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July 18, 2011

Orioles news and notes: Hardy, Markakis, Johnson, Uehara

Several people have questioned why in the world would shortstop J.J. Hardy want to sign a contract extension with the Orioles when they are struggling so badly, and he likely would have several contenders bidding for his services after this season. Obviously, a three-year, $22.25 million contract extension is a nice comfort for a player with an extensive injury history. But the two other factors that immediately come to mind are loyalty and commitment. Hardy readily admits that he’s still a little bitter about how his time in Milwaukee ended. He felt that he was one of the guys that helped the Brewers get to the 2008 playoffs, and yet a year later, a struggling Hardy was optioned to Triple-A Nashville, a move that allowed Milwaukee to delay his free agency one extra year. The Brewers then traded him after the 2009 season to open up a spot for youngster Alcides Escobar. Hardy went to the Minnesota Twins, and he struggled to stay on the field and never felt part of that organization’s future. So Hardy was appreciative when the Orioles traded for him and then months later expressed to him that they wanted him to be part of their future. Sure, Hardy wanted the comfort of a long-term deal, but he also wanted to be wanted and feel that an organization was committed to him going forward.He got both feelings from the Orioles.

On to another question that I’ve been asked repeatedly: “Why is Nick Markakis choking up on the bat so much?” I posed that one to Markakis, who enjoys talking about his hitting mechanics with a reporter almost as much as he enjoys wearing a fastball from John Lackey in the ribs. Markakis gave his usual stock answers that he just feels real comfortable now at the plate and he’s staying with what works. About as expansive as he got was indicating that that it allows him to exhibit better bat control. I asked him whether he feels that choking up will further limit his power – I know, I know, Barry Bonds choked up a lot, too - and he opined that it had nothing to do with it, and power was a function of his bat speed. He then went out and homered in his second consecutive game.

I’m guessing that Orioles manager Buck Showalter will happily confront this problem tonight because it will mean that his team actually has a lead against the Boston Red Sox, but it will be real interesting to see who will get the ball late in a close game if such a situation arises. Koji Uehara won’t be available after having pitched in three consecutive games. Kevin Gregg is expected to start serving his suspension tonight. Jim Johnson probably will be available, but he did pitch 1 2/3 innings yesterday. Mark Hendrickson will be off limits after pitching three innings yesterday. Michael Gonzalez has pitched three of the past four days. My guess is Johnson would be the designated closer for the night, but anything beyond that would be purely a guess.

Just a quick note on Johnson’s workload: In his first 22 appearances, the big righty was forced to get more than three outs just six times. In his last 21 appearances, he’s gotten more than three outs 12 times. I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to stretch him out for a transition into a starter either. The Orioles have so few relievers that they can trust, and Johnson is one of them.

And one more thing about the Orioles’ bullpen: I’ve talked to enough scouts of teams that are looking for relievers, and while they praise Uehara for the season that he’s having, and say that he’s a guy that their club is keeping an eye on, they quickly talk about his durability concerns, his problems pitching in really hot weather and his propensity to give up the long ball. Look, I get it, but you can’t ignore the following numbers: 1.84 ERA, nine earned runs, 23 hits, eight walks and 58 strikeouts in 44 innings. The one blemish is the six home runs allowed. Regardless, he’s just having a phenomenal season. I was a little surprised that Showalter brought him into a third straight game yesterday, especially with a five-run lead. I initially wondered if Showalter was trying to send a message to the scouts in attendance that Uehara is in fine form and count be counted on to pitch on a regular basis, but I concluded that was probably a reach. Either way, I don’t know what more scouts would have needed to see about Uehara after watching this series. In three consecutive games spanning four scoreless innings, he retired 12 of the 13 hitters that he faced, six of them on strikeouts. He also threw only 45 pitches (32 for strikes) while getting those 12 outs.

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 6:30 AM | | Comments (27)
        

Comments

Buck was so desperate to end the losing streak that he oversued JJ and Koji over the weekend. That is how much trust he has in the rest of the arms out there. And there are no viable replacements in the system for upgrades. So why have 8 arms out there if you don't use/trust most of them and have a very short bench?

With Gregg likely starting his suspension and Koji and JJ pitching 3 days in a row, the pen is in "terrific" shape going into the Sox series. If any of the games are close, a huge if, I assume that Gonzo is the man. Scary!!

