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July 16, 2011

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.

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 6:30 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Minors


Lackey should have been ejected after he hit Lee. Jeff, however, missed an earlier opportunity to gain a measure of control. Lackey should have been warned after he hit Markakis, there was cause under the rules after what happened the night before.

Lee's drilling set the stage for what transpired Sunday. Warning Lackey after hitting Markakis may have either eliminated the Lee drilling or set the stage for Lackey's ejection. Personally I believe the former would have occurred and think Jeff missed an opportunity to defuse early in Saturday's contest.

I agree that Joe's people should have done the same in the Lackey situation since Jeff's lack of proper action toward Lackey actually played a part on what transpired in Sunday's game.

I like your idea of bringing up Bell and having him split DH/3B w/Reynolds, although I'm concerned because Bell strikes out a lot too and he's not great defensively, but has to be better than Reynolds. I see Reynolds as a full-time DH eventually (like maybe next year) or as trade bait if he goes on a tear before July 31.

I would like to trade Guthrie straight up for Texas's Chris Davis (even though I'm not sure who would pitch for us).

stop ragging on the young starters. Yes, they are major league professionals. But to come into the season and be constantly under the pressure that the franchise is on your shoulders is tough, top that off with an offense that wasn't producing and it is no wonder they struggle.
Also, don't be so critical of Reimold. He has played fewer games than Pie and so he should be a little off in LF. He certainly is hitting much better than Pie or Scott. The season is trashed. Put one lineup out there and stick with it. Tell the starters that you are it sink or swim you are going to learn to pitch, you have the necessary talent, just do it.

Great analysis as usual Jeff,

Johnson was originally envisioned to be a starter when signed by the Orioles but was not cut out for that role as the organization quickly learned. He had durability and injury issues and it seems that he is perfect for his current role. I know the Orioles are desperate but I say if it ain't broke, don't fix it. He will be one more pitcher getting Tommy John surgery.

I have never been a Feix Pie fan, he is just one more Cub's castoff that Andy seems to be enamored with. He has no power and could never be an everyday corner outfielder...even if he could field. Reimold reminds me of Joe Rudi in many ways, but gets poor jumps in the outfield.

Mark Reynolds and Josh Bell are mirror images of each other offensively and defensively...lots of power, lots of errors, lots of strikouts, no range at third base. At least Bell looks better striking out from the left side of the plate. I say let's bring him up.

Even though Andy's four year 'reign of error' has been largely self inflicted, you can't help but feel just a little empathy for the guy. Just about every player move he has made has turned to crap and he apparently no longer has the energy or vitality to mount a full scale International Scouting effort. If he did he would have pushed Angelos to start one four years ago. So we are still four years behind most MLB clubs if we ever get a GM who decides it's time to scout the caribbean.

Bell may be a better 3B than Reynolds even if he strikes out as much. Reynolds sucks on D no matter what position he's played in his career, but teams may be loathe to let him DH at so young an age.

If Reynolds can be dealt for a pitching prospect, great.

Has there been any talk of promoting Matt Angle (who is hitting over .300 in June and July at AAA) and shifting Jones to left field? I know Reimold played some first base last year in the minors, has there been any consideration of moving him to first? That would allow him to focus on his hitting without worrying about those blunders in the outfield.

Jeff Z"s reply: Yes on Angle being promoted but no on him playing center field. If Angle is indeed the guy and he's one of the frontrunners, he's fill the 4th outfielder role and occasionally get starts in left. Reports on Reimold at first base were terrible and Orioles wouldn't play him there unless emergency.

Josh Bell still has not learned plate discipline - he strikes out a lot, and doesn't draw many walks. The Orioles already have too many hitters who can't spell OBP. Bell would be another. Just a further sad commentary on our minor league system that doesn't develop disciplined hitters (Bell came that way, but shouldn't coaches serve some useful purpose?), and develops pitchers who crash when brought up to the big club.

We need a true LF who can hit and field. We need a !B who can do the same.

Hardy's gotten pull-happy since his strong June, and that's cause his slump, as pitchers are pitching him outside.

Agreed, Gil. I'm not a huge Andy fan, but hindsight is 20/20.

People can look at the Lee, Guerrero, Atkins, etc. signings and say MacPhail did a horrible job, but did the Jays look like they were getting much in Bautista? Did the Cards look like they were getting much in Berkman? Did the Yankees expect an all-star in Martin? Heck, even the Rangers weren't expecting near what they got out of Vlad last season.

Granted, the O's pay a bit more for their washed up vets, but other teams continually catch lightning in a bottle and the O's get crap. This franchise is just plain snakebitten.

Johnson is already worn down, why try him as a starter now? Bad idea

HORRAY for Jim Johnson!!!

