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June 25, 2011

Orioles news, notes and opinions

I’m not exactly breaking news when I point out that manager Buck Showalter has a reputation for being controlling, rigid and tough on players, especially young ones who make mental mistakes. The first-year Orioles had heard all those things before they reported to spring training. However, several of them have said since that they’ve found Showalter to be nothing like that. Instead, they say that he’s been a player’s manager, allowing the veterans plenty of leeway, not throwing anybody under the bus in the press, and sticking with his players even when they are struggling. I bring this up because I think Showalter deserves credit for giving Blake Davis a second straight start after the second baseman made an error that allowed the game-tying and game-winning runs to score in the Orioles’ loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday. Showalter took some heat for playing Davis at second base when the 27-year-old hadn’t played there all year. By playing him there again, Showalter not only showed faith in Davis, who had all of Thursday’s off day to think about his gaffe and responded by getting two hits, including a two-run triple, and making a nice running catch, but he sent a message to the rest of the clubhouse that he has the player’s backs. There is nothing worse for an inexperienced big leaguer to make a mistake and then be chained to the bench. Showalter didn’t allow that, and trust me, players notice such things. He’s done several things this year to send a similar message. He went to owner Peter Angelos to get the organization’s facial hair rules relaxed. He’s stuck up for Felix Pie several times after the outfielder made a mistake. He’s allowed players to take batting practice in shorts on a couple of really hot days, and he’s refused to bury some of the accomplished veterans by benching them or dropping them to the bottom of the lineup. Giving Davis another start was the latest example.

When I talked to Derrek Lee on Tuesday for a story that ran in yesterday’s paper, the veteran first baseman expressed frustration with not his low batting average, but his nonexistent home run and RBI numbers. He admitted that he just hasn’t found his home run swing and he cautioned that when he does, the long balls will come in bunches. The Orioles can only hope that his game-winning shot in the 12th last night is the start of one of those stretches. The homer and the double that he smoked earlier in the game were two of the hardest hit balls that I’ve seen him hit all year. Perhaps, it was just a coincidence that they came in front of Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, who told my colleague, Peter Schmuck, before the game that Oriole fans shouldn’t be worried about Lee’s slow start. “He’s a second-half player,” said Baker, who managed Lee with the Chicago Cubs. “He’s a long away from being through.”

When the Orioles didn’t score in the bottom of the 11th inning despite having a runner on second and one out, center fielder Adam Jones angrily threw something in the dugout. I didn’t see what because you can only see so far into the dugout from my pressbox seat. When the Orioles lost to the Pirates on Wednesday, Jones expressed his frustration on his Twitter account. Look, I don’t know that going to Twitter to vent is the most constructive thing to do, but I’ll say this about Jones: I don’t know if there is another player in that clubhouse that gets as ticked off about losing as he does. And that’s one of the qualities that I think Oriole fans should love about him. Sure, he’s an emotional kid and he may not always handle the frustration in the best manner. But I’ve always thought that the Orioles need more players with that attitude. I’m sure everybody in that clubhouse hates losing, but I don’t know that anybody has more utter disdain for it than Jones does. He cares about his own performance, he cares about his teammates and he very much cares about winning and losing. Those are just a couple of reasons why he’s quickly emerging as the leader of this team.

Speaking of the bottom of the 11th, this isn’t really a second guess because I mentioned it in the pressbox before it happened, but if I were Showalter, I would have asked Nick Markakis to sacrifice bunt with J.J. Hardy on second base and no outs. Markakis curiously swung at the first pitch and made no attempt to hit the ball to the right side to move up the runner, grounding out to third instead, an at-bat Showalter called an unusual one for the Orioles right fielder. Showalter said that he considered asking Markakis to bunt, but it’s something that he’s never done much of and with Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips on the right side of Reds’ the infield, the Orioles manager liked the odds of Markakis getting a hit or driving a ball to the right side better. My thought was Markakis can handle the bat well enough to bunt and he’s hitting just .224 with runners in scoring position this year, so why not take your chances with Hardy on third with one out, and Jones and Vladimir Guerrero coming up. Showalter obviously knows his players and every aspect of the game better than I do, but that’s what I would have done.

