Tag Archive | "red sox"

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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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Britton’s return, Machado’s absence bring Orioles’ expected sell-off into focus

Posted on 11 June 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles cleared the final real hurdle for their anticipated sell-off with the activation of two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton from the disabled list on Monday.

There are no more excuses for waiting to dive into the trade market with the deadline now seven weeks away.

The Memorial Day checkpoint came and went two weeks ago with Baltimore hopelessly in last place. The amateur draft is in the books, removing that important task from the ledger. And now Britton has returned less than six months after tearing his right Achilles tendon, giving him several weeks to rebuild his trade value that’s taken a hit over the last 14 months because of injuries.

Opposing scouts were already watching the left-hander during his five-game minor-league rehab assignment, which concluded with a 1.69 ERA and six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. The Orioles now hope Britton resembles the closer who recorded 120 saves and a 1.38 ERA from 2014-2016 to make him that much more attractive to contending clubs aiming to bolster their bullpen.

“Every time I get the ball, pitch well and help the team,” said Britton, who’s trying his best not to view his return as an audition for other teams. “Regardless of our standing or the trade discussions, the mindset’s just going to be to go out there and pitch well.”

Manager Buck Showalter said he’d prefer not throwing Britton into a save situation immediately, but the organization knows opposing teams will want to see how he handles high-leverage situations sooner than later. Pitching effectively in minor-league games was an important step, but there’s no simulating the pressure and adrenaline of the ninth inning of a major league game. Hopefully the reeling Orioles can scrounge together enough save chances to help him further prove his worth over the next few weeks.

Britton’s return coincided with the absence of shortstop Manny Machado, who was out for the series opener against Boston due to illness. Machado not being in the lineup for the first time all season initially sparked fan chatter about a potential trade before Showalter confirmed the star infielder was dealing with the same bug that sidelined third baseman Danny Valencia in Toronto on Sunday.

Not seeing Machado batting third and playing shortstop Monday previewed the reality the Orioles are facing at some point in the near future.

“I’d be less than frank if I said that I hadn’t already thought about that,” Showalter said. “You should’ve already thought about it. You should think about all guys. If somebody’s hurt, what’s your ‘what if?’ There’s not anybody on the horizon or maybe in baseball that’s a ‘what if’ that’s available like Manny. I don’t need a reminder of watching it tonight.”

Entering Monday 26 games below .500 and 24 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East, the Orioles imagining how much worse it could get without their best player isn’t pleasant to say the least.

But it will be their reality all too soon.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 loss to Boston

Posted on 15 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their third straight defeat in a 3-1 final against the Boston Red Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles led 1-0 three batters into the game and didn’t score again as the bottom six lineup spots were 0-for-20 with one walk and 12 strikeouts. No one expects 10 runs per game with the tough schedule and cold weather they’ve endured in April, but this is ridiculous.

2. Sixteen games into the season, three regulars against right-handed starters — Manny Machado, Trey Mancini, and Pedro Alvarez — have swung the bat well. Two part-timers — Chance Sisco and Craig Gentry — have been OK. The overall performance of everyone else has ranged from poor to below-replacement level.

3. In the four games in which Dylan Bundy has started, he’s posted a 1.40 ERA while the Orioles have scored a total of seven runs. To channel Gisele Bundchen, he can’t pitch the ball and hit the ball. If only he were Shohei Ohtani.

4. Bundy recorded five of his six strikeouts on his slider and has now gotten a swing and miss on 35.3 percent of his sliders this season. That’s up from 24.4 percent last year. Impressive.

5. It’s tough to pitch when you have to get five outs in the sixth inning of a tie game. Maybe it wasn’t a great idea to cut payroll by 10 percent without bothering to acquire a real utility infielder. Danny Valencia’s career minus-36 defensive runs saved aren’t a secret.

6. Until this season, the infield had done a good job masking the Orioles’ overall defensive decline since 2014 when they led the American League in defensive runs saved. Baltimore entered Sunday 12th in the AL in DRS and has finished 11th or 12th every season since its division title campaign.

7. I’ve been a Caleb Joseph guy, but he really needs to start hitting. His defense is his strength, but a .286 on-base plus slugging percentage is unacceptable with Sisco behind him. He needs to produce in the neighborhood of what he offered last year (.700 OPS) or 2015 (.693).

8. Richard Bleier pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings isn’t shocking, but registering two strikeouts is rare after having only three in his first 9 2/3 innings of 2018 and striking out only 3.7 per nine frames last season. The lefty sinkerballer is a fascinating contrast to the strikeout-heavy relievers of today.

