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Twelve Orioles thoughts on struggling pitching staff

Posted on 12 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles having lost seven of eight before embarking on their second road trip of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the pitching staff, each in 50 words or less:

1. Chris Davis’ record hitless streak is national news, but allowing 37 home runs in 13 games borders on the unthinkable. No other team entered Friday surrendering more than 26. The major league record for a season is 258 allowed by Cincinnati in 2016; Baltimore’s current pace is 461.

2. Watching Dylan Bundy strike out five — four on sliders — and not allow a hit the first time through the order before giving up four home runs Thursday makes you wonder if he’s better suited to relieve. It could help an average fastball velocity that’s down to 90.8 miles per hour.

3. Miguel Castro has never missed as many bats as you’d expect despite a mid-90s fastball and a slider that’s often shown good movement, but he’s been a mess so far. After posting a solid 3.77 ERA the previous two years, Castro should have been ready to graduate rather than regress.

4. There was never a guarantee Richard Bleier would be ready for the start of 2019 following last June’s lat surgery, so sending him to the injured list with shoulder tendinitis is the responsible move. He and that sinker that sparked a 1.97 ERA the last three seasons clearly weren’t right.

5. Brandon Hyde expressed optimism about Alex Cobb’s back issue not lingering beyond the 10-day minimum, but even a rebuilding club still needs starters to eat innings and provide stability. Especially with a contract that will be difficult to move, Cobb needs to be a big part of that.

6. Many expected Mychal Givens to be the closer, but Hyde said he “wants to use Mike when the game’s on the line,” whether that’s the ninth inning or sooner. It’s a refreshing stance, especially for a club without the options to have a paint-by-numbers bullpen like Buck Showalter enjoyed.

7. Even having pitched his first two games as an “opener” and being on a schedule, Nate Karns showed diminished velocity in each of his outings before going to the IL with forearm tightness. You hope for the best, but his injury history is why he was available for $800,000.

8. Paul Fry has been the Orioles’ best reliever so far with a 1.59 ERA in 5 2/3 innings and the highest game-entering leverage index on the team, an indication of the kind of game situations in which Hyde has used the lefty. He was a nice find by Dan Duquette.

9. Despite the apparent Houston influence from Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal that has Andrew Cashner throwing more sliders and fewer fastballs, his swinging-strike percentage has decreased from last year. The veteran just isn’t missing bats, which makes it much more challenging to succeed.

10. John Means pitched into some bad luck in his first start, but he’s been a pleasant surprise early, especially with a changeup that’s fetched 18 swinging strikes out of the 73 times he’s thrown it. Hyde wants to give him more starting opportunities.

11. The Dan Straily signing made sense for a club eyeing rotation stability and a possible trade chip, but he’s allowed 10 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. His spring was disrupted by Miami releasing him, but he probably needs to lean more on his changeup to be successful.

12. If the intention behind optioning Tanner Scott to Triple-A Norfolk after a poor spring was to make him succeed at that level after he originally went from Double A to the majors, recalling him after just two appearances for the Tides didn’t seem to make much sense.

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Nine questions on the 2019 Orioles entering the season

Posted on 27 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With a new season upon us, here are nine questions on the rebuilding Orioles entering the 2019 campaign:

Will the Orioles be even worse than last year?

Their 115 losses last season set a club record and were the fourth most in the majors since 1900, but the Orioles now begin 2019 without Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zack Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day, and Brad Brach, who all began 2018 with the organization and made meaningful contributions to previous playoff runs. Of the four other clubs to lose 115 games in a season since 1900, all won at least 11 more games the following year and only the 1962 Mets suffered triple-digit losses again. In other words, the probability of the Orioles plummeting to the same level of ineptitude remains low with many projection models forecasting somewhere between 98 and 105 losses. Still, looking at that Opening Day roster reminds you of those early scenes in Major League, doesn’t it?

How will manager Brandon Hyde handle his first season?

The former Chicago Cubs bench coach received positive reviews in his first spring camp for creating an upbeat and efficient working environment, but now the games count and the dark shadow of losing lingers. No one expects Hyde to be a miracle worker with a club that wasn’t constructed with any intention to contend, but how he handles a young clubhouse and how hard players compete on a nightly basis will reflect on his managing acumen more so than the AL East standings. The 45-year-old knew what he was getting into when he accepted this job in December and understands the organization’s focus on the big picture, but the reality of a long season is upon him. No matter how ugly it might get, the Orioles still have to show up and play the games.

