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Twelve Orioles thoughts following season-opening series win in Boston

Posted on 26 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning a three-game series at Fenway Park to open the 2020 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The opener was a nightmare, but credit this group for bouncing back. Contention remains years away, but silencing Opening Day hot takes about 1988 and Baltimore not cracking double-digit wins is satisfying. Who would have guessed in February the Orioles would be tied for first place with 57 games left?

2. After walking zero batters in a game only four times last season, Orioles pitching didn’t issue a free pass in back-to-back contests for the first time in five years. It’s amazing how much easier the game becomes with competent pitching. Brandon Hyde will pray for more of the same.

3. How many fans needed to look up Cole Sulser on Baseball Reference after his surprising six-out save to close the series? Claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay last October, the 30-year-old recorded seven swinging strikes on 28 pitches. Quite the fun story, whether a one-hit wonder or not.

4. More than a few correctly noted Jose Iglesias isn’t an ideal choice for the third spot in the lineup, but the veteran shortstop with a .687 career OPS went 7-for-13 with three doubles in the series. I disliked the Jonathan Villar salary dump, but this was a solid signing.

5. Anthony Santander may still provide some vindication for Dan Duquette’s dubious Rule 5 draft obsession. The 25-year-old not only homered and drove in four in the series, but he made a terrific catch near “Pesky’s Pole” on Sunday. An impressive start, especially after missing time with a COVID-19 positive test.

6. Rio Ruiz also showed some power with a homer in each of his two starts. He slugged just .328 in the first half of 2019, but the 26-year-old posted a .462 slugging percentage after the All-Star break, albeit with more sporadic playing time. This is a pivotal year for him.

7. We forget Alex Cobb pitched well in the second half of 2018, but the guy we saw Saturday was what Baltimore envisioned when signing him. That said, the $15 million he’s owed next year will make trading him for anything of value difficult even if he remains healthy and effective.

8. There’s no need to analyze the quality of contact earlier in Sunday’s game or Chris Davis’ run-scoring double to snap his 0-for-10 start to 2020. I’m just glad we don’t have to rehash the embarrassing 0-for-54 streak that grabbed so many headlines early last season.

9. Soft-tossing lefties must command their pitches and avoid the heart of the plate to have any chance. That was evident in the first starts for Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc. The latter pitched better than his final line indicated after Miguel Castro surrendered a two-run single in relief.

10. A hat tip to Jon Meoli for this, but Richard Bleier throwing his slider so frequently in his first outing is something to watch. If healthy, the 33-year-old lefty finding a swing-and-miss pitch would be an interesting development for contenders seeking bullpen help by next month’s trade deadline.

11. If baseball promises not to make this 16-team playoff field a permanent fixture, I’m cool with embracing that chaos after an unprecedented 60-game season already littered with asterisks and concerns that it will even be completed. Just don’t ruin the value of the 162-game marathon going forward. Please.

12. I have nothing against the alternate black tops — the “O’s” alternate cap is a different story — but it was disappointing not to see the superior “Baltimore” road jerseys for any of the three games in Boston. Teams should be required to wear home whites and road grays for Opening Day.

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Finding value in 2020 Orioles season challenging and easy at same time

Posted on 23 July 2020 by Luke Jones

I love baseball.

I’ve really missed it.

One of my cathartic moments in the early months of this dystopian world in which we currently reside was dusting off my glove to play catch in the backyard for the first time in who knows how long. Such an experience was therapy at a time when the only live baseball being played was half a world away

Like so many, my feelings are mixed and my fingers crossed about navigating an unprecedented season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I respect those individuals who’ve elected not to participate and the many players, coaches, and team personnel trying to push through the bizarre circumstances and risks to complete a 2020 season and provide an outlet of temporary escape. I’m hoping for the best while recognizing the undesirable outcomes that could again bring baseball to an abrupt halt.

