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Peter King discusses all aspects of NFL and sports trying to get back on field during raging plague

Posted on 30 July 2020 by WNST Audio

My pal Peter King and I have drank a lot of beer and eaten a lot of baseball hot dogs over the years. He took some time this week to catch up on how the four major sports in America are trying to get back on the field. I know the picture looks funny – we took it as a prank photo during the dog days of an Indianapolis NFL Combine several years ago – but this was quite the serious chat about football, baseball, America and safety.

Oh, and we also chatted about the future of sports journalists and players and coaches and access in the era of forever Zoom.

— Nestor

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

Posted on 21 July 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Former first-round pick Hunter Harvey called up by Orioles

Posted on 17 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles promoted 2013 first-round pick Hunter Harvey to the majors prior to Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox.

The 24-year-old pitcher was first promoted to the Orioles 16 months ago, but Harvey didn’t appear in a game before being optioned back to the minors two days later. The right-hander has dealt with a variety of injuries since his promising first full season of professional ball and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016, but he’s logged a total of 75 2/3 innings split between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this season, his most since 2014. Most importantly, he’s been free of the elbow and shoulder problems that have plagued him for years.

Once considered a consensus top 100 prospect in baseball, Harvey struggled as a starter for the Baysox earlier this year, pitching to a 6.12 ERA in 11 starts. That prompted a move to the bullpen in mid-June and a promotion to Norfolk where he’s posted a 4.32 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. Harvey has struck out 11.9 batters and walked 2.7 batters per nine innings for the Tides.

Baltimore owns the worst bullpen ERA in the majors at 6.09.

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Elias, Orioles quiet as trade deadline passes

Posted on 31 July 2019 by Luke Jones

The trade deadline passed Wednesday with Orioles general manager Mike Elias standing pat with his major league roster.

Despite plenty of speculation since veteran starting pitcher Andrew Cashner was traded to Boston for two 17-year-old prospects on July 13, Elias elected not to deal the likes of second baseman Jonathan Villar, relief pitcher Mychal Givens, starting pitcher Dylan Bundy, and slugger Trey Mancini, who all remain under club control beyond the 2019 season. With Cashner being Baltimore’s only real trade chip hitting free agency this fall, Elias felt little urgency to make a deal if he didn’t believe the return was improving the overall talent level in the organization.

Villar is under club control through next season while Givens and Bundy aren’t scheduled to become free agents until after 2020, but none are having standout seasons, meaning Elias wasn’t negotiating from a position of great leverage and can always revisit trade talks this offseason.

There was reported interest in Mancini, but the right fielder and first baseman doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2022 season and is the rebuilding Orioles’ most recognizable player, which likely made the asking price too steep for possible suitors. Mancini’s defensive limitations also dent his overall value as he’s been worth just 2.1 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs. In other words, the 27-year-old is probably more valuable to the Orioles at this point than to a contending club that’s likely reluctant to part with top prospects for a player ideally suited for first base or the designated hitter spot.

The Orioles did complete a minor-league trade before the 4 p.m. deadline, sending right-handed pitcher Dan Straily to Philadelphia for cash considerations. Straily, 30, was designated for assignment on June 20 after pitching to an awful 9.82 ERA with 22 home runs allowed in 47 2/3 innings and had accepted a minor-league assignment to Triple-A Norfolk where he’d posted a 2.38 ERA in six starts.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on Andrew Cashner trade

Posted on 14 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles trading veteran starting pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Boston Red Sox for 17-year-old Venezuelan position prospects Elio Prado and Noelberth Romero, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. No one knows whether these academy-level prospects will even sniff the majors one day, but it was refreshing seeing Mike Elias target long-term upside over moderate-floor, low-ceiling talent only guaranteed to clog up the 40-man roster. There was way too much of that in the past.

2. This trade was a reminder how difficult it is prying away prospects today, something we saw last year with even an elite rental piece like Manny Machado. You’re not getting much value above the lowest minor-league levels for 2 1/2 months of a career league-average starter making some real money.

3. Credit Cashner for reinventing himself by pitching up in the zone more and doubling his changeup usage from 2018. That’s become his best pitch, evident by FanGraphs’ pitch value metric ranking it the second-best changeup in the majors among qualified hurlers. The new regime’s fingerprints are all over those tweaks.

4. Elias cited the strong numbers from Prado in the Dominican Summer League, complimenting the center fielder’s pop and speed while adding Orioles scouts have liked what they’ve seen from him in his first professional season. He received an $85,000 signing bonus last July, per SoxProspects.com.

5. Romero has more modest numbers and has mostly played third base, but the Orioles like the contact he’s been making and believe he has a chance to develop as a shortstop. Boston gave him a $275,000 last July, per SoxProspects.com.

6. Elias said no other deals were imminent, but Mychal Givens will be an attractive chip if he strings together a few more outings like Saturday’s two-inning save. His 4.50 ERA is mediocre, but he’s striking out a career-high 12.8 batters per nine innings and is under club control through 2021.

