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Orioles clear first hurdle of ninth-inning experiment to start 2014

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Orioles clear first hurdle of ninth-inning experiment to start 2014

Posted on 31 March 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The first trial of the great experiment that is the ninth inning was a success in the Orioles’ season-opening win over the Boston Red Sox on Monday.

Manager Buck Showalter sent new closer Tommy Hunter to the mound with a 2-1 lead and the 27-year-old eventually shut the door on the defending World Series champions despite some nervous moments along the way. There will be other uneasy times as a club with postseason aspirations tries to fill the void of Jim Johnson’s 101 saves over the last two years with a bullpen that had just 13 combined major league saves entering Monday.

The Orioles can add one more to that total as Hunter worked around a leadoff hit by pitch and a one-out single before retiring designated hitter David Ortiz — gulp — on a fly out to left and right fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. on a called strike three to send the Orioles to their 11th victory in their last 14 season openers. It took Hunter 22 pitches to get three outs, but there was no better way to acclimate him than against an offense notorious for wearing out pitchers with foul balls and deep counts.

So far, so good.

“That was fun. Hopefully, it’s like that a lot more,” Hunter said. “I had to earn it. That is a way of life in baseball. A one-run game to start the season off against the defending world champs. Here we are.”

Hunter passed his first test and showed the bulldog toughness you often find in successful closers, but there’s no telling whether his propensity for giving up the long ball or struggles against left-handed batters will ultimately lead to his undoing as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man. As Showalter said prior to Monday’s game, the hard-throwing right-hander is merely the first to receive the opportunity to do the job with the likes of Darren O’Day and Ryan Webb waiting in the wings if he falters.

In fact, the first glimpse at the rest of the bullpen was interesting as Showalter turned to left-hander Zach Britton for two strong innings in which he enticed six ground-ball outs. The Baltimore manager then surprisingly handed the ball to newcomer Evan Meek — a non-roster invitee to spring training — to begin the eighth before the former Pittsburgh Pirates reliever walked two batters and forced Showalter to bring in lefty specialist Brian Matusz for the final out of the inning.

Meek had pitched nine scoreless innings in Grapefruit League play to make the club out of spring training, but Showalter’s confidence in a pitcher who spent the entire 2013 campaign in the minor leagues was surprising with O’Day and Webb available.

“It’s not easy,” said Showalter of his bullpen’s four shutout innings. “It’s not always going to look aesthetically pleasing, but it’s a hard thing to do. And you’re playing the world champions and there’s a fine margin for error, whether it be Zach Britton or Evan Meek or Brian Matusz.”

Perhaps his eighth-inning use of Meek was a sign that the Orioles manager himself is still trying to gain a feel for a bullpen that lacks the experienced late-inning man on which you can depend. Baltimore tried to address that need in its pursuit of veteran closer Grant Balfour this winter, but when that deal was squashed, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette decided against throwing money at a veteran reliever with gaudy save totals.

That decision likely made it possible for the Orioles to sign left fielder and designated hitter Nelson Cruz — the offensive hero of Monday’s win with his seventh-inning home run — and starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, but it remains to be seen whether the ninth inning becomes the Orioles’ Achilles heel in their quest to advance to the playoffs for the second time in three years. Deciding to jettison Johnson and his nine blown saves from a year ago was one thing, but leaving such inexperience in the closer role appears to be a treacherous path.

Of course, the club the Orioles defeated showed it can be done as Koji Uehara eventually settled into the ninth inning last year to save 21 games on Boston’s path to the title, but even the 38-year-old Japanese pitcher entered 2013 with 14 career saves, the same number the Orioles’ entire bullpen had at the close of business on Monday.

The first venture with Hunter was a success, but there must be more before anyone will rest easy in the ninth.

“I’d like to say they’ll get easier, but they won’t,” Showalter said. “One-run leads in the American League East — home or away — are hard to finish. You know you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. We gave it ours, and we were fortunate to come out with one more run than they did and 27 outs.”

 

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Seven Orioles players to watch closely during spring training

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Seven Orioles players to watch closely during spring training

Posted on 11 February 2014 by Luke Jones

The start of spring training will inevitably bring a new batch of clichéd stories about players being in the best shape of their lives or feeling poised for career seasons, but the Orioles will need several players to emerge from the shadows to continue the momentum started over the last two seasons.

After a disappointing offseason that has featured no impact signings or significant acquisitions at this late stage, manager Buck Showalter must look from within the current roster for solutions to hopefully bring the Orioles a third consecutive winning season, a modest achievement they haven’t realized in 20 years (1992 through 1994).

