Tag Archive | "MLB"

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Means finally joins party for surprising 2020 Orioles

Posted on 09 September 2020 by Luke Jones

For all the fun the Orioles have provided in this unprecedented 2020 season, John Means hadn’t been a part of it.

The 2019 second-place finisher in AL Rookie of the Year voting began the abbreviated 60-game campaign with a sore left shoulder and made just two starts before losing his father to pancreatic cancer in early August. Though carrying a couple extra ticks on his fastball from 2019, Means had lost the feel for his changeup, the game-changing pitch that transformed him from being a fringe member of the Opening Day bullpen to the All-Star Game last season. Through six starts in 2020, the 27-year-old had pitched to an ugly 8.10 ERA and allowed eight home runs in 20 innings of work.

That changed Tuesday as Baltimore won its fourth straight to improve to 20-21 and tie the struggling New York Yankees in the loss column for the final wild-card spot in the AL’s expanded eight-team field. After a “tough talk” with manager Brandon Hyde last week, Means looked more like the 2019 version of himself in what was easily his best outing of the season in the 11-2 victory over the New York Mets.

“I was trying to force a lot of things, trying to get strikeouts, trying to blow it by everybody,” said Means after allowing one run and three hits over six innings to collect his first win of 2020. “That’s just not how I pitch. That’s not me. Hyde called me into the office and … told me this isn’t me. This isn’t how I pitch. This isn’t who I should be. I was getting frustrated; I was getting upset and angry with myself. To be able to relax out there and just be myself, it really helped me.”

By not trying to miss bats, Means struck out five and registered 15 swinging strikes, season highs in those departments. He effectively located his fastball that still carried extra giddy-up while better commanding the changeup over the course of the night, retiring 14 of the final 15 Mets hitters he faced to take full advantage of the run support from the Baltimore lineup.

Yes, it’s only one start, but a Means resurgence on the heels of rookies Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer shutting down the Yankees last weekend would give the Orioles the makings of their most interesting starting rotation in quite some time. Regardless of whether that helps propel them to an unlikely 2020 playoff berth, it’s the latest sign of the Orioles beginning to turn the corner in a rebuilding process that’s far from complete.

And it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Davis activated

Though the Orioles placing Chris Davis on the 10-day injured list to make room for Ryan Mountcastle felt poetic in some ways, assuming it was the end for the first baseman was premature.

Davis was activated on Tuesday, but Hyde made no firm commitment to play the 34-year-old first baseman, who had started just two of the club’s last eight games before being sent to the IL with “left knee patellar tendinitis” on Aug. 21.

“I’m going to find spots to possibly play him,” Hyde said. “I think that when I make the lineup out, I’m going to give our team the best chance to win. If [Davis] is part of the lineup that day, he is. And if not, he’s going to be ready to pinch hit or defend late.”

Batting .122 with a .357 on-base plus slugging percentage in 52 plate appearances this season — numbers in line with how major league pitchers batted in 2019 — Davis didn’t appear in Tuesday’s blowout win.

Paging the Angelos family.

Mighty Mountcastle

Whether clubbing home runs, drawing more walks that expected, playing a respectable left field, or beating out routine grounders for infield hits, Mountcastle is rapidly emerging as one of the Orioles’ best players, especially helpful after the oblique injury to Anthony Santander.

In his first 63 plate major league plate appearances, the 23-year-old is batting .339 with a 1.004 OPS, four home runs, three doubles, 13 runs batted in, six walks, and 12 strikeouts. Despite a fraction of the playing time as most Baltimore regulars, Mountcastle currently ranks fourth on the club with 0.8 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

Perhaps Mountcastle should have been promoted sooner, but it’s sure fun watching him now.