That paramount acknowledgement aside, finding value in this abbreviated season for the Orioles is challenging

A 60-game sprint of a schedule dares even the worst clubs to dream about a small-sample-size run to the postseason — especially with the playoff field expanding from 10 to 16 teams — but we’re talking about an outfit that hasn’t had as much as a winning month of baseball since August of 2017. Last year’s world champion Washington Nationals and their 19-31 start are the popular citation for the unpredictability of a short season, but 60 games is much more often than not an accurate barometer to distinguish legitimate contenders and teams with a fighting chance from the ones having no shot.

The Orioles lost 108 games last year and won’t have the services of team MVP Trey Mancini (recovering from colorectal cancer), positional player WAR leader Jonathan Villar (traded to Miami), and innings pitched leader Dylan Bundy (traded to the Los Angeles Angels). Making short-term feelings worse, the club placed starting ace John Means (left shoulder) and promising reliever Hunter Harvey (right forearm strain) on the 10-day injured list to begin the season even though manager Brandon Hyde says both should be back sooner than later. Frankly, none of these developments are encouraging beyond the Orioles’ chances of securing the top overall pick in the 2021 draft.

With Means temporarily sidelined, the Baltimore rotation currently consists of 30-somethings with little upside or trade value. Perhaps a healthy Alex Cobb will look more like the pitcher he was in Tampa Bay, but the four-year, $57 million deal a playoff-hopeful Orioles club invested in him 2 1/2 years ago simply isn’t going to bring real value for the future.

Of course, there’s Chris Davis, entering the fifth season of a seven-year, $161 million contract that’s been nothing short of disastrous. Even if his surprising Grapefruit League performance was the harbinger for a modest renaissance, it just won’t mean much beyond the short-term surprise.

Worst of all, the minor league season isn’t taking place with top organizational prospects like catcher Adley Rutschman and pitcher DL Hall restricted to working out at the secondary camp in Bowie. So many of the young players critical to Baltimore’s long-term success simply aren’t getting the desired seasoning to expedite a multiyear rebuilding effort, a cold reality from a baseball perspective.

But all isn’t lost.

Austin Hays will man center field and hit at the top of the order on Opening Day in Boston. It’s easy to forget after two injury-plagued years that the 25-year-old was the first player selected in the 2016 draft to make the majors, but Hays should have every opportunity to prove he belongs if he can stay healthy.

Outfielders still in their mid-20s such as Anthony Santander, DJ Stewart, and Cedric Mullins present varying degrees of intrigue and can improve their standing for the future over these next two months.

Veteran reliever Mychal Givens could become general manager Mike Elias’ most appealing chip for the Aug. 31 trade deadline, but the 30-year-old will have just over five weeks to regain his pre-2019 form.

The most anticipated development of the summer will be the debut of Ryan Mountcastle, who is expected to arrive in Baltimore sooner than later. His latest defensive endeavor is learning left field and a problematic strikeout-to-walk ratio should temper expectations, but the 2019 International League MVP’s 61 extra-base hits last year provide more than enough reason for excitement.

There’s also the potential promotions of young starting pitchers such as Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, who seem like decent bets to pitch for the Orioles by season’s end. Outfield prospect and Manny Machado trade centerpiece Yusniel Diaz appears less likely to be promoted after failing to progress to Triple-A Norfolk last year, but his progress in the Bowie camp will be monitored closely.

Yes, you’ll need to look closely for those signs of promise while hiding your eyes from what’s likely to be plenty of losing, but we’re all looking for signs of hope — in the Orioles, baseball, and beyond. A 60-game baseball “season” — perhaps it’s better described as an event — with empty ballparks, COVID-19 testing, fake crowd noise, and social distancing is so far from ideal, but so is the rest of life these days.

Weird baseball — even bad baseball — is better than none at all. It’s a difficult reminder of where we are as a country right now and the normalcy for which we long. If the game can safely — a colossal caveat — bring a few hours of smiles, laughs, or even some groans over something trivial, yet important every night, it’s worth it to try, even if that hot dog and cold beer at Camden Yards will have to wait.

In that regard, finding value in this season — even one likely to be forgettable for the Orioles — is easy.

With fingers crossed, let’s play ball.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering abbreviated 2020 season

Posted on 20 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With an unprecedented Opening Day set to take place later this week amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With Major League Baseball’s most recent testing report revealing a 0.05 percent positive rate from more than 10,000 samples, the 2020 season will indeed begin later this week. The impact of travel will further reveal the viability of navigating the 60-game season. Fingers crossed.