You can bet Reds executives are watching the Orioles closely during this series because the two teams are actually a pretty good fit for a potential trade. The Reds could use an upgrade at shortstop over Paul Janish, and another solid veteran starting pitcher. J.J. Hardy and Jeremy Guthrie are two Orioles that will surely intrigue them. The Orioles need a young first baseman, which the Reds have in Yonder Alonso, who is blocked by Votto, the reigning National League MVP. They could also use a couple of more position prospects and the Reds have them in Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier among others. The trade market is still about two weeks from heating up, but Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail and Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty are very close friends. They spent time together yesterday and they’ve swung trades with each other before. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

Quick hits: I keep waiting for Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara to shown signs of strain from the heavy workload they’ve had, but they keep on putting up zeroes … It had been 2 ½ years since I had last seen catcher Ramon Hernandez play in person, and I have to say, his demeanor and on-field habits look pretty similar to what I remember. I always thought he was a pretty good hitter and he’s proving that again this year … If Orioles starter Brian Matusz has made some improvement with the quality of his pitches, it will be put to the test tonight. The Reds have a quality right-handed hitting lineup and I can’t imagine that they’ll miss too many 87 miles per hour fastballs over the plate if that’s what Matusz is featuring … If the Pirates can figure out a way to beat Boston Red Sox lefty Jon Lester, like they did last night, there is no reason why the Orioles shouldn’t be able to. As good as he is, that Lester is 14-0 against the Orioles in 17 career starts is ridiculous … Several players remarked how awesome the atmosphere was at sold out Camden Yards last night. I’ll second that. I know it can’t be union or fireworks night every night, but the electricity in the crowd really made for an enjoyable night.

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 7:00 AM | | Comments (29)
        

Comments

I'm with you on Markakis bunting Hardy over in the 11th. I was listening on the radio and gave up on the game after they failed to score Hardy.
I was very frustrated that Nick swung at the first pitch to hit a grounder to third. Especially when Jones followed with a fly ball. Not being there I don't know if that would have scored Hardy from 3rd, but it seemed that once again Nick had killed a rally with a bad decision. This guy's been around long enough to know that he has to move that runner over some how, some way, in that situation. If he didn't get something he could pull he should have let it go or bunted.
I'm happy to see that this time I was premature in thinking the O's had blown yet another one, but I still think Nick should have been bunting that at bat.

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Jeff Z's reply: Totally agree. Say what you want about Markakis but he usually plays the game the right way even if he's struggling. But that wasn't good baseball at all.

Yonder Alonso has been playing OF all season long! Why would the Orioles want to do that? As Marv Levy would say: Oh, that is a Crock! If we trade Hardy and Guthrie to the Reds for anything other then Brandon Phillips (not a chance), however, I would love to have him or Edinson Volquez (maybe) then Andy MacPhail should be canned! Yonder Alonso, gets a "BIG FAT NO" from me. You're lucky I am in a fairly good mood this morning or I would have a lot more to say.
PS If we were going to trade anyone it should be Andino! Not JJ Hardy!

Anyway, I would like to end this on a positve, it was "OUTSTANDING" to see a "SOLD OUT" game at the yard. It actually gave me warm fuzzy feelings to see it! Even a bigger plus everyone was wearing black and orange! Woo Hoo!

PSS
Blake Davis looked really good last night, he has a nice swing. A little robotic with regards to fielding ground balls, however he really put a charge in that triple at the beginning of the game.


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Jeff Z's reply: It's my understanding that Alonso has been playing outfield because they know he's blocked at first with Votto and they want to increase his chances of making it to the big leagues. But he's a natural first baseman. Also, what exactly are you going to accomplish by trading Andino? Solid utility guy, but it's not like there's a huge market for him and he's going to land the Orioles a significant piece going forward.