Who will begin — or continue to — establish himself as a piece for the long run?

The late-spring demotions of catcher Chance Sisco, outfielder Austin Hays, and lefty reliever Tanner Scott took much of the air out of this balloon for fans desperate to at least watch interesting prospects in what’s expected to be a losing season, but Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins certainly stand out on a 25-man roster consisting mostly of fringe placeholders and veterans likely to be long gone before Baltimore’s next competitive window opens. With so many changes over the last year, we forget Mancini has just two full seasons under his belt as he tries to find more consistency after a rough first half in 2018. Meanwhile, Mullins opens 2019 as the starting center fielder, but Hyde and general manager Mike Elias have shared the potential they see in Hays as an eventual center fielder, which should serve as motivation for the incumbent. There are fair questions about his throwing arm and ability to hit from the right side, but the switch-hitting Mullins will have his opportunities to establish himself as an everyday player this season. Though not exactly prospects, Miguel Castro, David Hess, and Jimmy Yacabonis are under-the-radar pitchers who could benefit from the analytical advances introduced by the new regime.

Which veterans will play well enough to become trade chips?

The reward for guys like Jonathan Villar, Andrew Cashner, Nate Karns, and Mark Trumbo having good seasons is a likely ticket out of Baltimore as Elias aims to add more talent in the farm system. That’s just reality in the early stages of a rebuild, regardless of how much an organization might say it values veteran leadership. The cases of Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens will be more interesting to monitor as they’re both under club control through 2021 and would carry more trade value than the aforementioned names if they can rebound from their underwhelming 2018 performance levels. Some might add Alex Cobb to the list of potential trade chips, but the 31-year-old would have to pitch exceptionally well for another club to be willing to commit to the additional $29 million he’s owed beyond 2019.

What will happen with Chris Davis?

We’re all aware of the historic nightmare that was last season for the 33-year-old first baseman, but where does the new Orioles regime go from here with a player who is still owed $92 million over the next four seasons and will be collecting deferred money long after that? Davis fared a little better late in the spring, but he still batted .189 with 19 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League. It will be interesting to see where Hyde uses him in the batting order – Davis batted third or fourth for much of the spring before dropping to sixth in Monday’s finale – or how long he sticks with him as a starter if he looks like the same guy from last year. Everyone hopes a new front office and coaching staff can salvage some semblance of value, but the Angelos brothers will be the ones to make the ultimate call on Davis’ status if he’s no better this year. It’s one thing to talk about Davis as a sunk cost on a losing club, but Mancini has already been pushed to left field and a strong 2019 from Mountcastle — who worked extensively at first base this spring — will have him knocking on the major-league door. You don’t want Davis blocking other young players ready for the majors.

How will the Rule 5 picks fare?

The Orioles will enter a season with three Rule 5 picks on the roster for a second straight year as reliever Pedro Araujo has a couple more weeks to go to fulfill his requirement in the majors and new Rule 5 infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson both made the team. It appears Martin will begin the year as the starting shortstop despite a difficult finish to spring training while Jackson was used in a super utility role this spring. A rebuilding club desperate for more talent is smart to carry promising Rule 5 picks, but let’s hope the practice brings more value than it did for Dan Duquette. For all the roster headaches and shorthanded situations the Orioles endured carrying Rule 5 players while trying to contend from 2012-18, those players netted a total of 1.1 wins above replacement in their time with the organization.

When will more interesting prospects be arriving in Baltimore?

Aside from Sisco and Scott, Hays appeared to be the next prospect on the cusp of the majors before spraining his thumb over the weekend. Beyond that trio, many fans will follow how Yusniel Diaz and Ryan Mountcastle fare at Triple-A Norfolk with hopes of them making their major league debut later this season. Of course, how Elias handled Sisco, Scott, and Hays – three prospects already having major league experience – should make everyone take pause about the development timeline for any prospects at this point. The Orioles are prioritizing player development over attempts to squeeze out a couple more wins at the major league level or to appease fans hoping to watch more exciting young players. That said, other names acquired in last year’s deadline deals – many of whom already made cameos in Baltimore — appear likely to show up at some point this season. Lefty Keegan Akin, a 2016 second-round pick, and 23-year-old right-hander Dean Kremer, acquired in the Manny Machado trade, are two starting pitchers to monitor in the high minor leagues.

