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Jimenez penciled in for Sunday’s start — for now

Posted on 23 May 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Those wanting the Orioles to finally move on from Ubaldo Jimenez will apparently need to wait a little longer.

But that doesn’t mean the struggling starting pitcher is in the clear, either.

Asked about his plans for the three-game series in Houston this weekend, manager Buck Showalter said the veteran right-hander’s turn was scheduled for Sunday, but he left himself wiggle room for that to change. What he doesn’t want to do is to move up the rest of his starting rotation at the expense of Jimenez or anyone else who could be in play to pitch the finale against the Astros.

The Orioles will be off on Thursday after concluding their three-game set with Minnesota on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m going to give these guys the extra day with the off-day every chance we get, especially with Dylan [Bundy] and [Kevin Gausman],” Showalter said. “Jimenez’s next start is on Sunday, and we’ll see what happens when we get there. That’s when he’s scheduled to start again. But I’m going to keep Gausman and Dylan on that extra day with the off-day.

“We’ll take each day as it comes and see where we are as a pitching staff after each outing.”

After giving up six earned runs and squandering an early 5-0 lead in Monday’s 14-7 loss to the Twins, Jimenez now sports a 7.17 ERA, the worst among all American League pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched and second behind only San Diego’s Jered Weaver for the worst ERA in the majors. The 33-year-old is in the final season of a four-year, $50 million contract that pays him a total of $13.5 million in 2017.

In addition to the financial reality of any decision regarding Jimenez’s roster status, the Orioles would need to determine who would fill his spot in the rotation if they were to make a change. Right-handed reliever Alec Asher has registered quality starts in both of his starting opportunities this season and owns an impressive 2.33 ERA in 27 innings this season, but he hasn’t thrown more than 41 pitches in a game since May 7 and has been used in more and more key relief spots in recent weeks.

“I don’t think, on the surface, he’s that far removed from extended outings,” Showalter said. “Now, in a week or two, it probably wouldn’t be normal length if you went there. But I also think he’s shown an ability to serve a need in our bullpen, too, with Zach [Britton] being down. There’s some different challenges in our bullpen with Zach out that you need to have an optionable bullpen and you need to have some versatility down there and some guys who can pitch, physically, more than once every four days down there. It doesn’t work.”

Asked about the possibility of Jimenez moving to a relief role after Monday’s loss, Showalter alluded to the difficulty of carrying a pitcher who can’t be optioned to the minors and would need a few days to rest between outings. Of course, the Orioles probably wouldn’t be looking to use Jimenez in any close games, either, with the way he’s pitched so far in 2017.

NOTES: Needing a fresh long man in the bullpen for Tuesday’s game, the Orioles recalled left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino and optioned right-hander Stefan Crichton to Triple-A Norfolk. Crichton threw a season-high 59 pitches and gave up two earned runs and six hits in 3 1/3 innings on Monday. … Outfielder Michael Bourn is no longer with Triple-A Norfolk as a decision looms for the organization regarding his opt-out clause. He has been temporarily transferred to Single-A Aberdeen in the meantime. … Right-handed pitcher Logan Verrett was activated by the Tides Tuesday after being on paternity leave and isn’t currently an option to be recalled by the Orioles since he hasn’t pitched since May 16. … Showalter celebrated his 61st birthday on Tuesday. The manager quipped that he was glad his birthday didn’t fall Monday when his club was blown out by Minnesota. “Remember when you thought 61 was old? It is.”

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Orioles re-sign veteran outfielder Bourn to minor-league deal

Posted on 11 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles continued to add to their collection of veteran options in the minor leagues by re-signing outfielder Michael Bourn on Tuesday.

Just over two weeks after being granted his release, the 34-year-old has re-signed with Baltimore to another minor-league deal, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Bourn suffered a broken finger just days after signing with Baltimore in late February, but he is nearly recovered and is expected to report to extended spring training in Sarasota.