Odds & ends

Cedric Mullins was just a homer shy of the cycle in Tuesday’s win to raise his season average to .293 with a rock-solid .780 OPS. After a nightmare 2019 that saw him demoted to Double-A Bowie, Mullins taking full advantage of the opportunity created by the Austin Hays rib injury has been one of the better stories of the season. … The Orioles were seemingly waving the white flag on 2020 by trading veteran bullpen arms Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, and Richard Bleier, but a hard-throwing back end of Tanner Scott, Hunter Harvey, and Dillon Tate could be fun to watch for the rest of 2020 and beyond. … I’m not sure DJ Stewart’s current hot streak means he’ll stick in the majors for good this time, but his .185/.421/.630 slash line entering Wednesday is about as crazy as it gets in terms of weird baseball stats.

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Trade deadline arrives with Orioles dealing Castro to Mets

Posted on 31 August 2020 by Luke Jones

Monday’s trade deadline arrived with the Orioles dealing another veteran member of their bullpen.

General manager Mike Elias traded right-handed reliever Miguel Castro to the New York Mets in exchange for minor league pitcher Kevin Smith and a player to be named later or cash considerations shortly before the 4 p.m. deadline. Castro became the third Baltimore reliever to be traded this month, joining lefty Richard Bleier and right-hander Mychal Givens.

Acquired from Colorado early in the 2017 season, the 25-year-old Castro spent most of his four years in Baltimore serving in middle relief, posting a 4.06 ERA and striking out 7.1 batters per nine innings over 241 2/3 frames. Despite having a high-90s fastball and a slider with good movement, Castro struggled to miss bats during much of his time with the Orioles, but he’s struck out 24 batters to go along with a 4.02 ERA in 15 2/3 innings this season, making him an attractive piece to the Mets.

Smith, 23, was ranked the No. 12 prospect in the Mets organization by MLB Pipeline and was a seventh-round pick in the 2018 draft out of the University of Georgia. The lefty began the 2019 campaign with Single-A St. Lucie, posting a 3.05 ERA and striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings while walking 2.5 in 85 2/3 innings. Smith was promoted to Double-A Binghamton later in the season and pitched to a 3.45 ERA while averaging 8.0 strikeouts and 4.3 walks per nine over 31 1/3 innings.

Including the late July trade of Hector Velazquez as well as this month’s deals involving Bleier, Tommy Milone, Givens, and Castro, the Orioles have now acquired six players to be named later in addition to Smith and minor league infielders Terrin Navra and Tyler Nevin.

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Orioles make short-term intentions clear by trading Givens, Milone

Posted on 30 August 2020 by Luke Jones

If 10 losses in their last 12 games entering Sunday weren’t enough, the Orioles made clear the good vibes and postseason chatter spawned from a surprising 12-8 start were only a brief respite from reality.

Baltimore is still all about the future.

Prior to Sunday’s game against Toronto in Buffalo, general manager Mike Elias traded right-handed reliever Mychal Givens to Colorado and lefty starter Tommy Milone to Atlanta. In return, the Rockies sent minor league corner infielder Tyler Nevin, minor league middle infielder Terrin Vavra, and a player to be named later to the Orioles while the Braves will send two players to be named later.

Givens has been a mainstay in the Baltimore bullpen since 2015, posting a 3.32 ERA and averaging 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings over 336 innings spanning six seasons. After a mediocre 2019 campaign that included a 4.57 ERA, the 30-year-old was off to an excellent start with a 1.38 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 13 innings this season. Givens is scheduled to become a free agent after 2021.

Selected as a high school shortstop in the second round of the 2009 draft, Givens became a pitcher in 2013 and would reach the major leagues just over two years later. He had been a subject of trade speculation for the better part of two years before the Rockies tabbed him as a piece to augment their bullpen for a playoff run.

Upon completion of the trade, Milone was immediately scheduled to make his first start for the Braves in Philadelphia on Sunday night.

Signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training in mid-February, Milone has been Baltimore’s best starters in this abbreviated season, pitching to a 3.99 ERA in six starts covering 29 1/3 innings and recording the Orioles’ only two quality starts. The 33-year-old has struck out a career-high 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings and has walked only four batters, a ratio making him attractive to a playoff contender like the Braves.