9. Even before Monday’s postponement, the Orioles were listing Chris Tillman’s turn in the rotation as TBD for the Detroit series. I expect him to receive a few more opportunities, but that’s still pretty telling. Then again, an 8.28 ERA since the start of last year says it all.

10. Jonathan Schoop expressed hope Sunday that he’d only be on the disabled list for the minimum 10 days before returning. I admire his desire, but oblique injuries can linger all season if not handled carefully. I expect the training staff to protect the All-Star second baseman from himself if necessary.

11. Alex Cobb had an awful debut, but overreaction has been silly. There’s much over which to be concerned, but declaring someone who signed less than four weeks ago a bust is a bit much. That said, Baltimore is already running out of time for Cobb to get up to speed.

12. We’re only 10 percent of the way through the schedule, but Sunday was only the third of 11 losses in which the margin of defeat was three runs or fewer, reflecting the struggle to even be all that competitive. It’s going to start getting late very early if this continues.

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2018 American League East preview

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Below is a capsule of the five AL East clubs in their predicted order of finish:

1. BOSTON (2017 record: 93-69, first place)
Notable arrivals: DH/OF J.D. Martinez
Notable departures: SP Doug Fister, RP Addison Reed, OF Chris Young, RP Fernando Abad
Why to like them: Most teams dream of having a Chris Sale or David Price atop their rotation, but the Red Sox have both as well as former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and all-world closer Craig Kimbrel.
Why to dislike them:
Health is a concern with Dustin Pedroia beginning the season on the disabled list, Price needing to prove he’s over his elbow problems, and other pitchers currently ailing.
Player to watch:
Martinez was paid handsomely for his career year at the plate in 2017, but the Red Sox are counting on him to fill the void of David Ortiz, whom the lineup missed dearly last year.
2018 outlook (94-68):
The other AL East giant owned the winter spotlight, but Martinez’s power bat and a healthier version of Price will be the difference in what should be an outstanding divisional race.

2. NEW YORK (2017 record: 91-71, second place)
Notable arrivals:
OF Giancarlo Stanton, INF Neil Walker, INF Brandon Drury
Notable departures: 2B Starlin Castro, 3B Todd Frazier, DH Matt Holliday, SP Michael Pineda
Why to like them: A team that was one win away from going to the World Series added the reigning NL MVP (Stanton) and his 59 home runs to a lineup that led the majors in long balls in 2017.
Why to dislike them: Despite their daunting lineup and elite bullpen, the Yankees didn’t improve a rotation counting on Masahiro Tanaka to rebound and CC Sabathia to fight off Father Time again.
Player to watch: It’s easy to point to Stanton or Aaron Judge, but the 24-year-old Luis Severino building off his superb 2017 season would make the rest of the rotation look that much better.
2018 outlook (90-72, wild card): The youthful Yankees were ahead of schedule last year, but Joe Girardi’s exit can’t be overlooked and even Houston stubbed its toe in 2016 before winning it all in 2017.

3. BALTIMORE (2017 record: 75-87, fifth place)
Notable arrivals: SP Alex Cobb, SP Andrew Cashner, OF Colby Rasmus
Notable departures: C Welington Castillo, OF Seth Smith, SP Wade Miley, SP Ubaldo Jimenez
Why to like them: The lineup will still hit plenty of home runs and the bullpen still has enough firepower to protect late leads until Zach Britton is ready to return to action.
Why to dislike them: The additions of Cobb and Cashner will help, but the embarrassment of finishing with the worst starter ERA in baseball just isn’t forgotten — or fixed — overnight.
Player to watch: How Manny Machado handles the pressure of his pending free agency and the move to shortstop will significantly impact the Orioles’ fortunes — now or potentially for the future in a trade.
2018 outlook (82-80): The late arrival of Cobb offers a more plausible path to a wild-card spot, but a few too many variables must break right for a club facing substantial changes at season’s end.

4. TORONTO (2017 record: 76-86, fourth place)
Notable arrivals: OF Randal Grichuk, OF Curtis Granderson, SP Jaime Garcia, SS Aledmys Díaz
Notable departures: OF Jose Bautista, INF Ryan Goins, INF Darwin Barney, RP Tom Koehler
Why to like them: The Blue Jays aren’t that far removed from back-to-back ALCS appearances and still have a strong rotation that finished first in the AL in starter ERA in 2016.
Why to dislike them: The days of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion anchoring a loaded lineup are long gone as former AL MVP Josh Donaldson doesn’t have nearly as much help these days.
Player to watch: The 25-year-old Aaron Sanchez looked to be on the verge of stardom before his 2017 season was derailed by recurring blister problems that limited him to eight starts.
2018 outlook (80-82): Like the Orioles, the Blue Jays have enough talent to make a run at a playoff spot if things go their way, but the lineup and bullpen won’t give the starting rotation enough help.