The surprising emergence of veteran Craig Gentry this spring lessened the immediate need for Bourn on the Baltimore bench, but his speed and defensive prowess were assets for the Orioles over the final month of the 2016 season. The lefty-swinging outfielder batted .283 with two home runs and a .793 on-base plus slugging percentage in 55 plate appearances with Baltimore last season while primarily serving as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner.

The current outfield mix at Triple-A Norfolk includes Chris Dickerson, Logan Schafer, Michael Choice, and Pedro Alvarez, who is adjusting to right field after previously playing both corner infield spots in his major league career. The Orioles are currently without fourth outfielder Joey Rickard, who is on the 10-day disabled list with a sprained left middle finger.

With Rickard on the DL, Trey Mancini was starting in left field in front of the Green Monster at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. It presented an interesting test for a rookie making only his second professional start in the outfield after previously serving as a first baseman in the minor leagues.

The Orioles also announced the re-signing of injured pitcher and outfielder Dariel Alvarez to a minor-league deal. Alvarez injured his right elbow in his conversion to the mound this spring and is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery.

In other injury-related news, manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Boston that Chris Tillman’s outing in Tuesday’s extended-spring game went well. The right-hander was expected to complete two innings or 30 pitches — whichever came first. Showalter said Tillman could potentially start for Double-A Bowie on Monday if his next workday goes well.

 

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Veteran outfielder Bourn granted release from Orioles

Posted on 27 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Michael Bourn’s second run with the Orioles has come to an end before it ever really started.

Still recovering from a broken finger suffered in late February, the veteran outfielder requested and was granted his release on Monday. Bourn injured his right ring finger catching a football during a workout just days after signing a minor-league deal with the Orioles. The 34-year-old was scheduled to make $2 million in base salary with the possibility of earning other incentives had he made the major league roster.

Bourn had an opt-out clause in his minor-league deal and likely viewed the strong spring performances from the likes of Joey Rickard, Craig Gentry, Trey Mancini, and Rule 5 pick Aneury Tavarez as evidence that wouldn’t help his chances of making the 25-man roster when fully healthy. The lefty outfielder hit .283 with two home runs and a .793 on-base plus slugging percentage in 55 plate appearances with Baltimore last season while primarily serving as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner.

The Orioles also released infielder Chris Johnson and reassigned catching prospect Chance Sisco to minor-league spring training on Monday, leaving them with 38 players in major league camp with Opening Day now less than a week away.

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Sorting Orioles corner outfield spots begins with Kim

Posted on 21 February 2017 by Luke Jones

At first glance, veteran outfielder Michael Bourn brings obvious skills that the Orioles are lacking.

His speed and defensive ability can be assets for an outfield that ranked last in the majors in defensive runs saved a year ago, but it remains to be seen whether the 34-year-old is a great fit among a crowded group of corner outfielders with question marks. A below-average hitter, the left-handed Bourn is trying to crack a 25-man roster that already needs a viable platoon partner for the lefty-swinging Seth Smith in right field.

And that brings us to the biggest key in sorting out the corner outfield hierarchy for 2017.

The Orioles must find out if left fielder Hyun Soo Kim can be an everyday player. The 29-year-old more than proved himself as the starter against right-handed pitching to the tune of a sparkling .393 on-base percentage last season, but he went hitless in 22 plate appearances against left-handers. That’s hardly a fair sample from which to draw any real conclusion, but an 0-for-17 body of work doesn’t exactly bring confidence, either. His numbers from his final two seasons playing in the Korea Baseball Organization suggest he could be up to the challenge, but that success doesn’t guarantee to translate to the majors.

Either way, he deserves an extended look against southpaw pitchers to find out.

If Kim is able to handle a full-time role, Bourn becomes easier to carry on the bench as a late-inning defensive replacement and a pinch runner while the Orioles use a platoon in right with Mark Trumbo then serving as the everyday designated hitter. But if Kim can’t cut it against lefties, the need for platoons at both corner outfield spots becomes more problematic for the makeup of the roster.

