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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering late August

Posted on 20 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles entering the final days of August and approaching 40-man roster call-ups, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If you’re reading this, Baltimore may have already set a new major league record for home runs allowed in a season, demolishing the mark of 258 by the 2016 Cincinnati Reds. Four other clubs are on pace to surpass that record. Do chicks still dig the long ball that much?

2. Baltimore going 16-15 from June 28 through Aug. 4 was a nice diversion, but the 1-12 stretch against the New York Yankees, Houston, and Boston reminded how long the road back to even respectability remains. My 58-104 prediction isn’t looking good, but just 15 games remain against teams over .500.

3. Adley Rutschman being promoted to Delmarva felt inevitable after his bat had warmed at Aberdeen with a .462 average over his last 10 games and his first homer in a 5-for-5 performance for the IronBirds Monday. The first overall pick playing in the postseason with the Shorebirds should be fun.

4. Hunter Harvey making his debut at Fenway Park was one of the better moments of 2019, but Brandon Hyde noting he would have likely pitched the right-hander if the Orioles had taken a lead in the seventh inning Monday was very interesting. Despite the many injuries, Harvey is just 24.

5. After not starting Chris Davis on consecutive nights against right-handers, Hyde said the first baseman is healthy and the decision is about wanting to play Trey Mancini at first. With September bringing call-ups and a potential Mark Trumbo activation, Davis could be buried deeper on the bench.

6. After pitching five no-hit innings Monday, John Means was harmed by his defense and then couldn’t retire a batter in the sixth before being pulled. The outing was a step in the right direction, but the All-Star pitcher owns a 7.48 ERA since the break.

7. Hanser Alberto continues to amaze with a .319 average and .407 mark against lefties. The lack of power and shortage of walks limit his value, but he’s provided pretty solid defense, easily making him someone you’d like to keep around. What a fun story.

8. His performance for Delmarva this season speaks for itself, but Grayson Rodriguez looks more like a post-college pitcher than a 19-year-old in appearance and how he handles himself. The 2018 first-round pick is pleased with his changeup development and has hit 99 mph in recent starts. He’s an exciting talent.

9. Ryan Mountcastle drawing 20 walks in 494 plate appearances at Norfolk is concerning, but a .311 average, 53 extra-base hits, and an .868 OPS make him a clear candidate for a September promotion since he’ll go on the 40-man roster this offseason anyway. Where he’ll play remains a question.

10. A lat strain will keep DL Hall out for the rest of Single-A Frederick’s season, but the 20-year-old posted a 2.25 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 16 walks in his last 32 innings. His 6.0 walk rate per nine must improve, but he showed better control in the second half.

11. This season will be remembered for historically terrible pitching, but the Orioles are last in the majors in defensive runs saved and last in the AL in DRS for the second straight season. Improving the defense is a major priority before the arrival of their talented pitchers in the minors.

12. The Orioles remain an easy target for the tanking outrage crowd, but they’re really an example of the dangers of keeping a core together too long. Explain again what Mike Elias should have done differently to any meaningful degree after inheriting a 115-loss team that entered 2018 hoping to contend.

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Davis incident resolved, but that doesn’t erase obvious for Orioles

Posted on 09 August 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The AL-favorite Houston Astros walked right past the media scrum outside the Orioles clubhouse that included a $161 million first baseman hitting .182 for a last-place team who was trying to explain why he went after his manager in the dugout Wednesday.

It was quite a moment in time within the baseball world as opposite ends of the spectrum were on display. You could only imagine what was going through the minds of Astros players, who have visions of winning their second World Series in three years this October. Meanwhile, the Orioles can only try to avoid setting the franchise record for losses for the second straight year.