The Orioles face uncertainty in the starting rotation and in the back end of the bullpen as well as at second base, designated hitter, and left field, making this spring’s workouts in Sarasota as important as any in recent memory. However, most answers won’t truly come until the regular season when Baltimore is thrown back into the reality of competing in the heavyweight American League East.

Here are seven players (with their 2013 stats noted in parentheses) to watch closely over the next six weeks before the Orioles break camp ahead of Opening Day on March 31:

7. 2B Ryan Flaherty (.221, 10 HR, 27 RBI, .683 OPS)

The opinions on the 27-year-old Flaherty have been polarizing in his brief major league career with plenty of good (16 home runs in 438 plate appearances and strong defense) and bad (a 12-for-90 start to 2013 that landed him at Triple-A Norfolk in May) over the last two years. However, the former Rule 5 pick appears to be the favorite to replace Brian Roberts as the starting second baseman and hit .276 with an impressive .812 OPS in 156 at-bats after being recalled from the Tides in late May. As we saw early last season, Flaherty’s defense alone gives him a long leash in Showalter’s eyes, but the Orioles hope he finally finds consistency at the plate with no established veteran in the mix as a serious threat.

6. OF/DH Henry Urrutia (.276, 0 HR, 2 RBI, .586 OPS)

The Cuban defector was the toast of the Orioles’ farm system last season as he raked at both Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk — hitting .347 with 31 extra-base hits between the two levels — before being called up to the majors in late July. All but one of Urrutia’s 16 hits with the Orioles were singles, but far too many have written off the 27-year-old while overlooking how tumultuous the last couple years were for him in simply trying to get to the United States, let alone immediately thrive in professional baseball. There’s no question that Urrutia needs to hit for more power to stick, but nearly 20 extra pounds and a full offseason to hone his craft make this spring an interesting one for him as the Orioles are still unsettled at the designated hitter spot.

5. LHP Zach Britton (2-3, 4.95 ERA, 1.725 WHIP)

This year is likely to be Britton’s last chance with the Orioles as he’s out of options and coming off his second consecutive underwhelming season in which he pitched poorly in 40 major league innings and posted an unimpressive 4.27 ERA at Norfolk. Britton walked too many hitters and didn’t miss enough bats (striking out just 4.1 per nine innings), but the fifth starter job is open for now and the fact that other contenders such as Kevin Gausman and Steve Johnson have remaining options gives the 26-year-old lefty a slight edge in the race. His 5-1 start as a rookie in 2011 feels like an eternity ago, but Britton has no better chance but this spring to show Showalter and new pitching coach Dave Wallace that he’s finally figured everything out.

4. OF/DH Delmon Young (.260, 11 HR, 38 RBI, .715 OPS combined with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay)

One of the few players the Orioles signed this offseason who has significant major league experience, the 28-year-old Young agreed to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training and figures to have a good chance to make the club as the right-handed designated hitter. He carries off-field baggage to go along with uneven performance over the last three years, but the No. 1 overall pick of the 2003 draft is a career .303 hitter with an .812 OPS against left-handed pitchers in his career. It was only 2010 when Young had a career season by hitting .298 with 21 homers and 112 RBIs, but the Orioles simply hope he can be part of the answer in a possible DH platoon situation.

3. LF David Lough (.286, 5 HR, 33 RBI, .724 OPS with Kansas City)

The Orioles spent much of the winter talking up Lough’s potential and there’s no doubting his above-average defensive ability, but whether he can handle the starting job in left field remains to be seen. A younger and cheaper version of Nate McLouth, Lough slugged a decent .413 but walked only 10 times in 335 plate appearances with the Royals last season, which isn’t something you’d like to see given the Orioles’ poor on-base percentage as a team in 2013. The 28-year-old hit .292 against southpaw pitchers last season, which bodes well for his chances to play every day, but the Orioles really would have benefited from a substantial upgrade at the position instead of a poor man’s version of McLouth, who wasn’t exactly a world-beater in 2013.

2. 3B Manny Machado (.283, 14 HR, 71 RBI, .746 OPS)

It remains to be seen how much the 21-year-old will play this spring — if at all — as he continues his rehabilitation from knee surgery, but his recovery is critical to not just the 2014 season but the future of the franchise. The Orioles need to be careful in easing Machado back to baseball, but it will be interesting to see if the winter disrupts his progress as a player after some of his flaws at the plate were exposed late last season. As good as he is at such a young age, Machado needs to show more patience at the plate (only 38 walks in 912 career plate appearances) and hit only .239 in the final three months of last season, making his late-season knee injury that much more frustrating in robbing him of the ability to simply hone his craft this winter.

