Tag Archive | "Zach Britton"

Britton to be recalled to make Tuesday’s start in Detroit

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Britton to be recalled to make Tuesday’s start in Detroit

Posted on 17 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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Needing to push back pitching Jason Hammel further as he continues to recover from a stomach virus, the Orioles announced they will recall left-handed pitcher Zach Britton to make Tuesday’s start in Detroit.

After right-hander Jake Arrieta was awarded a spot start against the Tigers on Monday, Britton was held out of his scheduled start for the Tides with the thought that Hammel might need more time to regain his strength after a virus required him to have intravenous fluids and kept him away from the ballpark for two days over the weekend.

Britton will be making his second start of the season for the Orioles after suffering a loss in Seattle on April 29. The 25-year-old allowed six earned runs and 10 hits in six innings of work before being optioned back to Norfolk after that start.

In his last five starts for the Tides, Britton is 2-1 and has allowed only seven earned runs in 31 innings while striking out 26 and walking 11. He is 3-2 with a 3.28 earned run average in 11 starts in Triple A this season.

One of Britton’s best starts in an otherwise disappointing 2012 season for the Orioles came against the Tigers on Aug. 18 when he pitched seven shutout innings to earn the victory in a 3-2 final. In two career starts against Detroit, Britton is 2-0 with a 3.75 ERA in 12 innings of work.

Reports from Detroit indicated right-hander pitcher Miguel Gonzalez received word that his wife was ready to give birth to the couple’s daughter and he departed for California on Monday evening.

The Orioles optioned Arrieta to Norfolk following Monday’s loss to presumably make room for Britton on the 25-man roster before Tuesday’s game. If the club wants to bring rookie Kevin Gausman back to Baltimore for further starter reinforcements, they could recall him prior to the 10-day waiting period’s conclusion if he were to replace Gonzalez, who is expected to be placed on the paternity leave list.

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Arrieta to start Monday in Detroit with Hammel pushed back

Posted on 16 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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Following Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox, Orioles manager Buck Showalter revealed right-hander Jake Arrieta will take the hill in place of scheduled starter Jason Hammel Monday night against the Detroit Tigers.

Hammel has been dealing with a stomach virus since late least week and was even instructed to stay away from Camden Yards on Friday and Saturday. The 30-year-old hopes to start Tuesday, but his strength was zapped after the illness required him to receive intravenous fluids over the weekend.

Recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on Friday to act as a fresh arm in the bullpen, Arrieta didn’t pitch over the weekend and will make the start Monday because Norfolk lefty Zach Britton remains on call to pitch on Tuesday if Hammel needs more time to recover. Either he or lefty reliever T.J. McFarland would be options if the latter doesn’t need to be used in long relief in the series opener against the Tigers.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman also remains on the radar as Miguel Gonzalez will be placed on the paternity list as soon as his wife goes into labor. Her due date falls on Wednesday and there has been some talk that she could be induced if labor doesn’t begin by then, but the Orioles are obviously respecting the family’s privacy by not wanting to divulge too much information.

Arrieta has struggled mightily in recent weeks for the Tides, allowing 15 runs and 19 hits in 10 1/3 innings over his last two starts. He owns a 3-3 mark with a 5.50 earned run average in seven appearances at the Triple-A level.

Of course, the 27-year-old began the season in the Orioles’ starting rotation but went 1-1 with a 6.63 ERA in four starts and was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk in late April.

 

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Orioles’ starting rotation remains in flux for next several days

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Orioles’ starting rotation remains in flux for next several days

Posted on 14 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 — Trying to figure out what the Orioles’ starting rotation will look like over the next week is anybody’s guess.

That includes manager Buck Showalter, who certainly will be prepared for all possibilities and options in front of him but is waiting for factors out of his hands to play out. It started with the need to option rookie Kevin Gausman to Triple-A Norfolk after Thursday’s 13-inning affair and continues with the uncertainty surrounding right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez, who is slated to start on Saturday but is on call as his wife could give birth to the couple’s daughter any day.

“We’re kind of in the mode of, let’s see what tonight brings and smoke clears and see what presents itself,” Showalter said prior to Friday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox.