5. TAMPA BAY (2017 record: 80-82, third place)
Notable additions: 1B C.J. Cron, OF Carlos Gomez, OF Denard Span
Notable losses: 3B Evan Longoria, SP Alex Cobb, SP Jake Odorizzi, OF Corey Dickerson, OF Steven Souza, 1B Logan Morrison
Why to like them: Chris Archer, Blake Snell, and Jacob Faria still give the Rays enough upside in a starting rotation that should remain competitive despite the subtractions of Cobb and Odorizzi.
Why to dislike them: The long list of Rays’ departures says all you need to know about outside expectations for 2018, even if Tampa Bay’s front office proves to be geniuses with its maneuvering.
Player to watch: The 29-year-old Archer has posted back-to-back seasons with an ERA above 4.00, making one wonder if he needs the change of scenery so many former teammates received this winter.
2018 outlook (73-89): The projection systems are higher on this team than casual observers, but the Rays are relying too heavily on spare parts and youth to be able to seriously contend this season.

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Saturday’s loss illustrates problem keeping Jimenez in Orioles bullpen

Posted on 04 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was criticized as soon as Ubaldo Jimenez jogged in from the bullpen to pitch the top of the eighth inning on Saturday night.

Trailing only 2-1 to the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles still had a decent chance, prompting many fans to see red even before Jimenez gave up two runs to make it a three-run deficit entering the bottom of the eighth. The harsh reaction was fair with the struggling veteran now sporting a horrendous 6.89 ERA, but it illustrates how problematic stashing him in the bullpen is for a club currently without its All-Star closer or a starting rotation consistently pitching deep into games.

Asked why he used Jimenez in a one-run game, Showalter said right-handers Mike Wright and Mychal Givens were unavailable because of their recent workload and that he wasn’t going to use top relievers Brad Brach or Darren O’Day unless the Orioles had a lead. That left Jimenez and Donnie Hart as his only options to begin the eighth after Richard Bleier had already pitched two scoreless innings.

You may disagree with the philosophy of taking O’Day and Brach out of the equation there, but Showalter shying away from using his top relievers when the Orioles have trailed late in a game is hardly a new development. Especially with Zach Britton on the disabled list, the Baltimore skipper is trying to keep his best relievers fresh for the most winnable games, which will lead to some instances such as Saturday’s when he won’t use his best bullets despite facing only a small deficit. It looks strange when it happens and draws plenty of detractors, but there’s a method to his madness that’s worked extremely well for a long time with last year’s wild-card game being the ugly exception.

Yes, Showalter could have used Hart to begin the eighth, but the lefty specialist hasn’t been pitching well, either, and was only recently recalled from Triple-A Norfolk after being demoted last month for ineffectiveness. We don’t know how Hart might have fared against the top of the Boston order in the eighth, but he gave up a run in the following inning to make it a four-run deficit.

There was also the reality of Craig Kimbrel and his 0.75 ERA looming and the Orioles offense having, at most, three outs to work with before the Boston closer would be summoned. Showalter probably would have considered using O’Day — who briefly warmed up in the bullpen after Manny Machado homered to lead off the bottom of the seventh to make it 2-1 — had he known Kimbrel would give up his first two hits of the season against right-handed batters and allow a run for the first time since April 20. Managers don’t have the benefit of a crystal ball when making those decisions, however, and using your best relievers when you’re already losing and will be facing a terrific closer isn’t a great bet and will likely harm you more than help you in the long run.

Critics will say that’s waving the white flag, but you just can’t play every day of a 162-game schedule like it’s the seventh game of the World Series if you want to keep your bullpen healthy and effective.

I won’t argue if you want to blame Showalter for Saturday’s loss, but the real problem is having Jimenez in the bullpen and not having any trust that he can pitch in a semi-meaningful situation from time to time. In today’s game with such heavy bullpen use, few clubs are equipped to carry a long reliever who can neither be optioned to the minors nor be trusted to keep his team close when trailing by a run or two when other pitchers need a break. If Jimenez is relegated solely to mop-up duty, the Orioles will essentially be limiting themselves to a six-man bullpen most nights, and we already saw how that turned out earlier this season.

Asked last month about the possibility of Jimenez moving to a relief role before he was subsequently removed from the starting rotation in favor of Alec Asher, Showalter posed the question of whether that would be good for the Orioles bullpen.

We got our answer Saturday night.

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