1. RHP Kevin Gausman (3-5, 5.66 ERA, 1.343 WHIP)

For all the discussion about the Orioles failing to land an established veteran starter to anchor the rotation, the 2012 first-round pick taking a giant step forward would be a major shot in the arm to the back end of the rotation. Gausman’s blazing fastball and split-change are plus pitches, but the 23-year-old needs a better feel for a third pitch to give himself the best chance to succeed as a starter. Regardless of where he’s playing, Gausman needs to be pitching every fifth day to develop and should not be in the bullpen as he was in the second half last season. Baltimore hopes that some added bulk to his 6-foot-3 frame will put the righty over the top physically and allow him to put things together quickly at the major league level.

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Orioles recall LHP Britton as another September call-up

Posted on 02 September 2013 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles announced Monday that they have recalled left-handed pitcher Zach Britton from Triple-A Norfolk.

Britton, 25, is 2-3 with a 4.76 ERA (34.0IP, 18ER) in six starts for the Orioles this season. In 19 starts for Norfolk, Britton was 6-5 with a 4.27 ERA (103.1IP, 49ER).

In 46 career games (45 starts) for the Orioles, Britton is 18-17 with a 4.74 ERA (248.2IP, 131ER).

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Pondering second-half roles for Britton, Gausman, S. Johnson

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Pondering second-half roles for Britton, Gausman, S. Johnson

Posted on 10 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — After optioning pitchers Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman to Triple-A Norfolk after Tuesday’s game, the Orioles are now faced with the interesting question of how each will fit into their plans in the second half of the season.

The return of left-hander Wei-Yin Chen after nearly two months takes away a spot in the starting rotation and hopefully provides more stability than the Orioles have enjoyed since the start of the season. The starting five of Chen, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, and Scott Feldman doesn’t appear to have any candidates dangerously close to being removed from the rotation, so the question of what to potentially do with Britton and Gausman becomes more interesting.

Josh Stinson’s promotion to the Baltimore bullpen wouldn’t figure to be a long-term solution, but the right-hander provides length that Britton nor Gausman would have been able to offer for at least a couple days. As a result, the two will complete a workday in Norfolk before split pitching duties in Sunday’s game before the International League has its own All-Star break next week.

Though manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday that Gausman working out of the bullpen was a positive in terms of further acclimating himself to playing in the big leagues, the infrequent work he received was a major drawback as opposed to him pitching every fifth day in either Baltimore or Norfolk. Should a need arise due to injury or ineffectiveness, you’d expect Gausman to be near the top of the list of candidates to crack the rotation in the second half.

The thought of Gausman serving in a relief role late in the season is an intriguing one with his tremendous velocity, but it makes more sense for him to pitch regularly and to continue to develop his secondary pitches at Triple A instead of serving in long relief for the Orioles with just under half of the season remaining.

What to do with Britton is a much more interesting case as I broke down his shortcomings following last night’s game. It appears that his best chance for making a contribution to the 2013 Orioles would be as a reliever, but finding a spot for him appears tricky at the moment.

The club already has T.J. McFarland as a long reliever and you wouldn’t expect a second left-hander in that role to be a great fit. Brian Matusz and Troy Patton are also in the bullpen, so carrying a third middle reliever or specialist from the left side doesn’t sound ideal either. For what it’s worth in a small sample size this season, lefties are hitting .325 in 45 plate appearances against Britton while right-handed hitters own a .292 average in 109 plate appearances.

As for the spot currently being held by Stinson in the bullpen, right-hander Steve Johnson would appear to be a good option after the break as he was essentially serving in that role while former Oriole Pedro Strop was on the disabled list earlier this season. Johnson threw off the mound for the first time in Sarasota on Monday and will throw live batting practice on Thursday.

Johnson would be a great fit as a right-hander who can provide length — unlike Strop, which made it virtually impossible to continue to hide his struggles in the bullpen prior to last week’s trade — as well as the ability to contribute in the later innings when necessary. While the club is remaining cautious with his recovery from a strained left oblique, it wouldn’t be farfetched to see Johnson in the bullpen shortly after the second half begins.

In other injury-related news, infield prospect Jonathan Schoop will begin a minor-league rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast League Orioles. It had previously been thought that Schoop would complete his stint with Aberdeen before returning to Triple-A Norfolk, but the club will instead keep him in Florida.

Outfielder Steve Pearce underwent an MRA on his left wrist in Sarasota to check for any structural damage as progress has been slow for his recovery. On the DL since June 21, Pearce’s right wrist is feeling better, but he’s been unable to increase his activity level because of continuing discomfort in the other wrist.