Chris Davis, Brandon Hyde, and general manager Mike Elias did their best Friday to defuse an incident that was a terrible look for a rebuilding club already facing more than its share of embarrassment on the way to a second straight season of 100-plus losses. The 33-year-old Davis explained he’d reached a “breaking point” Wednesday after a difficult inning in the field without revealing what exactly triggered him needing to be restrained by hitting coach Don Long and teammate Mark Trumbo. Davis said he left the clubhouse before the conclusion of Wednesday’s game to avoid being a distraction to his teammates, a decision that apparently won’t trigger discipline despite how that type of act is traditionally received.

Hyde admitted to getting “a little frustrated” with how Davis was handling his own anger in the dugout before reiterating how highly he thinks of the veteran as a person, suggesting he’s had more individual conversations with Davis than any other player on the club and saying this was the first time anything remotely like this had happened. You hope the experience will only help the first-year manager in how he relates to his players, an area in which he’d received rave reviews — including from Davis — prior to Wednesday’s confrontation.

Yes, all parties appear ready to move on from an incident that really shouldn’t define Davis’ character as his charitable efforts are no secret. It’s not about trying to divide the blame between Davis and Hyde either. Understand these are two very competitive adults and not some Little League player with his dad as the coach, but Davis knows losing his mind to the point of trying to fight his boss is completely unacceptable while Hyde realizes he probably could have used a little more tact in what he said to a frustrated player while in plain sight of TV cameras.

On Friday, Davis again fought the perception that he doesn’t care about his poor performance, which has always been the low hanging fruit of the many talking points related to his multiyear collapse as a major league hitter. He’s been far from perfect handling himself, but no athlete would ever reach such a level of success in the first place if he was content with such abject failure, regardless of the money he’s making.

This isn’t a question about effort or whether Davis cares. As humiliating as Wednesday’s incident was, many wouldn’t be reacting with the same venom if he were hitting .250 with 30 home runs at this point in the season. This is still all about performance with the unflattering scene of Davis being held back in the Orioles dugout only highlighting the obvious that can no longer be swept under the rug by the stray good week at the plate or a flimsy compliment about his defense that’s been average at best for a few years now.

This terribly disappointing marriage between Davis and the Orioles needs to end.

We know all about the extraordinary money Davis is still owed on a contract running through the 2022 season and the deferred payments to be made long after that, but the numbers show the Orioles continue to be a worse team with him on it, no matter how much anyone wishes it could be different. A new regime with new ideas and methods has tried its best to “fix” the former two-time home run champion to salvage some value, but that’s resulted in minimal improvement that’s taken him from a historically poor 2018 campaign to still being one of the worst players in baseball this year.

Over his last 1,075 plate appearances dating back to the 2017 All-Star break, Davis has batted .181 with 37 homers and a .589 on-base plus slugging percentage. He’s been worth minus-4.1 wins above replacement over the last three seasons, according to FanGraphs. He owns a brutal .589 OPS this season, and that’s with Hyde not even playing him against most lefties. He’s gone 5-for-52 against southpaws in 2019.

It’s not my money, but there’s just no logical argument to be made to continue on this path beyond this season, especially with Triple-A prospect Ryan Mountcastle waiting in the wings and ready to be tested in the majors by next season at the latest. The Orioles are already playing natural first baseman Trey Mancini — who certainly tries his best — in the outfield to the detriment of their defense, and Mountcastle will only create a greater logjam of first base-designated hitter types if Davis remains in 2020.

Asked where Davis’ future with the Orioles stood Friday, Elias dismissed any notion of the dugout incident factoring into a potential decision down the road and offered a similar refrain to what we’ve heard since he was hired last November.

“I hope he starts playing better. We’ll continue to revisit our plan there, but I’ve said before he’s on the team,” Elias said. “We don’t have any plans or expectations to alter that fact. He’s under contract, and that’s not something that I take lightly. He’s got a lot of talent, and we’re not going to walk away from the fact that he’s talented and he’s here for a while.

“We’ll continue to talk to him; we’ll continue to work with him during the season as best we can. We’ll see what the plans are over the offseason. I’ve been keeping in touch with him this year about his program. This will continue.”