How much innovation and experimentation will we see from a club with nothing to lose?

Entering a season with expectations lower than they’ve been at any point in the history of the franchise, the rebuilding Orioles should embrace the opportunity to innovate and experiment, making it refreshing to hear Hyde reveal plans to use an opener in the second game of the season against the New York Yankees. Why not dive even deeper into infield and outfield positioning and explore new ideas for pitch sequencing, bullpen usage, and batting orders? Why lose with conventional practices when you can at least explore some new ideas and theories contenders might be afraid to try? Perhaps the Orioles even discover an edge or two that might help in the future when they’re ready to contend again. Much of this work with technology and analytics will remain behind the scenes, of course, but any new ideas making their way to the field will be interesting.

What will attendance look like at Camden Yards?

Asked to give his pitch for why fans should still come to the ballpark this season, Elias offered the following on Tuesday:

“We’re doing things the right way, the way that they need to be done. The end goal here is not to try to cobble together a one-year-wonder .500 club that could be a disaster if it doesn’t work out right and then we spend a few years digging out of that hole. We want to put together a perennial contending organization. And we’re initiating that process. We know how to do it. We’re going about it the way that we need to go about it. In the meantime, there’s going to be young talent on the field. These guys are going to be hustling, playing hard. There are going to be ‘tools’ as we say in the scouting world — big talent out there — that we can watch. And we’re in a wonderful baseball environment here in Camden Yards and here in the Inner Harbor. You come appreciate the sport and see some good baseball and watch this team grow.”

While I agree with those sentiments, expecting fans to pay major-league prices to watch a rebuilding team is a lot to ask, especially with attendance having already fallen annually since 2014 when the club was coming off a 96-win season and still in the midst of its competitive window. The Orioles ranked 26th in the majors in average attendance (20,053 per game) last year despite there being some hope of contending entering 2018. To be clear, no one should be crying the blues for an organization that’s cut its payroll in half over the last 18 months, but an empty Camden Yards hurts nearby businesses and seasonal stadium workers. The “Kids Cheer Free” initiative is a positive step that will be continued this year, but more ticket deals, promotions, and imagination are required if the Orioles hope to draw people to watch an inferior on-field product.

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Orioles regime wisely keeping focus on big picture with roster moves

Posted on 25 March 2019 by Luke Jones

Orioles catching prospect Chance Sisco had a heck of a spring.

But despite leading the club with a stout 1.298 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, the 24-year-old was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday. General manager Mike Elias and the Orioles now appear set to head north with the duo of Jesus Sucre and Pedro Severino, two defensive-minded catchers who’ve shown little offensive ability in their major league experiences.

The decision was met with scrutiny from those citing the organization’s declaration of open competition this spring or fans merely wanting what’s shaping up to be another difficult season to be more compelling. The latter sentiment is perfectly understandable with the Orioles still charging major-league prices for a club that doesn’t look dramatically different than it did at the conclusion of a franchise-worst 115-loss campaign last fall. The idea of a full-scale rebuild clashes with the reality of the Orioles ultimately being an entertainment business still trying to sell tickets to 81 home games this year.

Finding compelling reasons to go to the ballpark beyond an unconditional love for the Orioles, an attractive giveaway night, or wanting to cheer on the few interesting players who might still be around a few years from now isn’t easy.

That said, we shouldn’t forget Sisco also posted a 1.274 OPS last spring to win a spot on the Opening Day roster to split time with veteran Caleb Joseph. In 184 plate appearances in the regular season, he batted .181 with a strikeout rate only a hair better than Chris Davis’ and ranking among the worst 10 in baseball among those with at least 150 plate appearances. That’s not even considering the questions about his defense that have surrounded Sisco since being selected in the second round of the 2013 amateur draft.

You always prefer good numbers over poor statistics in the spring, but how much do small sample sizes — which are problematic enough in the regular season — really mean when spring box scores are littered with competitors having no chance of playing in the majors this season? As Elias has noted more than once, there is more predictive power from minor-league regular-season numbers than with performance in spring training.

Despite formerly being ranked a top-100 prospect in baseball, Sisco owns a career .260 average with a .733 OPS in 557 plate appearances at Norfolk. Those sound like solid numbers for a catcher, but they’re not impressive enough to confidently predict major league success or to overlook the concerns about his ability behind the plate, a factor to consider even more with such a young pitching staff in Baltimore. It’s clear Elias and the organization believe there’s unfinished business for Sisco to complete in the minors, and that’s all that should matter for the Orioles now.