Showalter acknowledged lefty Tsuyoshi Wada was someone the club briefly considered before recalling Stinson for Gausman’s vacated spot, but the Orioles would like to see Wada continue to make progress with the Tides. Asked about his potential second-half role with the club, the Orioles manager said Wada wouldn’t appear to be a candidate for a relief role, making his timetable for a potential major league debut cloudier.

Wada has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his last four starts, but the organization feels it’s best for him to continue to pitch every five days instead of in the long-relief role that Stinson will serve over the remainder of the homestand. It also made sense for the right-hander Stinson to be available to back up the lefty Chen on Wednesday night and the Orioles already have McFarland in that role from the left side.

Infielder Wilson Betemit continues to make slow progress and participate in baseball-related activities “as tolerated” while recovering from the torn PCL in his right knee suffered during spring training. Showalter remains optimistic that Betemit will be able to contribute at some point in the second half, but there is no firm timetable for the veteran to even participate in sim games let alone project a return date to Baltimore.

Reserve outfielder Chris Dickson was scheduled to serve as the designated hitter in Wednesday’s game but was a late scratch as Nolan Reimold replaced him in the lineup. No immediate reason was given prior to the third game of a four-game set with the Texas Rangers.

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Britton’s struggles, rotation crunch lead to latest demotion

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Britton’s struggles, rotation crunch lead to latest demotion

Posted on 10 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — Zach Britton knew his time with the Orioles was likely up for the time being following his Tuesday start, but his performance against the Texas Rangers didn’t make the decision very difficult in an 8-4 loss.

He and rookie right-hander Kevin Gausman were optioned to Triple-A Norfolk following the game, creating roster space for the returning Wei-Yin Chen and likely another pitcher to work out of the bullpen on Wednesday night. Britton allowed eight hits and walked three while surrendered five runs in his five innings of work before giving way to Gausman in the sixth inning. The latter allowed two earned runs in 1 2/3 innings and threw 36 pitches, meaning he likely would have been unavailable for the next game or two if the Orioles had elected to keep him in Baltimore.

Britton is 2-3 with a 4.76 earned run average in six starts this yeaer while Gausman is 1-3 with a 6.21 ERA in nine appearances, five of them starts.

Though Britton’s final results in his previous three starts were acceptable, Tuesday saw the continuation of a disturbing trend for the 25-year-old as he again struggled immensely going through the opposing lineup a third time. The fatal blow was a three-run homer from Adrian Beltre in the fifth that followed two walks — one to No. 9 hitter Leonys Martin and the other to rookie shortstop Jurickson Profar — and two singles earlier in the inning. The sequence transformed a 2-1 lead at the start of the fifth into a 5-2 deficit the Orioles’ struggling offense would not overcome.

The opposition is batting .455 (15-for-33) with a homer, three doubles, and eight walks the third trip through the order against the southpaw, which explains why Britton hasn’t been able to complete six innings in four of his six starts with Baltimore this season. It’s natural for a pitcher to labor more later in the game as the pitch count increases and the opponent has seen him a few times, but such drastic decline in performance isn’t indicative of a pitcher that will have prolonged success as a starter.

Britton has also struggled to miss bats as he failed to record a strikeout Tuesday and has just 12 in 34 innings of work with the Orioles this season. A sinkerballer like Britton can typically get by with fewer strikeouts when he’s inducing groundball outs, but an anemic rate of 3.18 strikeouts per nine innings pitched means too many balls are being put in play, increasing the probability that some will find holes in any defense over time. Of course, it certainly didn’t help that Britton threw two poor pitches to Beltre on each of his two home runs, eliminating any possible excuse of it being bad luck.

For now, both Britton and Gausman are expected to rejoin Norfolk’s starting rotation, but it remains to be seen who will be accompanying Chen to the 25-man roster for Wednesday’s game. After Tuesday’s game, manager Buck Showalter alluded to the possibility of wanting another arm in the bullpen, presumably with some length.

Japanese lefty Tsuyoshi Wada is scheduled to start for the Tides on Thursday and right-hander Josh Stinson last pitched for Norfolk on Saturday, meaning both would likely be available in some capacity for a long-relief role on Wednesday. Both pitchers are also on the 40-man roster, which factors heavily considering this could just be a short-term move to take the club into the All-Star break.

(Update: Stinson has been recalled to pitch out of the bullpen.)

Chen will make his first start since May 12 on Wednesday and will also attempt to give the Orioles a much-needed lift after losses in five of their last six games.

Roberts, Reimold struggling in respective returns

Since their return from the disabled last week, Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold have gone a combined 7-for-42, leading some to wonder if their presence has sent the Orioles into their current tailspin.