2. From masks and dugout overflow tents to the absence of fans, the ballpark experience is strange, but artificial crowd noise is preferable to an almost distracting silence otherwise. “Reactions” to in-game events are awkward, but the normal ambience of a “crowd” can help the suspension of disbelief for TV viewers.

3. The Orioles are playing a 7:30 p.m. Opening Day game at Fenway Park on Friday and a 7:35 p.m. home opener a week from Wednesday. That lack of weekday baseball makes perfect sense in the absence of fans, of course, but add it to the lengthy list of weird.

4. Not counting potential promotions later this summer, Austin Hays tops my list of interesting youngsters to watch on a rebuilding club still with many more placeholders than prospects. A strong defender in center field with pop emerging as a long-term piece would be quite valuable.

5. A rotation with four projected starters over age 30 lacks upside, but you hope Alex Cobb, Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone, and Asher Wojciechowski are functional enough to keep Brandon Hyde from burning through relievers at an alarming rate, especially with the limitations created by the cancellation of the minor leagues.

6. Remember that spring hype over Chris Davis adding weight and going 7-for-15 with three home runs and nine walks in the Grapefruit League? That was such a simpler time, but we’ll see what the veteran with two more years remaining on his contract after 2020 can do.

7. After missing large chunks of five straight professional seasons, Hunter Harvey was finally healthy last season, but the former first-round pick transitioned from a starting role to relief. Can we get this talented 25-year-old both sustained health and a normal season eventually?

8. Let’s hope the Orioles won’t wait long to promote Ryan Mountcastle as the 2019 International League MVP will work at the alternate camp in Bowie for now. Mountcastle, 23, isn’t a slam dunk, but let’s see the bat and whether he can find a defensive home in left field.

9. It was a surreal Friday night intrasquad game in mid-July, but seeing top prospect Adley Rutschman bat at Camden Yards was still a pretty cool scene. Sorry the outcome below wasn’t a little more exciting.

10. Dwight Smith Jr. hasn’t been ruled out for the opener yet, but the Orioles placed him on the 10-day injured list. With left field seemingly wide open, it’s quite the contrast in fortunes for Smith and DJ Stewart, who wouldn’t have been ready in late March due to ankle surgery.

11. Dilson Herrera may still find himself on the wrong side of the roster bubble, but the former top 100 prospect in the Mets system offers some positional versatility and has shown power in intrasquad games. The July restart has been kind to the 26-year-old vying for a job.

12. The absence of Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne — both over 70 — from regular telecasts is understandable, but MASN still not providing in-market subscribers the ability to watch games on their phones or computers is inexcusable. The network remains absent from all streaming services. This isn’t OK in 2020.

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New York Mets' Keon Broxton takes a lead during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Orioles acquire veteran outfielder Keon Broxton from Mets

Posted on 22 May 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Having already given three different players 14 or more starts in center field this season, the Orioles added another option to the organizational mix Wednesday.

Baltimore acquired Keon Broxton from the New York Mets in exchange for international signing bonus slots after the 29-year-old was designated for assignment last week. He was batting just .143 with 22 strikeouts in 53 plate appearances for the Mets and had expressed disenchantment over his lack of playing time.

In parts of five major league seasons and 851 plate appearances, Broxton owns a career .216 average, but his best production came with Milwaukee when he batted .220 with 20 home runs and 21 stolen bases two years ago and posted a career-best .784 on-base plus slugging percentage in 244 plate appearances in 2016. He’s also registered 13 defensive runs saved playing center field in his career, but his career 36.9 percent strikeout rate is higher than Chris Davis’ (32.6 percent), a clear factor that’s prevented him from establishing himself as an everyday player.

“We had our eye on him,” general manager Mike Elias said. “Speed, excellent center-field ability, he’s got some raw power. He hasn’t gotten a lot of consistent playing time — certainly not this year and even in the past year. But two years ago, he put together a pretty good campaign for Milwaukee.