I certainly hope they are not considering trading Uehara because he would be replaced by someone far worse if history repeats itself. Wigginton gets replaced by Reynolds big whoop. Bradford was traded as was sherrill and now we have Gonzales etc. Choking up is not a new concept in major league baseball.

Sure hope they dont trade Koji. With a somewhat reasonable almost vested option for 2012, he provides a nice fit in the 7th or 8th inning and he can also spot close when needed. He and Johnson are anchors in a bullpen that otherwise has a lot of floaters.

In last night's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" marathon, Red Sox pitchers gave up ONE walk in 16 innings.

Their patient hitters drew 12 walks.

Of course, Red Sox haters will say that Tampa pitchers were squeezed.

So Hardy was getting the Reimold treatment in Milwaukee? Good for JJ that he has found his place. I hope Nolan get the same someday.

Is Markakis still using Guerrero's bats? The extra weight may be causing him to choke up a little.

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Jeff Z's reply: Last time I checked, he was.

Jeff, you weren't the only one wondering why Koji was brought in the close out a five run game. I would never question the manager, he's forgotten more about baseball than I will ever know, but still, wouldn't it have been a great time to get Patton an inning?

Markakis used to hold the bat at the very bottom, and we all know what kind of start he had. In the couple of months since he started choking up, we have all seen the success he's had. I'll take the former.

The science of hitting is almost as mysterious as the science of UFOs or why people watch Jerseylicious.

I knew a college hitting coach who would tell his hitters who choked up to get a shorter bat, reasoning that it's better to hold a 33 inch bat at the bottom than choke up on a 35 inch bat. He just liked the torque that could be built up by swinging from the knob, even though you'd think there would be no real difference.

All I know is, Nick Markakis is a professional hitter, the Orioles' version of Mark Grace. If he thinks choking up is the best way, who are we to argue? Nick is never going to be a 30 HR guy, so just let him go about his business and do what he does best. I'm sure there are a lot of managers out there who would take a RF who is 9th in MLB in hits, even after an atrocious start.

And about Hardy. Many people think he should have been traded, or at least offered arbitration after the season. Well, it's not easy getting a SS with some power who plays the kind of defense he does. He's still only 28, and maybe the injury troubles that have plagued him will go away now that he's entering into the prime of his career. That's the kind of player you build around.

And here's the other thing; he still could be traded. He has a limited no-trade clause, I think it was reported that there were eight teams on his no-go list, that leaves 21 teams that are possibles. You would think that a team is dire need of a SS would be willing to give more to get a guy like Hardy, knowing that he's not a half-season rental.

One of the national websites speculated that a good trade for the Orioles would be with the Reds, Hardy for Yonder Alonzo. With JJ signed, you could try to pry their young SS, Cozart. they just might go for it.

Thanks, Jeff, great job as always. Now that I'm on summer hiatus, the first thing I do is look for your updates. Keeps me sane until school starts.


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Jeff Z's reply: Good stuff Ken, thanks.

JEFF nice story good points.. I wouldn't mind seeing them keep Uehara especially if they consider making Johnson a starter which I would rather see started this season rather then seea weak Matusz, or overmatched bergesen or Tillman with no command and lowered velocity.. I think they need to make two points with Tillman (1) must cut down on pitch count,, (2) must strengthen his arm to get velocity back with offseason program.. I don't believe he has accomplished much of either so far at AAA. I am still hopeful LEE has shown his hitting for power and RBI coming around to tempt an NL team where they know him as a 2nd half hitter..

Pitching Koji the third day in a row on a hot Sunday afternoon?

Koji is all but gone at this point. The smack from the scouts is intended to reduce his perceived value to their club.Scouts usually pay any attention to players they are interested in, as is the case here.

I hope they get to move Koji. It will be good for him and in the long run good for the club.

Mr. Hardy, I fully expect you to be batting below .200 next year (and for however long your extension is) and for you to develop arm problems. Wait, does that only happen with O's pitchers? Who cares; the sub .200 batting average will be good enough. Anyway, at least got a guaranteed $22 milion.