It’s true that neither has performed well in a small sample size of at-bats, but this theory is too simplistic and places too much blame on two easy targets due to their well-chronicled injury problems. To suggest Roberts and Reimold are the reason the Orioles suddenly can’t win provides an excuse for the rest of the lineup’s struggles and also discredits the mental toughness this club has shown over the last two seasons.

The Orioles are 3-for-19 with runners in scoring position in the Texas series and are hitting .138 (8-for-58) in that department over their last nine games. The individual struggles of Roberts and Reimold only account for a small piece of those overall failures.

First baseman Chris Davis has one hit in his last 21 at-bats to go along with 12 strikeouts.

Center fielder Adam Jones is 8-for-37 over the last nine games.

Matt Wieters is 6-for-26 and J.J. Hardy is 5-for-33 since June 30.

The point is few hitters in the order are clicking at the moment, making it unfair to single out two players coming off extended absences as the reason for the club’s struggles over the last 10 days. If Roberts were suddenly inserted in the No. 2 spot in the order and caused dramatic changes with other spots, I’d be more willing to listen to the argument. If any other player had provided consistent production at the designated hitter spot over the first three months of the season, the argument against Reimold would have more merit.

But neither of those points can be made. Roberts’ return has forced a hot-hitting Ryan Flaherty out of the lineup, but the latter’s regular role was chastised for the first 2 1/2 months of the season and Showalter has shown a willingness to find creative ways to give Flaherty at-bats. The Orioles won plenty over the first three months of the season despite little production at second base.

Roberts and Reimold will both need to produce sooner rather than later like anyone else — I’ve shared my doubts about each player — but a sample size of less than two weeks is premature to make any rash decisions. And it’s a major stretch to conclude the correlation between their returns and the Orioles’ current struggles is anything more than coincidental.

Fans’ frustration over their inability to stay on the field over the last few years is completely understandable, but there’s no evidence within the clubhouse that either player’s return has suddenly created a dark cloud over the club.

As Showalter often likes to say, the solution is for everyone to play better than they have to start the month of July, particularly the players on which the Orioles have leaned most heavily this season.

Little worry over Davis in the Derby

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Orioles option Britton, Gausman to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 09 July 2013 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles announced after Tuesday’s game that they have optioned left-handed pitcher Zach Britton and right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman to Triple-A Norfolk.

Britton, 25, is 2-3 with a 4.76 ERA (34.0IP, 18ER) in six starts for the Orioles this season. He started tonight’s game and took the loss, allowing 5 earned runs in 5.0 innings.

Gausman, 22, is 1-3 with a 6.21 ERA (33.1IP, 23ER) in nine games (five starts) for the O’s this season.

Corresponding roster moves will be announced before Wednesday’s game.

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Orioles hoping returning players will stick — and produce

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Orioles hoping returning players will stick — and produce

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — If you needed more evidence, the Orioles’ 11-3 win on Saturday should have done the trick.

The Orioles are better than the New York Yankees. They might be better even if — and that’s a big if — Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Curtis Granderson somehow manage to get healthy and regain their old form in the second half of the season. Until then, the Yankees lineup continues to languish to score even three or four runs on a given night while their capable but unspectacular pitching struggles to pick up enough slack.

Trailing the division-leading Boston Red Sox by just 2 1/2 games entering play on Sunday, the Orioles are one of the best clubs in the league — even with their pitching flaws. They can improve further depending on what lies ahead at the trade deadline with the potential to augment what’s already a formidable roster.

But the 25-man roster will begin undergoing an internal makeover much sooner as second baseman Brian Roberts, outfielder Nolan Reimold, and — most importantly — starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen will potentially rejoin the Orioles at different points over the coming week. It looks promising on paper, but the Orioles are certainly keeping their fingers crossed that all three will stay healthy, particularly with Roberts and Reimold, a pair of players stricken by countless injuries in recent years.

The intense doubts over the ability of Roberts and Reimold to contribute are unavoidable and certainly understandable.

“It’s tough from a human being standpoint for them,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I’ll tell you we’re excited about getting Brian and Nolan and Chen back potentially. But by talking about it a whole lot, you jinx it.”

Even if the two position players and Chen manage to come back from the disabled list successfully, the Orioles are first faced with several decisions as it pertains to the players currently on the roster. Pitcher Jair Jurrjens would figure to be optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk after pitching 2 1/3 shutout innings in relief Saturday night to make room for Roberts, who is expected to be activated Sunday for his first action since suffering a severe right hamstring injury on April 4 that eventually required surgery in early May.

Making room for Reimold and Chen becomes trickier as Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette must choose from a projected pool of pitchers Kevin Gausman and Zach Britton and infielders Danny Valencia and Ryan Flaherty to determine who goes back to Norfolk. All of them have minor-league options but bring value in different ways.

