News, notes and opinions: Johnson as starter, Rangers as trade partner, roster management, etc.
The Orioles have long debated whether setup man Jim Johnson, who came up through their system as a starter, should move to the rotation, but that dialogue has heated up the past couple of weeks to the point where it may be not a matter of if, but when. The performance of the Orioles’ rotation has left team officials scrambling to find not only starters for the rest of the season, but also guys they can pencil into next year’s rotation. You can’t do that with Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman, and who knows what will happen with Brian Matusz over the next couple of months? Originally, I felt that the Orioles would wait until the offseason to begin stretching Johnson out as a starter. However, I don’t think that they have that luxury anymore. The organization needs to know whether he’ll be able to handle starting every five days, and it would benefit them to have that information before the offseason. If he can, that’s one fewer starter they need to target and one more reliever they’ll need to add. Also factoring in the decision is the fact taht team officials can’t have too much confidence they’ll be to acquire quality rotation help this offseason, so they are left to figure out ways of filling most of the spots internally.
This is the time of year when you really start paying attention to what teams are represented in the scout seats behind home plate. I was especially interested Thursday because Jeremy Guthrie was on the mound, and he’s certainly one of the Orioles’ bigger trade chips. The only team I recognized in attendance that could be a possible fit was the Texas Rangers, who are reportedly looking for a little rotation and bullpen help. Don’t misunderstand -- I know of no specific talks between the clubs or whether the Rangers have interest in Guthrie or any other Orioles. The Rangers scout could have just been performing his normal coverage area or even looking at a couple of the Cleveland Indians. Who knows? However, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the Orioles and Rangers are decent fits as trade partners. The Orioles have Guthrie and two solid relievers in Johnson and Koji Uehara. The Rangers have plenty of young arms, and there is a familiarity there with manager Buck Showalter, pitching coach Rick Adair, first base coach Wayne Kirby and former pitching coach Mark Connor all having ties to the Texas organization. The Rangers also have 25-year-old first baseman Chris Davis, who entered yesterday hitting .369 with 20 homers and 55 RBIs for Triple-A Round Rock and whom Oriole fans have coveted for a while. The Philadelphia Phillies, by the way, also were represented at last night’s game.
The Orioles have played just two games since the All-Star break, and I already find myself questioning the roster composition of the club. With Vladimir Guerrero unavailable for the previous games and possibly headed to the disabled list, the Orioles played the past two nights with two bench players while essentially carrying a nine-man bullpen. Indians manager Manny Acta, meanwhile, had a six-man bench at his disposal. With just backup catcher Craig Tatum and utility infielder Blake Davis on the bench last night, Orioles manager Buck Showalter was forced to let Felix Pie hit against a tough lefty (Rafael Perez) with a man on in the sixth. He also was forced to use Davis as a pinch hitter in the ninth against a tough closer in Chris Perez. This is nothing against Davis at all, but you’d like to have guys with a little more thump and a more proven track record coming off the bench with games on the line in the later innings. I also understand that Orioles starters haven’t gotten deep into games and you have to protect your bullpen, but a nine-man bullpen on the heels of a three-day All-Star break seems a little much. It’s hard to win a close game, especially against a team with a good bullpen, when you don’t have any weapons on your bench.
Much is made about Mark Reynolds’ 20 errors at third base, and rightly so. However, the defense the Orioles have gotten out of their left field position has been brutal. There were at least two plays Pie could have made yesterday that would have bailed out his pitcher, and he came up with neither of them. If you’re not going to hit, you may want to bring something more to the table defensively, and Pie hasn’t been able to do that. Nolan Reimold has also struggled defensively in left, while Scott is considered below average out there as well. Between poor jobs, poor routes, throwing to the wrong base, missing the cut-off man, Orioles left fielders have done it all this year.
Nobody asked me of course, but if Guerrero goes to the disabled list, which I guess is suspected at this point, and Luke Scott remains unavailable, I’m calling up Josh Bell and having him and Reynolds share DH/third base duties.
Obviously, you’ll continue to hear fallout from the contentious Red Sox-Orioles series over last weekend with the Red Sox coming to town Monday and the appeals for the suspended players still yet to be heard. But I just want to make one more point on the matter: I believe Orioles first baseman Derrek Lee was the only batter hit intentionally in the series, and the pitcher who did it (John Lackey) was not among the players suspended. Certainly, Michael Gonzalez was either trying to hit David Ortiz or purposefully throwing behind him to send a message, and he was rightfully suspended. But as far as the five hit batsmen in the series, Lee was the one who you can say with near certainty that he was hit on purpose. What a cop-out then that MLB opted to fine Lackey rather than suspend him. Either he threw at him or he didn’t, and being that he was fined, that certainly is a sign that MLB felt he did intentionally throw at Lee. So why didn’t he get a suspension like Gonzalez? What’s the difference? Intent is intent. Obviously, MLB had no problem overruling Jeff Nelson’s umpiring crew by not suspending Red Sox right-hander Kyle Weiland, the right move because the rookie surely wasn’t targeting Mark Reynolds or Vladimir Guerrero and didn’t deserve to get ejected. They should have done the same with the Lackey situation despite the fact that Nelson didn’t eject him from the game.