Of course, we know he’s going to make such statements about Davis being on the club until he isn’t anymore. That’s where John Angelos and Louis Angelos come into the picture as any team in any professional sport wanting to move on from a player still owed lucrative money is going to need ownership’s approval. Elias said he did speak to them about what happened Wednesday, but it appears the organization will continue with their high-priced first baseman, who was sitting the bench to start the opener of a three-game set with Houston. It’s not a disciplinary move; that’s just where Davis finds himself more frequently these days.

No, Davis’ spat with Hyde may not prove to be the final straw in his ultimate exit — and wouldn’t be in a vacuum — but it did draw more attention to what’s so painfully obvious. The Orioles can’t ignore reality much longer if they expect anyone to fully buy into a new direction and a new era.

It’s not about effort, character, whether Davis used to be a really good major league player, or even those few embarrassing moments in the dugout Wednesday. As difficult as it might be for the organization to accept, the decision isn’t even about money since he’ll be paid regardless.

Do the Orioles want to continue making their team worse by refusing to let go of some fading idea of what Davis used to be a long time ago, or do they want to truly turn the page?

It’s that simple and obvious, no matter how embarrassing the scene in the dugout might have been.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on Andrew Cashner trade

Posted on 14 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles trading veteran starting pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Boston Red Sox for 17-year-old Venezuelan position prospects Elio Prado and Noelberth Romero, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. No one knows whether these academy-level prospects will even sniff the majors one day, but it was refreshing seeing Mike Elias target long-term upside over moderate-floor, low-ceiling talent only guaranteed to clog up the 40-man roster. There was way too much of that in the past.

2. This trade was a reminder how difficult it is prying away prospects today, something we saw last year with even an elite rental piece like Manny Machado. You’re not getting much value above the lowest minor-league levels for 2 1/2 months of a career league-average starter making some real money.

3. Credit Cashner for reinventing himself by pitching up in the zone more and doubling his changeup usage from 2018. That’s become his best pitch, evident by FanGraphs’ pitch value metric ranking it the second-best changeup in the majors among qualified hurlers. The new regime’s fingerprints are all over those tweaks.

4. Elias cited the strong numbers from Prado in the Dominican Summer League, complimenting the center fielder’s pop and speed while adding Orioles scouts have liked what they’ve seen from him in his first professional season. He received an $85,000 signing bonus last July, per SoxProspects.com.

5. Romero has more modest numbers and has mostly played third base, but the Orioles like the contact he’s been making and believe he has a chance to develop as a shortstop. Boston gave him a $275,000 last July, per SoxProspects.com.

6. Elias said no other deals were imminent, but Mychal Givens will be an attractive chip if he strings together a few more outings like Saturday’s two-inning save. His 4.50 ERA is mediocre, but he’s striking out a career-high 12.8 batters per nine innings and is under club control through 2021.

7. The Orioles entered Sunday with a record just 2 1/2 games worse than Detroit, who sported a minus-163 run differential for the season and a 6-27 record since June 1. Thoughts of the 2020 first overall pick had to cross Elias’ mind when dealing Cashner.

8. Dylan Bundy isn’t expected to be out long with right knee tendinitis, but the current starting rotation behind surprising All-Star lefty John Means consists of three pitchers who weren’t even in the organization at the start of June. That’s astonishing.

9. Cashner’s Sunday replacement, the soft-tossing Tom Eshelman, didn’t have a good final line after giving up a two-run homer in the sixth, but he was competitive and struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings with five coming on his curveball. There’s plenty of opportunity for minor-league “misfits” in Baltimore now.

10. Cashner signed with Baltimore 17 months ago thinking he was joining a club with at least a chance of competing for a wild-card spot in 2018. The Orioles went 75-178 over his time here.

11. I’m not saying a division rival would be your top choice as a trade partner, but any “old-school” belief that the Orioles shouldn’t deal with AL East rivals is as foolish as marginalizing the international market for years. End of discussion.