“We’re trying some different things in center field, and we wanted to give him a look and hopefully give him a little bit more extended time than he’s had. We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The Orioles have received surprising play from Stevie Wilkerson in center, who’s handled the position adequately in recent weeks despite having never played there before this season. Broxton’s arrival could allow Wilkerson to slide into more of a utility role, but his .783 OPS entering Wednesday’s game is among the best on the club and will make it difficult for manager Brandon Hyde to keep his name out of the everyday lineup.

Cedric Mullins began the season as the starting center fielder before a 6-for-64 start led to his demotion to Triple-A Norfolk where he has continued to struggle at the plate. Joey Rickard has also received 14 starts in center for Baltimore, but a .198 batting average hasn’t helped his case for regular playing time.

The acquisition of Broxton could impact the promotion timetable for Norfolk corner outfielder DJ Stewart, who has batted .435 with five home runs, 23 runs batted in, and a 1.439 OPS in May. The 25-year-old and 2015 first-round pick has caught the organization’s attention with his .962 OPS this season, but he may need to wait a little longer to be recalled.

“We have two corner outfielders up here with [Trey] Mancini and [Dwight] Smith who are doing great, so it’s just hard to find an easy way to get him here,” Elias said. “But we would love to have him join this team, and I’m hopeful that we can figure out a way to do that on the sooner side.”

It remains to be seen how the Orioles will make room for Broxton on the 25-man-roster, but Rickard does have minor-league options remaining. Baltimore moved right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb to the 60-day injured list and designated right-hander Yefry Ramirez for assignment Wednesday to clear spots on the 40-man roster for Broxton and right-hander Chandler Shepherd, who was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Cubs and optioned to Norfolk.

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Baltimore Orioles' Stevie Wilkerson follows through on a solo home run against the Los Angeles Angels in the second inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts moving toward Memorial Day weekend

Posted on 21 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the last-place Orioles limping into late May, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We know the Orioles lack the talent to win, but the growing frequency of “ugly” losses is disappointing after they at least played fundamentally sound through much of the season’s first six weeks. There’s no excuses for throwing to the wrong base or botching the most routine of plays.

2. A stretch of 11 losses in 13 games is when Brandon Hyde really earns his money. Combating the mental fatigue of so much losing and knowing when to put your arm around a struggling player or give him the figurative kick in the tail are important aspects of this job.

3. Since taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his first start of 2019, David Hess has allowed a major-league-worst 17 homers and sports an 8.27 ERA over 37 innings. The problem is the shortage of alternatives at Norfolk. You’d rather not rush Keegan Akin after just eight Triple-A starts.

4. Andrew Cashner is throwing his changeup a career-high 22.2 percent of the time and ranks in the top 10 in the majors in FanGraph’s changeup value metric. His fastball is also averaging just under 95 miles per hour in recent outings. He’s making a case as a rental trade chip.

5. Is it a coincidence Chris Davis went into a 4-for-26 slump with 17 strikeouts immediately upon being placed in the cleanup spot for the first time this season? It’s best to keep him in the bottom half of the lineup and limit his starts against lefty pitching at this point.

6. Stevie Wilkerson is unlikely to be a good fit for the leadoff spot with only two walks in 85 plate appearances entering Tuesday, but a .770 on-base plus slugging percentage and respectable defense in center field — a position he’d never played before 2019 — is called taking advantage of the opportunity.

7. With DJ Stewart on fire at Norfolk and Wilkerson starting most games in center, Joey Rickard could be running out of time to improve upon his .198 average. He has over 900 career plate appearances, meaning we should really have a good idea of what he is at this point.

8. Shawn Armstrong has been impressive in his first seven appearances with Baltimore, but his immediate placement in some high-leverage spots says much more about this bullpen than his ability. Incredibly, playoff-hopeful Washington has been even worse in relief this year.

9. Mark Trumbo is moving closer to a rehab assignment after beginning to play in extended spring games, but Hyde described the return timetable for Alex Cobb as “open-ended” Tuesday. The two are making a combined $27.5 million this season, more than a third of the entire payroll.