7. The Orioles entered Sunday with a record just 2 1/2 games worse than Detroit, who sported a minus-163 run differential for the season and a 6-27 record since June 1. Thoughts of the 2020 first overall pick had to cross Elias’ mind when dealing Cashner.

8. Dylan Bundy isn’t expected to be out long with right knee tendinitis, but the current starting rotation behind surprising All-Star lefty John Means consists of three pitchers who weren’t even in the organization at the start of June. That’s astonishing.

9. Cashner’s Sunday replacement, the soft-tossing Tom Eshelman, didn’t have a good final line after giving up a two-run homer in the sixth, but he was competitive and struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings with five coming on his curveball. There’s plenty of opportunity for minor-league “misfits” in Baltimore now.

10. Cashner signed with Baltimore 17 months ago thinking he was joining a club with at least a chance of competing for a wild-card spot in 2018. The Orioles went 75-178 over his time here.

11. I’m not saying a division rival would be your top choice as a trade partner, but any “old-school” belief that the Orioles shouldn’t deal with AL East rivals is as foolish as marginalizing the international market for years. End of discussion.

12. Asked to comment on the Cashner trade after Saturday night’s 12-4 loss, Brandon Hyde said the Orioles are “a million miles away from being where we’re going to be here sometime soon.” I couldn’t help but think the Baltimore manager needed a hug after the veteran starter was dealt.

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Curt Schilling joins Nestor hours before Game 4 of 2014 World Series

Posted on 10 July 2019 by WNST Staff

As we continue with our Hall of Fame month at WNST.net, we’re featuring some of Nestor Aparicio’s best work throughout his career covering local and national sports. Back in 2004, Curt Schilling chatted with Nestor just hours before the Red Sox clinched the World Series, thus breaking their famous curse. Curt has always been a supporter of ours here at WNST.net, and we thank him for being a part of the show!

 

 

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Means offering unexpected intrigue for rebuilding Orioles

Posted on 07 May 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There was no “aha” moment for Orioles manager Brandon Hyde watching John Means pitch during spring training.

Hyde liked the 26-year-old lefty’s changeup and how his four-seam fastball played up in the strike zone, but an underwhelming 5.40 ERA in 13 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League wasn’t a harbinger of Means leading Baltimore in both ERA (2.48) and wins above replacement (1.1) through the first six weeks of the 2019 season. In fact, he was the next-to-last relief pitcher on the Opening Day roster to appear in a game with the only one waiting longer being former Rule 5 pick Pedro Araujo, who would be designated for assignment a few days later.

Entering 2019, there was little reason to view Means as more than left-handed organizational depth with an ordinary fastball-slider combination and a respectable but ordinary 3.83 ERA over five minor-league seasons. His season debut against the New York Yankees in the Bronx changed that perception, however, as Means allowed only one run and struck out five over 3 1/3 innings to earn his first major league win.

The outing included an eye-opening 17 swinging strikes, 14 coming on the changeup Orioles infielder and teammate Jonathan Villar has since labeled “unbelievable” to watch. You don’t get that many swings and misses with pure luck as Means entered Tuesday ranked seventh in the majors in FanGraphs’ pitch value metric for changeups, further reinforcing it being no fluke.

Means began elevating his fastball more effectively last season — a trend seen around baseball in recent years — and sought help inside and outside the organization to both improve his velocity and develop his changeup this offseason, but he still offered no profound explanation for his early success after pitching a career-high seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball against defending champion Boston Monday night.

“I don’t know. I just feel comfortable up here,” said Means, who abruptly made his major league debut at Fenway Park last September in the midst of the Orioles’ embarrassing pitching shortage. “I feel like these games really matter. I was never a prospect, so I feel like my back’s against the wall every time I go out there and I feel like I pitch better that way.”

An 11th-round pick out of West Virginia in the 2014 draft, Means is hardly the first relative unknown to find success in a small sample of innings as critics wait for a return to reality when opponents face him multiple times, but Monday’s career-best outing brought evidence of adjustments in his second start against the Red Sox. After relying almost exclusively on his fastball-changeup combination and throwing only two sliders out of 82 total pitches at Fenway on April 14, Means threw his slider 21 times to keep Red Sox hitters off balance this time around.

The breaking pitch resulted in two swinging strikes, four called strikes, and a sixth-inning strikeout of Boston center fielder Jackie Bradley. Means said the increase in slider usage was out of necessity, perhaps in response to his lower strikeout rate since becoming a starter. The next possible step could be mixing in a few more curveballs after he threw only four out of his 96 total pitches in the 4-1 victory.

“I’m going to need that as I go forward,” Means said. “The first month, the changeup kind of surprised everybody. As I move forward [and] as I establish myself, I’m going to need the breaker and the slider more.”

