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April 12, 2011

Oriole observations: Britton, starting pitching, Fox, Machado

Here’s a scary thought if you watched Zach Britton’s first two Major League starts: The left-hander was not even the top starter on his high school summer league team in 2005. That honor for the Dallas Baseball Academy of Texas Mustangs went to Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles’ Dodgers ace. Britton and Kershaw remain close friends and talk regularly. They also could have been college teammates at Texas A&M before both eschewed college to sign professionally. Kershaw was drafted in the first round by the Dodgers in 2006 and Britton was selected by the Orioles in the third round that year.

With Brian Matusz and Justin Duchscherer not really close to coming off the disabled list, the Orioles are entering a crucial stretch as far as establishing a five-man rotation. Starting Tuesday in New York, they play 26 games in 27 days with the lone offday coming on April 25 between home series against the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. That stretch includes two series against the Yankees and one against Boston, Minnesota, the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians, a team playing as well as anybody right now. There won’t be any days to skip a starter or piece together a game through the bullpen. There are really no intriguing options down at Double or Triple-A now that it appears that Brad Bergesen will rejoin the rotation either today or tomorrow and fill J.J. Hardy’s roster spot. The Orioles will have to go with a steady five and it will be up to those guys to pitch well to make sure they continue to get the ball every five days. If Arrieta, Bergesen and Tillman are going to morph into reliable and consistent starters, now would be a good time to take the next step.

Hardy’s injury is a serious blow both to the shortstop, who finally felt healthy again, and the Orioles’ lineup which benefitted greatly from having a threat in the No.9 spot. If there is any positive that comes from the injury, it will give the Orioles the option of bringing up a true back-up catcher in Craig Tatum and allow Jake Fox to be used more in a utility role. For now, the Orioles will use the extra roster spot to add another bullpen arm and Tatum will remain at Triple-A Norfolk. However, if some of the younger pitchers start getting deeper in the game, it won’t be long before Tatum joins the club. It was clear on Saturday night that Jake Arrieta and Fox weren’t totally in sync, which is understandable considering they haven’t worked together much. One head-scratching sequence came in the Texas Rangers’ six-run third inning against Arrieta. With runners on first and third and no outs and the Orioles leading 1-0, Arrieta fell behind No.9 hitter Mitch Moreland 3-0. He proceeded to throw back-to-back offspeed pitches on 3-1 and 3-2, issuing a walk. Moreland is a good-looking young hitter, but with the dangerous Ian Kinsler on deck and the Rangers’ vaunted lineup turning over, you absolutely have to challenge Moreland with the fastball in that situation. Now, the responsibility – and the blame in this case - doesn’t fall all on Fox’s shoulder. Arrieta has the ball and ultimately could shake the catcher off and get the sign that he wants. I assume that was one of the things that manager Buck Showalter was telling them during that long conversation that TV cameras picked up later in that game.Showalter’s comment later that Arrieta had too good stuff to have an outcome like that probably alluded to several things, including Fox’s game calling Either way, Fox is a valuable player to have on the roster, but that value is with his ability to play multiple positions and bring a power bat off the bench. It’s not behind the plate.

Orioles top prospect Manny Machado is certainly off to a good start in his first full professional season. Playing for Single-A Delmarva, the 18-year-old shortstop is 7-for-15 (.467) with two doubles, a triple, three RBIs, seven walks and a stolen base in five games. I think the Orioles will preach patience with the third overall pick in last year’s draft, but I’d be surprised if Machado has too many issues with the competition in the South Atlantic League. I’d be absolutely shocked if Machado finishes the season with Delmarva. Heck, he may not finish the month in the South Atlantic League if this continues.

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 6:00 AM | | Comments (22)



What's happening with Troy Patton? Is he still considered a starter? He never gets much a look at the MLB level, even in ST. Is he in the organization's plans.

Jeff Z's reply: He didn't pitch too well at Triple-A last year and his offseason legal troubles didn't help. I don't want to say that he's not in the organization's plans anymore, but I feel comfortable saying that he's fallen down the depth chart and he's certainly a candidate to be taken off the 40-man if a roster issue arises.

Britton is pitching like he did last year and Hardy is injured like he was last year.

Machado should be moved up quickly. He needs to face tougher pitching to get better. It doesn't do him any good to be a big fish in a little pond.

Al Kaline was of the same age when he was promoted to the Tigers when he was 18 (turned 19 that summer just like Machado will this July).

