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Despite strong spring, Orioles prospect Hays optioned to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 17 March 2019 by Luke Jones

No player in Orioles major league camp was having a better spring than Austin Hays, but that didn’t stop the 23-year-old outfielder from being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday.

The decision was met with some surprise after Hays batted .351 with five home runs and a 1.277 on-base plus slugging percentage in 40 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League, but the 2016 third-round pick’s only professional experience above the Double-A level to this point in his career is 63 plate appearance with Baltimore in the final month of 2017. Entering spring training, most didn’t consider Hays a strong bet to make the major league club after his injury-riddled 2018 season that ended with him undergoing ankle surgery in September, but he used the spring to reestablish himself as one of Baltimore’s best prospects and eased concerns about his ankle by showing off good speed and strong defense. His nine extra-base hits led the club.

Baseball America named Hays its No. 21 overall prospect entering 2018, but the first 2016 draftee to make the major leagues struggled at Double-A Bowie, batting just .242 with 12 homers and a .703 OPS in 288 plate appearances while missing significant time with his ankle injury. With Hays struggling, the Orioles promoted the likes of Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart after the trade deadline last year.

Mullins is expected to be the Opening Day center fielder for Baltimore, but Hays has impressed with his defense in center and appears likely to play that position for the Tides. Questions about Mullins’ throwing arm could eventually push him to a corner outfield spot, especially if Hays plays the position effectively at Norfolk.

Hays wasn’t the only young outfielder to be optioned to Norfolk on Sunday as former Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander was cut from major league camp. The 24-year-old also made a favorable impression this spring with the new Orioles regime by batting .333 with eight extra-base hits and a 1.086 OPS in 36 plate appearances.

With Hays and Santander demoted, Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini, Joey Rickard, Dwight Smith Jr., Eric Young Jr., and Drew Jackson remain in the outfield picture to varying degrees.

General manager Mike Elias also optioned infielder Stevie Wilkerson and right-handed pitchers Cody Carroll, Branden Kline, and Yefry Ramirez to the Tides. Ramirez was vying for a spot in the Orioles’ starting rotation after making 12 starts in the majors last year, but he posted a 5.11 ERA in 12 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League.

Right-hander Gabriel Ynoa and infielder Christopher Bostick were also reassigned to minor-league camp, leaving 39 players in major league camp with the start of the season less than two weeks away.

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Orioles continue shuffling bullpen due to injuries, ineffectiveness

Posted on 16 June 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles continued to shuffle their bullpen due to injury and ineffectiveness Friday by placing right-handed pitcher Mike Wright on the 15-day disabled list and optioning right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis to Triple-A Norfolk.

Manager Buck Showalter revealed Thursday that Wright began experiencing right shoulder discomfort during his outing against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday and was unavailable. Wright, 27, underwent an MRI on Friday as the Orioles were considering giving him a cortisone injection for right shoulder bursitis.

Wright had pitched to a 5.56 ERA, but he had also struck out 14 batters in 11 1/3 innings since being recalled from Norfolk late last month.

Yacabonis had posted a 0.90 ERA for the Tides this season to earn a promotion to the majors last weekend, but he struggled mightily with his command, walking six batters in just 3 1/3 innings. The Orioles optioned the 25-year-old to Norfolk after Thursday’s loss in which he walked three of the four hitters he faced, but they had not made an immediate announcement.

To take their spots on the 25-man roster, the Orioles recalled right-handed pitcher Gabriel Ynoa and lefty Vidal Nuno. Ynoa pitched six shutout innings of emergency relief for the Orioles on May 5, but he owned a 6.93 ERA for the Tides. Nuno has allowed nine earned runs in 12 innings with Baltimore this season and has pitched to a 3.00 ERA at Norfolk.

With two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton (left forearm) and 2015 All-Star setup man Darren O’Day (right shoulder) both on the DL, the Orioles have been shorthanded in the bullpen. The lopsided nature of their current struggles has largely made that a moot point, of course, but Showalter has essentially been able to trust only right-handers Brad Brach and Mychal Givens and lefty Richard Bleier recently.