12. Asked to comment on the Cashner trade after Saturday night’s 12-4 loss, Brandon Hyde said the Orioles are “a million miles away from being where we’re going to be here sometime soon.” I couldn’t help but think the Baltimore manager needed a hug after the veteran starter was dealt.

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Mullins trying to “get some positive mojo working” at Double-A Bowie

Posted on 12 July 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Eleven months after making his major league debut as the potential heir apparent to former Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, Cedric Mullins is back in Double-A baseball.

The Opening Day center fielder was assigned to the Bowie Baysox Thursday after a nightmare first half in which he was demoted from the majors in late April and batted just .205 with a .578 on-base plus slugging percentage in 306 plate appearances at Triple-A Norfolk. Mullins, 24, went 6-for-64 to begin the season with the Orioles, which followed a poor spring training in which he collected only eight hits in 53 at-bats in the Grapefruit League.

The switch-hitting Mullins batted .187 with a .512 OPS in 119 plate appearances last September, meaning he hasn’t enjoyed much prosperity in a long time.

“I just think he needs to get on track somehow,” said manager Brandon Hyde as the Orioles resumed the second half of the season Friday. “I think guys sometimes have tough years, and obviously we still feel really highly about Cedric and his ability. Now, it’s trying to put him in position to [succeed]. I know he struggled in Triple-A, and you want to see him have success.”

As Jones moved to right field for the first time in his Orioles career last August, Mullins was called up and batted .317 with nine extra-base hits, six runs batted in, and a stout .941 on-base plus slugging percentage in his first 72 plate appearances, looking the part of the center fielder of the future. Questions had persisted about his ability to hit from the right side long before he reached the majors, but Mullins batted just .186 with a .528 OPS against right-handed pitching in the International League in the first half of 2019 while batting a more respectable .257 with a .709 OPS against lefties, making it more difficult to know what to make of his statistical collapse.

Mullins batted .269 with 26 extra-base hits and a .771 OPS in 269 plate appearances for the Tides last season, which makes his 2019 Triple-A struggles that much more alarming.

“There have been a lot of instances where guys go down — and go down multiple levels — and in a year or two, they’re much, much better players,” Hyde said. “That’s just part of the development process a little bit at times. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to do, but Roy Halladay went down to high A at one point in his career.

“I think sometimes you have to reset. What’s the best place for him to reset right now we feel like is going back down to Double-A and trying to get some positive mojo working and have some success.”

Entering 2019, the future in center field appeared bright between Mullins and prospect Austin Hays, but injuries limited the latter to 39 games in the first half of the season after an injury-plagued 2018. Hays, 24, is healthy now and serving as the everyday center field for the Tides with Mullins playing at Bowie.

Despite playing only the corner outfield spots in the minors, Anthony Santander was starting his second career game in center for the Orioles Friday night. He became the sixth Orioles player to start a game in center this season last Friday, joining Mullins, Stevie Wilkerson, Keon Broxton, and former Orioles Drew Jackson and Joey Rickard.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on Adley Rutschman’s Baltimore introduction

Posted on 25 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With Orioles first overall pick Adley Rutschman being introduced in Baltimore after signing a record-breaking $8.1 million bonus Monday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. In a season with very little to look forward to, fans attending Tuesday’s game were treated to a look at the new face of the Orioles rebuild. The standing ovation Rutschman received was energetic and one of hope from a fan base needing much more to cheer about these days.

2. Rutschman being introduced on the same day Manny Machado returned to Camden Yards was fitting. The Orioles also owned the majors’ worst record when Machado was selected third overall June 7, 2010. Twenty-six months later, he debuted on a playoff-qualifying team. Fans can dream.

3. Mike Elias said Rutschman will soon report to Sarasota and spend a brief time with the Gulf Coast Orioles before going to short-season Single-A Aberdeen later this summer. If he excels for the IronBirds, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a late-season promotion to Delmarva for the postseason.