10. After homering in back-to-back games in his rehab stint at Single-A Frederick, Austin Hays figures to be moving up sooner than later. Meanwhile, Cedric Mullins entered Tuesday batting just .233 with a .666 OPS at Norfolk since his April demotion.

11. The Orioles gave up their 100th home run in just their 48th game Tuesday to best the 2000 Kansas City Royals, who needed 57 games to allow 100. Perhaps “2131”-like Warehouse banners are in order as Baltimore moves toward shattering the major-league record of 258 surrendered by Cincinnati in 2016.

12. Rebuilding isn’t fun. Some clamored for Baltimore to sell as early as 2015 to better position themselves for the future, but the organization kept kicking the can down the road for the low probability of contending. That all but guaranteed the painful rebuild you’re watching — or not watching — now.

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Nine notable Orioles numbers at end of April

Posted on 01 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the 2019 Orioles now entering May, below is a look at nine notable numbers from the opening month of the season:

1.023 — Trey Mancini’s on-base plus slugging percentage

Let’s start with the big positive as Mancini entered Wednesday ranked eighth among qualified major league hitters in OPS and batted .355 with 17 extra-base hits in March and April. His .413 batting average on balls in play isn’t sustainable, but Mancini is striking out less (20.7 percent compared to 24.1 percent of plate appearances in 2018) and hitting fewer grounders (37.2 percent of balls in play compared to 54.6 percent last year). Those numbers lead you to believe marked improvement is real even if some regression toward the mean is inevitable. In a rebuilding year in which you wondered which player might represent the Orioles at the All-Star Game and if anyone would be remotely deserving of the honor, Mancini would be a legitimate choice from any team so far.

.333 — winning percentage

The 4-2 road trip to begin the season was a pleasant surprise, but a 10-20 start — two games better than last year — couldn’t have surprised anyone with realistic expectations at the start of a lengthy rebuild for general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde. To the latter’s credit, a team clearly lacking the major league talent to compete on a nightly basis has played hard with few moments in which you’d question the effort, something you couldn’t say about last year’s 115-loss outfit. Dwight Smith Jr., Renato Nunez, and John Means have been early surprises in addition to Mancini’s blistering start, but the struggles and subsequent demotions of prospects Cedric Mullins and Tanner Scott are reminders that not everything will go to plan on the road back to respectability.

73 — home runs allowed

You may have heard by now the Orioles have a slight propensity for giving up the long ball as the pitching staff has allowed 20 more than any other team in baseball and more than twice as many as 14 others clubs. Baltimore is on pace to surrender 394 homers this season, which would obliterate the 2016 Cincinnati Reds’ major league record by 136 trips around the bases. The Orioles won’t like hearing it, but this probably hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves, especially considering the weather hasn’t even warmed up. Yes, homers are up around baseball with many convinced the ball is juiced, but what the Orioles have allowed goes so far beyond that or the cozy confines of Camden Yards. Those many gopher balls have left the Orioles with the worst ERA in the majors (6.05) by more than a half-run.

7.56 — strikeouts per nine innings

We’ve seen bits and pieces of Elias’ Houston effect with pitchers throwing more sliders and elevated fastballs, but the Orioles rank last in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings, which is quite a contrast from the Astros ranking in the top five in that department over the last three years. It’s hardly a novel concept around the game, of course, but Elias values pitchers who will miss bats with the major league average hovering around 9.0 strikeouts per nine frames so far this season. Baltimore has only three pitchers on the current 25-man roster (minimum five innings) hitting that threshold. Prospects such as Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, and Blaine Knight are piling up strikeouts in the low minors, but such gifted arms are still at least a couple years away and many more are needed in this system.

6.67 — Dylan Bundy’s ERA

Bundy isn’t the only Baltimore pitcher struggling, but the 26-year-old is supposed to be one of the most valuable commodities on the current club, either as a trade chip or someone around which to build in the next few years. Bundy’s strikeout rate (10.8 per nine) is up, but his average fastball velocity has dipped once again to 91.0 miles per hour and he’s allowing homers even more frequently than last year when he led the majors with 41. Given his strikeout rate and how opponents have batted just .167 against Bundy his first time through the order, you wonder if a move to a relief role would be best and might improve his velocity. That doesn’t figure to happen anytime soon with Alex Cobb on the injured list and few apparent alternatives, but the current version of Bundy is neither fetching anything in a trade nor providing the Orioles with a building block.