If J.J. Hardy runs hard out of the box on that double in the 11th he would have had a triple and scored on Jones fly ball to right and the O's in 11.
I like J.J. and I hope he stays for a couple more years but that kind of play is why the O's have been losers for 15 years.

Thanks Jeff for these updates. Since I watch most of the games, I usually just read the news, notes, and opinions piece because it has the most interesting analysis that doesn't necessarily come in the form of a game recap.

It also seems to me that if the Orioles could trade for one or 2 more solid relievers they would have a very strong and well-rounded bullpen.

But I think this team really hedges on their ability to overpay for a real power bat in free agency (and with boston and NY both having solid 1B, there might be room for the Orioles to make a competitive bid)


...............................................................................................Jeff Z's reply: Your welcome, Danny. good post.

Jeff...What you say is true about giving Davis another chance right away...............However, how do you explain Showalters treatment of Ryan Adams over the same exact situation ? Adams made an error on a much harder play, on a wet field, where he was slipping as he threw the ball to first.....Buck then sat Adams on the bench for a week ????? Do the players not notice that as well ??? It almost looks like a personality thing.


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Jeff Z's reply: I don't think Adams was buried on the bench because of an error. While the organization ikes his future and thinks he's making progress, I don't think they felt that Adams was prepared to play in the big leagues and they felt Andino gave them a better chance to win. So when it became clear that they were going to need a longer term option to back up Andino, they felt it was time to send Andino down and get Davis up here. And make no mistake, I don't think Davis will play that much more than Adams did. If I remember correctly, Davis was promoted on Saturday and didn't get in his first game until Wednesday. I think more often than not, he'll be on the bench.

Hey, Jeff I have a question about Reimold. Do you happen to know if he's in Buck's dog house or something? I mean how is he supposed to get any better if he's riding pine. I feel the Orioles have mismanaged the kid. They'll most likely trade him where then he will be a star. Another Steve Donkey or Curt Schilling. I know you didn't write about him in this article but I also haven't heard or read much about him either.


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Jeff Z"s reply: Don't think it's a doghouse situation. The Orioles just haven't been seeing much left-handed pitching for a stretch here. Against right-handed pitching, either Luke Scott or Felix Pie are going to play.

Jeff - At the game before the Markakis AB I told my kid watch how Markakis will wait for a pitch to pull the ball to the right side to make sure Hardy gets to 3rd. That 1st pitch was an outside borderline strike that he had no hope of pulling. So much for teaching kids how to play the game right.

Question: Nick seems to have given up on even trying to pull the ball. Every AB he seems to try to hit the other way and the OF overplays him that way. What happened to his HR swing? Have the pitchers just adjusted to him and he can't make the adjustment to once again (ever again?) hit with power?

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Jeff Z's reply: Yeah, I've been saying it for a while but Markakis has just looked confused to me all year. I think early on, he felt that he got too home run happy and he lost his swing. Now, he' gone back to hitting the ball the other way and taking his singles, but not hitting for much power. It's like he hasn't found that all-around approach that will lead to him hitting mistakes for homers, along with taking his singles and doubles.

I did not think much about the error Davis made that ended the game in Pittsburgh because physical errors can happen to anybody at any time. No big deal. Show me a pattern and we'll talk, however.

I am bothered by Markakis first pitch hitting and failing to advance a runner, however. Does anybody ever question a player when they do what he did or does everybody assume it won't happen again, until it does?

As to Buck being a player's manager, perhaps that has become part of the problem. Winning should bring priviledges, not losing.

With respect to Ramon Hernandez, he probably enjoys catching a decent pitching staff for a change, something he never had in his time in an Oriole uniform.

All's well that ends well.
But the eleventh inning provided just one more example of Buck's failing to play "fundamental" baseball.
With Hardy on second and no outs, any little league coach gets Nick to bunt him to third or at least hit the ball to the right side in order to advance him.
So instead, Nick hits the ball right to one of the best fielding third-basemen of all time, Scott Rolen, who chases Hardy back to second and throws out Nick.
On the very next at-bat, Jones hits a fly ball to right which would have required a perfect throw to get Hardy, had he been on third base instead of second.
It's stupid baseball.... and we've been getting it all season from a man who professes to insist his players "play the game right."
The headline should have read, "LEE BAILS OUT BUCK".