In an effort to stabilize the bullpen, Showalter announced that veteran Ubaldo Jimenez will start against St. Louis on Sunday while Alec Asher will return to a relief role. Sporting a 5.05 ERA overall, Asher has pitched to a 1.62 ERA in 16 2/3 innings out of the bullpen this season. Meanwhile, Jimenez has posted a 4.32 ERA in relief this season, but his inability to bounce back quickly after outings has left the bullpen undermanned for days at a time.

Having begun the season in the Orioles rotation, Jimenez sported a 7.17 ERA after a poor start against Minnesota on May 22 and was sent to the bullpen after that. The 33-year-old is in the final season of a four-year, $50 million contract that’s been nothing short of disappointing.

“Ubaldo’s responded well to some time in the bullpen [in the past],” Showalter said. “We’ll see if that happens again. We really want to try to see if we can kind of solidify the bullpen a little bit as far as some of the movement there. ‘Ash’ did a good job for us there and presented himself well as a starter sometimes, but I think it’s as much because of Ubaldo. He pitches and [then] needs three or four days off; it really put us in a tough spot in the bullpen. It’s as much for the bullpen as it is for Ubaldo.”

In positive bullpen-related news, Britton has returned to Baltimore from Sarasota and is set to begin his minor-league rehab assignment at short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Monday. He will then continue with two outings for Single-A Delmarva.

Britton will not be activated before the end of June as the Orioles will continue to be cautious with his recovery from a left forearm strain that’s already included one setback in early May. That occurred just a few days after he was reinstated from his first DL stint.

“We’re starting to get more definitive [with his return],” Showalter said. “I think probably after the second Delmarva appearance, we’ll get a real definitive idea if that all goes well. He feels good. You can tell by talking to him that he feels good about where he is.”

O’Day threw off flat ground on Thursday and felt good, but he is not expected to return until next week at the earliest, according to the Orioles manager.

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Britton admits returning too soon, will see specialist for forearm

Posted on 06 May 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A day after waking up with the recurrence of a left forearm strain, Orioles closer Zach Britton acknowledged that he probably tried to return to the mound too soon.

The two-time All-Star reliever was placed on the 10-day disabled list less than a week after being activated from his first stint. It remains unclear how long he’ll be sidelined after missing more than two weeks with the initial injury, but he and the club will be even more careful this time around.

“I think the doctors and the trainers wanted me to kind of be a little bit more cautious with it at the time — maybe take another week,” Britton said. “But I felt pretty good and wanted to come back to the team. I was kind of over sitting on the bench watching games, so I felt like I was in a good enough position to come back. Obviously, I wasn’t.”

According to Britton, his Friday evening MRI showed similar results to the initial one taken last month, but he will fly to Los Angeles to visit esteemed sports orthopedist Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Monday afternoon to get a better idea on a timetable for his return. ElAttrache performed both of third baseman Manny Machado’s knee surgeries a few years back.

Team orthopedist Dr. Michael Jacobs is also sending images of the pitcher’s forearm to the esteemed Dr. James Andrews for feedback.

Britton and the Orioles have repeatedly said there is no concern about the health of his left elbow as the location of the discomfort in his forearm is closer to his wrist.

“Thankfully, it’s the same issue. It’s not anything else with the elbow,” Britton said. “It’s just muscle, which is great because it’s going to heal. Ligaments and tendons, normally, you have to manage it and hope that nothing serious happens. But for muscle, they say it’s going to heal. It’s just a matter of time. I guess if there’s any positive, that’s it.”

After being activated from the DL on Tuesday, Britton threw two scoreless innings in the Boston series, but he was not getting the normal movement on his sinker, a sign that all was not right with his forearm. The lefty didn’t start feeling the discomfort again until Friday morning.

“I didn’t think that was going to happen, especially so soon after coming back,” Britton said. “I knew I wasn’t back with like extension or finish with my pitches all the way. Talking with Caleb, it seemed like after my pitch count got around 10, the ball started flattening out a little bit more. For something that happens so natural for me to sink the ball, when that’s not happening, it’s not like I’m manipulating the ball to do something.