Of course, time will tell whether this version of Means is for real as opponents and scouts become more familiar with his repertoire and tendencies. After striking out an impressive 13 batters in 7 2/3 innings in relief, the southpaw has struck out only 5.8 batters per nine innings in five starts covering 25 frames, a rate suggesting his ultimate place may still be in the bullpen. His opponents’ .244 batting average on balls in play also indicates Means has benefited from some good fortune with the league average right around .295.

But good fastball and changeup command, only 1.93 walks per nine innings, and a willingness to evolve make Means more intriguing to watch as the sample size grows with each start. It’s a pleasant surprise for an organization lacking enticing prospects at the major-league level.

“He’s still developing, which is cool and impressive,” Hyde said. “What we’re looking for from our younger players is to not only have results, but to improve over the course of the year. Those two breaking balls are just getting better and better, and he’s getting some confidence with it.”

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Dear Manny Machado: Don’t let the door hit you between 1 and 3 en route to City X via City Y

Posted on 19 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

Dear Mr. Miami:

I’ve written a lot of #DearOrioles notes this summer ­– with many more coming to everyone in management and some of your poor teammates who shall remain on the S.S. Angelos for at least three more hours of the tour – and I needed to move yours a little earlier in the batting order than I wanted.

Let’s face it, you might not be here by the time I hit “publish” on this old-fashioned love letter.

So, if I stray off into the future tense or refer to your Orioles sweater in the past tense, well, that’s just me keeping it real.

You indicated earlier this week that your bags are packed but your head has been in the future here for a long time, Manny.

I’m not really sure how much time you ever spent thinking about remaining with the Baltimore Orioles after 2018 – my guess is you didn’t lose a lot of sleep over it because it never was a reality in the moment or a “decision to make” because my other guess is that the Angelos family never really approached you with anything you’d take seriously.

That’s the Oriole Way. As you can tell from my #DearOrioles letters, I’ve been at this a long time.

I honestly had to look up your birthday to put it in perspective.

I didn’t realize the week you were born was the worst week of my life.

I was sitting in the Oriole Park at Camden Yards press box on July 1, 1992 when I took an urgent call that my father had a stroke in Dundalk. You were born on July 6. My Pop died on July 11, 1992. I was sitting in a hospital watching my father leave the planet as you were in one in Hialeah, Florida entering this crazy sphere.

It’s really weird that you were born AFTER Camden Yards opened. You’re a baby, bro!

There’s no way you can understand what my eyes have seen professionally here in Baltimore as a sports journalist.

I’ve seen, talked about, written about and heard about everything except the story where the future Hall of Fame franchise every day player – the modern day Cal Ripken or Brooks Robinson – walks off at 26 to a rival franchise leaving behind whatever remnants that a desperate July fire sale will bring a MLB team with a lame duck leadership group.

I thought I had seen the worst of Orioles tragic in those 14 years of losing that made up your life from age 5 until you walked on the field in Texas that night in 2012 as a 20-year old. And when you lost in Game 5 in New York in the ALDS, you probably thought the playoffs would be a pretty regular occurrence around here just like Ripken did in 1983.

But here we are six summers later, your timer is about to go off and the franchise is 40 games under .500 in the summer of 2018 and holding an open auction for eight weeks of your services.

And we all sorta know that by Opening Day 2019, you’ll probably wind up with the New York Yankees, which as you witnessed with Mark Teixeira will make you a “special” kind of visitor here in Camden Yards in the future.

But as you’ve learned, there’s no one “special” in the Baltimore Orioles organization except the owner himself. (Well, and maybe Chris Davis and Brady Anderson, but I’ll save their #DearOrioles love letters for long after you’re gone. They ain’t going anywhere.)

Manny, you’re unique – but you’re not “special.”

If I had my press credential and really knew you, we could talk all about the history of free agency and the decisions of Peter Angelos. I’ve only met you once – in the clubhouse at CitiField in New York before the 2013 All Star Game. You seemed like a decent, unassuming fellow then when I introduced myself. Like I said, a baby – you turned 21 that week!

Ten minutes later, Adam Jones asked me on the field why Peter Angelos hated me so much. It took me a book to explain it. It’s called The Peter Principles. You should check it out.

There’s certainly a lot of history in there that pertains to you as to why you’ve done what you’ve done and never been offered a couple of hundred million of Angelos money to stick around and be a part of something “special.”

I’m sure someone around there not named Brady Anderson has told you all about when Mike Mussina was invited by Peter G. Angelos very publicly to leave for the Yankees – and then Moose did! Mussina even refused a July trade, which is what Jonesey is gonna is going to be considering during his All Star break while you’re in Washington, D.C. figuring out the itinerary for the rest of your summer and fall plans for a rent-a-ring.

And, honestly, if these Orioles folks weren’t so crazy petty and vain and paranoid, you’d be wearing a Dodgers or Yankees or Brewers or Diamondbacks hat when you come out to tip it in D.C. next week. I’m betting the “over” on July 18th being your trade date.

The Orioles are gonna milk you for one more sideshow on the way out the door.

I don’t get it.

You are one rolled ankle or hamstring pull away from being a

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