The sense of “competition” isn’t as much about Sisco being a better present-day option than Sucre or Severino in the majors — which is still debatable when you factor in defense — than it is about him meeting benchmarks that will improve his chances of being a successful major leaguer, something he wasn’t last year. It’s where the intersection of player development and analytics come into the picture to use coaching methods as well as technology and data to chart out a path to success. As their track record in player development reflects in Houston, Elias and assistant general manager and analytics guru Sig Mejdal deserve trust in assessing someone who’s hardly considered to be a slam-dunk prospect anyway.

To be clear, none of this is a knock on Sisco as the same principles hold true for the likes of hard-throwing left-hander Tanner Scott and outfielder Austin Hays, who have also spent time in the majors. These are individuals who were rushed to the major leagues by the previous regime before completing their development as Scott and Hays have combined to appear in a total of 10 games at Norfolk.

For every rare talent such as Manny Machado capable of skipping minor-league levels, there are many more who benefit from more experience before graduating to the majors. Such a mindset sure beats the perceived philosophy of “you can’t mess up the good ones” that was practiced frequently in the past, whether it was the Orioles shuffling Kevin Gausman between the bullpen and the rotation — and the majors and the minors — for years or even briefly calling up oft-injured pitching prospect Hunter Harvey last season despite the former first-round pick having pitched very little the previous three years. These were examples of questionable tactics for even a winning club, but such a mindset would be wildly inappropriate for one with no hope of contending this year.

As we’ve said all offseason, patience is the most difficult part at the start of a rebuild. It’s easy to romanticize the process with this year marking the 30th anniversary of the “Why Not?” Orioles, but that was a rare exception to the rule and that club wasn’t exactly an example of sustaining long-term success. Rushing prospects like Yusniel Diaz and Ryan Mountcastle isn’t turning Baltimore into a wild-card contender overnight and could compromise their long-term chances for success.

Simply put, this season isn’t likely to be fun and isn’t designed to be despite what will be manager Brandon Hyde’s best efforts to get the major league club to play hard and compete every night. Elias isn’t forming an Opening Day roster to try to squeak out a couple more wins in 2019; he’s trying to cultivate assets in the best way he sees fit to eventually be part of the Orioles’ next contending club.

When those young players accomplish what they need to down below, we’ll see them in Baltimore as part of the next phase of the process. In the meantime, the Orioles will look a lot like they did last year.

That’s just the hard truth with the big picture being paramount.

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Orioles send Sisco, Scott to Triple-A Norfolk to begin 2019 season

Posted on 25 March 2019 by Luke Jones

Catcher Chance Sisco and relief pitcher Tanner Scott were thought to be among the few intriguing young players who would begin the season with the rebuilding Orioles while most others go the minors.

General manager Mike Elias had other ideas, however, as the two were optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday despite seeing extensive playing time with the Orioles last season. The moves were just the latest reminder of there being a new regime in Baltimore with a different vision prioritizing player development for the future over the short-term results at the major-league level.

Sisco and defensive-minded veteran Jesus Sucre had appeared to be the favorites to head north on the 25-man roster, but the waiver acquisition of former Washington catcher Pedro Severino over the weekend led to the former’s demotion, a clear sign of the organization valuing defense behind the plate to help a young pitching staff. Sisco, 24, had a strong spring in which he posted a 1.298 on-base plus slugging percentage in 45 plate appearances — his second straight impressive Grapefruit League — but his defense remains a major question mark in his long-term development.

In 184 plate appearances with the Orioles last season, Sisco batted just .181 with 66 strikeouts and a .557 OPS. He also struggled in his 2018 stints with the Tides, batting just .242 with a .696 OPS in 151 plate appearances.

Once thought to be the Nationals’ catcher of the future, the 25-year-old Severino is out of minor-league options and owns a career .560 OPS in 282 major league plate appearances. His defense is his strength as he’s thrown out 36 percent of runners attempting to steal in his brief major league career.

Also vying for a major league job, 28-year-old catcher Austin Wynns has missed extensive spring action while recovering from an oblique strain and is likely to begin the season on the injured list.