All we know is right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta was recalled to provide a fresh arm and length in a taxed bullpen that pitched 7 2/3 innings in the Orioles’ 5-4 win in the series opener Thursday night. How long he’ll be here is anybody’s guess, but you wouldn’t expect Arrieta to be here for more than a day or two considering he’s struggled mightily for the Tides recently, allowing 15 earned runs and 19 hits in his last two starts covering 10 1/3 innings.

Since Arrieta last pitched on Sunday, he was the freshest of the arms in the Norfolk starting rotation and is the best immediate fit, according to Showalter. You could conceivably see Arrieta optioned back to Triple A as soon as the conclusion of Friday night’s game if he needed to be used behind starter Chris Tillman.

Showalter also confirmed what most assumed about Gausman’s demotion in that it was solely based on the need in the bullpen after every reliever other than right-hander Pedro Strop pitched in the 13-inning game. The manager made that clear to the 22-year-old, but that doesn’t guarantee Gausman will return to Baltimore as soon as possible, either.

“If we had played nine innings, [Gausman] would have stayed,” said Showalter, who revealed Gausman will indeed travel to Norfolk and not remain in Baltimore despite Gonzalez’s shaky status. “I told him that last night — probably a little too up front about it. I also told him there were no assurances. The good side of it is, he leaves with a good outing and it gives him a chance to take a deep breath and kind of think about some things.”

After being optioned, Gausman is required to remain at Triple-A Norfolk for at least 10 days unless he is replacing a player placed on the 15-day disabled list. With Gonzalez’s unique situation in which he will be placed on the paternity list, the Orioles would be allowed to recall Gausman before the 10-day window concludes. Gonzalez’s wife is not due to give birth until June 19, making it uncertain whether he could be removed from the roster in time for Gausman’s turn in the rotation slotted for Tuesday.

In addition to Arrieta, Showalter also mentioned long reliever T.J. McFarland and Triple-A lefty Zach Britton as potential options for Sunday or Tuesday’s start in Detroit. Gausman is among the candidates for that start in Detroit should the Orioles have the means to return him to the roster, but Showalter made it clear there’s no guarantee that Gausman will be back for that start or even immediately following the expiration of the 10-day waiting period.

That’s good news for a pitcher like Britton, who has allowed only seven earned runs in 31 innings (2.03 ERA) over his last five starts for the Tides. He last pitched on Monday, meaning he would be a logical candidate for Sunday if the need arises or could conceivably work out of the pen for a day or two and be available for Tuesday. Should he get the ball against the Tigers and pitch well, he could remain in Baltimore for at least the foreseeable future while Gausman continues to hone his craft at Triple A, a level where he’s never pitched.

“We’ll see what the needs are going to be here,” said Showalter, who mentioned that Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin will work on a few specific points of emphasis with the 2012 first-round pick. “I told [Gausman] to go down there and present himself as an option for us. It’s all in his hands. We have other people that we like, too, and that’s good to know. That’s a good feeling. He could go down there and pitch well and present himself as a good option and still not [be back]. That’s kind of the way it works.”

As if the starting rotation wasn’t in enough flux, Jason Hammel came down with a virus Friday morning and was not at the ballpark for the second game of the series against the Red Sox. Fortunately, he is not scheduled to pitch again until Monday and the club hopes the illness will have run its course by then.

The way things are going for the starting rotation, you just hope no one steps on a nail at this point. Bonus points to you if you were able to figure out that reference.

In other rotation-related news, left-hander Wei-Yin Chen will throw 35 pitches off a full mound in Sarasota on Saturday. If all goes well, he could rejoin the Orioles on the next road trip to continue his rehab work, but Showalter said there are “a lot of hurdles” before the Taiwanese pitcher is back on the mound for the Orioles.

Outfielder Nolan Reimold will begin his minor-league rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie on Tuesday, according to Showalter. He completed a series of sprints with no setbacks in what was viewed as a final test for the right hamstring injury he’s nursed since spring training.

Second baseman Alexi Casilla took batting practice and was available without any real limitations for Friday’s game, according to Showalter. He’s dealt with a jammed right index finger since the finale of the Tampa Bay series last weekend.

Brian Roberts held up well after taking batting practice Thursday and was taking grounders at second base prior to Friday’s game as he continues rehabbing his surgically-repaired right hamstring.

