Tag Archive | "brandon hyde"

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following series sweep over Tampa Bay

Posted on 02 August 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles completing a series sweep with a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Recording their first series sweep since August of 2018, the Orioles played a good brand of baseball over the weekend disposing of a struggling Rays club with higher expectations. The 5-3 start doesn’t change anything for a rebuilding team, but it’s been fun, plain and simple.

2. Averaging more than a strikeout per inning thus far, Baltimore set a club record by striking out at least 10 batters for a fifth consecutive contest. The 2020 Orioles setting this mark says everything about today’s game. Entering Sunday, there had been 279 more strikeouts than hits across the majors.

3. Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc pitched as well as you could expect from soft-tossing lefties, but Milone stood out with eight strikeouts and no walks in five-plus innings Sunday. Entering 2020 with a career 6.7 strikeouts per nine rate, he has 13 in eight frames. That changeup was tough.

4. Hanser Alberto was one of the good stories last year with a .305 average and .398 mark against lefties, but many — this writer included — anticipated regression in 2020. So far, the 27-year-old is batting .429 with an 1.145 OPS and already has three three-hit games. Perhaps 2019 wasn’t a fluke.

5. Give Cole Sulser credit for rebounding from the brutal loss to the Yankees last Thursday with two saves in the Rays series. Brandon Hyde clearly likes the 30-year-old’s stuff and didn’t hesitate going to him in the ninth inning 24 hours after Aaron Judge’s three-run homer. I respect that conviction.

6. Hyde gave Austin Hays “a little bit of a breather” Sunday after his 3-for-28 start to 2020, but the center fielder went 0-for-2 as an in-game replacement. It’s too soon to panic, of course, but you worry about the mental drain of a poor start for a young, unproven player.

7. If we learned anything about Renato Nunez last year, it was how streaky the right-handed slugger can be. Nunez homered in each of the last two games of the series. Defensive limitations hurt his value, but the power is evident with 40 homers in 219 games as an Oriole.

8. Mike Elias says there’s no set date for Ryan Mountcastle to be promoted, but the longer DJ Stewart and Cedric Mullins fail to hit, the tougher the sell becomes on restricting Mountcastle to workouts and simulated games at the alternate camp in Bowie. He needs to play in games.

9. The highlight of the weekend was the socially-distanced celebration after Pat Valaika drove in the winning run on Saturday, but the former Colorado utility infielder showed off his pop with a homer on Sunday. Valaika, 27, hit 13 homers in 195 plate appearances for the Rockies in 2017.

10. Placing a runner on second base in extra innings is weird, but it’s kind of fun. That’s not necessarily a long-term endorsement, but an open mind for this season and 2020 in general is a must. At least we saw the first leadoff double play in major league history, right?

11. The Richard Bleier trade after Friday’s win was a reminder of where Elias and the Orioles stand no matter how this crazy 60-game sprint goes. I don’t expect the player to be named later to be anything of consequence, but the 33-year-old lefty reliever wasn’t part of the future either.

12. With Miami scheduled to come to town this week after having its season paused due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the doubts, questions, and concerns about this season are impossible to ignore. I don’t have the answers, but it’s difficult envisioning this continuing much longer with repeats of the past week.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following home opener loss to Yankees

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their home opener in a 9-3 loss to the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There was no orange carpet, decorative bunting, or buzz at an empty Camden Yards against an opponent Baltimore wasn’t even supposed to play before the Miami Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak prompted changes. Yes, baseball is back in a world it hardly recognizes.

2. One thing that hadn’t changed was the result against the Yankees as the Orioles suffered an astonishing 17th straight loss overall and 16th consecutive home defeat to New York. Long-term rebuild or not, that’s as embarrassing as it gets.

3. Incredibly, the three home runs allowed was a slight mathematical improvement from the 61 given up in 19 contests (3.21 per contest) and 43 surrendered in 10 Camden Yards games (4.3) against the Yankees in 2019. Baby steps?

4. After giving up an RBI double in the first inning, new Yankees ace Gerrit Cole retired 14 straight and 19 of 20 hitters before the Orioles finally chased him from the game in the seventh inning. Too little, too late.

5. Sloppy play gives you no chance against someone like Cole as Pedro Severino was called for catcher’s interference twice in the first inning. Rarely do you see that twice in the same game, let alone in the same inning. It was a forgettable night behind the plate for Severino.

6. Asher Wojciechowski couldn’t overcome giving up three homers on elevated fastballs, but his seven strikeouts and 18 swinging strikes — the latter matching his second-highest total from 2019 — reflected the good breaking stuff he had. The margin for error against a lineup like that is razor thin.