Scott was demoted to Norfolk after a rough spring in which he posted an 8.00 ERA with six walks and six strikeouts in nine innings. The hard-throwing lefty posted a 5.40 ERA in 53 1/3 innings with the Orioles last season, but his 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings were encouraging, especially if he can further improve his control.

It’s worth noting Scott has pitched just 12 innings at the Triple-A level, which may have factored into Elias’ decision to send him to the minors after an up-and-down rookie season. The Orioles are also trying to fulfill the remainder of right-hander Pedro Araujo’s Rule 5 requirement, which will require the 25-year-old to stay in the majors until mid-April.

The Orioles also optioned left-hander Josh Rogers to Norfolk and reassigned catchers Carlos Perez and Andrew Susac and infielder Jace Peterson to minor-league camp on Sunday.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts with Grapefruit League action underway

Posted on 25 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Grapefruit League action beginning over the weekend, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The early reviews of the culture being created by Brandon Hyde have been very positive. That probably won’t mean much in the standings this season, but it will matter for players continuing to buy into the process and to play hard as losses likely mount.

2. Top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz is unlikely to break camp with the Orioles, but his two-run home run in the first spring game was a glimpse of the power the organization believes is still ascending. General manager Mike Elias offered a glowing review on Saturday.

3. It’s no secret the Houston Astros emphasized slider usage with much success, a philosophy that figures to be applied in Baltimore. Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Tanner Scott, and Jimmy Yacabonis are a few pitchers to watch in this regard.

4. Alcides Escobar has been Baltimore’s most notable signing — even on a minor-league deal — despite registering a .593 on-base plus slugging percentage and minus-0.7 wins above replacement last season. Rule 5 pick Richie Martin is still preferable if he at least proves he can play quality major league defense.

5. I’m excited to watch Cedric Mullins in his first full major league season, but he’s produced no better than a .662 OPS against left-handed pitching at any level of his professional career. That did come at Triple-A Norfolk last year, so you hope the development of his right-handed swing continues.

6. Branden Kline struck out the side to earn Sunday’s save. The Frederick native missed two full seasons due to elbow surgeries, but he posted a 1.80 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings for Bowie last year and features a mid-90s fastball and plus slider. Keep an eye on him.

7. Aside from Diaz, it’s been a rough start to the spring for two others acquired in the Manny Machado trade as starting pitching prospect Dean Kremer recovers from an oblique injury and hard-throwing reliever Zach Pop showed substantially diminished velocity on Saturday, which is always concerning.

8. Chris Davis striking out in his first two spring at-bats wouldn’t be noteworthy if he weren’t coming off one of the worst seasons in major league history from an everyday player. As it stands, every trip to the plate will be under a microscope. I’m curious to see his adjustments.

9. I’ll miss the retiring Joe Angel, but more Ben McDonald on Orioles broadcasts would be a great development. He has an engaging personality and was very enlightening discussing spin rate and other pitching-related topics during Saturday’s broadcast.

10. MASN is televising seven Orioles spring games. NESN shows 18 Boston games, YES has 12 Yankees games, and the Rays are televised 11 times. Rogers is televising two Toronto games from Florida and carrying the opponent’s feed for eight others. The Pirates are televised 10 times and the Phillies 16.

11. Machado going to the National League West was probably the best-case scenario for the Orioles, but anyone mocking him for signing with San Diego — I would too for $300 million — is overlooking a loaded farm system. The Padres could be very interesting in the not-too-distant future.

12. One of the more vivid memories of my early childhood was chanting “Edd-ie! Edd-ie!” at Memorial Stadium. Orioles legend and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray turned 63 on Sunday. Where have the years gone?

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Sisco’s demotion latest head-scratching development for Orioles

Posted on 18 June 2018 by Luke Jones

Hours after Chance Sisco was originally penciled into Sunday’s lineup, the Orioles sent the 23-year-old catcher to Triple-A Norfolk.

It was a surprising announcement since manager Buck Showalter had just implied after the 10-4 win over Miami that Sisco was scratched due to being under the weather.

“I’m afraid he’s coming down with [something],” Showalter said. “He hasn’t slept in two or three days. … Just talking to him before the game, his energy level. He was ready to go. Just didn’t think it was in his best interest with the off-day tomorrow, but we’ll see. A lot of factors. That was the principal one. He just hadn’t slept any. It’s hard enough to play this game when you have.”

Sisco went from starting to being pulled from the lineup to being optioned to the minors in a little over six hours. Weird.