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Orioles’ decision to option Gausman about immediate need in bullpen

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Orioles’ decision to option Gausman about immediate need in bullpen

Posted on 14 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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

You may have been surprised to learn that Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk despite allowing just two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings of the 13-inning marathon win on Thursday night.

His demotion has very little to do with his performance in his fifth major league start as the Orioles are in need of an extra bullpen arm after the group pitched 7 2/3 innings Thursday night and has three more games against the heavy-hitting Red Sox at Camden Yards this weekend. Baltimore will announce the corresponding move prior to Friday night’s game.

The 2012 first-round pick allowed two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against Boston, striking out five and allowing six hits. The only blemishes on his night came in the fourth inning when David Ortiz and Mike Carp hit solo home runs off the right-hander. In five starts with the Orioles, Gausman is 0-3 with a 7.66 earned run average, 20 strikeouts, and six walks in 24 2/3 innings.

Gausman would be required to stay in the minors for a minimum of 10 days before he can return to the big leagues, but there could be a way to get him back on the 25-man roster sooner than that. In addition to the possibility of another pitcher being placed on the 15-day disabled list — which would waive the 10-day waiting period for the rookie — the Orioles will be placing starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez on the paternity list at some point in the near future.

Scheduled to make his next start on Sunday, Gonzalez has told reporters his wife’s due date falls on June 19. If the birth of Gonzalez’s daughter comes a day or two early, Gausman would be a prime candidate to replace Gonzalez upon the latter being placed on the paternity list. Of course, that circumstance is out of the Orioles’ hands and is not something they can count on as the possibility exists that he won’t even make the start against Boston should his wife go into labor even earlier.

As for which pitcher the Orioles are likely to promote, left-hander Zach Britton appears to be a very logical choice. He last started for Norfolk on Monday, meaning he would be able to pitch a few innings out of the bullpen if required on Friday night. He could also be on call to replace Gonzalez for Sunday’s start should the right-hander receive word from his wife over the next day or two. And if Gonzalez does make his start against the Red Sox, Britton could take Gausman’s turn in the rotation Tuesday in Detroit, a place where he had a tremendous outing in what was otherwise a very disappointing 2012 season for the 25-year-old.

For what it’s worth, Britton has been very good in his last five starts for the Tides, allowing seven earned runs in 31 innings (2.03 ERA) and posting a 2-1 record. Beyond the numbers, the narrative reports on Britton from Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and pitching coach Mike Griffin have been very favorable, according to Orioles manager Buck Showater.

Of course, Britton’s potential promotion is just a guess and certainly not the only pitcher to which the Orioles could turn. Norfolk pitchers Josh Stinson and Jair Jurrjens are scheduled to make starts in a doubleheader Friday night, so both of them could be candidates to pitch out of the bullpen as well.

We’ll find out for sure by Friday afternoon.

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Ten Orioles thoughts with April in the books

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Ten Orioles thoughts with April in the books

Posted on 01 May 2013 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles concluding the opening month of the 2013 season by tying a franchise record with 16 wins in April, here are 10 thoughts to ponder as May begins:

1. Jason Hammel leads the club with four wins, but we’ve yet to see the 2012 version of the de facto ace show up this season. That’s not to say the right-hander hasn’t been one of the Orioles’ better starting pitchers, but the two-seam fastball that led to his renaissance last season hasn’t shown nearly the same bite through six starts this year. Despite a 3.79 earned run average, Hammel is averaging just 5.9 innings per start and his 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings is down dramatically from the 8.6 rate he held last season. Always possessing strong breaking stuff, Hammel needs to find a better feel for his two-seamer in order to make the rest of his repertoire more explosive. There was little debate that 2012 was a career season for Hammel prior to the knee surgery in July, but the Orioles didn’t actively pursue an impact starting pitcher with the thought — wise or not — that they had a pitcher with top-of-the rotation stuff. They’ll need better from Hammel over the next five months of the season.

2. Chris Davis’ historic opening-week start gained the most attention, but the free-swinging first baseman also collected 16 walks in April. His nine home runs have garnered plenty of press as opponents are pitching the left-handed slugger very carefully since the beginning of the season, but the walk totals have led many — including me — to praise Davis for an improved level of patience at the plate after he walked only 37 times during the 2012 season. However, the 27-year-old is seeing just 3.79 pitches per plate appearance after averaging 4.00 pitches per trip to the plate a year ago. Part of this can be explained by Davis’ strikeout rate decreasing (one every 3.5 at-bats compared to one per 3.0 at-bats last year), but it also indicates his walk numbers may not be sustained as his bat inevitably cools off at different points in the season. Regardless of just how much more patient Davis has become at the plate or not, it’s difficult to dispute how much of a force he’s become since the beginning of last season, making his acquisition in the Koji Uehara deal in 2011 a brilliant one by former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail.