Jeff, you said Gregg is likey going to start his suspension tonight. Did he drop his appeal? Yesterday, Buck said in the postgame that he still was upset about the way MLB handled the suspensions. I hope the Orioles contest them. I have read that the real culprit from Boston is appealing.


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Jeff Z's reply: Not official yet. But both teams and players (Ortiz and Gregg) have been communicating back-and-forth with the league and the player's union, and it appears that they'll work something out where they'll drop the appeal in exchange for the suspension being reduced.

This is just my observation but Markakis needs to hit the weights to get stronger, he looks thin to me. I believe he would benefit from adding 15 pounds of muscle in the offense.

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Jeff Z's reply: He's pretty ripped under his uniform but he's always had a problem keeping on weight. He drops a ton of it during the season despite working out regularly after games.

Who is running the O’s ?? Bizarre comments from Peter Gammons & Peter Schmuck over the weekend. More ambiguity in the O’s front office….make decisions people !

Gammons article:

" Another GM says Baltimore is murky because "Andy MacPhail really doesn't know which way [Orioles owner] Peter [Angelos] wants him to go."

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110717&content_id=21906018&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlb&partnerId=rss_mlb

And from Schmuck:

"Here's what we know: President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is in the final months of his 4 1/2-year contract and Showalter appears to have taken his place at the right hand of owner Peter Angelos."


http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/orioles/bs-sp-schmuck-orioles-0717-20110716,0,510447.column

I always felt like using a bigger bat helps balance you out, if your front shoulder is flying open too soon, and you're being overly aggressive. To compensate for the slightly more weight, you need to start out earlier, and, when the bathead drags with a larger bat, it is actually level.

The choking up Nick is doing makes a lot of sense to me for the bigger bat, just to gain back some control over the head of the bat. In Little League we learned that choking up is a pure function of power vs. control, but in the pros, where these guys are all athletes, it's really not that simple.

I certainly hope they are not considering trading Uehara because he would be replaced by someone far worse if history repeats itself. Wigginton gets replaced by Reynolds big whoop. Bradford was traded as was sherrill and now we have Gonzales etc. Choking up is not a new concept in major league baseball.

---------------------
Uehara will help a team that is 20 games under .500 how? Are Sherril and Bradford even in the big leagues anymore? O's fans are far too sentimental. The same crowd who thinks all of the problems lie with Angelos and his tight purse strings (who shelled out $9 million for Vlad, incidentally), are always against trading any player of any value at all.

Jeff,

I'm just thinking out loud here, but could Jim Johnson's team record relief appearances be an indicator or him becoming a future starter, as early as next season?

Obviously the guy is a workhorse, and could pitch 7 innings every fifth day.


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Jeff Z's reply: I wrote about this Saturday and it certainly sounds like this is the way it's headed. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Johnson starts at some point this season just to see if he can handle it heading into the offseason.

Hey Jeff... Thoughts on a possible Guthrie for Chris Davis deal with Texas?? Lots of Ks but lots of power potential IMHO .. Happy Monday!!


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Jeff Z's reply: Honestly, I'm not a fan of Davis. I see what he's done in the minors and it's obvious that he is a type of player the Orioles simply don't have in the upper levels of the minor leagues. But that shouldn't be the criteria. The criteria should be: Will he be an impact 1B in the American League East? I'm certainly not sold based on what he has done during his big league time and the fact that mitch moreland has clearly passed him on the depth chart. I'd take him without a doubt, but I'd rather see them get pitching for Guthrie.

Tell J.J. that in today's(Monday,7/18)Milwaukee Journal Sentinel there is a reader poll to name the Brewer player fans miss most and that J.J. is the runaway winner.Hope that at least makes him smile.True fans know the value of J.J.at shortstop and I am just glad he is an Oriole

Why would this organization trade Uehara away to make another team, which is already better than the Orioles, even better than the Orioles? This team has no huge salary to dump (other than Brian Roberts). Let's stop thinking like losers. No team is going to give up it's #1 prospect for Uehara and no team is giving up a ML player that will take the Os to the next level, so why trade and make them better. Teams that want to win Re-sign their best pitcher!!

Ah, the red sox.......

Not oly does will their team rip is a new one, their fans will completely dominate this week.

They're upset that the worst team in the AL is the reason papi is being suspended. They're going to let the oriles and their fans hear it this week. Why? Because they can and they will.