.343 — Chris Davis’ average since his record-breaking hitless streak

Yes, Davis is batting only .176 for the season, but that sounds more palatable after his record-breaking hitless streak to begin the season. Since going 0-for-33 — and 0-for-54 dating back to last September — Davis has a 1.064 OPS with three home runs, three doubles, and 11 runs batted in over 37 plate appearances. Of course, that’s a small sample mostly avoiding left-handed starters and should not be interpreted as him being “back” after his historically poor 2018, but his average exit velocity of 90.7 miles per hour is his best since 2016 and is second on the club behind Nunez. According to Statcast, Davis is in the 92nd percentile in hard-hit percentage this season. His strikeout and walk rates haven’t improved from last season, but the 33-year-old has calmed some of the discussion about his immediate future — for now.

Minus-15 — defensive runs saved

It would be way too kind to suggest the Orioles have played good defense so far in 2019, but they have improved from 29th to 25th in DRS and own only one more error than the league average. The outfield defense has had some issues that have been more pronounced since Mullins’ demotion, but the Orioles have typically made the plays they’re supposed to make and the “Bad News Bears” moments have been less frequent than we saw last year. Third baseman Rio Ruiz and catcher Pedro Severino have stood out defensively, but even Mancini has looked more comfortable in right field than he did in left. The defense definitely hurt the pitching last year, but this year’s group would probably help more if the pitching staff could keep the opposition from hitting the ball over the fence.

14 — stolen bases

There was much discussion this spring about Baltimore stealing more bases and putting pressure on the opposition — something we saw last year from deadline acquisition Jonathan Villar — but their 14 swipes are tied for ninth in the American League. In other words, the improved speed hasn’t exactly moved the meter. Then again, the 2016 Orioles stole just 19 bases for the entire season, so we’re talking about a very low bar set during the plodder years under Buck Showalter.

1 — intentional walks issued 

A hat tip to Jayson Stark of The Athletic for pointing this out, but the Orioles are one of several teams — including the Astros — to all but abandon the intentional walk, which analytics have exposed as an overrated strategy. Baltimore issued 29 free passes last season, so just one over 30 games is a striking contrast. In addition to that, the Orioles have only three sacrifice bunts and have usually stacked their best hitters at the top of the order rather than too often trying to shoehorn a Craig Gentry type at the top or putting Davis in the heart of the order because of the hitter he used to be. The strategy has been sound, even if the execution and talent are lacking.

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Orioles send Cobb back to IL, recall Wynns, designate Sucre for assignment

Posted on 28 April 2019 by Luke Jones

A frustrating start to the 2019 season continues for Orioles starting pitcher Alex Cobb, who was placed on the 10-day injured list for the third time since late March.

The 31-year-old right-hander continues to deal with a lower back strain and has allowed an alarming nine home runs in 12 1/3 innings. Cobb allowed four homers in Friday’s 6-1 loss at Minnesota and is sporting a 10.95 ERA in three starts this season.

Originally scheduled to be the Opening Day starter in spring training, Cobb sustained a groin strain in his final Grapefruit League start that landed him on the IL and made only one start before being sidelined again with lower back spasms. Manager Brandon Hyde told reporters prior to Sunday’s series finale against the Twins the Orioles want to give Cobb more time to fully recover to get more extension on his pitches. John Means and David Hess will fill the final two spots in the starting rotation behind veterans Andrew Cashner, Dylan Bundy, and Dan Straily in Cobb’s absence.

The Orioles also made a notable change at the catcher position as Austin Wynns was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk and veteran Jesus Sucre was designated for assignment. Entering spring training as a favorite to make the club, Wynns missed extensive time with a strained oblique and was sent to the minors after being activated from the IL earlier this month. The 28-year-old batted .333 with an .887 on-base plus slugging percentage in 39 plate appearances between Norfolk and Double-A Bowie and hit a respectable .255 with four homers in 118 plate appearances as a rookie with Baltimore last season.