3. The decisions to let go of Mark Reynolds and Joe Saunders weren’t the problem, but electing not to replace them is looking more and more like a mistake. Anyone who expects the former Orioles first baseman to continue hitting .300 like he did in his first month with Cleveland will likely be disappointed, but his eight home runs would look very good in the Baltimore lineup right now. Considering Orioles designated hitters batted .144 and posted a .502 on-base plus slugging percentage in April, Reynolds occupying that role or first base — with Davis handling the other — would be a major boost to the lineup. Meanwhile, Saunders pitched a complete game against the Orioles on Monday night but has been abysmal away from Safeco Field (12.51 ERA) so far. As I said during the offseason, letting go of Reynolds and Saunders was fine if the intention was to upgrade each of their spots and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette expressed the desire to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat and a veteran starting pitcher. However, neither of those goals were accomplished and that could continue to plague the Orioles throughout 2013.

4. Zach Britton turned in a poor 2013 debut, but his quick demotion sends the wrong message to the organization’s young pitchers. No one expected the 25-year-old left-hander to have a long leash given the higher expectations in Baltimore these days, but I can’t subscribe to the idea of sending down a pitcher who you hope will fit into your future after only one rough start. This creates the impression that young pitchers looking for their chance in Baltimore need to be perfect, which isn’t a mindset conducive to being successful. I also wonder what kind of message it sends to Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and pitching coach Mike Griffin, who gave their recommendation for Britton to be the next call-up after Josh Stinson’s failed start last week. A spot start for an organizational depth guy like Stinson or even a journeyman like Freddy Garcia is fine, but if the expectation all along was for Britton to only receive one chance, the club would have been better served leaving him in Norfolk and not messing with his head. Again, allowing six earned runs in six innings was far from acceptable, but it wasn’t the type of disastrous outing that warranted an immediate exit.

5. It’s safe to say Nolan Reimold has yet to adjust to his new role as the club’s primary designated hitter. Reimold has two home runs, five RBIs, and a 1.029 OPS in 29 plate appearances as the club’s left fielder, but the 29-year-old has posted an ugly .477 OPS with one homer and two RBIs in 52 plate appearances while serving in the DH spot. The problem for Reimold is the remarkable play of Nate McLouth, who has been more productive at the plate and is better defensively in the outfield. Manager Buck Showalter can’t justify taking McLouth out of left field, so Reimold needs to adjust to his new role, which can be difficult for individuals accustomed to being in the game as a defensive player. The good news for Reimold is that he’s remained healthy after undergoing spinal fusion surgery last year, but the Orioles must get better production from the designated hitter or will need to begin looking at other options for the role. It’s fair to acknowledge he’s still regaining strength and is adjusting to not having quite as much range of motion in his neck after the surgery, but Reimold would be the first to tell you he needs to be better at the plate.

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Orioles recall RHP Clark, option Britton to Triple-A Norfolk

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Orioles recall RHP Clark, option Britton to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 30 April 2013 by Luke Jones

Continuing to need extra help in their overworked bullpen, the Orioles recalled right-handed pitcher Zach Clark and optioned left-hander Zach Britton to Triple-A Norfolk before Tuesday night’s game in Seattle.

The club also officially selected the contract of veteran catcher Chris Snyder and designated fellow catcher Luis Exposito for assignment to make room for Snyder on the 40-man roster.

The 25-year-old Britton made his first start of the season on Monday, allowing six earned runs in six innings as the Orioles suffered a 6-2 loss to the Mariners. The Orioles will need a starter for Britton’s spot in the rotation on Saturday in Anaheim, which means they will likely be using their fourth different pitcher in the last four starts for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Though Britton’s performance hardly inspired confidence, his demotion after just one start doesn’t speak well for his overall standing and likely doesn’t send the best message to young pitchers in the organization. The mentality that you need to earn a spot is fine, but holding too short of a leash could also make pitchers feel they need to be perfect, which isn’t conducive to being successful.