“If something that I do is so natural and I’m having a hard time doing it, I want to get that issue fixed, so I can get back and do what I do well. I can’t help the team if I don’t do what I do well.”

To take Britton’s place on the 25-man roster, the Orioles recalled right-handed pitcher Alec Asher.

NOTES: Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was out of Saturday’s lineup after being hit in the hand by a pitch in Friday’s game. X-rays were negative, but he did experience some swelling, prompting manager Buck Showalter to sit him in favor of utility man Ryan Flaherty. The 25-year-old had played in 190 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak in the majors. … Starting pitcher Wade Miley expects to make his next start despite leaving Friday’s game with a left wrist contusion from a line drive in the first inning. … Right-handed pitcher Gabriel Ynoa (right hamstring strain) was also placed on the DL, which allowed the Orioles to recall right-handed pitcher Logan Verrett before the 10-day minimum requirement. Ynoa likely would have been optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk anyway after throwing 101 pitches in emergency relief on Friday. … The Orioles traded right-handed pitcher Damien Magnifico to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for right-handed pitcher Jordan Kipper on Saturday. Magnifico had been designated for assignment on Tuesday.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 win over White Sox

Posted on 06 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles beginning a five-game homestand with a 4-2 win over the Chicago White Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The news of Zach Britton again experiencing left forearm discomfort took the fun out of an improbable win in which the Orioles lost their starting pitcher in the first inning. As I noted after Thursday’s win in Boston, Britton’s sinker didn’t look right in two appearances since being activated.

2. Wade Miley was hit by two vicious liners in a three-pitch period to force him out of the game with two outs in the first. Fortunately, he suffered only a contusion on his left wrist and doesn’t expect to miss his next start, but I’ve never seen anything like that.

3. Gabriel Ynoa couldn’t have been much better in his Orioles debut, turning in six scoreless innings of relief to collect the win. With Miley’s exit occurring two nights after Kevin Gausman was ejected in the second inning at Boston, Ynoa’s 101 pitches were a godsend for a strained staff.

4. Ynoa really impressed with his slider as he used the breaking pitch to record 10 of his 13 swinging strikes. His numbers at Triple-A Norfolk were less than impressive in April, but he showed the kind of stuff Friday that makes him an interesting option moving forward.

5. Few had faith in Baltimore’s starting pitching depth entering the season, but it should be noted that Alec Asher, Jayson Aquino, and Tyler Wilson have all turned in quality starts in addition to Ynoa’s quasi-start on Friday. Those contributions have been huge with other starters ailing or struggling.

6. Chris Davis hit his first home run — and collected his first multi-hit game — since April 14 in a 3-for-3 night that also included a walk. The Orioles hope that’s the kind of game that gets the big first baseman going after an extended slump.

7. It’s a bit more understandable after we learned that Britton wasn’t available, but I’m still surprised that Buck Showalter allowed the newly-recalled Stefan Crichton to start the eighth inning with only a 2-0 lead. His leadoff walk issued to Melky Cabrera led to the first White Sox run.

8. Joey Rickard’s RBI double in the eighth proved to be the winning run after Brad Brach ran into some difficulty in the ninth inning. Those insurances runs become even more critical now with the incomparable Britton sidelined once again.

9. Seeing J.J. Hardy mishandle two potential double-play balls in the ninth was disconcerting as he continues to look shaky in the field. His defense needs to remain strong to help offset the decline in his bat over the last few years.

10. Old friend Miguel Gonzalez turned in the type of performance we frequently saw over his four seasons with Baltimore. His outings were rarely fancy and he struggled in the second half of 2015, but jettisoning him last spring was an obvious mistake.

11. Chris Tillman felt good after his workday on Friday and will make his 2017 debut for the Orioles on Sunday. Of course, the results in his four minor-league rehab starts and his underwhelming velocity have everyone holding their breath over whether he can at least be close to himself.

12. They’ve still managed to go 4-4 going back to last Friday, but this is easily one of the strangest weeks of Orioles baseball that I’ve ever witnessed. What else can happen at this point? Well, maybe we shouldn’t answer that.

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