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Twelve Orioles thoughts in first full week of March

Posted on 04 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the start of the 2019 regular season just over three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We all know not to draw conclusions from a handful of spring games, but it’s impossible to ignore Chris Davis striking out seven times and registering only one hit — a homer — in his first 14 plate appearances. If he’s not going to show improvement in the Grapefruit League, then what?

2. Hopes of the new regime fixing Davis have been discussed plenty, but Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde have no prior ties to feel obligated to be patient. If he’s simply “finished” as a player, how long do you keep him in the lineup or even in the organization?

3. Trey Mancini playing left field a little longer probably isn’t hindering anyone’s development drastically, but Ryan Mountcastle taking to first base and tearing up Triple A would put Baltimore in position to improve by cutting Davis later this year if he shows no improvement. The money’s already been spent, folks.

4. Chance Sisco already has four home runs and four walks in 14 plate appearances. If nothing else, that should really help his confidence level, something that took a major hit in the midst of his difficult 2018 campaign.

5. Nate Karns being set to return to game action after experiencing arm soreness is good news, but it’s a reminder why he received only an $800,000 contract. Pitchers have returned from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, but it’s not a high-percentage outcome for someone with his injury history.

6. Kudos to the new regime for not wasting time in reassigning Hunter Harvey to minor-league camp. He’s pitched just 63 2/3 professional innings since being shut down the first time in July 2014. Leave the 24-year-old alone this year to — hopefully — stay healthy and log innings in the minors.

7. Reviews for Richie Martin at shortstop have been positive, and he’s gone 7-for-17 with two doubles and two walks. He isn’t the first Rule 5 pick with spring success, of course, but Alcides Escobar registered a combined 0.4 wins above replacement from 2015-18. The bar needn’t be very high

8. The acquisition of right-hander Xavier Moore from Minnesota marked the Orioles’ second spring trade of international signing bonus slots. I’ve said it before, but Kevin Gausman would have been a great piece for Mike Elias to trade instead of being included in a salary dump for unused slots.

9. Austin Hays is off to a strong start with two homers and a triple in his first 15 plate appearances, but it’s been interesting to note that four of his five starts have come in center field. He’s much healthier and moving better now after last fall’s ankle surgery.

10. Joey Rickard is easily forgotten with the collection of outfield prospects moving up the ladder, but he’s started spring games at all three outfield spots. He’ll be 28 in May, so this is probably his last chance to establish himself as more than a fringe reserve in Baltimore.

11. Jimmy Yacabonis has five strikeouts in four innings of one-hit ball so far. He remains one of my interesting names to watch knowing what Houston has done for pitchers possessing plus sliders.

12. Preston Palmeiro and Ryan Ripken each received a look as minor-league replacements in games this past week, which had to be pretty cool for their families. The 24-year-old Palmeiro remains a sleeper type to monitor.

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Checking in on recent trade acquisitions and former Orioles

Posted on 08 August 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s been exactly three weeks since the Orioles traded four-time All-Star infielder Manny Machado to jump-start the organization’s biggest sell-off in nearly two decades.

With the major league club continuing to flounder in last place and not exactly providing a compelling product, below is an early look at how the former Orioles have performed for their new clubs as well as how the 15 acquired players are faring at various levels of the organization:

SS/3B Manny Machado
Numbers with Los Angeles Dodgers: 84 PA, .274/.369/.425, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 11 BB, 21 K
Skinny: Machado’s production has been fine to this point and he’s played some third base due to a Justin Turner injury, but he’ll have the chance to come up big for a National League favorite down the stretch.

LHP Zach Britton
Numbers with New York Yankees: 4 2/3 IP, 5.79 ERA, 4 H, 3 BB, 3 K
Skinny: It’s been a rough start for the former All-Star closer in the Bronx as he continues to deal with shaky command and blew a 10th-inning save on Tuesday night.

RHP Brad Brach
Numbers with Atlanta: 3 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2 H, 1 BB, 4 K
Skinny: The 32-year-old has looked more like his old self since joining the Braves and has been trusted to pitch in the late innings of close games.

RHP Kevin Gausman
Numbers with Atlanta: 5 IP, 5.40 ERA, 6 H, 2 BB, 2 K
Skinny: Gausman was mediocre in his Braves debut, but he surprisingly was asked to pinch-hit in Tuesday’s game and even drew a walk.