{Gil, Johnson started one game. That's not enough to determine if he is or is not a Stater. A single game for a top rated prospect/draftee starter pitcher should not have put him in the bullpen in any organization other than Baltimore}

I've been saying it for a while (read: every single season), a guy with that talent, and with a rotation as depleted as the Orioles, deserves his chance to be a starter. His "stuff" is some of the best, if not THE best, of the Orioles arms. To me, it's madness Johnson hasn't been in the rotation before now when it's still glaringly obvious now and now desperately needed too. Inspiration or desperation, right.

Would you rather a guy that's good/great for one inning during winning games or a guy that's good/great for, gasp, 7 innings?? Easy answer. Why'd Texas allow Neftali Feliz to try being a starter after a ROY campaign? Because Starters are more valuable than Bullpen guys!!! Texas knows that, so I'm glad Baltimore finally figured it out....a day late as usual.

Best of Luck to Jim! Hope it happens soon...of course, now there isn't much of an option, so at least the picked the right guy last.

In 2012, Reynolds needs to move to the DH, as the GM signs, Aramis Ramirez from the Cubs . Josh Bell is not a major league player (at least not yet), and should remain in the minor league. Unless there is someone out there who believes that bringing iup Bell will cause this team to win more games???? Anyone believe that? Let him learn how to play AAA before you tries to learn the ML.

I know that there's not a fan out there in his right mind who believes that Texas would be crazy enough to hand over Chris Davis who is batting .370 w/20 HRs for Guthrie? You know, the pitcher who is like, 2-14........ Guthrie? If they threw in Pie, Reimold, Scott, & Lee, Texas would still laugh at the offer. The most any Oriole can bring back in return for a trade is a mediocre minor league player.

It should be obvious that Pie is not a ML player. His greatest asset (speed) he doesn't use because he can't steal bases, runs the bases poorly and doesn't track balls well in the field. Coupled all that with no power and no on base avg and he shouldn't be in the MLs.

Vlad and Lee should have been gone. Reimold (I'm not really sold on him) can at least do what Vlad has done.

Just like most years the Orioles have nothing at 1B and DH where you need big hitters. LF is a black hole and Scott is hurt and can't be counted on.

Not to mention the entire rotation has regressed. Arrieta is another guy who should be in AAA. He had 4 good starts in June and that has been it for the year which is reflected in his 5.00+ ERA.

For all of the positive things at the end of the 2010 it has completely crashed and burned.

A pitcher can go from starting to relieving mid-season, but don't look for Johnson to be successful going from reliever to starter half way through. This is not going to be good for Johnson. This is how players become injured. Its not fair to him.

Yes, Jim Johnson does make sense as a starter.
He and Simon might have the two best arms on the team. Am glad Simon seems to be getting a shot at the rotation as well

Cash in on Guthrie and look to next year's staff, as you said. Unfortunately, the rest of the tradable/available talent (Vld,Lee, Scott ) is basically worthless. Maybe Uehara can yield a decent prospect. But based on how well we did with the Sherrill and Huff trades, why get our hopes up?

The present rotation is no better than a AAA team. How do you compete in the majors, and esp. in the AL East, with the starter performances like the O's have had.

Very frustarting and exasperarting, esp. to see the Pirates, Nats, Rangers, Rays etal leave us in the dust with player development.

I've been saying that JJ should get a chance to start this season because ST means nothing. The O's needs to know if the guy is a starter or a reliever.

Jeff, I have two questions for you:

I like Guthrie, but I wouldn't sign him long term, so I really do feel he will get dealt, but do you really think it's wise to trade Koji? He has a reasonable contract and has been very durable since he's moved to the BP. I am just thinking that if JJ makes the transition to a starter, there is no one in the minors that can setup for Gregg. I know the O's aren't in contention and Koji is 35, but I still think unless they get blown away, keep Koji.

Why wont the O's see if Tillman can be effective out of the BP? I am not saying he has to stay in the pen forever, but maybe for 1 inning at a time, he can get confidence at the big league level.

Pete. Why oh why oh why is Felix Pie still on this team? I can't believe a baseball guy like Showalter has much patience with him. He is so bad and contributes nothing to the team. Can you please ask Buck that question? We all would like to know.

How is bringing up Josh Bell a good idea? You want to let Reynolds DH because he strikes out alot and has as many errors as homeruns, but you want to replace him with a guy that also strikes out alot and almost has as many errors as homeruns? Makes perfect sense!

Wow another mid-season trade. We've made what about 15 mid-season trades over the past 12-15 yrs with absolutely NOTHING to show for it. No one on our roster came via a mid-season trade, nor any top prospects so those pushing a Guthrie trade be careful what U wish for. Over the years we've dumped some decent vets (Conine, Lopez, Sherrill, Hupp, Tejeda etc) for so called prospects. Were these merely disguised salary dumps or are our scouts so deficit they'd wouldn't recognize a legitimate prospect??