Age is just a number. Look at the talent. The maturity. If Machado can do Frederick, Bowie and Norfolk this year give him the opportunity.

Holding him back for age reasons make as much sense as holding Britton back for economic reasons.

When you have talent play 'em and pay 'em. Build loyalty on both sides of the chalk line.

Hey, the word on the "Street" is that shortstop Rafael Furcal broke his thumb and is thinking about retirement. Would the Dodgers have any interest in Cesar Izturis. He had some of his best years as a Dodger. Fielding (Gold Glove) and Hitting. Do you think there would be any mutual interest?

Also, Yankees, Twins, both Sox (White & Red) & the Indians are all beatable. The O's can hang with any of them.

It's "Tillman Time".. Come on Chirs..It's "Go-Time" for your career starting tonight!

Jeff Z's reply: I would think Hardy's absence for the next two to three weeks if not longer would prevent the Orioles from trading Izturis right now unless they got a decent piece back. And I don't see that happening either way.

Patton was taken out after one batter into the fourth inning last night (one hit... charged with an earned run when Hendrickson allowed that runner to score). Why was he removed? Could he be on the way to the Orioles? I'd really like to see Bergesen have time in Norfolk to get himself back to what he was, at his best, last year.

Jeff Z's reply: No injury. The Orioles are expected to know more about his condition later in the day.

Al Kaline from Baltimore NEVER spent a day in the minors ... he went from Southern High School to the Tigers ... No stop in between ..... most likely that will never happen, again.

The Orioles' bench is really unwieldy. We have 2 reserve middle infielders, a backup catcher in whom no one seems to have any confidence with the glove, and one useful, logical piece (Pie). Calling up Tatum, who was terrible with the glove last year himself let's not forget, will make the bench even more awkward, it seems to me.

At this point, trading 2 of the trio of Fox, Izturis, or Andino would make the most sense. Sure we won't get much for them, but perhaps we could constitute a more reasonable bench. Maybe get a real backup catcher for our troubles, a guy who can call a game, throw guys out, and hit just enough to be somewhat useful. Fox and Tatum don't do any of those things.

any word on a rainout possibility tonight in NY? then we would need another starter on Sunday, or have Tillman/Bergesen pitch on three days rest, which I doubt would be the choice.

Jeff Z's reply: It was pouring here a minute ago when I walked outside. Apparently, it's supposed to slown down and then pick up again around game-time, but I'm not going to speculate whether they'll play or not. Not sure what you mean about Sunday. If today's game is rained out, it doesn't necessarily mean that there will be doubleheader tomorrow. O's are in NY two more times this year and it's only a 3 hour train ride if the two teams want to get together on a mutual offday.

Jeff, in your opinion, exactly how fast do you think Machado will move up through the minors? Are we looking at the next Starlin Castro? Age-wise at least

Jeff Z's reply: That's real tough to do because there are so many factors: Machado's performance, any injuries, what the Orioles have at shortstop on their big league roster, etc. However, if I was to handicap it, I'd predict that Machado will finish this season at Frederick, play at Double-A Bowie next year and be the Orioles' Opening Day shortstop in 2013 as a 20-year-old. But that's just a guess.

That's a shame that Patton hasn't panned out considering he was the jewel of the Tejada trade. That means that trade basically netted us Luke Scott.....Could Hendrickson be brought up to fill a starter's role until Matusz is back in action?

Jeff Z's reply: Hendrickson is always an option, but he's not getting anybody out right now at Triple-A Norfolk so that would be a tough sell right now to bring him up. As for the Tejada trade, they got a couple some decent stretches out of Albers and Sarfate. Luke Scott has had a couple of pretty good years and out-performed Tejada in many categories. And even if he hadn't, they traded Tejada the day before of the release of the Mitchell Report. That trade wasn't a dramatic win by any means, but I still think it worked out in Orioles' favor.