2B Jonathan Schoop
Numbers with Milwaukee: 25 PA, .120/.120/.120, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 BB, 11 K
Skinny: The 26-year-old is clearly much better than he’s shown in his first week with a new club, but the Brewers have to be wondering what happened to one of baseball’s hottest hitters in the month of July.

2B Jonathan Villar
Numbers with Baltimore: 22 PA, .429/.455/.667, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K
Skinny: The only established major leaguer of the 15 players acquired, the 27-year-old had a big series in Texas and is two years removed from posting an .826 OPS and 3.9 WAR season for the Brewers.

OF Yusniel Diaz
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 60 PA, .192/.300/.288, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 8 BB, 14 K
Skinny: The centerpiece of the Machado deal is off to a slow start and not making a great case for a September call-up, but the 21-year-old is hardly the first standout prospect to struggle after being traded.

RHP Dillon Tate
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 11 1/3 IP, 7.15 ERA, 17 H, 2 BB, 6 K
Skinny: The fourth overall pick of the 2015 draft and focal point of the Britton trade was efffective in his last start until a five-run sixth inning and is searching for consistency after two starts with the Baysox.

RHP Luis Ortiz
Numbers with Triple-A Norfolk: 5 IP, 5.40 ERA, 8 H, 4 BB, 1 K
Skinny: A top 100 prospect entering 2017, the 22-year-old has the stuff to be an effective major league starter despite concerns about his injury history and conditioning as he’s listed at 230 pounds.

RHP Dean Kremer
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 16 IP, 2.25 ERA, 14 H, 8 BB, 17 K
Skinny: The 22-year-old has pitched well in three starts since being traded and continues to rack up strikeouts, a good sign after he averaged 13.0 per nine innings at the high Single-A level this year.

2B/3B Rylan Bannon
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 44 PA, .154/.250/.333, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 10 K
Skinny: Bannon homered in his second game with the Baysox, but he’s struggled at the plate and has mostly played second base after seeing more action at third base in the Dodgers organization.

RHP Zach Pop
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 7 IP, 3.86 ERA, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K
Skinny: Since a disastrous debut outing for the Baysox, the 21-year-old has tossed seven scoreless frames with eight strikeouts and no walks and is consistently inducing ground balls with his sinker.

INF/OF Breyvic Valera
Numbers with Triple-A Norfolk: 61 PA, .226/.311/.415, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 7 BB, 5 K
Skinny: The 26-year-old is back with the Tides after a brief stay with the Orioles and has already started games at four different positions as he attempts to carve out a major league role as a utility player.

RHP Cody Carroll
Numbers with Baltimore: 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 K
Skinny: The 25-year-old’s fastball has averaged 96.6 miles per hour since being called up to the majors as the Orioles hope he will morph into an effective late-inning reliever at some point.

LHP Josh Rogers
Numbers with Triple-A Norfolk: 13 IP, 2.08 ERA, 10 H, 4 BB, 6 K
Skinny: The final results have been there, but the question is whether Rogers has the stuff to miss enough bats to consistently get major league hitters out, which makes him project as a long reliever.

RHP Evan Phillips
Numbers with Baltimore: 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0 H, 3 BB, 3 K
Skinny: After a sharp debut in Texas, Phillips walked three and threw a wild pitch without recording an out against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, but he wasn’t helped by Chris Davis’ critical throwing error.

C Brett Cumberland
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 4 PA, .000/.250/.000, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Skinny: Opinions are mixed on Cumberland’s ceiling, but his bat is considered his strength as he hit 11 home runs and posted a .774 OPS at Single-A Florida this season.

LHP Bruce Zimmermann
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: n/a
Skinny: The Loyola Blakefield graduate and former Towson Tiger has yet to make his first start for the Baysox, but his stuff is described as average with some pitchability, according to FanGraphs.

3B Jean Carlos Encarnacion
Numbers with Single-A Delmarva: 18 PA, .444/.444/.667, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 5 K
Skinny: The 20-year-old Dominican is a contrast to most of the higher-floor prospects acquired, but he’s already collected three extra-base hits and should be fun to track over the next few years.

SS Jean Carmona
Numbers with short-season Single-A Aberdeen: 14 PA, .154/.214/.154, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 4 K
Skinny: The 18-year-old Dominican is listed at 6-foot-1 and 183 pounds, a frame into which he can grow in the next couple years and potentially develop into a major league regular one day.