Sucre, 30, began the season as Baltimore’s starting catcher and was batting .210 with a .511 OPS in 67 plate appearances. Wynns and Pedro Severino will now share the catching duties.

In an effort to reinforce a taxed bullpen, the Orioles also optioned right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis to Norfolk and recalled right-handers Branden Kline and Luis Ortiz before Sunday’s game. Later in the day, Baltimore also claimed right-handed relief pitcher Shawn Armstrong off waivers from Seattle, meaning a subsequent 25-man roster move will be made when he reports to the club.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts after first 20 games of 2019 season

Posted on 19 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles off to an 8-12 start after their second road trip of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the pitching staff, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles entered Friday with the majors’ third-worst run differential — defending World Series champion Boston was shockingly second worst — but a 3-4 trip left them a respectable 7-6 road record. The 2018 club had 19 away wins all season. A roster overmatched on paper nightly has played with good energy.

2. Credit Baltimore for getting off the mat to win in extra innings Thursday, but that doesn’t wipe away the bullpen squandering a 5-2 lead with five outs to go. Orioles relievers have allowed seven more homers than any other team in baseball. Who can you really trust out there?

3. The top answer could be John Means if he doesn’t settle into the rotation. The lefty will fill a hybrid role for the time being with Alex Cobb returning, but a 1.72 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings have made him fun to watch in whatever capacity he’s pitched.

4. I’m glad to no longer be tracking a historic hitless streak for Chris Davis, but we’re a long way from suggesting he’s made meaningful improvement. I will note his average exit velocity (91.1 mph) is the best it’s been since 2015, but we’re talking about a very small sample size.

5. An 0-for-5 Thursday dropped Cedric Mullins to an .089 batting average. Patience is warranted and he’s defended well in center, but you wonder how hard a healthy Austin Hays — who’s just beginning a hitting progression after recovering from the thumb injury — might have been knocking at the door.

6. The Orioles own only two starts of six innings or more so far this season. It’s fair mentioning the handful of times they’ve used someone who wasn’t fully stretched out as a starter, but that still doesn’t say much for veterans like Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy.

7. Jesus Sucre and Pedro Severino have combined to hit barely above the Mendoza line, but the catchers have thrown out eight of 13 runners attempting to steal this season. I would like to see Severino receive a few more opportunities since he’s five years younger.

8. Trey Mancini has been far and away Baltimore’s best hitter, but Dwight Smith Jr. has been the biggest surprise so far as he’s shown some power with a .474 slugging percentage and gone 9-for-24 with four extra-base hits against lefties. He has a nice swing.

9. After a slow start at Triple-A Norfolk, Ryan Mountcastle has homered in three of his last four games and has received all but two of his starts in the field at first base. His development is the most relevant baseball-related factor in the Davis saga at this point.

10. In his first three starts for Single-A Delmarva, 19-year-old Grayson Rodriguez has pitched to a 0.54 ERA and struck out 28 batters in 16 2/3 innings. I suppose that’s not too shabby for the 2018 first-round pick.

11. Brian Roberts has been impressive as a color analyst on MASN, especially considering his limited experience in the role. He clearly does his homework and presents those insights in an entertaining way. I’d like to hear more of him on broadcasts.

12. This FanGraphs article offered a look at Brandon Hyde, his daily routine, and how he interacts with Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. It’s also a reminder the infrastructure of baseball operations is far from complete as the manager notes the current size of the front office and analytics department.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on struggling pitching staff

Posted on 12 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles having lost seven of eight before embarking on their second road trip of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the pitching staff, each in 50 words or less:

1. Chris Davis’ record hitless streak is national news, but allowing 37 home runs in 13 games borders on the unthinkable. No other team entered Friday surrendering more than 26. The major league record for a season is 258 allowed by Cincinnati in 2016; Baltimore’s current pace is 461.

2. Watching Dylan Bundy strike out five — four on sliders — and not allow a hit the first time through the order before giving up four home runs Thursday makes you wonder if he’s better suited to relieve. It could help an average fastball velocity that’s down to 90.8 miles per hour.