Joey Rickard’s .861 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties last year makes him the early favorite to serve as a platoon partner, but the Orioles are reportedly intrigued with the defense and speed of Craig Gentry so far in spring training. The problem is that the 33-year-old was little more than a league-average hitter at his best and has posted a .553 OPS over his last 353 plate appearances in the majors dating back to the start of 2014.

It’s worth noting that Bourn posted an .844 OPS in 75 plate appearances against lefties last season, but he owns a career .644 OPS against left-handed pitching. If the Orioles are putting that much stock in those numbers for a potential platoon, the 2016 struggles of both Adam Jones and Trumbo against lefties should be much bigger concerns than they’ll discuss. In other words, you shouldn’t draw anything definitive from one season of work against lefties compared to the larger body of work.

Manager Buck Showalter could always cite the defensive upgrade in left as justification for Bourn playing against left-handers over Kim. The Korean outfielder was worth minus-13 defensive runs saved in left field last season as he lacks range and a strong throwing arm. However, Bourn starting against lefties could create a big hole in a Baltimore lineup that already fared very poorly against lefties in 2016.

The Orioles could also elect to use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but finding the room to carry Trey Mancini as a designated hitter under such a scenario might be difficult with the addition of Bourn.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Bourn even makes the club as Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander shouldn’t be dismissed from the roster discussion. Gentry could win a job to push either Rickard — who has minor-league options — or Bourn from the 25-man roster.

There’s plenty of time for Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to evaluate and decide.

Regardless of how it all plays out, Kim showing the ability to hit left-handers would make life much easier for the Orioles.

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Bourn rejoins Orioles on minor-league deal with spring invite

Posted on 20 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Looking to add more speed and defensive ability to their current crop of outfielders, the Orioles re-signed veteran Michael Bourn to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training on Monday.

The 34-year-old will earn $2 million if he makes the major league roster, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The deal includes a March 27 opt-out clause, according to multiple outlets.

Bourn was acquired from Arizona on Aug. 31 of last season and made positive contributions down the stretch, batting .283 with two home runs and a .793 on-base plus slugging percentage in 55 plate appearances with the Orioles. Having frequently served as a late-inning defensive replacement, Bourn is capable of playing all three defensive spots and started in right field in the American League wild-card game against Toronto.

His career in jeopardy after being released by both Atlanta and Toronto earlier in 2016, Bourn will need to continue the renaissance that began with the Diamondbacks and continued with the Orioles last September. After posting a .592 OPS between Cleveland and Atlanta in 2015, Bourn hit a combined .264 with five homers, 38 runs batted in, and a .684 OPS in 413 plate appearances last season. He also stole 15 bases in 20 attempts, but all but two of those steals came with the Diamondbacks.

The two-time Gold Glove and All-Star outfielder sports a career .266 average and .687 OPS in 11 major league seasons.

It remains to be seen how the Baltimore outfield will shake out beyond the projected starting trio of Hyun Soo Kim, Adam Jones, and Seth Smith from left to right against right-handed starters. Smith’s career .594 OPS against lefties all but guarantees that he’ll need a platoon partner in right, but Kim was hitless in only 22 plate appearances against lefties all last season, making it unknown whether he’s capable of thriving in an everyday role.

Joey Rickard entered spring training as the clear favorite for the fourth outfielder job — with Mark Trumbo being used as the primary designated hitter — but the additions of Bourn and Craig Gentry on minor-league deals provide some defensive-minded competition. Baltimore’s Rule 5 pick last year, Rickard posted an .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against left-handed pitch, but he registered minus-eight defensive runs saved in the outfield as a rookie and had a .618 OPS against right-handed pitching.

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Out-of-sync Orioles in danger of falling out of AL East race

Posted on 01 September 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but cringe at the pitching matchups as the Orioles returned home to begin a critical three-game set with Toronto on Monday.

Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Yovani Gallardo going up against the Blue Jays’ three best starters? Even the most optimistic of Baltimore fans feared it could get ugly at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Instead, the embattled trio turned in three quality starts against the second-highest scoring offense in the American League. And the Orioles still lost two of three to the division leader to fall four games back in the AL East.

The term “must-win” is one of the most overused descriptors in sports, but that series win was one that Buck Showalter’s club surely wanted to have, especially playing at home where the Orioles have looked quite mortal over the last few weeks. It’s just been that kind of a second half as Baltimore fell into a tie with Detroit for the final wild card spot on Wednesday.

Trying to hold on, but seemingly losing their grip bit by bit as the summer transitions into fall. Out of sync and trying to avoid falling out of a tough division race in which Toronto and Boston aren’t going anywhere. A wild-card spot that appeared likely now looks in doubt with the likes of Detroit, Houston, and Kansas City surging.

The pitching remains the biggest concern — even two of the top three bullpen arms surrendered runs in Wednesday’s 5-3 loss — but an offense that thrived in the first half has been among the worst in the league since the All-Star break. Sure, the Orioles still hit home runs — they tied the major league record for long balls in August with 55 after hitting a record 56 in June — but they’ve all but stopped doing anything else offensively.

Remember how Baltimore ranked third in the AL with a .333 on-base percentage in the first half? Those more disciplined at-bats and the willingness to draw a few more walks have evaporated with the Orioles ranking last in the AL with a .293 OBP in the 46 games since then. They rank 12th in runs scored since the break despite continuing to lead the league in home runs, illustrating how much more dependent on long balls they’ve become to score runs as the season has progressed.

We knew all along that the Orioles lineup was constructed to win with the home run, but the all-or-nothing outcomes are as extreme as ever. Consider Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, who have combined to hit 22 home runs and bat .180 in 305 at-bats since the break. They haven’t been alone in the second-half struggles, but you just aren’t going to consistently score runs with that kind of production from your No. 4 and No. 5 hitters.

Because the offense produced at such a high level over the first half of the season, it’s still reasonable to think — at least hope? — a prolonged hot streak could be right around the corner.

But then we come back to the pitching, which ranks 13th among 15 AL clubs. Other than the first few weeks after the All-Star break when the rotation performed at a respectable level — and the offense failed to capitalize — you just can’t trust this starting pitching, especially with Chris Tillman unlikely to return before the middle of September. The bullpen continues to wilt without Darren O’Day, who is just now working out the final remnants of discomfort in his right shoulder.

The Orioles will say they were encouraged by the way Miley, Jimenez, and Gallardo pitched against the Blue Jays this week, but that kind of success feels more like an aberration than a breakthrough for the final month.

Despite exceeding expectations for most of the season, this club just isn’t firing on all cylinders and hasn’t been for quite some time. When the rotation does offer a stretch of decent outings, the offense fails to do its job. When the bats are lively, the pitching struggles to even be competitive. Or, neither phase performs well and it gets downright ugly.

On Wednesday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette added Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn, veterans who can help the abysmal outfield defense late in games and add some speed off the bench. Maybe these spare parts will help spark a struggling club, but the Orioles simply look like a team struggling to keep their heads above water these days.

The losing spells have been more frequent while the good times have been fleeting. In the first four months of the season, the Orioles had three seven-game winning streaks, two five-game winning streaks, and a four-game winning streak. In August, they won as many as three in a row just once while dropping three straight on three separate occasions.

Going just 21-25 since the All-Star break, the Orioles have been trying to hold on, but they’ll need to do more than that in September to secure their third trip to the postseason in the last five years.

You should never count out the Orioles under Showalter with so much baseball left to play, but an increasingly one-dimensional offense, a poor starting rotation, and a bullpen short on trustworthy arms aren’t inspiring confidence in the final month of the season.

It’s just not looking good.

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