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Orioles receive mixed bag of pitching news

Posted on 09 June 2018 by Luke Jones

The start of the weekend brought good and bad news for the Orioles on the pitching front.

The organization came to terms with 2018 first-round pitcher Grayson Rodriguez on Friday, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Texas high school right-hander will receive a $4.3 million signing bonus, which is just under the slot value for the 11th overall pick of this year’s draft.

But that positive development was paired with the revelation that top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey has been shut down with right shoulder soreness. Manager Buck Showalter confirmed after Friday’s loss in Toronto that the injury did not occur from the 23-year-old pitching, lending credence to The Sun’s report that Harvey’s shoulder popped out of socket while he tried to avoid a line drive in the Double-A Bowie dugout. It’s unclear how much time the 2013 first-round pick will miss.

In 32 1/3 innings this season, Harvey is 1-2 with a 5.57 ERA and is striking out 8.4 and walking 2.5 batters per nine innings.

As expected, Baltimore has activated right-handed relief pitcher Darren O’Day from the disabled list. The 35-year-old had been on the DL with a hyperextended right elbow since May 9 and owns a 3.77 ERA in 14 1/3 innings in 2018.

To make room on the 25-man roster, the Orioles optioned hard-throwing lefty Tanner Scott to Triple-A Norfolk. The 23-year-old rookie sports an underwhelming 4.96 ERA in 16 1/3 innings for Baltimore this season, but he’s averaged 12.7 strikeouts compared to 3.3 walks per nine innings, representing a rare bright spot for the club this season.

Closer Zach Britton could be activated from the DL as soon as Monday after completing back-to-back outings for Norfolk. The two-time All-Star selection tore his right Achilles tendon in December, but he’s allowed one earned run and has struck out six in the first 5 1/3 innings of his minor-league rehab assignment.

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Ten painful Orioles numbers entering month of June

Posted on 01 June 2018 by Luke Jones

If the Orioles holding a 17-39 record and being 21 1/2 games out of first place didn’t depress you enough, below are 10 painful numbers entering the month of June:

3 – Number of winning months the Orioles have had since June 2016. Sure, the bottom fell out of a fun five-year run last September, but this club has been mediocre to bad for the better part of two years now.

3.73 — Runs scored per game to rank last in the American League. Only Miami has scored fewer per contest than an Orioles offense that was at least once feared despite its inconsistency over the years.

5.45 — Starter ERA, which ranks 28th in baseball. It’s better than last season’s 5.70 mark, but fewer runs are being scored across the majors so far in 2018, making this “improvement” even less impressive.

Minus-45 — Baltimore’s defensive runs saved total, which is last in the majors. Yes, 2014 feels like a very long time ago and the metrics match what your eyes are seeing in the field most nights.

93 — AL-high number of walks from the bullpen. The absences of Zach Britton and Darren O’Day have been tough, but not being able to throw strikes has led to a reliever ERA of 4.30, 21st in baseball.

.825 — Opposing on-base plus slugging percentage, highest in the majors. Manny Machado is the only Orioles hitter with a better OPS than what opponents are collectively doing against Baltimore pitchers.

7 — Number of wins in 30 road games. Washington has six road victories in the last week alone.

70 — How many more strikeouts the Orioles have than hits. This is a continuing trend around baseball, but being on pace to strike out 200 more times than your number of base hits is, well, something.

160 — Number of qualified major leaguers with a higher slugging percentage than Chris Davis’ .244, which ranks ahead of only Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun (.179). This is a decline of historic proportions.

0 — Number of meaningful changes or statements from ownership signaling how disastrous this season has been. Is there anybody out there?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 11-6 win over Kansas City

Posted on 11 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning just their third series of the season in an 11-6 win over Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles won two straight for the first time in over a month and the second time all season. The 11 runs scored marked a season high as they went 6-for-7 with runners in scoring position. It took six weeks, but Baltimore finally cracked double-digit wins. It hasn’t been fun.

2. The victory doesn’t mask the hard truth about Chris Tillman, who failed to get out of the second inning for the second straight start and owns a 10.46 season ERA. Whether he simply can’t do it physically anymore or the organization has no idea how to “fix” him, it’s over.