4. Rutschman will see time at first base and as a designated hitter in addition to catching duties this season. The organization is very comfortable with his work behind the plate, so there’s no sense overworking him there if the greater focus in 2019 is getting him professional at-bats.

5. The 21-year-old was very businesslike during his introductory press conference, but you couldn’t miss the big smile on his face when he was asked about his makeup as a catcher. He relishes the opportunity to impact so many parts of the game behind the plate.

6. Rutschman admitted the Oregon State pitching coach called most pitches — very typical in college baseball — but he offered more input as he gained experience and did call his own pitches in the Cape Cod League and playing for Team USA. This will be an important part of his development.

7. Swinging from the left side, Rutschman put on a show during batting practice with the current Orioles before Tuesday’s game. In roughly 10 swings, I saw him hit a ball onto Eutaw Street, another over the center-field fence, and a third off the right-center wall. Not too bad.

8. There’s no truth to the rumor that Brandon Hyde lobbied to add him to Tuesday’s lineup, but Rutschman looked the part in a setting where all eyes were on him. Of course, he’s dealt with the spotlight for a couple years playing in a high-profile program with scouts always watching.

9. Orioles scout Brandon Verley was glowing in his assessment of the player he began tracking at the high school level and has seen Rutschman swing a wooden bat multiple times with no concerns. “You give him a toothpick, and he’d figure out how to hit.” That’s a pretty good line.

10. Rutschman mentioned Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina as major leaguers he admired growing up. That had to please Elias, who is very familiar with both as a former St. Louis Cardinals scout and witnessed firsthand the impact Molina has brought as their longtime catcher.

11. Watching Rutschman interact with the likes of Keon Broxton and Dwight Smith Jr. in his hitting group, I couldn’t help but wonder how many current players will be around when the young catcher is promoted to the majors. The Orioles will try to take their time with him, of course.

12. I’m always reminded how special a day like Tuesday is for the many Orioles and Ravens draft picks I’ve covered over the years. Most attention falls on their playing potential and the business side, but witnessing an entire family’s joy on such a life-changing day never gets old.

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Baltimore Orioles' David Hess, right, reacts as New York Yankees' Gleyber Torres, left, runs the bases after hitting a home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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All bets off on Orioles’ potential path toward infamy

Posted on 24 June 2019 by Luke Jones

We knew this season would be bad for the Orioles.

When the most optimistic of forecasts suggest a club might find a way to avoid 100 losses, you know you’re nowhere close to being in a good place. But general manager Mike Elias and the new Orioles regime made no false promises after a 115-loss season, easily the worst campaign in club history.

There were never going to be shortsighted moves made in the name of a quick fix, nor should there have been. The goal is to build a championship-caliber organization in the years to come — not to exhaust enough resources to lose 92 games instead of the number with which the Orioles will ultimately finish. Signing Manny Machado and Bryce Harper wouldn’t have transformed this year’s team into anything close to being a contender, let alone spending money on lesser players to try to grab a few extra wins that no one would have cared about in the big picture.

In other words, no one should be surprised Baltimore owns the worst record in baseball as the season nears its midpoint. But that hasn’t made it any easier to watch on a nightly basis — if you still have the stomach for it in late June. Those suggesting it couldn’t get worse or citing historical examples as a reason to anticipate some slight improvement in the win-loss department were clearly wrong.

After a 1-6 road trip that included three losses to a Seattle team that had gone 19-44 since a 13-2 start to begin the season, the Orioles are now on pace to lose more games than they did last year. Brandon Hyde’s club has gone 9-34 since last winning back-to-back games to improve to 13-22 on May 6. Over that seven-week stretch without consecutive victories, the Orioles went a combined 4-9 against the Mariners, Detroit, San Francisco, and Toronto, four of the seven worst teams in the majors right now.