Milone becomes the second left-handed pitcher to be traded by Elias this month after reliever Richard Bleier was sent to Miami on Aug. 1. He’s also the second notable departure from the Orioles rotation over the last week after fellow veteran lefty Wade LeBlanc was placed on the 60-day injured list with a season-ending elbow injury on Tuesday.

To take the places of Givens and Milone on the active roster, the Orioles activated right-handed reliever Hunter Harvey from the 10-day injured list and recalled lefty Keegan Akin from the alternate training site.

Elias appeared to receive a good return for Givens on paper, acquiring the Rockies’ No. 7 (Vavra) and No. 14 (Nevin) prospects in the MLB Pipeline rankings. Vavra, 23, played shortstop and second base at Single-A Asheville last season, batting .318 with 43 extra-base hits, 52 runs batted in, 18 stolen bases, and an .899 on-base plus slugging percentage. The 23-year-old Nevin, son of former major leaguer and current New York Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin, batted .251 with 41 extra-base hits, 61 RBIs, and a .744 OPS while primarily playing first base for Double-A Hartford last season.

The question now becomes who might be the next Oriole to be traded with potential candidates including reliever Miguel Castro, infielders Jose Iglesias and Hanser Alberto, and starting pitcher Alex Cobb.

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Mountcastle, Davis like two ships passing in the night for Orioles

Posted on 21 August 2020 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Ryan Mountcastle and Chris Davis were two ships passing in the night for the Orioles on Friday.

One brings hope for better days ahead, especially with Baltimore’s surprising start being flattened by a six-game losing streak this week. The other is the last remnant of a previous era with some fond memories — twice leading the majors in home runs and hitting nearly 200 in a five-year period — impossible to appreciate given his current playing form and salary.

OK, it isn’t perfectly poetic with Mountcastle expected to receive most of his playing time in left field rather than Davis’ old spot at first base. And Davis remains in the organization after being placed on the 10-day injured list with what the Orioles are calling “left knee patellar tendinitis.”

Manager Brandon Hyde said all the right things about the 34-year-old Davis dealing with soreness over the last few days, but that doesn’t cover the last three years or how badly this saga needs to end, regardless of when the Angelos family gets around to accepting the sunk cost of one of the worst contracts in major league history. We know the excruciating truth, and there’s no sense dwelling on the miserable numbers, a hopeless Statcast profile, or the meaningless sample of 2020 Grapefruit League at-bats any longer.

The relevant story was Mountcastle, 23, making his major league debut and going 0-for-2 with two walks in Friday’s 8-5 loss to Boston. After 553 plate appearances and winning the International League MVP for Triple-A Norfolk last year, Mountcastle had nothing left to accomplish at the alternate training site at Bowie where the Orioles wanted him to continue learning how to play left field and to improve his plate discipline. Of course, there was also the matter of preserving another year of service time for someone who clubbed 217 extra-base hits over parts of five minor league seasons since being selected with the 36th overall pick of the 2015 amateur draft out of high school.

Drafted as a shortstop before shifting to third base and then first, Mountcastle said he feels “more comfortable” in the outfield and is confident he can be “serviceable” in left field, a reasonable aspiration given his lack of experience there. The organization’s No. 5 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s top 30 list also believes he’s improved his plate discipline after drawing just 24 walks compared to 130 strikeouts for the Tides last season, a potential red flag in a season that otherwise consisted of 61 extra-base hits.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Mountcastle is far from a “can’t-miss” prospect, but it’s time for general manager Mike Elias and Hyde to begin seeing how he fares in the majors. And he drew two free passes in his first major league game after all.

“Half of the battle is to feel like you belong here, and I think he feels that way,” said Hyde, who confirmed Mountcastle could still see some time at first base. “But I just want him to play his game and be a part of the team and not feel like he needs to carry any load, but just take four good at-bats a night. We’ll continue to work on his defense, and [he’ll] just be part of our lineup and part of the team.”