3. Tillman has now allowed four earned runs or more in 17 of his 26 starts since the start of last season. You can’t keep pointing to outliers like his seven shutout innings against Detroit last month while ignoring an 8.79 ERA in 114 2/3 innings over the last calendar year.

4. I have no idea whether the likes of David Hess or Tim Melville will succeed at the next level, but their numbers at Triple-A Norfolk warrant an opportunity. With this club already out of contention in mid-May, there’s no point continuing to go down this road with Tillman.

5. If it’s not someone from Norfolk, Miguel Castro stated his case for a starting opportunity with 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Royals, lowering his season ERA to 3.55. He threw 65 pitches and could slide into Tillman’s turn in the rotation if you want to take that route.

6. Trey Mancini hit his fourth homer of 2018 and tied career highs with three hits and three runs. He’s had a tough time at the plate since hurting his knee last month, so it was encouraging to see him break out with two extra-base hits to the opposite field.

7. Adam Jones is now 9-for-21 with two homers since moving into the No. 2 spot in the order during the West Coast trip. The veteran center fielder is still hitting just .258, but you much prefer seeing him in the second spot over Jace Peterson or Craig Gentry.

8. Both Mancini and Jones being a triple away from becoming the fifth Oriole to hit for the cycle made me wonder what Felix Pie is up to these days. He batted .286 in the Mexican Pacific Winter League this past offseason.

9. Manny Machado continues to rake as he clubbed his 10th long ball of the season and reached base three other times. He’s now batting .350 with a .439 on-base percentage. He continues to do his part in keeping his trade value as high as possible.

10. Jonathan Schoop dropped a throw at second on a potential double play for the second straight night in the second inning, but the Royals inexplicably dropped a sacrifice bunt right after that. Giving a struggling starting pitcher an out in that situation was baffling.

11. Tanner Scott was terrific over two innings, striking out four and getting eight swinging strikes on 31 pitches. He averaged 97.1 miles per hour on his fastball with a very good slider. The Orioles need a fresh bullpen arm, but he deserves to stay in Baltimore for the time being.

12. Darren O’Day said he hyperextended his elbow when someone accidentally collided with him as he stretched in the bullpen. The injury isn’t considered serious, but it reiterates how bizarre this season has been in addition to being terrible. It’s his fourth trip to the disabled list in three seasons.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-5 loss at Detroit

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their fifth straight defeat in a 6-5 walk-off final at Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Yes, it’s early, but the Orioles must play like a 90-win team the rest of the way just to get to 85 victories. To get to 90, they have to play like a 96-win team. Any realistic path to the postseason is already circling the drain because of this start.

2. Darren O’Day hadn’t pitched in a week, but he’s now given up a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later in two of his last three appearances. Not including the superb four-game set at Yankee Stadium, the Baltimore bullpen has a 5.32 ERA in 45 2/3 innings.

3. No, I wouldn’t have used Pedro Araujo for the bottom of the ninth inning, but the club’s most reliable reliever over the last seven years had just blown a two-run lead in the previous inning. Who exactly do you really trust that was still available?

4. My bigger problem with Showalter’s bullpen usage was not sticking with Richard Bleier longer after he needed only six pitches to record the last two outs of the seventh inning. The lefty has been the Orioles’ top reliever and owns a 0.71 ERA this season.

5. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Orioles managed to score more than three runs for just the second time in eight games. They even played some effective small ball in the eighth with Craig Gentry’s bunt and Adam Jones’ sacrifice fly.

6. Entering the day with four career homers and a .568 career on-base plus slugging percentage, Luis Sardinas hitting a pinch-hit homer to tie the game in the ninth would have been a pretty special moment had the Orioles won. Instead, it was quickly forgotten.

7. Speaking of nondescript defensive-minded infielders, Engelb Vielma made one heck of an over-the-shoulder catch in the seventh inning to help keep the Orioles’ deficit to one run.

8. Kevin Gausman made mistakes to Jeimer Candelario and Miguel Cabrera for solo homers, but he was very solid over his six innings. His velocity improved as the game progressed as he started to consistently hit 94 miles per hour and was touching 95 and 96. He deserved better.

9. Gausman’s slider was also one of the better ones I’ve seen him throw. He only recorded three swinging strikes out of the 21 times he threw it, but he was able to induce quite a bit of harmless contact with it.