Some had thought the club would elect to send out reserve outfielder Chris Dickerson, who has seldom been used as the fourth player on the bench. Manager Buck Showalter hasn’t shied away from using a short bench in the past, so it seemed like an appropriate time to replace Dickerson with another arm to help the bullpen.

The question now becomes whether Showalter and the Orioles will turn to veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia, who pitched eight strong innings on Monday night and currently has a 2.67 ERA in five starts covering 33 2/3 innings of work. The 36-year-old agreed on Monday to extend his opt-out clause to May 14.

Right-hander Jair Jurrjens is scheduled to start for the Tides on Friday, meaning he would also be a candidate for Saturday’s start against the Los Angeles Angels.

Clark, 29, was born in Delaware and is a UMBC graduate who will be making his major league debut if and when he appears in a game for the Orioles. He is 1-2 with a 4.56 earned run average in five starts covering 25 2/3 innings with Norfolk this season. Last season, he went 15-7 with a 2.79 ERA in 28 games (26 starts) with Double-A Bowie and the Tides.

The rookie will wear No. 64.

The 32-year-old Snyder was acquired in a trade with the Angels on Sunday. He is a career .225 hitter in nine major league seasons with Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Houston. He has thrown out 29 percent (141-for-488) of attempted base stealers in his career. Snyder was batting .342 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 21 games for Triple-A Salt Lake this season. He will wear No. 48.

Exposito didn’t appear in a game during his two-day stint with the 25-man roster following the weekend injury to backup catcher Taylor Teagarden.

In other roster news, right-handed pitcher Steve Johnson was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list and optioned to Norfolk after making two rehab starts for the Tides. He was placed on the DL on March 23 with a right lat strain.

Optioning Johnson to the Tides means he will not be an option for Saturday’s start as he will need to remain with the Tides for 10 days barring an injury on the 25-man roster that forces a player to the disabled list.

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Orioles recall LHP Britton from Triple-A Norfolk for West Coast trip

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Orioles recall LHP Britton from Triple-A Norfolk for West Coast trip

Posted on 25 April 2013 by Luke Jones

With an open spot on the 25-man roster and needing an additional bullpen arm for the next game or two in Oakland, the Orioles have recalled left-handed pitcher Zach Britton from Triple-A Norfolk.

Britton replaces right-handed pitcher Josh Stinson, who was optioned to the Tides on Wednesday following the Orioles’ 6-5 loss to Toronto. Stinson allowed four home runs and will be replaced by Britton in the starting rotation.

The Orioles will not use Britton’s spot in the rotation until they travel to Seattle on Monday, meaning he will be available to pitch out of the bullpen over the next couple days with the club using their relievers extensively over the last week. Britton was scheduled to pitch for the Tides on Thursday night, so manager Buck Showalter will likely prefer to give the left-hander at least an inning or two of work in one of the next two games.

The 25-year-old southpaw was 1-0 with 1.98 earned run average in three starts for the Tides this season but had been dealing with a blister on his finger at the start of the season. Unlike Stinson, you would expect the Orioles to give Britton at least a few starts to assess whether he can handle a starting spot moving forward.

Since making his major league debut in 2011, Britton is 6-14 with a 4.74 ERA in 214.2/3 innings covering 40 games, 39 of them being starts. He was in contention for the final spot in the Orioles’ starting rotation this spring, but his final start of the spring when he allowed five earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings against Toronto.

Right-hander Jake Arrieta won the fifth starter job out of spring training but was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after posting a 6.63 ERA with 16 walks in 19 innings over four starts.

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Familiar predicament emerging in back end of Orioles rotation

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Familiar predicament emerging in back end of Orioles rotation

Posted on 24 April 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The writing was on the wall for the Orioles after starting pitcher Jake Arrieta’s early struggles made it apparent he wasn’t going to stick in Baltimore.

As was the case for large portions of last season, the rotation carousel is in full motion as right-hander Josh Stinson was the first to receive an opportunity just a few weeks after being claimed off waivers from the Oakland Athletics. The 25-year-old had gone through that process two other times in the last year, giving off the impression that he’s talented enough to want but not good enough to keep for the long haul.