First, thank you for finally pointing out how bad Pie is in the outfield. Those 2 plays last night were a great example. He and Andino are the worst fundamental players on the roster, but for some reason Buck keeps putting them out their and their defense alone has cost the team 5 or 6 games. How about Pie not running on the check swing strike 3 that goes to the backstop?

Remold isn't great in left, but he was pretty good his rookie year and struggled last year when he was not running well. He plays so hard, you have to think he'll improve and he gives you so much more at the plate and on the bases. I just can't see why Buck won't just play him every day and see what happens. He has great at bats every night, can hit one out at any time and is a great base runner. Pie is a joke at the plate right now.

I also, don't know what games Buck is watching when he doesn't just play Blake Davis against all righties. Andino is an automatic out against them right now. He also is so clueless in the field. Yes he apmakes some plays, but makes so many mistakes. Not only the throwing errors, but simple things like bad tags, bad footwork etc... I was at a game recently with a runner trying to stretch a double, Reimold made a perfect throw to second that beat the runner by 5 feet, but Andino set up on the left field side of the base (instead of straddling it) with his back to home plate, so that his glove hand was away from the base - he reached like a first baseman to catch the ball and then lunged to the base too late. Had he done what every 10-year old is taught, straddle the bag and let the ball travel to your glove, and the runner was out by 5 feet. He went on in that game to make a throwing error that cost them the game.

Finally, how can you just dismiss Bergeson for next year? Yes he has struggled at
times, but what 25 year old doesn't? And please dont quote me his ERA - the has
been put in impossible situatons in blow-out relief appearances. He also shut out the
Rays, who else on this team has done
that? Don't you think he gives the team a
better chance to win than Atkins? Him or Jako starting is a joke.

Anyway, I've been staying away from the blogs because everyone, especially the Sun is so negative, and I'd rather just try to watch baseball. However, it's hard to not join in when Buck puts people out there that give you no chance to win ( please no one tell me about Pie's hit tonight - 1 for 19 before that), but if Buck is throwing in the towel at least play some kids that will play hard and give you some upside.

Btw, do you think anyone will have interest in Gregg? It would be nice to be rid of him and put Koji where he belongs. Unfortunately, I figure it is more likely Koji gets traded.

Since when have the Orioles been coveting Chris Davis? Do most Orioles fans even know who Chris Davis is?

Arizona has a log jam of 1B prospects, I would move Guthrie for one of those guys in a heartbeat. Same with Kyle Blanks of San Diego.

Also moving Johnson out of his high leverage set-up role is going to end badly. He has thrived in his current role.

Of all the retread pitchers who signed this season - Jeff Francis, Chris Capuano, Brendan McCarthy, Rich Harden only Brandon Webb has been more disappointing than Justin Duchscherer.

And speaking of Justin's, how handy would Justin Turner be right now to compliment Andino's punchless hitting. If it isnt one thing......

"Also factoring in the decision, team officials can’t have too much confidence that 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."

Phat chantZ either way. Instead of focusing on improving the lineup & field positions, they've got to now figure out how to cobble together four quality major league starting pitchers.

And please don't think that three innings in a mop-up role in a blow-out on July 8 means anything. Believe in Tinker Bell instead.

Rinse, wash, repeat.

@Canice Murphy,

Have there been more words or bytes wasted on any subject other than Duchscherer ? A pitcher who has appeared in 5 games in the last 2 1/2 yrs. If he shows up, he shows up. Otherwise, weekly updates ??? Let's get real.

Oops, gotta get my door. Think it's Ed McMahon.

Hey, let's give Gregg a shot at starting, the guy just is not dependable in relief. If he can grind 5 innings every 5 days, it would plug one hole, or at least 1/2 of one. I agree with others, don't mess with JJ now--and he needs some rest. Berken started out great, but got too many repeats in too short a period....fizz.
These two guys have been solid performers (when not wasted) in relief... be glad, look for starters elsewhere.

JEFF GREAT IDEAS I would love to see Johnson moved to start this year especially if we trade GUTHRIE. BUT I don't see it happening if we trade Koji.. I would love to keep him now. I would love to get DAVIS tx., and/or Goldschmidt az.,, With two power prospects like them at 1B we might get the next Gonzalez or Fielder .. THEN use the big bucks on a #1 starter plus BUNDY.. Most fans are going to call this a losing team year regardless of the record if they don't sign BUNDY.. I STILL believe Matusz will be okay with the proper strength and conditioning .. I think Britton ans Arietta could gain a lot from the same programs .. MY 2nd biggest wish would be a 2nd base prospect a few years away who could hit leadoff someday and always LHP....

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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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