Baltimore hasn’t won a series since April 24, the day before the start of the NFL draft. A month from Tuesday, the Ravens will hold their first full-squad training camp practice, and there’s little confidence the Orioles will have won a series by then either.

The other phases of the game have been bad, of course, but the pitching has been the biggest culprit as the Orioles entered Monday with the worst ERA (5.85) in the majors, a half-run worse than the 29th-place Mariners. They’re on pace to obliterate the 2016 Reds’ major league record for home runs allowed by 66, but it’s at least fair to note three other clubs are on pace to break Cincinnati’s mark in this homer-crazy 2019. The Orioles rank last in starter ERA (5.59) and next to last in bullpen ERA (6.16) with only Washington to thank for being slightly worse in relief.

The hope was the Orioles would find another pitcher or two in a mold somewhat similar to John Means, who’s been the most pleasant surprise of the season with his 2.67 ERA. You’d like to see more young hurlers take advantage of these generous opportunities to at least perform at a semi-respectable level, but that hasn’t happened beyond a fleeting week or two for any given name, a frustrating reality becoming more audible in Hyde’s post-game comments. He knew what he was getting into taking this job last December, but it can’t be easy managing this on a nightly basis.

Evident by the “Norfolk Shuttle” working overtime in recent weeks, this club just doesn’t have the pitching to even approach being competitive on too many nights. In games in which Andrew Cashner, Dylan Bundy, or Means have started, the Orioles are 17-25, which is still bad but far from historically poor. But they’re an unthinkable 5-31 when anyone else starts, which is 1899 Cleveland Spiders kind of terrible. Alex Cobb making only three starts before undergoing season-ending hip surgery doomed a rotation that was already far too thin.

What happens if Cashner, Bundy, or both are traded by next month’s deadline? What if Means’ shoulder issue becomes a bigger problem than anticipated? Other than prospect Keegan Akin, we’ve already seen most of what Triple-A Norfolk has to offer in the pitching department, and the answer isn’t pretty.

Nearly halfway through a season from which many fans have already tuned out, it’s time to ask if the 2019 Orioles could be the worst team we’ve seen in the major leagues since at least World War II. Yes, that includes the 1962 New York Mets, who went 40-120 in their inaugural season and are viewed as the Unholy Grail of modern baseball ineptitude.

Currently on pace to finish 45-117, the Orioles own a minus-181 run differential through 78 games. Only six teams over the last decade have finished an entire season with a run differential of minus-200 or worse. The last major league team to finish with a minus-300 run differential was the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who went 43-119 and scored 337 fewer runs than they allowed.

The Orioles’ current run differential translates to just short of minus-376 for an entire season, which is dramatically worse than last year’s club (minus-270) and the 1988 team (minus-239). The 1962 Mets finished at minus-331, so that tells you what kind of pace the Orioles are keeping as they sport just four June wins entering the final week of the month.

If you buy into the value of run differential to predict future wins and losses, you might want to take a trip or two to Camden Yards to witness history before the season’s over. The Orioles have played like a 128-loss team over their last 43 games, more than a quarter of the season. And the numbers say they haven’t been particularly unlucky either.

This could be the worst major league team of the modern era. All bets are off trying to argue otherwise at this point.

It’s worse than most of us even thought it would be.

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Orioles designate Straily for assignment, place Means on injured list

Posted on 20 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles made a roster move that felt inevitable and another that came as a surprise prior to the start of their four-game set in Seattle.

Struggling right-hander Dan Straily was designated for assignment Thursday while lefty starter John Means was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left shoulder strain. The Orioles activated outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. from the IL and recalled right-handed reliever Evan Phillips to take their spots on the 25-man roster.

Means last pitched Sunday and told reporters in Seattle he’d felt some tightness in his shoulder at the end of the outing against Boston, but he downplayed the severity and didn’t undergo an MRI, describing it as a muscular issue. The rookie expects to come off the IL when eligible next Thursday, the day before the start of a three-game series against Cleveland. Means has easily been the most pleasant surprise in a very difficult season for the last-place Orioles, pitching to a 6-4 record and a 2.67 ERA in 70 2/3 innings.

