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June 2, 2011

Orioles news, notes and opinions

I’m not going to sit here and claim I know the motive for all of Buck Showalter’s moves, but I think people are searching a little too hard for the reasons that the manager opted to give Nick Markakis his first professional start at first base in yesterday’s series finale against the Seattle Mariners. I am confident in saying that it’s not because Markakis is injured or the Orioles want to see if he could possibly play first base long term. I also don’t think Showalter was sending a message to Luke Scott, Jake Fox or anybody else, per se. My take on it is Showalter simply wanted to shake things up, and try to energize Markakis -- who has seemingly been in a malaise for two months -- and the team, which was coming off a gut-wrenching loss on Tuesday night and looked flat the entire road trip. He mentioned both before and after the game that sometimes you just have to do something for a day to try and change the team’s luck and to get players' minds off their struggles and onto something else. It obviously didn’t jumpstart Markakis’ bat because he took another 0-for-4, but it certainly had the clubhouse buzzing before the game when players started making their way to the lineup card and saw the 3 next to Markakis’ name.

By the way, I don’t know what I was more surprised about -- that Markakis got the start at first, or that he was still playing there in a one-run game in the ninth inning. Either way, I can’t imagine there are too many managers as secure as Showalter who would try something like that. Markakis makes a couple of miscues, Orioles lose their sixth straight game and today’s off day would be dominated by talk about how Showalter has lost his mind and cost his team a game. Something tells me Showalter wouldn’t have flinched if that was the end result, but it certainly takes some guts – if nothing else – to make a decision like that.

Though the wait for the 2011 big league debut of Brian Matusz probably became a little frustrating for the fans, the Orioles handled the situation with one of their top young starters pretty well. There were some questions as to why the Orioles would have him fly all the way out to the West Coast when he could make his debut at home at some point this weekend. I think the answers to those questions were pretty obvious yesterday. Showalter and pitching coach Mark Connor know that Matusz is still rusty, still building up his arm strength and still working himself into game shape. It would probably have been discouraging for both Matusz and the team if the lefty got knocked around in his first start. There was much less of a chance that would happen against a poor offensive team like Seattle, and in a spacious ballpark like Safeco Field than there would have been this weekend against the home run-happy Blue Jays in Camden Yards, where as we know, the ball flies when the weather gets warmer. Matusz gave the Orioles about as much as they could have expected for his first start. However, there’s no question his velocity was down and his stuff was not overly sharp. That’s to be expected after his long layoff. I think 10 of his 17 outs were in the air, and several were hit quite well, yet turned into outs. Better to allow those at Safeco Field against the Mariners than at Camden Yards against the Jays.

There was nothing said in the clubhouse following yesterday’s game because the Orioles were too busy celebrating their first victory in a while. However, I can’t imagine they were too pleased with Mariners catcher Miguel Olivo for the way he charged into catcher Matt Wieters while scoring on Jack Wilson’s RBI single in the second inning. Wieters’ left leg was blocking the plate initially, but he was in the process of pulling it away after he failed to handle Adam Jones’ short-hop throw. It appeared that Olivo had enough of the plate available to avoid contact, but he chose to come in on Wieters anyway, seemingly letting up a little bit when he realized that the O's catcher didn’t have the ball. Still, Wieters’ left leg was in a very vulnerable position. It wasn’t anywhere close to the impact of Scott Cousins barreling into Buster Posey, and ending the San Francisco Giants’ star catcher’s season. However, it was hard not to think of that after the play at the plate yesterday. Olivo did appear to apologize to Wieters -- who certainly didn’t look pleased -- or at least make sure that he was OK.

Second baseman Ryan Adams has started just three of the Orioles’ 12 games since his contract was selected from Triple-A Norfolk, and it has become quite clear that Showalter is more comfortable with the more veteran option in Robert Andino. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I don’t like predicting or speculating on guys getting sent down to the minor leagues. However, in this case, I think it is pretty evident that Adams will probably be returned to the Tides at some point soon. He’s a young guy who needs to be playing regularly so he’d probably be best served doing that in Triple-A if he’s not going to be used much in the big leagues. Regular starter Brian Roberts is still several weeks away from returning, so if the Orioles are going to go with Andino, they could call up a veteran, like Nick Green or Brendan Harris, to serve as an extra middle infielder. I do think this time in the big leagues will prove invaluable to Adams, who got an extended opportunity to be around major leaguers, see how they conduct themselves and to learn from Showalter and his coaching staff. Ultimately though, the most important thing for his continued development is to get steady at-bats and to work on his defense in game situations.