Manager Buck Showalter chose Stinson over other candidates Zach Britton and Freddy Garcia — citing positive reviews from Triple-A Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin — and was asked whether this was a one-shot opportunity for the right-hander or if he would receive an extended look spanning a few starts. The Baltimore skipper’s response was familiar, especially when remembering the Orioles used 12 different starting pitchers last season.

“I’m looking at it as, ‘We’ll see,’” Showalter said. “Ask me after Wednesday if it was one shot. Would you like to have [only] one shot in the big leagues? I hope not. I hope he pitches well and he pitches again Monday in Seattle.”

It didn’t happen as Stinson was immediately optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk following the 6-5 extra-inning loss to Toronto to end a 6-3 homestand. Stinson showed a few impressive breaking pitches at different points but allowed four home runs and was lifted in the sixth inning. Another opportunity in Baltimore could lie ahead, but it’s clear Stinson will have to work his way back up the pecking order to do so.

Next man up to the plate — or to the hill, in this case.

As for Monday’s start, the Orioles will likely be looking at the same candidates they did this time around as these decisions are often based strongly on the timing of the start and how it coincides with the schedule of the Norfolk rotation. The club will call up an extra arm to pitch out of the bullpen for the next few days, but Mike Belfiore, their only reliever at Norfolk who is currently on the 40-man roster aside from Alex Burnett, hasn’t pitched well to begin the season. Burnett was optioned on Wednesday and isn’t allowed to be recalled for 10 days unless he is replacing a player sent to the disabled list.

Considering they’d only be bringing up a reliever for a few days, the Orioles would like to avoid making a 40-man roster move if possible.

The Orioles could also elect to simply recall Britton or select the contract of fellow Norfolk starter Jair Jurrjens and give that pitcher a couple innings on either Thursday or Friday, which would prevent an additional roster move and serve as a vessel to adjust their scheduled day to start to fall on Monday in Seattle. Garcia pitched on Tuesday night and would be going on only one extra day of rest if he’s deemed the guy for Monday, but he wouldn’t provide the same flexibility to pitch out of the bullpen for at least an additional day.

Right-hander Steve Johnson would earn strong consideration for the start under normal circumstances, but he just started a rehab assignment in Triple A on Wednesday, allowing four earned runs in five innings of work against Charlotte.

The options are there, but finding a good one is the real challenge. If any of these pitchers were proven solutions, they’d likely already be part of the Baltimore rotation or pitching elsewhere in the big leagues.

Despite the improved stability of the starting rotation entering spring training, you knew the Orioles would find themselves in this spot sooner rather than later. Their best hope is that one of the many candidates they have in the farm system can emerge in the way Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman did last year.

Until then, let the plethora of roster moves begin.

End of extras streak

An incredible stretch of 17 consecutive wins in extra-inning games in the regular season came to an end on Wednesday as closer Jim Johnson walked in the go-ahead run in the 11th inning.

It was the third straight day Johnson had pitched, but his outing started strongly enough by recording three straight outs. With two outs in the 11th, he allowed two soft singles and plunked Brett Lawrie before completely losing his command and walking Maicer Izturis on four pitches to force in Toronto’s sixth run.

Some questioned whether Showalter should have sent Johnson to the mound, but the reliever had experience pitching on three straight days — doing it on a couple occasions last year — and his previous pitch counts (14 on Monday and 13 on Tuesday) were reasonable enough to put him in the game in an extra-inning situation. Perhaps Showalter is only guilty of not having Brian Matusz ready to go sooner than he did when Johnson ran into trouble.

Regardless of Wednesday’s disappointment, the streak is a reflection of the outstanding bullpen work this club has received for more than a year. Many will focus on the All-Star performance of Johnson as well as setup men such as Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz, but a variety of contributors — from long relievers to current first baseman Chris Davis — have taken the hill in extra innings and performed at a high level since last April.

The 17-game winning streak in extra frames — which didn’t include their 12-inning loss to the New York Yankees in last year’s American League Division Series — left them tied with the 1949 Cleveland Indians for the second-longest run in major league history.

Setting up for the ninth

Johnson leads the major leagues with 66 saves since Sept. 7, 2011, but he can thank O’Day and Matusz — particularly the former — for playing such pivotal roles in getting him there.