Whether Mountcastle shines or struggles in his early major league action isn’t as important as it being a reminder of what’s still to come. The 2020 season has been encouraging for former castoffs such as Anthony Santander, Hanser Alberto, Pedro Severino, and Renato Nunez trying to prove they belong for the long haul, but we know the most promising organizational talent remains down below despite the canceled minor league season.

Mountcastle got an extended look at some of the Orioles’ top pitching prospects working out in Bowie this summer.

“I’m not going to lie, there are some dudes down there,” said Mountcastle, citing the baseball lingo for an exciting prospect. “You know DL Hall, Grayson [Rodriguez], all these young guys, Michael Baumann. All these guys are throwing really well down there. There wasn’t one at-bat I had where I was like, ‘This guy, I’m going to crush this one.’ It was a bunch of uncomfortable at-bats, and it was a good time, good competition.”

Nights like Friday matter much more than the rebuilding Orioles now falling below the .500 mark and out of playoff position in this incredibly weird 2020. In a season in which major-league-ready talents such as Austin Hays, Hunter Harvey, and John Means have struggled to stay on the field or perform at a high level when they’ve been out there, Mountcastle stepping to the plate at Camden Yards — even an empty one — was a breath of fresh air.

It was enough to make Orioles fans daydream about the many more to come.

“There will be others down the road,” Hyde said. “It’s an exciting time for our organization — somebody that got drafted high here a few years back that did well in the minor leagues and got to the big leagues. I think a lot of people have been reading about him, and now they get to watch him play.”

That sure beats the alternative of the same old disappointment.

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Castoff Orioles providing no shortage of fun early in weird season

Posted on 13 August 2020 by Luke Jones

Think back to what you hoped to see from the 2020 Orioles a month ago.

It hasn’t really gone as planned.

John Means has made only two starts while Hunter Harvey has yet to throw a pitch in this abbreviated 60-game season.

His recent inside-the-park home run aside, Austin Hays entered Thursday batting just .200 with one extra-base hit and a .519 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Ryan Mountcastle has yet to be promoted from the alternate camp at Double-A Bowie while Keegan Akin has only observed from the bullpen since being recalled last weekend.

Chris Davis looks no better, hitting the ball with less authority than ever and not even walking much. Only two more years to go on that nightmare contract.

Meanwhile, the likes of Dylan Bundy and Mike Yastrzemski are thriving elsewhere, which typically makes fans cringe and dwell on why that didn’t happen here.

But the 2020 Orioles are competing, entertaining, and — to the surprise of everyone — winning. Frankly, you couldn’t ask for more fun after some wondered aloud if this rebuilding club with more castoffs than prospects would win even 10 games in this unusual season.

“We’ve got a little bit of a renegade group here that has been dismissed by other clubs,” manager Brandon Hyde said before Wednesday’s win in Philadelphia. “It’s still early on in their careers. They’re trying to fight their way to stay in the big leagues, and they’ve found a home here. I think they like to play here. I think you’ve seen a lot of them improve.”

It’s not always pretty, evident by the embarrassing season-opening loss in Boston or the four-game home sweep suffered at the hands of the virus-depleted Miami Marlins last week. You’ll still see some head-scratching mistakes reminiscent of the last two seasons that produced a combined 223 losses, but the Orioles are almost always in ballgames, suffering just two defeats by more than four runs so far. That’s something they haven’t done consistently for a long time.

Yes, we’re only talking about 16 games here, which would be just 10 percent of a normal schedule and too small a sample size in a six-month season. But this is 2020 when that amounts to just over a quarter of the schedule and the Orioles would currently qualify in the expanded AL playoff field of eight teams with their 10-7 record. Even if you’re skeptical about this continuing — I definitely am — there’s less time for regression toward the mean with just over six weeks of regular season remaining.