To be clear, the rookie isn’t exactly having a great season and has numbers that would definitely warrant a demotion if the club were even remotely in contention. He’s batting just .218 with a .328 slugging percentage and has struck out a whopping 35.5 percent of the time, a rate not far from Chris Davis territory (37.6 percent). However, his .340 on-base percentage is third on the club behind only Manny Machado and Danny Valencia, and a number of others on this roster deserve to be jettisoned before Sisco if we’re basing this solely on performance on a last-place club.

Sisco’s defense has been scrutinized throughout his professional career, and he had thrown out just one of the last 18 runners attempting to steal after surprisingly gunning down nine of the first 18 this season. His average pop time — the time from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the ball reaches the fielder at the base a runner is attempting to steal — is still too slow and his arm strength lacking while his pitch-framing metrics also rank among the bottom catchers in the majors, according to Baseball Prospectus.

His defense undoubtedly remains a work in progress, but bench coach John Russell is also regarded as a superb catching instructor to continue to oversee Sisco’s development at this level.

The timing of this demotion doesn’t seem to make much sense for a club that is 30 games under .500 and going nowhere, but the Orioles are instead expected to summon the 32-year-old Caleb Joseph back to the majors. One could argue that Sisco might benefit from a mental break and a potential confidence boost playing for the Tides, but you won’t find a major league climate with less pressure from a competitive standpoint than Baltimore right now. He also spent his entire 2017 minor-league season with Norfolk, seemingly leaving little for him to prove at that level.

What does he need to work on that can’t be done while continuing to play in Baltimore?

The Orioles have used a catching carousel all season, going from the tandem of Joseph and Sisco to open the season to Sisco and Andrew Susac to Sisco and Austin Wynns to the current pair of Wynns and Joseph. Sisco’s demotion isn’t the end of the world nor does it mean the Orioles have soured on him to any great degree, but it does appear counterintuitive to what this season should be about the rest of the way.

Odds & ends

In an already-lost season from a competitive standpoint, you’re left to look for moments such as hard-throwing rookie Tanner Scott striking out Justin Bour with a nasty slider to leave the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a four-run game on Sunday. Scott is averaging an impressive 12.5 strikeouts compared to 3.1 walks per nine innings this season. … Trey Mancini had been 4-for-50 with runners in scoring position this season before his RBI single in the third inning of Sunday’s win. He batted .340 in that department as a rookie. … Jonathan Schoop drew four walks during the Miami series after registering only seven over his first 47 games. You hope that increased level of patience is a sign of better things to come as the 2017 All-Star second baseman is batting just .212 with a .626 on-base plus slugging percentage. … Brad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning, but he issued a walk and is averaging 5.2 free passes per nine innings. He needs to get on a roll and cut down on the walks to improve his trade value. … Sunday marked the first time the Orioles enjoyed a lead of four or more runs since May 24 in Chicago. … The Orioles scored a combined 27 runs on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They scored a total of just 18 runs in 11 straight home losses between those holidays.

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Orioles receive mixed bag of pitching news

Posted on 09 June 2018 by Luke Jones

The start of the weekend brought good and bad news for the Orioles on the pitching front.

The organization came to terms with 2018 first-round pitcher Grayson Rodriguez on Friday, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Texas high school right-hander will receive a $4.3 million signing bonus, which is just under the slot value for the 11th overall pick of this year’s draft.

But that positive development was paired with the revelation that top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey has been shut down with right shoulder soreness. Manager Buck Showalter confirmed after Friday’s loss in Toronto that the injury did not occur from the 23-year-old pitching, lending credence to The Sun’s report that Harvey’s shoulder popped out of socket while he tried to avoid a line drive in the Double-A Bowie dugout. It’s unclear how much time the 2013 first-round pick will miss.

In 32 1/3 innings this season, Harvey is 1-2 with a 5.57 ERA and is striking out 8.4 and walking 2.5 batters per nine innings.

As expected, Baltimore has activated right-handed relief pitcher Darren O’Day from the disabled list. The 35-year-old had been on the DL with a hyperextended right elbow since May 9 and owns a 3.77 ERA in 14 1/3 innings in 2018.

To make room on the 25-man roster, the Orioles optioned hard-throwing lefty Tanner Scott to Triple-A Norfolk. The 23-year-old rookie sports an underwhelming 4.96 ERA in 16 1/3 innings for Baltimore this season, but he’s averaged 12.7 strikeouts compared to 3.3 walks per nine innings, representing a rare bright spot for the club this season.