Nice summation, and the whole series should be sold out with the promotions. I got very excited when Davis delivered in his 1st AB, less so when I noticed on his running catch, he never opened his mouth & later nearly headed Markakis. Keeping the glove down & calling for the catch regardless of other players in proximity is Baseball 101. This whole season has been pretty much like that game, tough to get real excited for a walk off after squandering a 4 run lead. Re: Ramon Hernandez, he was a slob the final months w/O's, totally phoned it in. I remember on a passed ball on ball 4, he turned to the home plate ump to hand him a new ball & the ump backed up w/hands raised like it was a robbery. The team moved him before he could influence Wieters, who is now worth the price of admission.

Jeff, one more thought... any chance Roberts' wisdom teeth could be the cause of headaches?


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Jeff Z's reply: Not sure and I don't like to speculate on health-related mattters when there's been so little info out there about what Roberts is dealing with. I can't imagine that's the case because Roberts is dealing with dizziness after he exercises. I wouldn't think that would be a result of wisdom teeth, but who knows?

Nick let down his manager who trusted him to do the right thing. I would make him bunt every time he comes up with a runner on first and one or less outs for the next month!

Hardy ran hard out of the box, but slowed after rounding first and thinking the ball was caught. No mention of Adam Jones' bone head play in the top of the 11th? You can't gamble on making a diving catch in that situation. Just stop the ball and runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs. This is fundamental baseball. Instead it takes a play at the plate to prevent the go ahead run.

Nick seems to swing at the first pitch lots of times. Earlier in the game when he hit into the double play wasn't that on the first pitch. I wonder why Buck does'nt use the bunt more often. Its possible that we might have a few more wins

What was going on with Wieters when he was almost thrown out at the plate on Davis triple did he get a late start.

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Jeff Z's reply: I think he thought that the outfielder was going to catch the ball and he ran back to second to tag up. Not a good read. Orioles baserunning has been awful lately now that you mention it.

Disagree on bunting in walk-off situations. Had we executed the bunt, Jones & following hitter likely walked intentionally. Then a gound ball & they're out of the inning. Buck bunted earlier this season in these situations, always seemed to backfire. Also, on the suggested mid-season trades be caareful for what U wish for. We've moved many players mid-season over past 10+ yrs & have to my knowledge zilch to show for it. Either our scouts can't recognize a legit prospect or they were disguised salary dumps. We would be much better off keeping vets all year & play compensatory game like TB.

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Jeff Z's reply: I''ll take my chances with the bases loaded and one out and Pie and Derrek Lee coming to the plate, but I don't think you are wrong by any stretch. I'm not saying I wish for a trade. But it's certainly worth discussing. But it is a good point. Hardy is probably going to be a Type A free agent so you may recoup a couple of first rounders if he signs elsewhere. Not a bad deal.

I was looking up Zack Cowart trying to see what his stats looked like. His last name is actually Cozart, not Cowart.

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Jeff Z's reply: Thanks, I'll fix it.

Keep JJ until Machado comes up....

JEFFgood points. The things I like about Davis are he is a little odler than Adams and played more utility and is a LH hitter.. If I had to choose I would trade guthrie before hardy but only if I could get 2 or more real major league prospectsfrom a team like the reds, royals, arizona, texas, or even tampa bay, boston where they have some great prospects blocked ..

I've seen Alonso, Frazier and Cozart play dozens of times here in Louisville. They're all solid, but Frazier is a power hitter who probably never will hit for average. Alonso has played plenty of first base, so no concerns there. However; if the O's don't hold onto Hardy for two additional seasons, they're nuts!


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Jeff Z's reply: I saw Frazier play in Little League. Makes me feel really old.

I watched Yonder Alonso play in college and he was a great prospect and top ten draft pick as a first baseman. Trading Guthrie for him and a promising pitcher would be great! I do have to say i haven't been following Alonso's progress since he's been drafted thought. O's should def do everything in their power to resign Hardy to a long term deal before the trading deadline. If that fails, he should command a pretty solid return of young prospects.