7. Brandon Hyde revealing Chris Davis was unavailable and not at the ballpark naturally led to speculation that his absence was coronavirus-related. Speaking to media on Wednesday, Davis expressed a heightened level of concern watching the Marlins’ situation play out. We’ll see what happens.

8. Jose Iglesias left the game in the seventh inning due to some soreness in his quad. You hate to see that with the way the veteran shortstop has been swinging the bat to begin the season.

9. Walk, walk, single, walk, strikeout, single, hit by pitch, wild pitch, walk, single. An ERA of 162.00. That’s how 27-year-old reliever Cody Carroll has fared in two outings thus far.

10. On the bright side, New York shortstop Gleyber Torres went 0-for-4, which qualifies as a minor miracle after the way he annihilated Orioles pitching last season to the tune of 13 home runs and a 1.512 OPS in 18 games. More baby steps?

11. Wednesday marked five years and three months to the day since Camden Yards hosted the first crowdless game in major league history. I never thought I’d cover another one, but here we are. Weird baseball is better than none at all, but fans are sorely missed.

12. Heartfelt compliments to the Orioles, Ravens, and local media for all they did for Mo Gaba, the Baltimore sports superfan who passed away on Tuesday. I didn’t know Mo personally, but his courageous spirit lives on in the countless individuals he inspired. What a special young man.

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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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Mancini seeing “light at the end of the tunnel” as Orioles play without him

Posted on 24 July 2020 by Luke Jones

Orioles slugger Trey Mancini reached out to congratulate Cedric Mullins on making the Opening Day roster Thursday after the young outfielder’s well-documented struggles last season.

The 2019 Most Valuable Oriole keeps tabs on the club through conversations with manager Brandon Hyde and teammates like relief pitcher Richard Bleier. He’s optimistic about the rebuilding Orioles’ potential to surprise some critics in a shortened 60-game schedule where “you never really know what can happen.”

But the 28-year-old Mancini won’t be in the lineup as the Orioles begin this unprecedented 2020 season at Fenway Park this weekend and he continues treatment for Stage III colon cancer that was diagnosed in March.

“It’s strange. It’s the first time since I was about 3 years old that I’m not playing baseball during the year,” Mancini said in a video conference call on Friday. “It’s definitely a little weird. I watched the games last night, and it was great to see it back on TV. It was so good to have live baseball back instead of reruns from way back when, which I like watching too, but it was nice watching some new baseball.

“I’m really excited to watch the guys tonight. It’s tough not being there. I wish more than anything I could be out there with them, but I’ve definitely got bigger things to worry about right now.”

Currently living in D.C. and driving to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore every two weeks for chemotherapy, Mancini says he’s starting to see “the light at the end of the tunnel” with just five treatments remaining and scheduled to be completed in late September. He’s beginning to think more about baseball and resuming a career that included 50 or more extra-base hits in each of his first three major league seasons and a career-high 35 home runs and 38 doubles last year.

Watching live games sparks that baseball itch in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s only magnified an already challenging fight with cancer, but he says he’s managing well.

“I’ve been feeling good,” Mancini said. “After my infusions, I’ll feel pretty sluggish and not great for a few days and then I bounce back pretty quickly and have about nine or 10 days of feeling good before I go back. I’ve gotten really used to kind of the routine of everything that chemo’s thrown at me.”

That routine without baseball has included becoming a fan of English Premier League soccer and taking walks around the District. At greater risk to the coronavirus with his condition, Mancini strongly endorses the wearing of face coverings in public.

That desire to pick up a bat or to play catch grows daily, but it comes with a different outlook than dwelling too much on a slump at the plate or his club’s most recent loss when he plans to return to the diamond next season.

“Pretty much before all this, I feel like the biggest struggles I’d gone through all had to do with baseball,” Mancini said. “I never really faced anything kind of like a real-life crisis like this. It put a lot of things in perspective.

“I think, in the future, it will help me in baseball and life. I realize kind of what’s important in life during all this.”

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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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Tommy Milone to start on Opening Day for Orioles in place of Means

Posted on 21 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With 2019 All-Star pitcher John Means unable to start on Opening Day due to recent left arm fatigue, the Orioles will turn to a new face, but one that’s been around baseball for quite some time.

Prior to Tuesday’s exhibition finale in Washington, manager Brandon Hyde announced veteran left-hander Tommy Milone would start the season opener in Boston on Friday night. The other candidate to start in Means’ place had been fellow lefty Wade LeBlanc, who instead threw a simulated game Tuesday afternoon and remains on schedule to start the third game of the season against the Red Sox.