With Means originally scheduled to start Friday, the Orioles will now conduct a bullpen game against the Mariners.

Straily was signed in early April to provide a veteran presence in the starting rotation, but the 30-year-old never found any semblance of footing with Baltimore and had allowed an incredible 22 home runs in just 47 2/3 innings. His intense struggles led to a demotion to the bullpen in late May, but Straily had allowed 13 earned runs and seven homers in his last two appearances covering only 3 2/3 innings to elevate his season ERA to 9.82, leading to his removal from the 40-man roster.

Manager Brandon Hyde expressed hope that Straily would remain with the organization and try to get himself straightened out in the minor leagues. Entering 2019 with a career 4.23 ERA in seven major league seasons, Straily signed a one-year, $575,000 deal that included a $250,000 bonus if he were to be traded. He was released by Miami at the end of spring training and posted a 4.12 ERA with the Marlins last season.

Right fielder and first baseman Trey Mancini was not in Thursday’s lineup after being hit by a pitch on the left elbow in the first inning of Wednesday’s loss in Oakland, but he is only dealing with a contusion and could return to action in the next day or two.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering late June

Posted on 18 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles falling 30 games below .500 with 90 games remaining in the 2019 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It’s been 37 games since Baltimore achieved even the pedestrian feat of winning back-to-back contests, a stretch easily exceeding last year’s longest drought (28). I believed it unlikely the Orioles would be mathematically worse than the 2018 team, but they’ve played like a 127-loss club since May 7. Just brutal.

2. Brandon Hyde recently expressed frustration that young players weren’t taking advantage of opportunities as lackadaisical and sloppy play has become more prevalent. No manager would win with this club, but the regression from even an eyeball-test standpoint has to frustrate the coaching staff.

3. Remember that renaissance for Chris Davis after his record hitless streak? He has eight hits and 36 strikeouts in his last 72 plate appearances while his peripherals have crashed. He’s batting eighth and teetering as a full-time starter. Drastic action taken beyond that is likely up to the Angelos family.

4. The demotion of David Hess was overdue after a 7.36 ERA in 66 innings, but he’ll remain in the bullpen with Triple-A Norfolk, a move that makes sense if he’s going to continue to be a two-pitch hurler throwing his fastball and slider a combined 84 percent of the time.

5. Former Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard was designated for assignment Monday, a move that felt inevitable after he batted .203 in 135 plate appearances. The 28-year-old was the Opening Day right fielder and had another chance to establish himself as a legitimate major league player and didn’t do it.

6. Speaking of outfielders not taking advantage of opportunities, Keon Broxton has struck out 29 times in 64 plate appearances as an Oriole and had an inexcusable concentration lapse minutes into Saturday’s game. That position is sitting there for Cedric Mullins if he didn’t have an ugly .624 OPS at Norfolk.

7. On the bright side, Yusniel Diaz was named Eastern League Player of the Week with three home runs, two doubles, 12 RBIs, and four walks in six games. It’s been a rough start to 2019 for the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade, so seeing him heat up is encouraging.

8. Understanding options are limited whenever you need someone for a spot start, the Orioles turning to Luis Ortiz and his 7.01 ERA last Friday was a reminder of both the shortage of even mediocre pitching at Norfolk and the number of 2018 deadline acquisitions not exactly thriving this season.

9. Dylan Bundy has posted a 3.09 ERA, struck out 8.5 batters per nine innings, and allowed six homers in his last 46 2/3 innings. He’s throwing fastballs a career-low 49 percent of the time and using changeups more frequently than he has since 2016. His secondary pitches have been key.

10. Hanser Alberto has a .432 batting average in 89 plate appearances against lefties, the best mark in the majors. He has only five walks in 214 plate appearances, but he puts the ball in play and has brought some positive energy to a club needing as much as possible.