O’Day is 2-0 with a 0.36 earned run average covering his last 23 appearances (including the postseason) that spanned 25 innings. The Orioles were 19-4 in those 23 games. Opponents are hitting just .111 (9-for-81) with one home run and eight singles over that stretch.

Those numbers are a major reason why the Orioles awarded O’Day with a two-year, $5.8 million contract in the offseason.

Matusz has also thrived in a relief role since being recalled last August, excelling when it comes to cleaning up messes created by his teammates.

The left-hander relieved Johnson in the 11th and retired Rajai Davis to strand the bases loaded and leave the Orioles trailing by only one. Remarkably, he hasn’t allowed an inherited runner to score since moving to the bullpen last August. He’s stranded 10 inherited runners on base this year and has prevented all 24 inherited runners he’s encountered since the start of the 2012 season from scoring.

Many — including me — wondered whether the Orioles were making the right decision in immediately sending Matusz back to the bullpen after failing to earn a starting job in spring training. With the overall uncertainty in the back end of the rotation, it seemed wise to keep Matusz stretched out in case you needed him as a starter, but it’s difficult to argue with the overwhelming results in his late-inning role.

Odds & ends

Showalter clarified that right-hander Dylan Bundy will not see Dr. James Andrews until next Monday. The 20-year-old will be examined by team orthopedic Dr. James Wilckens in Baltimore on Thursday. He examined Bundy back on April 2 and the initial MRI came back clean in regards to his right elbow. … The Orioles bullpen threw 9 2/3 scoreless innings in the series before Johnson issued the two-out, bases-loaded walk in the 11th inning to break a 5-5 tie. … The four homers allowed by Stinson were the most ever surrendered by a pitcher making his club debut. The last Baltimore starter to give up four home runs in an outing was Jason Hammel against Toronto on May 30, 2012. … Center fielder Adam Jones went 1-for-5 and has reached base safely in 20 of the club’s 21 games to begin the 2013 season. He has at least one hit in 19 of those contests. … The Orioles are now 4-4 in one-run games after finishing with an incredible 29-9 record in that department last season.

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Britton, two others optioned to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 23 March 2013 by WNST Staff

The Orioles announced Saturday that they have optioned left-handed pitcher Zach Britton and infielders Jonathan Schoop and Yamaico Navaroo to Triple-A Norfolk and have reassigned right-handed pitcher Daniel McCutchen to minor league camp.

In five spring appearances covering 10 1/3 innings, Britton posted a 6.10 earned run average with four walks and seven strikeouts. He allowed 13 hits and two home runs as he struggled to command his two-seam fastball.

Schoop played for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic and had a home run and four runs batted in in six spring at-bats with the Orioles.

With this latest assignment, the Orioles have 40 players remaining at major league spring training, including 11 non-roster invitees.

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Handling Matusz interesting case for young, contending Orioles

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Handling Matusz interesting case for young, contending Orioles

Posted on 18 February 2013 by Luke Jones

Last August, the career of Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz appeared to be at a crossroads after the left-hander had been relegated to the minor leagues for the second consecutive season.

His numbers weren’t as bad as a historically-poor 2011 season in which his earned run average ballooned to 10.69, a major league record for a pitcher making at least 10 starts in a season, but the 2008 first-round pick had clearly been left behind by a club fighting to make its first postseason appearance in 15 years. In 16 starts, Matusz went 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA before he was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk shortly before the All-Star break.

That’s where it appeared he would remain for the final stretch of the season — with a token September call-up potentially being thrown in — before lefty relief pitcher Troy Patton suffered a sprained ankle in August. That prompted manager Buck Showalter to view the demoted Matusz in a new light as a left-handed setup man. Described by some as not having a receptive attitude toward coaching, Matusz embraced the new role, in part because he knew it was likely his only ticket back to Baltimore to pitch in a pennant race.

“For me, it was just being able to settle in and learn a lot from the guys and just go out and attack the zone and throw strikes,” Matusz said. “That was the big key for me — get ahead in the count and just have fun.”

Matusz thrived in the new role, pitching to a 1.35 ERA in 18 relief appearances. The southpaw appeared in all six of the Orioles’ playoff games last season, allowing the game-winning home run to Raul Ibanez in Game 3 of the American League Division Series but surrendering only one earned run in 4 2/3 innings.