While the baseball world laments the lack of offense with 442 fewer hits than strikeouts around the majors entering Thursday’s action, the Orioles ranked first in the AL in batting average (.261), third in on-base percentage (.329), and second in OPS (.794) despite not having 2019 Most Valuable Oriole Trey Mancini in the lineup. Despite registering only one quality start so far, the pitching has been an otherwise passable 11th in the AL with a 4.41 ERA with Hyde leaning more heavily on an effective bullpen thanks to the expanded roster.

But the real story has been the improvement and production from so many players previously told they weren’t good enough somewhere else.

Instead of regressing from his surprising 2019 that included a .305 average and .398 mark against lefties, Hanser Alberto is hitting the ball harder against all pitchers with a .342 average and 11 extra-base hits in his first 76 plate appearances. The 27-year-old second baseman hardly ever walks, but he doesn’t strike out very much either, making him an interesting outlier in today’s game consumed by “the three true outcomes” approach.

Despite missing a large portion of summer training due to a COVID-19 infection, outfielder Anthony Santander leads the club in RBIs and is tied for the lead with 11 extra-base hits. The former Rule 5 pick won’t turn 26 until October and continues to state his case to be a long-term piece.

Having quietly hit for more power up after a summer stint with Triple-A Norfolk last season, Rio Ruiz has carried that over to 2020 with four homers. The 26-year-old has also made some plays at third base of which Brooks Robinson and Manny Machado would be proud.

Defensive limitations aside, Renato Nunez and Pedro Severino continue to hit for the power they showed last year while Dwight Smith Jr. and Chance Sisco are also off to good starts at the plate. These guys may not resemble long-term answers, but their production speaks for itself.

This group of castoffs — that also includes veteran newcomer shortstop Jose Iglesias and his lofty .372 average — isn’t playing like a team picked by most to be the worst in baseball. In fact, seven of the nine players in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s crazy win in Philadelphia had been waived, designated for assignment, or claimed in the Rule 5 draft.

That’s sure to put a chip on anyone’s shoulder.

“Once you’ve been [designated] or put on waivers, that’s tough for a player to go through mentally,” Hyde said. “To be able to get another opportunity, I know you’re going to try to take the most of it. … I think that you’re naturally going to play with something to prove all the time.”

So, what does this surprising start mean for the Orioles’ rebuild?

Probably not much, and it shouldn’t.

We’re still talking about a small sample size in an unprecedented, weird season. That’s not to say general manager Mike Elias should be giving away players at the trade deadline to further cut a payroll that’s already low enough, but the Orioles shouldn’t entertain being serious buyers at this stage either. Enjoying some short-term winning and prioritizing the long haul aren’t mutually exclusive concepts.

It’s still difficult looking at the current roster and identifying good bets to be part of Baltimore’s next sustainable contender if we’re to assume the current prosperity is more diversion than breakthrough. Should some of the aforementioned names sustain their success for the rest of 2020 and beyond, Elias still must weigh whether their value over the next couple years would be better served elsewhere with younger talent coming to Baltimore in return.

Regardless, the improvement shown from such unheralded players reflects favorably on Elias and Hyde, the coaching staff, and the entire baseball operations department. That’s more important in the long run that fretting over not securing the first overall pick in next year’s draft.

Whether it’s the unknown Pat Valaika providing the walk-off hit and a socially-distanced celebration, two runs scoring on a dropped popup at the pitcher’s mound, or the Orioles winning four of their first six series, we all needed some unexpected fun in this weird 2020.

Why Not?

BUCKle up.

No matter how long this lasts, let’s enjoy it.

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Eskin sounds off to Nestor about why COVID baseball sucks

Posted on 11 August 2020 by WNST Audio

With the upstart Baltimore Orioles headed to Philadelphia for some interleave play with the Phillies, it’s time to check in with some old, wise friends in the City of Brotherly Love.

Howard Eskin has done sports radio for nearly four decades at WIP and spends his Sundays on the sidelines at Eagles games.

Sit back and enjoy the wisdom and intelligent conversation.

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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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