Closer Zach Britton could be activated from the DL as soon as Monday after completing back-to-back outings for Norfolk. The two-time All-Star selection tore his right Achilles tendon in December, but he’s allowed one earned run and has struck out six in the first 5 1/3 innings of his minor-league rehab assignment.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following doubleheader split with Tampa Bay

Posted on 12 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles splitting their twin bill with the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore saw its four-game winning streak snapped in the nightcap, but this week has been a decent diversion from how poor the 2018 season has been. Even if the Orioles had won the second game, they still would have been on pace to lose 110 games. Instead, it’s 114.

2. The story of the day was David Hess, who shook off an early three-run homer to win his major league debut and register a quality start over six innings, equaling the total number from Chris Tillman and Mike Wright in their combined nine starts this season. He deserves another start.

3. Hess used all four of his pitches effectively and recorded five of his seven swinging strikes on his slider. Scouts have said he lacks a dominant pitch, but many believe the right-hander is a legitimate major league pitcher, either as a starter or a reliever.

4. Pitching on short rest wasn’t ideal, but Hess had the benefit of being promoted to work in a starting role. Hopping on the Norfolk train as a long reliever isn’t easy when youngsters are typically rewarded for pitching well by immediately being optioned right back to the minors.

5. Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop hit back-to-back home runs on consecutive pitches in the third inning of the first game, the Orioles’ first back-to-back homers of the season. Machado had homered in three straight games before the nightcap while Schoop clubbed two homers on Saturday. Fun to watch.

6. Schoop’s second home run was the 92nd of his career, tying him with Brian Roberts for the most homers by a second baseman in Orioles history. This is your latest reminder that he becomes a free agent at the end of next season.

7. Watching Hess followed by Tanner Scott and Mychal Givens to close out the victory was a reminder that the cupboard isn’t entirely bare for the Orioles despite a very unsettling future. It’s easy envisioning Scott and Givens leading the back end of the bullpen in the coming years.

8. Who didn’t expect catcher Chance Sisco’s first major league stolen base to be a swipe of home? Seth Smith had Baltimore’s last steal of home prior to Saturday. A pair of speed demons right there.

9. With Buck Showalter wanting to avoid using Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro and having used Givens and Scott in Game 1, the lack of bullpen depth was painfully exposed as Jimmy Yacabonis, Pedro Araujo, and Mike Wright combined to allow six runs, seven walks, and a hit batter. Yuck.

10. Saturday was underwhelming for Alex Cobb, who allowed three earned runs, two homers, and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. In fairness, he had retired seven straight and was settling in at just 69 pitches before a lengthy rain delay brought his night to a premature end.

11. The Rule 5 pick Araujo has been scored upon in five straight outings, walking three and plunking another while recording two outs Saturday. I’ve stated my disdain for the Rule 5 draft obsession repeatedly, but you might as well keep him when you’re already 16 games below .500 in mid-May.

12. An offense that plated 26 runs in the previous three games had one hit through five innings of the nightcap and failed to take advantage of runners on second and third with no outs in the sixth, managing only one more run and leaving the tying run on third.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 11-6 win over Kansas City

Posted on 11 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning just their third series of the season in an 11-6 win over Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles won two straight for the first time in over a month and the second time all season. The 11 runs scored marked a season high as they went 6-for-7 with runners in scoring position. It took six weeks, but Baltimore finally cracked double-digit wins. It hasn’t been fun.

2. The victory doesn’t mask the hard truth about Chris Tillman, who failed to get out of the second inning for the second straight start and owns a 10.46 season ERA. Whether he simply can’t do it physically anymore or the organization has no idea how to “fix” him, it’s over.

3. Tillman has now allowed four earned runs or more in 17 of his 26 starts since the start of last season. You can’t keep pointing to outliers like his seven shutout innings against Detroit last month while ignoring an 8.79 ERA in 114 2/3 innings over the last calendar year.

4. I have no idea whether the likes of David Hess or Tim Melville will succeed at the next level, but their numbers at Triple-A Norfolk warrant an opportunity. With this club already out of contention in mid-May, there’s no point continuing to go down this road with Tillman.

5. If it’s not someone from Norfolk, Miguel Castro stated his case for a starting opportunity with 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Royals, lowering his season ERA to 3.55. He threw 65 pitches and could slide into Tillman’s turn in the rotation if you want to take that route.