Struggling reliever Pedro Strop, who allowed an earned run in the ninth inning Saturday, is the wild-card candidate who could go at any time, but it’s well-documented the 28-year-old is out of options and would very likely be picked up by another club thinking it can fix him. However, the simple reality that reliable reliever Darren O’Day began warming up with Strop on the mound and the Orioles holding an eight-run lead spoke volumes about the lack of faith in the maligned pitcher.

Showalter and Duquette have tried to remain as patient as possible with his 2012 performance lingering in their minds, but hiding an ineffective arm in the bullpen is very difficult when he doesn’t even provide the ability to pitch multiple innings in a blowout situation like Kevin Gregg did last year before the organization ultimately parted ways with him late in the season.

Regardless of the direction they ultimately go, the Orioles must weigh the positives and negatives of shaking up a roster that’s already on pace to win 90 games.

“It’s a good problem if we can get these guys back,” Showalter said. “We tried to set up the organization with a lot of the moves where we had the potential to keep some flexibility there.”

Chen made his first rehab start for Double-A Bowie on Saturday, pitching five innings and allowing four earned runs and five hits while striking out five and walking two. The Taiwanese lefty told reporters after the outing that he continues to feel no effects of the oblique injury that’s sidelined him since mid-May. Showalter said earlier in the day that Chen was tentatively scheduled to pitch on Thursday in Chicago or Friday in New York if he was deemed ready after Saturday’s start.

It’s always concerning when a starting pitcher misses an extended period of time in the middle of the season, but Chen hasn’t experienced any setbacks after taking ample time to allow the injury to heal before he began throwing again. Expecting Chen to pick up right where he left off might be asking too much, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be successful after some time to get his legs back under him at the big-league level.

Chen is arguably the Orioles’ most consistent starter and would fit quite nicely with the strong work turned in by Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez. He’s not the top-of-the-rotation starter the Orioles covet, but Chen regaining his pre-injury form would be a major boost to a rotation that’s been better of late but still lacks enough consistency to make you feel comfortable in the second half.

His return would leave the Orioles with an interesting decision over whether to keep Britton or Gausman as their fifth starter. The former pitched five shutout innings Saturday before melting down in the sixth inning for the second straight outing. Gausman turned in 4 1/3 stellar innings of shutout ball in relief to earn the win Friday night and only lost his job in the rotation a couple weeks ago due to short-term bullpen needs.

One of the two is all but certain to go, but figuring out what to do to activate Reimold will be the trickiest task.

Showalter has already said that Roberts will become the starting second baseman upon returning, meaning Flaherty could be expendable with the thought that you’d like him playing regularly in Norfolk. But do you really want to send down Flaherty’s red-hot bat that’s seen his average elevate from .133 upon his return from the minors on May 29 all the way to .215 only a month later?

Flaherty hit his sixth homer of the season Saturday and currently sports an eight-game hitting streak with multi-hit efforts in six of those contests. He’s 14-for-29 with four homers and nine RBIs over that stretch and has played excellent defense at second base all season.

Fellow second baseman Alexi Casilla would need to give his consent to be optioned to the minors, meaning he isn’t a realistic candidate to go with Roberts returning. On top of that, Showalter prefers having Casilla on the bench as a late-inning pinch runner who can steal bases.

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Garcia’s miserable June putting Orioles rotation in bigger bind

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Garcia’s miserable June putting Orioles rotation in bigger bind

Posted on 23 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Many celebrated the official start of summer over the weekend, but Orioles pitcher Freddy Garcia must wish the calendar had never turned over from May to June.

His horrendous outing in a 13-5 loss to Toronto on Sunday was his third start of the month in which he allowed five or more runs and left his record for June at 1-3 with a 10.19 earned run average covering four starts and one relief appearance. In 17 2/3 innings this month, Garcia has allowed nine home runs.

Garcia lasted just 2 1/3 innings on Sunday as he gave up seven earned runs before giving way to long reliever T.J. McFarland.

It was May 30 when Garcia turned in his best outing of the year with eight shutout innings in a 2-0 win over the Washington Nationals, but his body of work ever since has been nightmarish for the Orioles, who are already dealing with their fifth starter job being in flux. Left-hander Zach Britton will receive Monday’s start against the Cleveland Indians, but his standing in the rotation is tenuous at best after he earned his first win in 5 1/3 innings of work in Detroit last week.

How much longer can the Orioles afford to go with Garcia? His leash wasn’t exactly long when he was pitching at his best last month, but manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette may not find a better immediate option to allow Sunday to be the last start made by the 36-year-old.