Milone, 33, signed with Baltimore as a non-roster invitee in mid-February and owns a 4.47 ERA in 174 career major league appearances, 136 of them starts. He pitched to a 4-10 record and 4.76 ERA in 111 2/3 innings for Seattle last season.

“The bottom line with Tommy is that he would just be getting one extra day rest, so we really keep everybody on regular rest,” Hyde said. “I didn’t want to bring anybody back short. In this kind of unusual space and time where we only had a short time to get these guys ready, they’ve done an amazing job to get ready. We just didn’t want to take the chance of bringing somebody back on short rest.”

Despite Means not being able to start the opener, Hyde provided an encouraging update on the 27-year-old who finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting and emerged as the staff ace with a 3.60 ERA last season. Both Hyde and general manager Mike Elias have emphasized that Means’ recent bout of “dead arm” is not being classified as an injury.

It remains unclear whether Means will begin the season on the 10-day injured list, but he isn’t expected to miss much time in what’s already an abbreviated 60-game schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s really more of a little bit of fatigue like we’ve talked about that he kind of experienced last year at this time,” Hyde said. “We’re just being cautious with him. He played catch today. He threw the ball well. He felt great, so it’s not going to be long before you see him on the mound. He’s just probably going to miss a few days and then be back out there.”

Hyde said he savored the opportunity to deliver the news to Milone, who is entering his 10th major league season and has never started on Opening Day after previously pitching for the Nationals, Oakland, Minnesota, Milwaukee, the New York Mets, and the Mariners.

Milone pitched well in his most recent outing in an intrasquad game on Saturday.

“That’s a big deal. It’s a big deal for these guys,” said Hyde about getting to start the opener. “It’s somebody that’s had a pretty long career up until this point. He’s been with quite a few clubs, seen a lot of different things. He’s hung in there; he’s grinded. He’s had some good years; he’s had some tough years.

“To make an Opening Day start, that’s a special achievement for somebody, and he’s not taking that lightly.”

Means isn’t the only promising young Baltimore pitcher who won’t be ready for the start of the season as right-handed reliever Hunter Harvey is also dealing with arm fatigue. The former first-round pick’s long injury history is extra reason for caution after a healthy 2019 campaign that led him to the majors in mid-August.

“I think Harvey’s going to need a little bit of time,” Hyde said. “We’re obviously going to be conservative with Hunter as well with his past. We’re going to try to get him as healthy as possible and make sure that he’s healthy before he gets out on the mound.”

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Orioles scratch Means from exhibition start due to “little bit of dead arm”

Posted on 18 July 2020 by Luke Jones

Orioles starting pitcher John Means was supposed to have his final tuneup for the abbreviated 2020 season on Sunday, but now his status for Opening Day appears to be in question.

The 2019 All-Star left-hander and second-place finisher for AL Rookie of the Year has been scratched from the exhibition start in Philadelphia due to “a little bit of dead arm,” according to manager Brandon Hyde. Right-hander Tom Eshelman will now start against the Phillies, but the more important question is whether this will prevent Means from starting the opener against Boston at Fenway Park on Friday night.

“Too early for that. The last few days he just had a little fatigue in his arm,” Hyde said in a video conference call. “We just wanted to hold him off. We’re kind of just monitoring him day to day. We decided today to have him skip [Sunday] and to give him a little more rest.”

Concerns about pitchers’ health is even greater than usual following the 3 1/2-month shutdown of the season for the COVID-19 pandemic. Means allowed two earned runs over four-plus innings in an intrasquad game at Camden Yards this past Tuesday.

Beginning 2019 as a fringe long reliever and quickly joining the starting rotation, Means became one of the better stories in baseball last season by posting a 2.50 ERA in the first half to earn a trip to the All-Star Game. However, the 27-year-old struggled after the break, posting an 8.34 ERA over his first five starts of the second half.

Means rebounded to pitch to a 3.26 ERA in the final eight starts of his rookie season and finished his rookie campaign with a 12-11 record and a 3.60 ERA in 155 innings.

“Last year around this time is when he started feeling — it’s not exactly the same — something along those lines of his arm just feeling a little bit dead,” Hyde said. “Not quite as fast, not quite as strong. That was the middle part of the year last year right around this time. He’s just got a little fatigue going.

“We care so much about him that I just want to make sure we’re taking care of him and that we’re doing the right thing for him and that he is with us for two months. He’s such an important part of our rotation.”

With the Opening Day starting rotation projected to have as many as four starters over age 30, Means is the easy bright spot from a long-term perspective, making a potential absence a sobering thought for a rebuilding club expected to finish last in the AL East for the fourth straight season.

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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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