10. Caleb Joseph is now batting .081 with a .240 OPS. It’s time for Chance Sisco to start receiving more extensive playing time.

11. The players, Showalter, the coaches, the front office, and ownership all deserve significant blame for this 5-13 start threatening to ruin the season. That said, I’m not sure what the immediate answer is that isn’t just based in emotion. The trade deadline is more than three months away.

12. I couldn’t have been the only one thinking Machado hitting a walk-off homer is something the Orioles should probably get used to being on the wrong side of sooner than later anyway. Yeah, that was a low blow, but watching bad baseball on a daily basis is getting to me.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-2 win over Yankees

Posted on 06 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles snapping their five-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The five runs plated in the seventh inning exceeded the club’s total in five of its first six games and came after the Orioles had only one baserunner in the previous five frames. It was a brutal opening week, but that was a good stop-the-bleeding win to begin the series.

2. After Orioles pitching surrendered an inexplicable 102 runs in 10 games at Yankee Stadium last season, Andrew Cashner set the tone with six strong innings as an Aaron Judge solo homer was the only blemish. It was the first quality start of the season from someone not named Dylan Bundy.

3. Cashner used five pitches effectively with his slider and changeup standing out in key spots. His declining strikeout rate was a major topic when he signed, but he’s struck out 10 in 11 innings. You’ll take that outing against the Yankees lineup any day of the week.

4. Adam Jones continued his hot start to the season with the big two-run homer off Masahiro Tanaka to give the Orioles the lead in the seventh. All three of his long balls in 2018 have given Baltimore a lead in the sixth inning or later.

5. Trey Mancini responded favorably to the leadoff spot with three hits, including a two-run single to right off Chad Green to extend the lead to 5-1. In a perfect world, you’d like to keep Mancini in more of a run-producing spot, but he’s the man for the job right now.

6. It was a cold night in the Bronx and Tanaka pitched well over the first six innings, but the Yankees starter still threw some hittable pitches that went unharmed until the seventh. Opposing pitchers continue to give Orioles hitters a heavy diet of off-speed and breaking stuff.

7. A bullpen that’s already carrying two Rule 5 picks and trying to survive without All-Star closer Zach Britton can hardly afford to have Mychal Givens struggling. The right-hander has now been scored upon in each of his last two outings to put further strain on the bullpen.

8. After cleaning up Givens’ mess in the seventh, Darren O’Day found trouble of his own an inning later by issuing a walk and hitting two batters before escaping unscathed. He sure seems to love pitching with the bases loaded, doesn’t he?

9. Brad Brach issued a walk before striking out Brandon Drury and Brett Gardner to collect the save. I do have reservations about Brach as a closer, but some of the reaction to his blown save on Opening Day was over the top. No current options are going to be Britton.

10. Chris Davis collected his second hit of the season in his final at-bat, but he looks lost at the plate right now. You expect him to strike out and to even be victimized by the shift, but he’s not making any hard contact, hitting a slew of weak grounders.

11. Colby Rasmus singled as part of the five-run seventh, but he’s looked as lost as Davis, striking out 11 times in 20 plate appearances. Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander did deliver an RBI double, but the Orioles need to start getting something from their veteran left-handed bats.

12. Before going hitless with two strikeouts, Manny Machado reiterated his desire to play shortstop beyond 2018 and took a dig at the New York media about the Aaron Judge tampering controversy. He’s not wrong, but I’m not sure that’s the best idea if he envisions wearing Yankee pinstripes.

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Rule 5 obsession again hurting Orioles’ chances to win

Posted on 04 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles do this to themselves.

Year after year, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette champions the Rule 5 draft as a cheap way of acquiring young prospects. It sounds fine in theory in December and we hear the encouraging reviews of these players during spring training, but the Orioles inevitably find themselves in predicaments in which both their roster and their ability to compete are compromised during the season.

And for what?

The greatest Rule 5 success story of the Duquette era has been Ryan Flaherty, a versatile utility man who was worth a total of 1.6 wins above replacement over his six seasons with Baltimore. Carrying a position player has proven to be easier as the Orioles were able to qualify for the playoffs with Flaherty in 2012 and outfielder Joey Rickard in 2016, but does the upside of a Rule 5 pick really justify the roster headaches?