Finally, my colleague, Dan Connolly, has been working on some great stuff ahead of Monday’s start of the 2011 draft. I’m sure it will be on our site later today, so please check it out.

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 8:13 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Minors
        

Comments

Hi Jeff, Best coverage of the O's since Bill Tanton and Phil Jackman. Inside stuff, not fluff.

Jeff,

How long are the Orioles going to go one man short in the pen{Gonzalez, Buck won't use him unless he has a 10 run lead} and one man short in the outfield{Luke Scott torn labrum}

Buck is being handicapped by these two players at this point. When will the organization decide that Scott's slump is partly due to the fact that the shoulder is inhibiting his swing?

Gonzalez needs to be moved or used and Scott needs to go on the DL. The team has two DH's right now. Do you agree?

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Jeff Z's reply: Yes I do. And I've said many times that you can't hide anybody in the bullpen, especially when your starters don't consistently get deep into games. It is also a terrible message to the rest of your bullpen as guys are pitching on fumes and getting sent out there every day when there are one or two guys barely pitching at all or pitching only in blowouts. I'd like to say this can't go on much longer, but I could just picture Gonzalez going elsewhere and figuring something out and becoming a really good left-handed situational guy. It's happened before to the Orioles where they gave up on a guy and he went elsewhere and was lights out. As for Scott, it will be interesting if he can play the outfield regularly when Lee comes back. If he can't, I can't see any other options other than him becoming a bench player or him going to the DL.

Jeff, after having our chat yesterday i feel alot better about the NICK M situation. However after listening to nick on the radio this morning explaining that he has been asking to play first base because he is bored out in right field i almost drove my car off the road.I know this is probably just a 1 day experiment to do just what you said break up the routine and change things up a little. But this once again just adds more fuel to what is and has been my problem with nick or nicky as buck so fondly refers to him as.My problem and only problem with nick and brian is the preferential treatment that they receive from this team, and the media.

I mentioned earlier this week that when you have proven yourself as a productive member of any organization you get and deserve additional perks that other employee's don't get. But when you haven't lived up to the contract that was given to you either by performance or not being able to stay on the field then those perks should disappear and you shouldn't have to continue to give those players the benefit of the doubt. In both instances jeff the time has more then run out and i know i am still in the minority on this subject but ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Hey Jeff,
I agree with you about Olivio. I posted something similar over at Roch's with a few tweaks. Comments on Miguel Olivio. I didn’t see the play live, but I watched the replay this morning on MLB
3 quick comments
1.) I thought that was a cheap shot by Olivio, there seemed to be plenty of plate to get by plenty!
2.) If I had been Matt Wieters, I might have grabbed Olivio and taken a swing
3.) Since Billy Beane advised Suzuki to avoid contact. Will Buck or Andy Mac advise the same?
Also, I see Tyler Henson was placed on the temporary inactive list for the Tides. Is he ok? To be honest with Nick M playing at first base, I was hoping Henson was going to be called up as a 4th outfielder. Wishful thinking, but still was hoping.
PS I thought Nick did a pretty good job at 1st base, there’s never a problem with his glove no matter where he plays!


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Jeff Z"s reply: Last I heard, Henson was expecting his first child soon, so I would think that explains it. As for Buck and Andy, I don't see them telling Wieters that at all. That doesn't go in line with how Buck wants the game played.

Jeff,

Showalter may have been guilty of over-managing by moving Markakis to 1st base. It didn't accomplish anything and it could have been detrimental if Nick had booted a ball.

A real shakeup would be to sit Nick for a game or two and go with Pie/Jones/Reimold in the outfield.

Insightful, as always. Thanks Jeff!