6. Trey Mancini hit his fourth homer of 2018 and tied career highs with three hits and three runs. He’s had a tough time at the plate since hurting his knee last month, so it was encouraging to see him break out with two extra-base hits to the opposite field.

7. Adam Jones is now 9-for-21 with two homers since moving into the No. 2 spot in the order during the West Coast trip. The veteran center fielder is still hitting just .258, but you much prefer seeing him in the second spot over Jace Peterson or Craig Gentry.

8. Both Mancini and Jones being a triple away from becoming the fifth Oriole to hit for the cycle made me wonder what Felix Pie is up to these days. He batted .286 in the Mexican Pacific Winter League this past offseason.

9. Manny Machado continues to rake as he clubbed his 10th long ball of the season and reached base three other times. He’s now batting .350 with a .439 on-base percentage. He continues to do his part in keeping his trade value as high as possible.

10. Jonathan Schoop dropped a throw at second on a potential double play for the second straight night in the second inning, but the Royals inexplicably dropped a sacrifice bunt right after that. Giving a struggling starting pitcher an out in that situation was baffling.

11. Tanner Scott was terrific over two innings, striking out four and getting eight swinging strikes on 31 pitches. He averaged 97.1 miles per hour on his fastball with a very good slider. The Orioles need a fresh bullpen arm, but he deserves to stay in Baltimore for the time being.

12. Darren O’Day said he hyperextended his elbow when someone accidentally collided with him as he stretched in the bullpen. The injury isn’t considered serious, but it reiterates how bizarre this season has been in addition to being terrible. It’s his fourth trip to the disabled list in three seasons.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-0 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 21 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles being shut out at home for the second time this season in a 4-0 loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The absence of Trey Mancini didn’t bode well for an offense that was already struggling and without Jonathan Schoop, so the end result wasn’t exactly shocking. Baltimore has now been held to three or fewer runs in 14 of 21 games this season.

2. Indians starter Mike Clevinger had a good 2017 campaign, but he had logged seven or more innings in just three of his 34 career starts before his first career shutout. Give the 27-year-old credit, but this has been an all-too-familiar pattern for the 2018 Orioles.

3. The bar is extremely low, but Chris Tillman showed some improvement in giving the Orioles a chance to win by completing six innings for the first time since July 17 of last season. He managed only four swinging strikes, but he threw some decent breaking pitches and struck out five.

4. Despite a low pitch count, Tillman’s stamina came into question beginning in the fourth inning as his velocity dipped. He gave up solo home runs on poorly-located fastballs clocked at 86, 86, and 87 miles per hour. That’s just not going to get the job done.

5. With the middle of the Cleveland order coming up a third time, Buck Showalter could have gone to the bullpen after five and allowed Tillman to leave on a high note. That said, he had just recorded his first 1-2-3 frame and was at only 63 pitches. I understand it.

6. I’m sure Saturday’s performance bought Tillman another start, but I’ve said before the problem is this feels close to his ceiling at this point. Allowing four earned runs over six innings — a 6.00 ERA — lowered his season mark by more than two full runs.

7. Many have questioned Chance Sisco’s throwing ability at the major league level, but he became the first Orioles catcher since Matt Wieters in 2012 to gun down three runners attempting to steal in a game. He’s now thrown out seven of 11 trying to swipe a bag this season.

8. Tanner Scott allowed one hit and struck out one in two scoreless frames. Despite little experience above the Double-A level and well-documented control issues, the hard-throwing lefty has presented himself well in two major league appearances this season.

9. Saturday was the fifth time in eight games at Camden Yards in which the Orioles have failed to record a hit through the first three innings. They’re begging to put themselves in an early hole with that formula.

10. I’m guessing Showalter wasn’t daydreaming about an April 21 lineup featuring Craig Gentry, Pedro Alvarez, Luis Sardinas, and Anthony Santander over the winter. Then again, established bats aren’t producing either.

11. Santander has shown some promise, but he’s batting .170 and his on-base plus slugging percentage has dipped to .497. His Rule 5 requirement will be satisfied next month, which will allow him to return to the minors. The right field problem will remain, however.

12. The Indians offense has been nearly as bad as the Orioles so far, but Cleveland is allowing nearly half as many runs per game. Elite pitching always gives you a chance.

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