betances before Hyun Soo Kim delivered the eventual game-winning RBI single on the next pitch. Go figure.

2. It hasn’t always looked easy, but the Orioles bullpen delivered 4 1/3 shutout innings to add to their season total of 16 2/3 scoreless frames over the first four games. Buck Showalter has taken advantage of two off-days to use Zach Britton and Brad Brach in every contest.

3. After being called out on a borderline third strike with the bases loaded in the fifth, Kim showed impressive poise in his encounter with Betances to work a full count before picking up his third hit of the night to give Baltimore the lead.

4. Trumbo also had a great at-bat against Betances as he stayed back on his slow breaking ball to line an RBI single into left after being late on his mid-90s fastball on the previous pitch. You don’t see that success often against the Yankees reliever.

5. His teammates picked him up, but Kevin Gausman having command problems for the second straight start is a little disconcerting since he’s rarely had issues with walks in the past. He couldn’t locate his fastball and has walked seven in his first 10 innings of work.

6. There was debate over Gausman’s balk that plated the third New York run, but you’d really prefer his focus to be on retiring Starlin Castro with two outs in the fifth inning instead of worrying about catcher Austin Romine running at third base.

7. It was a bummer seeing young Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez leave the game with a right biceps injury. He’s going to the disabled list, but you hope it’s nothing serious for such a talented young player.

8. J.J. Hardy left the bases loaded in the fourth inning and is just 1-for-13 with an infield single to begin the season. It’s obviously early, but you’d like to see him hitting the ball with more authority on the heels of the back problem that disrupted his spring.

9. He made up for it with an RBI single and a walk later in the game, but Welington Castillo had a rough second inning as he failed to get a tag down on Aaron Hicks at the plate and committed a throwing error on a stolen base attempt. He then struck out in the bottom half of the frame.

10. The Orioles had their share of poor at-bats in Saturday’s contest, but Yankees shortstop Ronald Torreyes swinging at the first pitch to pop out to end the top of the eighth after Brach had issued back-to-back walks was cringeworthy.

11. His baserunning has never been a strength, but Manny Machado stole second base prior to Castillo’s RBI single in the fourth. This came after he didn’t steal any last year and stole 20 in 2015. After stealing only 19 bases last year, the Orioles had two on Saturday.

12. I’ll never get tired of seeing the alternate orange jerseys for Saturday games. It’s one of the best looks in all of baseball.

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2017 Orioles preview: Welington Castillo

Posted on 25 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than two weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

Manny Machado
Kevin Gausman
Adam Jones
Darren O’Day
Seth Smith
Mike Wright
Caleb Joseph
Donnie Hart
Jonathan Schoop
Mychal Givens
Ryan Flaherty
Brad Brach
J.J. Hardy
Ubaldo Jimenez
Mark Trumbo
Wade Miley

C Welington Castillo

Opening Day age: 29

Contract status: Under contract through the 2017 season with player option for 2018

2016 stats: .264/.322/.423, 14 HR, 68 RBI, 41 R, 2 SB, 457 PA

Why to be impressed: Former Oriole Matt Wieters has received many more accolades throughout his career, but Castillo is a year younger and has posted a .747 OPS over the last two years compared to Wieters’ .723 mark over that same stretch. Not known for his defense, Castillo threw out a career-high 38 percent of runners attempting to steal last season.

Why to be concerned: Arguably the biggest reason why Arizona didn’t tender Castillo was his ranking in the bottom five in pitch-framing metrics from 2013-2015 with only modest improvement last year. And while the Orioles downplay the significance of his absence this spring, Castillo’s participation in the World Baseball Classic eliminated the chance for him to better familiarize himself with his new pitchers.

2017 outlook: There’s little reason to think that Castillo won’t be a solid short-term starting catcher with Caleb Joseph backing him up as the Orioles wait on the progress of top prospect Chance Sisco. However, it is fair to wonder what ultimately turns clubs off from Castillo as he’s been traded twice and non-tendered over the last two calendar years.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .256/.315/.421, 15 HR, 62 RBI, 44 R, 1 SB, 431 PA

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on start of Grapefruit League play

Posted on 27 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles already playing spring games in Sarasota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Having fetched compliments for his early-spring work, Ubaldo Jimenez induced four ground-ball outs in two solid innings on Monday. Command remains his biggest need, but his average fastball was just 90.1 miles per hour last year, making it even more important for him to effectively use his two-seamer.

2. Jimenez gave up a run thanks in large part to a chopper that Mark Trumbo should have handled. Hyun Soo Kim later lost a routine fly in the sun. Both plays were ruled hits and are examples why error totals and fielding percentage aren’t particularly helpful statistics for evaluating defense.

3. Jonathan Schoop hit a monster homer that Yankees left fielder Aaron Hicks didn’t even bother to react to on Monday. The 25-year-old clearly needs to become more selective, but improving further against lefties like he did last year is another key to him finding another level of success.

4. The early reviews from Sarasota have been positive for Welington Castillo, but you still hate to see the new catcher spending so much time away from Orioles pitchers to play in the World Baseball Classic.

5. I like the idea of celebrating a global game, but I hate the timing of the WBC. Yes, injuries will occur anyway — evident by the Orioles’ ailments before Grapefruit League play — but potentially losing a valuable commodity when it’s not even under your watch is a cruel risk.

6. Donnie Hart struck out two in a scoreless inning against the Yankees and could be an important cog. He held lefties to a .347 on-base plus slugging percentage last year and will be a real force if he uses his changeup to hold his own against right-handed bats.

7. Speaking of young lefties, prospect Tanner Scott was consistently hitting the mid-to-upper 90s in striking out two and walking one in an inning on Monday. The 22-year-old averaged an unseemly 8.0 walks per nine innings last year, but he’ll be fun to watch if he can find more control.

8. It was only his first spring outing, but former Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo was roughed up for four runs, three hits, and two walks in an inning for Seattle on Monday. No matter how Seth Smith performs this season, I still like that trade.

9. Vidal Nuno was sharp in two scoreless innings against the Yankees and looks like a good fit to fill the Vance Worley role this year. The difference is that Nuno has a minor-league option remaining, which will aid in the flexibility of the bullpen when necessary.

10. On the other hand, Oliver Drake is out of options and gave up the game-winning three-run homer Monday. The 30-year-old has had some success with a 3.48 ERA in 33 2/3 major league frames, but he needs to have a strong spring to be in position to make the club.

11. A cranky back for J.J. Hardy to begin the spring should be a reminder to give the 34-year-old shortstop enough periodic rest. There’s no reason not to do it when you have Manny Machado to slide over to short as well as Ryan Flaherty to help spell the veteran.

12. Buck Showalter wants to move on from last year’s wild-card game, but you hope everyone learned from it. When possible, your best reliever should be deployed for the game’s most critical moment, which isn’t always for the standard save situation in the ninth. That’s not radical “baseball nerd” talk.

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