What kind of organization would continue to allow this to happen? Winning would help, but since that hasn't and will never happen as log as Peter and Andy are running things, why haunt they tried something else?

How about a special giveaway to fans you proudly show off their oriole apparel? Could be a hat, shirt....anything? Even if the front office attempted to out number sox fans for one night, it at least would show the oriole fans that they care.

But this organization does not care. How much more do you need to see to realize that? MASN will deaden the sound of the Sox fans on the tube. If you're at the game though, you better wear Sox apparel. Otherwise, you'll feel completely out of place.

Jeff...Can you shed some light on management's reasoning behind decisions regarding player movement. Specifically, Patton was promoted 4 or 5 times last season, used only for a couple of innings, during a season where his performance in AAA was far from stellar. This season he has been superb and it has taken the until now to promote him.

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Jeff Z's reply: Showalter has pointed out several times that Patton has had a good season "statistically." Reading in between the lines, that tells me that he's done enough to get guys out at the minor league level, but they don't think his stuff will play in the big leagues and that's why he hasn't gotten much of an opportunity.

As for Koji, I'm inclined to agree with the sentiments that he be traded, but the deal is, even with Koji's great numbers, he is 37 I believe and with a track history of indurability, so what can you expect to get in return for an aging, uberdelicate, mid-reliever? Maybe an A-Ball prospect? No thanks. My guess is Koji stays an Oriole and I have no problem with that as the man is a strike machine. Now the guy they should have traded, and should consider trading every year is whichever Oriole is named team MVP. If you look back over past seasons, getting named the team MVP is some kind of "kiss of death." Looked what happened to Jay Gibbons. And now Luke Scott. If I was an Oriole and having a great year I'd say, thanks but no thanks, please put that O's MVP curse on to somebody else! Go O's!

Jeff,

Saw your response on Chris Davis. O's have to do something there. Lee, Huff, Aubrey, Jeff Conine - basically since Palmeiro that position has become a black hole.

In the minors Townsend and Mahoney are as soft as creme filling and Snyder is not hitting enough. I don't see many free agent options and Fielder is both unlikely to come here and a bad deal for whomever signs him even if he agrees.

Davis hasn't hit in the big leagues but is constantly being jerked around and up and down similar to Reimold. I think if you give him the job and let him sink or swim for 3 months he can hit enough to fill the void. He has been lights out at AAA and is still pretty young. Think I would make that deal and would definitely make it straight up for Uehara and JJ who only factor into 70 innings per year, Davis plays every day and no other options are presenting themselves in my mind.


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Jeff Z's reply: Good post Bret. I agree, the only thing that they need more than a young and productive 1B is No.1 starter. I have nothing against Davis and I'd certainly take him, but I guess the times I have watched him play, I have not been overly impressed and I'm not convinced that he's the long-term answer.

Jeff,

I think the Orioles should hold off on any trades now. Once the pennant races heat up they can still put players through waivers and trade them, as needs arise for the contenders. I have to think that Uehara, Hardy and Jim Johnson could bring some decent prospects later in the year if they hold up physically. Other than that, I don't see any trade value on the team, outside of the core group, Wieters, Jones, Markakis,and they certainly aren't going to trade them.

Do you agree with those ideas, Jeff?

So Hardy didn't like being demoted and thought it was due to delaying his free agency? Hmmm. Zach Britton anyone? Many players do hold grudges and if they have success they will remember slights.

Is it a fair question to ask- Why isn't Texas bringing up a guy hitting 370 and mashing at AAA that can play infield corners, DH and some outfield? I mean, if 370 and 20+ HRs does not get you a call up, what will?

Do you think that Davis is down there because if Texas exposes him to major league pitching and he continues his downward trend, they'll get less for him?

What is a guy worth who cannot make his major league team despite pretty ridiculous numbers at AAA , and is out of options next year?

This is the predicament in which the Orioles find themselves... Is he worth the risk, given his recent play at the major league level, of trading one of the few legitimate arms that you have in your bullpen? Is it going to cost you a few million dollars to replace a guy like JJ because your minor league system has absolutely not one capable arm right now?

Gil...it has already been reported that the O's promised Hardy they would not trade him this season as part of his extension

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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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