11. Mike Elias said he’s “not looking to part” with Trey Mancini in the midst of a career year before acknowledging the Orioles are “open to anything.” There’s little urgency with the 27-year-old not becoming a free agent until after 2022, but Elias won’t be sentimental if a trade offer overwhelms.

12. A month ago, Mychal Givens looked like the most likely Oriole to be traded, but he’s blown four saves, allowed six homers, walked seven, and posted a 10.61 ERA in his last 9 1/3 innings dating back to May 20. His ERA is 5.28 only six weeks before the deadline.

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Orioles place left fielder Smith on seven-day concussion list

Posted on 07 June 2019 by Luke Jones

As if the mounting losses weren’t enough, the injuries are now piling up for the last-place Orioles as left fielder Dwight Smith Jr. was placed on the seven-day concussion injured list Friday afternoon.

Smith injured his head and shoulder crashing into the left-field wall in Thursday’s loss at Texas. The roster move comes just a day after recently-promoted outfielder DJ Stewart was sent to the 10-day injured list with a sprained right ankle sustained in a collision with infielder Hanser Alberto in Wednesday’s defeat, the same night in which infielder Jonathan Villar and catcher Pedro Severino also left with minor injuries. Manager Brandon Hyde was so shorthanded for the final game of the Rangers series that Chris Davis made his first start in right field in three years — and made a key error in the 4-3 defeat.

Former Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander was recalled Friday to take Smith’s place on the 25-man roster.

Acquired from Toronto for international signing bonus slots in early March, Smith has been one of the few bright spots for a club currently on pace for its second straight sub-50 win season. The 26-year-old leads the Orioles with 41 runs batted in and ranks third in home runs (11) behind only Renato Nunez (15) and Trey Mancini (13). In 243 plate appearances, Smith is batting .249 with a .759 on-base plus slugging percentage.

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Sisco recalled by Orioles to begin road trip in Texas

Posted on 03 June 2019 by Luke Jones

On the same day the Orioles took Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman as their catcher of the future with the first overall pick of the 2019 amateur draft, Chance Sisco will have his latest chance to stake his claim to that job in the present.

After optioning catcher Austin Wynns to Triple-A Norfolk after Sunday’s 8-1 loss to San Francisco, Baltimore has recalled Sisco for the start of a road trip to Texas and Houston. The 24-year-old was batting .289 with 20 extra-base hits and a .914 on-base plus slugging percentage in 193 plate appearances with the Tides this season. He joins corner outfielder DJ Stewart as the second Norfolk player to be promoted to the big leagues for strong performance in the last week.

Regarded as a top-100 prospect in baseball as recently as 2018, Sisco struggled mightily in 63 games with the Orioles last season, batting .181 with 66 strikeouts in 184 plate appearances. Those difficulties followed him back to Norfolk where he hit only .242 with a .696 OPS in 151 plate appearances. Most expected the lefty-hitting catcher to make this year’s rebuilding club out of spring training, but Sisco was demoted in late March despite posting a stout 1.298 OPS in the Grapefruit League, his second straight strong spring.

While some concerns remain about a perceived long swing that was seemingly exposed in the majors last season, Sisco’s defense remains his biggest question mark as many have speculated whether he’ll need to shift to another position. He has thrown out just six of 33 runners attempting to steal in the International League this season.

It remains to be seen how manager Brandon Hyde will distribute playing time as the 25-year-old Pedro Severino has been one of the bigger surprises on the team after being claimed off waivers from Washington at the end of spring training. Previously regarded as a defense-first catcher, Severino is batting .273 with 10 extra-base hits and an .834 OPS in 115 plate appearances and has thrown out nine of 15 runners attempting to steal.

In case it weren’t clear, there was no relationship between Sisco’s promotion and the Orioles’ decision to draft Rutschman, the consensus top player in this year’s draft.

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