The good news is left-hander Wei-Yin Chen is scheduled to pitch in a simulated game on Monday, which will allow him to potentially begin a minor-league rehab assignment next weekend. The bad news is that means Chen won’t be ready to make his potential return to the Orioles until the first week of July at the earliest and that’s only assuming the 27-year-old won’t experience any hiccups between now and then. Chen has been sidelined since May 12 with a strained right oblique.

Of course, rookie Kevin Gausman’s name will be mentioned, but his first start for Triple-A Norfolk in which he allowed seven earned runs in six innings didn’t make an emphatic statement for him to be brought back to the majors immediately as most assumed he would. It would be surprising not to see the 22-year-old in Baltimore sooner rather than later, but Showalter also expressed a desire for Gausman to work on some mechanical issues with Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin when he was sent down earlier this month.

Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada started for Norfolk on Sunday, allowing two earned runs in five innings of work, but have two solid starts against Triple-A hitters erased the memory of his immense struggles during his rehab assignment that forced the Orioles to convince Wada to give his consent to be optioned to the minors? Wada walked two and struck out none on his way to throwing 91 pitches in completing only five innings in a 4-3 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday.

There appear to be no other current options at Norfolk that make sense.

Jair Jurrjens? He has a 5.60 ERA in three starts this month.

Josh Stinson? His 4.74 ERA in 12 Triple-A starts this season isn’t the answer.

Steve Johnson remains in Sarasota as he recovers from a strained left oblique and just began a throwing progression.

Looking back at the big-league roster, there’s always McFarland, whose name has come up as a starting candidate on a few occasions this year. However, the Orioles have refrained from removing the Rule 5 selection from his long-relief role to this point. The 24-year-old lefty gave up five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings on Sunday, but he’s pitched respectably over the course of his rookie season.

Beyond that and focusing on the big picture of contending in the American League East, the Orioles are in search of starting pitching help as names such as Miami’s Ricky Nolasco, Houston’s Bud Norris, Minnesota’s Mike Pelfrey, and even former Oriole Joe Saunders have been thrown out there as potential targets. However, these opposing clubs are fully aware that the Orioles need rotation help and it would be unwise to overpay for marginal pitching talent more than a month away from the trade deadline.

Regardless of whether it’s Monday or two weeks from now, it appears Garcia’s time is running out with the Orioles, which isn’t very surprising when remembering how he was available at the end of spring training on a minor-league deal.

But it doesn’t ease the Orioles’ starting pitching headaches for the immediate future.

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Tillman continues to thrive on road with another victory

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Tillman continues to thrive on road with another victory

Posted on 19 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman wasn’t carrying his good stuff during his start on Wednesday, but a familiar pattern developed in his five innings of work before Baltimore blew the game wide open in a 13-3 win in Detroit.

As has been the case several times this season, Tillman struggled early as he threw 47 pitches through the first two innings before settling in to pitch more effectively. The 25-year-old told reporters after the game in Detroit that he lacked any feel for his pitches for most of the afternoon as he was pulled in the sixth inning after giving up a leadoff single and a walk to start the inning.

T.J. McFarland came on and allowed a two-run double — with both runs being charged to the starting pitcher — but it didn’t spoil the fact that Tillman once again gave the Orioles a great chance to win despite not being on top of his game. Tillman allowed three earned runs and seven hits in his five innings while walking three and striking out one.

In 15 starts this season, Tillman is 8-2 with a 3.71 earned run average and has struck out 69 while walking 32 in 87 1/3 innings. He’s allowed 83 hits and 16 home runs, the latter ironically being a career-high total.

It’s a stark contrast from a couple years ago when it seemed Tillman was only capable of being successful on the mound when all of his pitches were clicking for him. At that point in his career, Tillman appeared to lack the ability to cope and regroup when things weren’t going his way and he’s credited his maturity as well as a few adjustments made to his delivery last year for the career turnaround.

Tillman appeared to be trying to largely get by with his fastball against the Tigers, but there have also been plenty of times when he’s used his cutter effectively when his fastball wasn’t going where he needed it to. It’s been a nice development for a pitcher often criticized earlier in his career for throwing a four-seamer that didn’t have enough movement.

He improved to 6-0 on the road and has allowed only 13 earned runs in 42 1/3 innings (2.76 ERA) away from Oriole Park at Camden Yards this season. The right-hander is 2-2 with a 4.60 ERA in eight starts spanning 45 innings at home.

Dating back to July 4 of last year, Tillman is 17-5 with a 3.32 ERA in 173 1/3 innings covering 30 starts. He’s arguably become the club’s most reliable member of the Orioles rotation and will consistently provide a solid-to-good outing just about every trip to the mound.