Jeff, keith wrote a article on Matt weiters this morning in the sun. The jest of the article was how this scout said that matt weiters is the most important memeber of the current team and that if the orioles were to explore trading him there would be 25 teams right at there door step.I have read many many other scouts say that he will never hit like projected because of his long swing and approach at the plate.It's funny how fast things change when they drafted him and gave him that huge bonus it was assumed that he would one day be a middle of the order guy with plenty of [pop and rbi ability. Now everybody tells me how valuable he is just being a pitch and catch guy and are now satisfied that they can hide him batting 8th in the order. I must have missed something along the way jeff because in my opinion the orioles didn't draft him to be a defensive catcher and if anybody tells that tale they are kidding themselves. 5 years from now if manny machadio doesn't live up to his draft hype { compared to alex rod}people will say wow you can't have a short stop that doesn't hit and can only play defense. If the orioles really feel this way now they could let craig tatum catch and they could have saved themselves 6,500.000.Don't worry though because he is only 25 years old just like last year he was just 24 years old and just like the year before he was 23 years old. The media and fans can't have it both ways jeff.

Jeff Z's reply: Not sure if you are asking me a question or not Bob because it was Kevin who was wrote the story, and I don't recall weighing in on the subject. However, if you are asking me for my opinion, I would agree that it would be a disappointment if Wieters doesn't show dramatic improvements offensively. I don't expect him to be Joe Mauer or a run producer like Mark Teixeira, but I think the fans and media expected him to be a much bigger offensive force than he is now. And don't get me wrong, I'm worried about the bat speed and his swing does look long. But I'm not convinced that he won't start to figure it out a little more offensively. He's a young kid with a lot on his plate so I give him the benefit of the doubt. Though with that being said, I'm admittedly concerned about him offensively. I think he's already become one of the better defensive catchers in baseball, but the offense has to catch up.

The O's sure have had their share of physical problems over the past two years. I thought last year was the "perfect storm" for the orioles and a large part of that was due to the number of injuries to key players. Unfortunately, this year has started out with an enormous number of injuries as well. We all knew that Duchscherer was a risk, but the others? - Matusz, Scott, and now Hardy - and most of them muscle issues(and I remember Pie's muscle tear last year). What is going on? Is it due to conditioning? Lack of stretching? Too much weight training? Bad luck? Would love to hear your thoughts?

Jeff Z's reply: I've asked around a little and there doesn't seem to be a consensus. obviously, bad luck has plenty to do with it. I don't see conditioning really as a factor considering some of the guys that have gotten hurt are among their better conditioned guys. They seem to do the same stretching regimes as other teams. I'm not sure what to tell you, but it's certainly worth asking Showalter is the club is considering making some changes to the areas that you mentioned.

Jeff, the reason i used your post to talk about the sunbject is beacuse you have been very honest in your assement of things lately,not sugar coating everything like alot of people have.Jeff the sad truth about this situation is that the fans and media are buying into the premise that his defense is enough. Jeff you know that while defense is a priority the orioles didn't draft him just to be a pitch and catch guy.

Jeff Z's reply: I would agree with your last statement. Again, I have my definite concerns but I also think it's far too early to label Wieters just a "catch and throw guy."


The Wieters situation has been a theme of yours for a while now.

I don't think anyone is arguing that Matt has lived up to the hype or potential that he was expected to have. He hasn't. That's pretty clear.

But at this point, what would you be happy with? Do you want the Orioles to release him and let another team pick him up? Should Andy McPhail stand on a soap box and say "Matt Weiters is a complete disappointment and we regret the day we drafted him, and regret even more the day that we signed him to that huge bonus."? Should they then release him simply out of principle for the offenses he has committed against Baltimore fandom? Would that make you happy?

The team is trying to make the best of a bad situation. What else are they supposed to do? The guy doesn't look like what everyone expected. Agreed. But, what are the alternatives? What would you do?

The fact is, Wieters has turned into an outstanding defensive player and leader. That's a good thing and it does deserve some mention. The kid had unnatural expectations put on him and had to deal w/ the pressure of those expectations. Since then, his failures have been extremely well documented by a wide variety of sources.

That being the case, it's only reasonable that his successes be considered as well in the totality of the circumstances. If his failures are reported, so too should be his successes.

You seem to want coverage of only the negatives. That makes no sense to me. It is myopic and reeks of a person with a bone to pick for some reason. What's that reason, I wonder?

thanks jeff. Right, I was wrong to assume a double header. If by chance there is a rainout and the O's have any say in the matter, I would assume the would want to push it back. The could potentially skip Bergesen's scheduled start in that case.

The next 25 games (against mostly good teams) will clarify lots about who the starting rotation will be for the summer. Guthrie and Britton are obvious top of the rotation guys. Matusz should be ready by May 15 and in the meantime Tillman, Arrieta and Bergesen will each get five starts to show what they are capable of. Good healthy competition is ahead with the weakest one of those three stepping aside for Matusz.. Hope they all grasp the importance of these next several starts.