With left-handed hitters holding a .219 career average against Matusz, Showalter used the former starter against key left-handed bats initially but expanded his role as he continued to thrive as a reliever. Matusz was throwing more strikes as a reliever (73 percent of his pitches compared to just 64 percent as a starter in 2012) and showed electric stuff as batters were swinging and missing on 16 percent of his pitches compared to just seven percent over his 16 starts.

The young pitcher admitted liking the need to prepare to be ready to pitch every day as opposed to the routine of a starter that left him on the bench for four straight days, allowing great spans of time to think about his struggles over the last two years. Last season’s turnaround has left many to wonder whether the Orioles would be wise to move Matusz to the bullpen permanently despite the fact that he enters the spring being stretched out as a starter once again.

“I have the opportunity to be a starter at the start of spring,” Matusz said. “That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, and ultimately, that’s what I’d like to do. I have the opportunity, so I’m going to roll with it and just go out and pitch my game and have fun.”

You can understand the organization’s preference to keep Matusz in a starting role after investing the No. 4 overall pick and a $3.2 million signing bonus in the pitcher in 2008, and it’s not as though the Orioles’ starting rotation is set in stone with established big-league starters manning every spot. Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman are the favorites to grab the first four jobs in the rotation, but the fifth starter spot is wide open as Matusz will compete with Jair Jurrjens, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter, and Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland.

If 2013 is anything like last season, the Orioles are bound to see changes in their starting rotation, due to injury or ineffectiveness, so the confidence boost Matusz received after success in the final two months could go a long way in the lefty establishing himself as a viable starting pitcher. Even if Matusz were to start the year in Norfolk, the Orioles may need to turn to him as they did with Tillman and Gonzalez last season before the two right-handers became key contributors in the second half of the season.

Critics doubting Matusz’s ability to finally figure it out as a starter need only look at the revitalization of Tillman last season as evidence that the light could come on for the University of San Diego product, but perhaps the most interesting question will be how the Orioles handle the left-hander should he not emerge as one of the best five starters during spring training. Matusz has an option remaining, meaning he could be sent to Norfolk to continue working as a starter, but would Showalter and the Orioles leave his arm in the minors when they know how deadly he can be as a reliever against left-handed bats?

The manager has never been one to obsess over playing matchups, preferring pitchers who are effective against hitters from either side of the plate, but it’s difficult to ignore Matusz’s overwhelming success against left-handed hitters in his career. Patton is also the only left-hander projected to be part of the Baltimore bullpen to begin the season, making it an appropriate fit for Matusz to land there once again.

If the Orioles elect to move Matusz back to the bullpen early on, it would likely mean he’d remain there for the rest of the season as it’s a dangerous line to walk with a pitcher’s health when moving back and forth between starting and relief roles — particularly when attempting to stretch out a reliever without the benefit of an offseason to prepare. At this stage of Matusz’s major league career, the Orioles would have to wonder whether it’s time to simply keep him in the bullpen if it means a third straight year of lukewarm results as a starter.

Regardless of the arguments some have made about Matusz having too much value in the Baltimore bullpen, there’s no disputing that it’s easier to find a left-handed setup man than it is to find an effective southpaw starter. A good starting pitcher is a far more valuable asset to a club than a bullpen arm, but Matusz needs to prove he can do the job over six or seven innings consistently and time is running out for that debate.

The Orioles are making the right move in at least stretching out Matusz in preparing him to start, but it will be interesting to see how quickly Showalter pulls the plug if he’s ineffective and moves the lefty to the bullpen with the memory of last year’s success in the manager’s mind. It’s the kind of problem the Orioles wouldn’t have had in the past when a pennant race was never on the radar and young pitchers could develop with little else on the line.

If it comes down to pitching in a pennant race again or riding buses in the International League, it’s likely Matusz won’t balk at a relief role again, even with his state — and understandable — preference to start.

“Obviously, at the end of last year, we were on a good roll with making the playoff push,” Matusz said. “Things were clicking at the right time and it was a lot of fun.”

A lot of fun, indeed, but you wonder if it was only a temporary detour in his career as a starter or a sign of what’s to come for a pitcher with plenty of unfulfilled promise entering his fifth season in the majors.

The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction discussed Brian Matusz in Monday’s Spring Training Spotlight. You can listen to the segment HERE.

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