It’s remarkable to think that Tillman was barely on the club’s radar at this time a year ago, but he’s now become a pitcher you generally feel good every time he goes to the mound.

Gausman roughed up in Triple-A debut

Manager Buck Showalter warned last week that the return of right-hander Kevin Gausman immediately after the 10-day waiting period wasn’t guaranteed and the 22-year-old’s Triple-A debut didn’t exactly make a statement on Wednesday that his return should be imminent.

Pitching in the opener of a doubleheader for the Tides, Gausman allowed seven earned runs and 10 hits in six innings as he took the loss in an 8-1 loss to Indianapolis. He struck out four and walked one while throwing 90 pitches, 59 of them strikes.

Gausman allowed a three-run homer in the sixth inning and also uncorked a wild pitch in the disappointing outing.

While acknowledging that Gausman was optioned to Triple A out of necessity after a 13-inning win over Boston in which the Orioles wore out their bullpen, Showalter acknowledged that the demotion would also give Gausman a chance to take a deep breath and make a few mechanical adjustments with Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin.

“I didn’t tell him, promise him [he'd be brought back immediately],” Showalter said last Friday. “I made sure he understood he could conceivably stay there the rest of the year. It’s all in his hands. We have other people we like, too.”

Gausman would be eligible to be recalled to Baltimore as early as Monday after the 10-day waiting period expires, but left-hander Zach Britton made his own statement for remaining in the rotation after a solid outing against the Tigers on Tuesday. Britton allowed one earned run in 5 1/3 innings to earn his first win of the season.

As for the rotation plans in Toronto this weekend, Jason Hammel will make his return to the hill on Friday, which will be his first start since last Wednesday after he dealt with the effects of a nasty stomach bug over the last week. A returning Miguel Gonzalez will start on Saturday and is expected back with the Orioles on Thursday night after his wife gave birth to their daughter Monday night.

Showalter hasn’t announced a starter for the series finale on Sunday, but he mentioned Britton and Freddy Garcia as the primed candidates. Garcia pitched a scoreless inning in relief on Wednesday afternoon.

Better pitching of late

Despite scoring a season-high 13 runs in Wednesday’s win over the Tigers to take two out of three and complete the season series against Detroit with a 4-2 record, the Orioles received another solid pitching performance against one of the most formidable lineups in the league.

It continued a recent trend in which the Orioles have received improved starting pitching and the bullpen has continued to thrive in the late innings. Baltimore has allowed 3.6 runs per game over their last 10 contests against the Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox, and Detroit, going 7-3 over that stretch against three potent offenses.

The Orioles also made a major statement over the last week in taking three of four against Boston and winning the three-game series over the Tigers. This season, Baltimore is 12-5 against Boston, Detroit, and Oakland, the three first-place clubs in the American League right now.

As Nuke LaLoosh of “Bull Durham” would say, that’s what you call announcing your presence with authority.

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Orioles place Gonzalez on paternity leave list, designate Navarro for assignment

Posted on 18 June 2013 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles today announced that they have recalled left-handed pitcher Zach Britton from Triple-A Norfolk, who is scheduled to start Tuesday at Detroit, and selected the contract of first baseman Travis Ishikawa from the Tides. To make room for Ishikawa on the 25 and 40-man rosters, right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez was placed on the Paternity Leave List and infielder Yamaico Navarro has been designated for assignment.

Britton, 25, is 3-2 with a 3.28 ERA (60.1IP, 22ER) in 11 starts for the Tides this season. He is 2-1 with a 2.03 ERA (31.0IP, 7ER) over his last five starts, lowering his season ERA from 4.60 to 3.28. Britton has held left-handed hitters to a line of .204/.339/.347 in 49 at-bats against at Triple-A. He made one start for the Orioles earlier this season, taking the loss (6.0IP, 6ER) on April 29 at Seattle.

Ishikawa, 29, has batted .316/.413/.525 with 16 doubles, seven home runs and 31 RBI in 49 games for the Tides this season. He was named the organization’s minor league player of the month in May after batting .413/.489/.787 with all seven of his home runs in 21 games on the month. Ishikawa is a career .257/.329/.428 hitter in five major league seasons with San Francisco (2006, 2008-10) and Milwaukee (2012). He will wear uniform #45.

Gonzalez, 29, is 5-2 with a 3.75 ERA (74.1IP, 31ER) in 12 starts this season. He and his wife Lucia had their first child, daughter Leah, Monday night.

Navarro, 25, batted .286/.333/.357 in 28 at-bats for the Orioles earlier this season.

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