3. Miguel Castro has never missed as many bats as you’d expect despite a mid-90s fastball and a slider that’s often shown good movement, but he’s been a mess so far. After posting a solid 3.77 ERA the previous two years, Castro should have been ready to graduate rather than regress.

4. There was never a guarantee Richard Bleier would be ready for the start of 2019 following last June’s lat surgery, so sending him to the injured list with shoulder tendinitis is the responsible move. He and that sinker that sparked a 1.97 ERA the last three seasons clearly weren’t right.

5. Brandon Hyde expressed optimism about Alex Cobb’s back issue not lingering beyond the 10-day minimum, but even a rebuilding club still needs starters to eat innings and provide stability. Especially with a contract that will be difficult to move, Cobb needs to be a big part of that.

6. Many expected Mychal Givens to be the closer, but Hyde said he “wants to use Mike when the game’s on the line,” whether that’s the ninth inning or sooner. It’s a refreshing stance, especially for a club without the options to have a paint-by-numbers bullpen like Buck Showalter enjoyed.

7. Even having pitched his first two games as an “opener” and being on a schedule, Nate Karns showed diminished velocity in each of his outings before going to the IL with forearm tightness. You hope for the best, but his injury history is why he was available for $800,000.

8. Paul Fry has been the Orioles’ best reliever so far with a 1.59 ERA in 5 2/3 innings and the highest game-entering leverage index on the team, an indication of the kind of game situations in which Hyde has used the lefty. He was a nice find by Dan Duquette.

9. Despite the apparent Houston influence from Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal that has Andrew Cashner throwing more sliders and fewer fastballs, his swinging-strike percentage has decreased from last year. The veteran just isn’t missing bats, which makes it much more challenging to succeed.

10. John Means pitched into some bad luck in his first start, but he’s been a pleasant surprise early, especially with a changeup that’s fetched 18 swinging strikes out of the 73 times he’s thrown it. Hyde wants to give him more starting opportunities.

11. The Dan Straily signing made sense for a club eyeing rotation stability and a possible trade chip, but he’s allowed 10 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. His spring was disrupted by Miami releasing him, but he probably needs to lean more on his changeup to be successful.

12. If the intention behind optioning Tanner Scott to Triple-A Norfolk after a poor spring was to make him succeed at that level after he originally went from Double A to the majors, recalling him after just two appearances for the Tides didn’t seem to make much sense.

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Orioles starting pitcher Cobb back on injured list with lower back issue

Posted on 09 April 2019 by Luke Jones

Less than a week after returning from a late-spring groin strain to make his 2019 debut, Orioles starting pitcher Alex Cobb is now sidelined with a different health ailment.

Prior to Tuesday’s game against Oakland, the right-hander was placed on the 10-day injured list with lower back spasms. The Orioles are officially labeling the problem as a lumbar strain that will force Cobb to miss his scheduled start against the Athletics on Wednesday night.

Cobb allowed two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings and arguably showed the best split-changeup of his short time in Baltimore against the New York Yankees last Thursday, but his absence will once again leave manager Brandon Hyde short in the starting rotation. The Orioles had appeared to fortify their staff with the signing of veteran Dan Straily last weekend, a move intended to allow them to go to a traditional five-man starting rotation. Nate Karns served as the opener for two bullpen games over the first week of the season, but he was also placed on the 10-day IL with forearm tightness on Tuesday as lefty John Means made his first start of the season.

Straily will make his first start for the Orioles on Wednesday.

In the second season of a four-year, $57 million contract, Cobb was hoping to get off to a much better start than in 2018 when he missed most of spring training before signing with the Orioles and pitched to a nightmarish 6.41 ERA before the All-Star break. The 31-year-old was much better in the second half with a 2.56 ERA in 59 2/3 innings, but he was limited to just eight frames in September because of a lingering blister on his pitching hand. Cobb was originally scheduled to start the 2019 season opener in the Bronx before groin tightness forced him out of his final Grapefruit League outing and he was placed on the IL, leaving Andrew Cashner to take his place for Opening Day.

Cobb underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 and owns a career 3.74 ERA in 858 innings in the majors.

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