Jeff.....Already we have had several players bat 5th trying to protect Vlad....I'm starting to think we have no such player who can accomplish this on a regular basis....Luke has a history of streaks, Weiters no, Jones no, I really don't think we have anyone...Reynolds no......Is it going to be someone different batting 5th all year ??

Jeff Z's reply: I think one of those guys will get hot and Buck will stick him at fifth and go with it.

to cmpare manny machado to al kaline is stretching things quite a bit. the time period whn al kaline was a young man to this time period of manny machado. they are as different as day and night. maybe machado is good and it sounds like he has a lot of natural ability,to to bring him up to majors anytime soon is/would be great mistake. andy knew hardy was injury prone and it seems to have come back to bite the orioles. the name escapes me at this time who the orioles were persuing for short stop when they acquired hardy,but it looks like they should have made the deal even if meant trading nolan reimold.yes i am aware it might have weakend the outfield, but at this time our short stiop might not be on the shelf. hind sight is always 20/20, now since the oriles have been dealt a lemon they have to make lemon ade.

Jeff Z's reply: I think Jason Bartlett is the name you are looking for.

Enzo i don't have any bone to pick.When you stated that i don't think anybody is arguing that Matt has lived up to his potential or expectations is where i have a problem. See there are many many people in this town including the media that think everything is just fine with Matt.While i am a die hard fan i am also a person that watches a game with my eyes and not my heart.He hasn't made one adjustment with his approach or with his swing since he arrived. I think he should give up switch hitting and bat from his natural side until he gets his swing back.He can't get around on a good fastball period. No bone to pick enzo just keep watching the game and maybe eventually you might see what i do.

Fair enough, Bob. I'm sure it's not personal. But I think the discussion here is a matter of past vs. future expectations.

I'm willing to concede, at this point, for the purposes of this discussion, that Wieters will probably never live up to the hype. Many people have already reached that point anyway. His swing is too long, and he certainly doesn't seem to be a capable switch hitter.

So, assuming that he never hits better than .280 and never hits more than 15 -20 HRs in his career. Then what?

I think the coverage that you're talking about right now is a reflection of people moving on with that reality.

If Matt spends the next 10-12 years as arguably the best defensive catcher and game caller in the league and a year in and year out top 5 offensive catcher, then we're just going to have to accept that. And, if we were to put the past behind us and forget all the hype, would that really be so bad of a player to have?

Maybe that's all Matt will ever be. And if it is, how bad is that? Will you spend the next 10 years yelling about how everyone is going easy on him for not living up to the hype?

Eventually we'll all have to move and accept the reality of the situation. I think some of the coverage that you're talking about is an initial attempt to do just that. And eventually, I think even you will have to accept that as well. But not today, I guess.

Regardless, I don't think anyone's giving Matt a pass. Just accepting reality for what it is, even if that means being a little disappointed about what we all hoped so much for, but might never be...

@deputy dog

2 things
If your going to name yourself after a cartoon, you might as well get some history behind him.
Also, here's an article about Jason Bartlett

I would take JJ Hardy 7 days a week and twice on Sunday. There's no 20/20 hindsight with me. None whatsoever!

As for Matt Wieters, I scratch my head as to my there are boo birds about him. I like him and I always will! Whether he's as good as Buster Posey or Brian Mccann, I have no I idea. However, I will say this Matt is ours and I will support him! Now enuff said!

Enzo, i truly hear what you are saying and i appreciate you having a fair discussion on this topic.If Matt weiters batted 280 and hit between 15 and 20 hr's every year i wouldn't have a problem with that production, however i trully believe he won't even reach those numbers which then leaves him far far away from where he was projected to be. Then my point becomes him just being a good catch and throw guy that is in abundance in this league, not a guy who was projected to be the next johnny bench. Enzo i really think part of my problem is the fact that the orioles have missed on so many high picks that eventually i was hoping and praying he was the real deal.

Honestly, i believe teh bench is strong, if they would use the right people in the position. For instance , bring up Tatum, use Andino who is a good shortstop, when hardy is out, Use Pie in the outfiled on regular basis, and Fox at first. Izturis is useful as a last resort. Why is everyone down on Bergerson, We have good starters but not a clear role. Torwards last season everyone knew what their role is , and thats why they done so well. What is going on now.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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