Was it worth it having T.J. McFarland hamstring the bullpen in 2013 and Jason Garcia clogging it up in 2015? McFarland at least made some useful contributions as a long reliever in 2014, but Garcia was never heard from again as he struggled at Double-A Bowie the following two years. Neither is with the organization anymore.

That brings us to the present with the Orioles not only trying to satisfy the remainder of outfielder Anthony Santander’s Rule 5 requirement from last season, but they’re currently carrying two Rule 5 pitchers in their bullpen.

Two.

A club that sported the worst starter ERA in the majors in 2017 and one that is without two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton for at least the first two months of the season thinks it’s a good idea to carry two pitchers who have little business being in the major leagues right now. And it took all of five games for this bizarre Rule 5 fascination to cost the Orioles a potential win.

Manager Buck Showalter shouldn’t be absolved for his decision-making in Tuesday’s 10-6 loss in Houston as he could have avoided using both Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier in Monday’s 6-1 defeat, but that only delays the inevitable as this type of scenario would have played out at some point very soon. When starters consistently fail to pitch deep into games, you’re not going to survive with what amounts to a five-man bullpen. Whether it was Tuesday night, Wednesday afternoon, or next week, Pedro Araujo and Nestor Cortes were going to find themselves pitching in a game with the outcome still in doubt.

Trying to hide one Rule 5 pick in the bullpen is difficult enough, but carrying two eliminates any margin for error as we saw when Mychal Givens allowed the go-ahead two-run home run to Josh Reddick in the sixth inning. Showalter removing starter Mike Wright was the right call after he’d given the Orioles a solid five innings and 82 pitches in his first competitive outing since March 22. Regardless of the result, you’d rather see Givens against the heart of the Astros order rather than Wright facing it a third time.

The likely plan was for Givens to pitch the sixth and seventh before turning to Darren O’Day and Brad Brach for the final two innings. Instead Givens’ struggles opened the door for both Araujo and Cortes to put the game out of reach. One could still argue using O’Day or Brach for the seventh inning, but Showalter has always been reluctant to use his top arms when the Orioles are trailing and such a strategy would have merely pushed the bullpen shortage to the following day.

You just aren’t going to win with starters pitching only four or five innings and backing them up with only five relievers you trust. The math simply won’t add up as the cumulative impact of needing to cover 13 innings in the previous three blowout losses put the Orioles in bad position on Tuesday. Again, Showalter could have handled his bullpen differently the last two nights, but Araujo and Cortes are going to have to pitch when it matters from time to time if they’re to remain on the 25-man roster.

And that’s the major problem.

The Orioles deserve praise for stepping up to sign starting pitcher Alex Cobb in late March, but you can’t say you’re truly all in on 2018 with two Rule 5 picks straining your bullpen while you’re already trying to survive the absence of your best reliever. Such a path comes across as trying to prove you’re smarter than everyone else rather than doing what it takes to win.

And history suggests the long-term payoff with both Araujo and Cortes won’t be worth it anyway.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering 2018 season

Posted on 26 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles about to begin the 2018 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Alex Cobb signing not only added much-needed teeth to a rotation that finished last in the majors in starter ERA in 2017, but it brings real hope for another fun season if several variables break the right way. That optimism simply wasn’t there a week ago.

2. Cobb’s addition was also a meaningful sign of commitment beyond 2018, something that had been lacking all winter. That’s important when the contracts of your general manager, manager, and several key players are all expiring after this season. I’m intrigued to see what happens next.

3. Cobb and Andrew Cashner hardly make the Baltimore rotation one to fear around baseball, but adding two ground-ball pitchers with a history of keeping the ball in the park certainly makes sense playing at homer-friendly Camden Yards.

4. Anger over how the Orioles have mishandled the Manny Machado situation is completely justified, but don’t let that totally ruin your enjoyment from watching him this season. He’s happy to finally be playing shortstop, and I’m curious to see how that impacts his performance on a daily basis.

5. Dylan Bundy fetching positive results in his final spring outing eased some concerns, but his Grapefruit League numbers were also poor last year. It’s good to see him finally making an Opening Day start after the expectations that have followed him from the moment he was drafted seven years ago.

6. I’d be more worked up about Chris Davis possibly leading off if the Orioles actually had an ideal candidate for that job, but there’s no understating how important it is for Davis to rebound from 2017 to improve the club’s outlook — this year and beyond.