And for what it's worth, I like the shake-up with Markakis at 1B. When you've lost 5 straight and your team is flat, try something new. Finally, Adam Jones should be getting major props for his play this season. He's leading by example, has significantly better plate discipline than last year and is coming through in clutch situations at the bat. I'm really excited to see his numbers at the end of the year.

Go Os!

Good adjective to describe Markakis. He has a penchant for groundouts and popups in the infield. Good concise reproting. Any inside info on
what is troubling Nick this year?


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Jeff Z's reply: I don't know that and I don't think anybody from the team does either. I've talked to him about it and thrown out all the theories - Crow not being around, off-the-field stuff, injury, approach - and he said that he's just trying way too hard and having a hard time finding it. I;m sure there is more to it than that, but I don't know that anybody from the team knows what's going on with him right now.

Jeff...as always, terrific insight. You do what you do so well. Details, solid thoughts and opinions, carefully written. You and Roch are a terrific pair.

Quick question: I haven't seen every article written on the Os, but can you give us a longer piece on the B-Rob situation? This looks like last year all over again, and I wonder just what the heck the future looks like, both for him/his health and the FO's take on their options --- ALL of their options.

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Jeff Z's reply: Thanks for the kind words, Bobby. I should be doing something more on Roberts soon, but it is kind of hard to write about because people just don't know how much the concussions will affect him going forward and the Orioles - or Roberts - aren't going to comment specifically on things like that. And team doctors and trainers aren't allowed to comment. As of now, Roberts is shut down for another week or so, and then he'll be re-evaluated.

Jeff - do you think the O's should consider some position changes for some of their "failed" minor league prospects - Rowell and Hobgood. It seems that other organizations are doing this. I believe Hobgood was a pretty good hitter in HS - considering his arm issues would it make sense to forget pitching and try to be an everyday player. It appears that Rowell is not the hitter people thought he was - can he pitch. I'm sure he probably pitched in HS, which I know was a few years ago. however, both these guys are still young enough that now may be the time to try the switch.

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Jeff Z's reply: They've tried just about everything with Rowell. First, third, outfield. None of it has worked. I would never call a kid at that age a lost cause, but I'm sure the Orioles are pretty low on hope right now that he's going to become a big leaguer. As for Hobgood, let's see if he gets through this latest epidsode with his shoulder. If it looks like this could hamper him, then perhaps that would be the way to go.

I also tend to agree with the Olivo play. It's one thing if he didn't let up because he didn't see that Wieters missed the ball. It's pretty bang bang so I think that's forgivable. What troubles me most is the throw - and consequently Wieters' glove - was on the other side of his body. Only his leg was blocking the plate. You collide with the catcher to jar the ball loose when he has it in his glove. If the glove is nowhere near you then you just make sure you touch the plate. He had easy access to the plate without having to barrel through Wieters' leg. All he has to do is put a hand down as he's sliding by. That's either a bonehead or a bushleague play and though I'm not usually an advocate of 'message sending' if we had had another game with Seattle, I think a fastball just under the ribs of Olivo would have been necessary ESPECIALLY considering what just happened with Posey last week. Just stupid to potentially screw with someone's career like that.

As for BRob, I'm really hoping this doesn't turn into one of those Crosby concussions and I'm hoping the next evaluation is better. But it's past time to start looking for a replacement. We don't have one in our system so an offseason FA signing or trade should be a high priority. Everyone knows the offense is FAR better with a healthy BRob or any decent spark at the top of the order. And this offense needs all the help it can get.

The big question is whether Markakis can play third. Reynolds is killing us at bat and in the field.

Geez. Not sure what Buck sees in Andino. He's hitting well below .200 with runners in scoring position. The guy is a rally killer and he never comes through in clutch or RBI situations. I'm in favor of playing Adams to see what he can do. With Roberts getting up in age and not very durable when he's playing, it would have been nice to see Adams get the bulk of the playing time at 2B. He can't do any worse than Andino that for sure. Obviously, Andino isn't here to replace Roberts.

Great article, Jeff. Thanks for the heads up on the Connolly piece.

Great article, Jeff. Thanks for the heads up on the Connolly piece.

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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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