Jeff,

If Nick could only learn how to bunt, corner infielders would have to move in thereby increasing his odds at getting more hits. Especially to left field. Now, corner infielders are playing back on the grass.

I can't believe that Buck did not give this aspect of the game a great deal more attention during Spring Training. At least enough attention so that the sacrafice bunt is not such a roll of the dice.

Secondly, if the O's could only draw a crowd like last night more often, I know that the players would respond with a more passionate level of play. This is not to say they don't care, but you know that when the crowd gets behind you, the level of play goes up a notch or two.

Lastly. Imagine life on this blog if Davey Johnson takes the Nats to the playoffs.

Jeff: Re Adam Jones

Good to hear. Culture in general is such a pervasive influence whether it be society-wide, ethnic, or the subculture of an athletic team. Many fans think it's just a matter of having enough talent. But there have always been talented teams that never learned quite how to win.

Losing MLB teams must be an unsatisfying 9-month experience for some. Unfortunately for others, the money ameliorates the losing. L.James "Because at the end of the day..."

If i recall, Brooks gave Frank some credit for changing the culture of the Orioles (not that they were losers, for they were transitioning) and that lasted for awhile even beyond Frank's tenure. And then the culture changed again over time. And then there was acceptance.

The culture will change again when losing is no longer accepted. And that has to happen more than just on the field or only at OPACY.

Let's hope that McPhail isn't careless enough to trade JJ Hardy, but that he will sign him for 3-4 years. McPhail has a team load of players he could unload:
Reynolds, Roberts, Pie, Reimold, Scott, Tillman, Bergesen, Berken, Gregg, & Markakis.

hey jeff,
im just wondering how much longer we re going to be subjected to vlad batting cleanup. i know we dont have many terrific options there, but he is god awful. if he's not going to hit home runs there is absolutely no reason for him to be playing everyday. and if buck has to play him he certainly shouldnt be batting 4th. that double play down 6-4 tonight was the final straw for me. the guy swings at everything- and his abilities have diminished to the point where he clearly cant get away with it anymore. is there a chance reynolds may get a shot there at some point? i know his avg is horrible, but he is good at working counts and at least sends one over the wall once in a while.

I really enjoy your news, notes and opinions since most fans don't have access to what goes on in club houses or ever hear what goes on behind the scenes.

I'd like to respond to the Markakis play a couple of nights ago that everyone's up in arms about.

Many of Nick's doubles go right down the left field line, he has an almost perfect swing to do that. Rolen was playing in to guard against the bunt and the pitcher gave Markakis a fastball on the outside corner. Markakis hit it hard and a foot either way, Hardy probably scores. Nick took a shot at what he does best, and in the particular instance, it didn't work. The astute broadcast tandem on Throne/Flanagan knew what Nick was trying to do and commented on it, and I agree with them. But I have no problem with Markakis not bunting.

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Jeff Z's reply: By why trying doubling down the left-field line when it is far easier and a much less risky proposition just to pull the ball to the right side. At worst, a groundball gets the runner over to third. If you find a hole, which Markakis often does, then you have a single and Hardy most likely scores the winning run. I'd almost guarantee you that Markakis was not trying to double down the left-field line. That's not the fundamental play there.

Here's a quick cut/paste from my post at another site regarding the aforementioned Nick Markakis RISP, 0 out, 11th inning discussion -

Markakis has not laid down a successful sacrifice bunt since 2007. He swings from the 2 slot not for his bunting skills, but because he is a career near .300 hitter with moderate home run power, top tier extra base power to the gaps and down the lines, has above average ability to square up pitches in the zone, above average ability to recognize pitches out of the zone, and above average bat control. The proper and obvious? decision is to allow him to swing away, driving the ball to the right side to move along the base runner (who, incidentally was dogging it to first base until Stubbs dropped the ball), and with any amount of good fortune, he's rewarded with a base hit...a potential game winner.

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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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