7. I had no problem re-signing Chris Tillman as a fifth starter candidate, but you just can’t stick with him long if he looks like the 2017 version, especially with only a $3 million salary. An 8.03 ERA with eight walks and four strikeouts in 12 1/3 spring innings isn’t encouraging.

8. A reasonable expectation of catching duties — assuming good health — would be Caleb Joseph catching 60 percent of games and Chance Sisco handling the other 40 percent with some occasional designated hitter duties. Of course, growth behind the plate from Sisco could change that ratio.

9. This Q&A was a good look into the psyche of Kevin Gausman as this could be the “now or never” season for him to put it all together or simply remain an average — and frustratingly inconsistent — starter. He posted a 2.62 ERA in 113 1/3 innings with Joseph catching last year.

10. Danny Valencia provides a potent bat against lefty pitching, but a 33-year-old who’s registered minus-34 defensive runs saved at third base in his career and has no meaningful experience up the middle isn’t an appropriate utility infielder. This isn’t a well-constructed bench going into the season.

11. Darren O’Day struck out 10 and allowed only one run in seven spring innings. The 35-year-old providing the durability and consistency he did from 2012-15 would make this bullpen that much better trying to endure Zach Britton’s absence.

12. I don’t see how carrying the out-of-options Mike Wright and two Rule 5 pitchers, Nestor Cortes and Pedro Araujo, will be tenable. Even assuming one of the three goes when Cobb is activated, does the upside justify the lack of flexibility? The irrational Rule 5 fascination lives on.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on start of spring training

Posted on 20 February 2018 by Luke Jones

With Orioles spring training underway and Grapefruit League action beginning later this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After signing Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, the Orioles will have an estimated 2018 payroll of just south of $130 million after an Opening Day payroll of $164 million last season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Explain again why they’re not serious players for Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb?

2. We scoff whenever a free agent says it’s not about the money, but I believe free-agent-to-be Adam Jones when he said the chance to win will be more important than compensation. The 32-year-old obviously won’t play for nothing, but a ring is very important to him.

3. That said, how the Padres perform in 2018 would be an interesting variable to throw into the Jones mix after they signed Eric Hosmer. They have one of baseball’s top farm systems, so perhaps the San Diego native would be intrigued about going home if the Padres show they’re ascending.

4. Not that Tim Beckham has had any leverage in the matter, but I’m impressed with the way he’s handled himself in the wake of Manny Machado moving to shortstop. Showing he can be a solid third baseman would only enhance his value moving forward.

5. Dylan Bundy astutely noted at FanFest that he got away from his curveball and changeup too much down the stretch as he posted a 7.53 ERA in his three September starts. His 2017 workload was a major topic of discussion, so you pray that he has a healthy spring.

6. Chris Davis knows he needs to be more aggressive. His contact and chase rates have held fairly steady since 2014, but he swung at a career-low 60.0 percent of pitches in the zone last year, down from 64.1 percent in 2016 and 72.2 percent in 2015. That’s a disturbing trend.

7. One of Baltimore’s more cerebral players, Mark Trumbo said he was probably too caught up in swing analytics last year. He denied any negative impact from serving as the designated hitter so frequently, but that role sure provides a lot of time to overthink struggles at the plate.

8. A healthy Darren O’Day would go a long way in the bullpen’s effort to endure the extended absence of Zach Britton. Little went right for the Orioles last September, but the 35-year-old quietly posted a 0.96 ERA with 24 strikeouts over his last 18 2/3 innings of the season.

9. If the best Dan Duquette can do in adding a lefty-hitting outfielder is 32-year-old journeyman Alex Presley, the Orioles need to give Austin Hays every opportunity to show he can be an everyday player and this year’s version of Trey Mancini despite lacking the same minor-league seasoning.

10. There’s much evidence supporting concerns about Cashner, but citing his 42-64 career record pitching mostly for bad teams tells us very little about his performance. Pitcher win-loss records are baseball tradition, but they should induce an eye-roll if used in attempts at meaningful analysis.

11. I’m skeptical just how much baseball’s new initiatives to improve pace of play will move the meter, but limiting the number of mound visits is long overdue. You’d think some pitchers and catchers had never met before with how frequently they congregate.

12. Many of the spring training caps introduced around baseball in recent years have been cringe-worthy, but I do like this year’s Orioles version. It was a smart call taking the logo from the deer hunter caps used for “Players Weekend” last summer.

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