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July 27, 2011

Orioles news, notes and opinions: Reason for Matusz's struggles, Lee's value, young infielders, etc.

I totally understand why some people are calling for the Orioles to shut down struggling left-hander Brian Matusz, and let him start fresh next spring. I just don’t agree with it. Look, I have no way of knowing if Matusz, who is pitching for Triple-A Norfolk, is 100 percent healthy. But you have to think that if he wasn’t, he would have admitted it by now, or if there was any doubt, either the team or his agent would encourage the 24-year-old to shut it down. They haven’t and slowly but surely, clues are starting to emerge as to what has contributed to this disastrous year for Matusz, who allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks over five innings to Toledo. That leaves him 0-3 with a 4.83 ERA in six appearances for Norfolk. I haven’t spoken to Matusz in a couple of weeks, but I’ve heard or read several interviews with him since. And more and more, he’s starting to acknowledge that he wasn’t as prepared as he needed to be coming into spring training. There have been whispers for months that Matusz didn’t do enough in the offseason, and I’ve said many times that he didn’t look right to me from the first day of spring training. Perhaps, some of his recent comments are telling. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where he was unprepared for spring training, had his preparation cut short following the wart removal and the getting drilled by the comebacker, and then sustained the intercostal injury. Throw in working on the mechanical changes that new pitching coach Mark Connor suggested, and a total loss of confidence and it’s suddenly not hard to see why one of baseball’s better young pitchers last year is struggling to get anybody out at Triple-A right now.

Jeremy Guthrie isn’t scheduled to pitch again until this weekend in New York, but several potential suitors for Koji Uehara had scouts at the Rogers Centre last night. Among the teams represented were the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers. There were a handful of other scouts there as well, but I wasn’t able to catch what teams they represent. I’m sure every stadium in baseball last night was packed with scouts and who is there and who isn’t really doesn’t mean too much, but I figured it was worth passing along with so much attention being paid to potential trades over the final week before the Sunday deadline.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve always admired Derrek Lee as a player and person, but he’s a guy who I wouldn’t mind having on my team during the final two months of the National League pennant race. I can’t see why he wouldn’t fit on teams like Arizona or Pittsburgh, who aren’t exactly getting a ton of production at first base. Lee is batting only .246 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs so it’s not like a team would be getting a middle-of-the-order hitter. However, I would think the combination of his leadership, defense, and the fact that he knows National League pitchers a lot better than the American League ones, would probably be worth acquiring for a low-level prospect or two. You make ask what is the point from the Orioles’ end, and my answer would be that it would allow them to save a little money (from what remains on Lee’s contract) and possibly put it toward the Dylan Bundy fund.

Make no mistake, several young players that really needed to have big years on the farm – Josh Bell, Brandon Snyder, Matt Hobgood and Billy Rowell to name a few – have not, leading to even more criticism for the Orioles’ Player Development Department. They have earned their share, but it would be foolish not to acknowledge that some good things have happened on the farm this year, none bigger than the development of two of the better infield prospects in the game. Ever since I started covering this organization in 2005, all I heard about was that they had no up-and-coming infielders. That has changed. After a slow start at Single A Frederick, shortstop Manny Machado, 19, has really come on and raised his batting average to .278 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 25 games. He has two hits or more in three of his past four games, and three doubles in his past two games. Then, there’s third baseman Jonathan Schoop, the 19-year-old who went 4-for-4 with his first Carolina League homer last night to raise his average to .238 since his promotion to High-A. Throw in LJ Hoes, a former second baseman who is playing mostly outfield for Double-A Bowie and batting .310 in 55 games, and that's a pretty nice group of young infielders.

Here’s a stat that will show how little margin of error that the Orioles have and how few lopsided victories they have enjoyed: Last night’s 12-4 victory was the first since a 5-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals on May 24 in which manager Buck Showalter didn’t need to call on Jim Johnson, Uehara or Kevin Gregg to help preserve the lead. The Orioles have won 19 games since then and one or more of those three guys had pitched in each of the victories until last night. There’s certainly something to be said for an extra day off for your three best relievers.

Because we can’t go a day without an incremental Cesar Izturis update, the veteran infielder went 1-for-3 with an error at second base for Double-A Bowie last night. He reported no soreness in either his knee, which has been giving him some problems, or his surgically-repaired right elbow. Izturis is scheduled to take today off and get some individual work in with minor league infield coordinator Bobby Dickerson at Camden Yards tomorrow.

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 7:00 AM | | Comments (34)
        

Comments

WRT Snyder, Hobgood, and Rowell - drafting high school guys is just too much risk for a team in dire need of more immediate major league help. Emphasis should be on college guys who have more maturity and are closer to being major league ready (Weiters, Matusz, Arrieta).

Just a small comment, but Schoop has been playing 2nd base for the Keys and did last night. I was at the game and had seen Schoop play there before. He has a great glove, making tough plays look easy with a natural grace, as does Machado. Last Saturday, the two of them turned a double play that was the best defensive play I'd seen in 9 years watching the Keys. These two guys are adjusting to the pitching at this level and starting to hit the ball well. They're going to be special players.

Re the young guys not progressing: I think about Kevin Millar who admitted he was a zero tool player but succeeded at the ML level through hard work and persistence. Maybe our young players are out working hard everyday, taking extra BP, shagging flys, hitting the gym, and soaking up all the knowledge they can get from their coaches. If they're not, they are wasting their talents and that's a shame.

I don't know if i just don't care anymore and i think that is the case but you have had to notice that JJ Hardy is only 2 RBI's behind Nick after missing a month of the season. Just shows you how bad nick's production has been.This organization can't ever get better until they stop being satisfied with just medicore play from guy's that have to produce.They not only should expect more but have to demand more.

Thanks for the update on Matusz but I have to take issue with the sentence: "It’s suddenly not hard to see why one of baseball’s better young pitchers last year is struggling to get anybody out at Triple-A right now."

Actually, it is really hard to see, or at least hard to watch for O''s fans. Consider the reasons provided in the post: lack of preparation (either a team culture or professionalism issue--outrageous either way), a confidence issue (hard to be confident when you're dividing the plate with a board flat 87 mph four seamer, so that is a diversion) or the mechanical changes (Dear Mark Connor: Please stop killing us. Thanks, The Fans).

I have one more that was underplayed in the post: his stuff has gone from top of the 1st round to barely draftable. This follows a shocking pattern that the Birds are developing: acquiring strong young arms and watching them deteriorate into AAA gas cans.

Its a long list. Matusz, Tillman, Erbe and Hobgood have all had shoulder issues and/or seen their fastballs erode. Going back further, Adam Loewen, Matt Riley and Hayden Penn have all struggled to maintain arm strength. Don't look now, but the same thing is happening to Arrieta.

What is so frustrating as a fan is the team and media's reaction seems to be a sort of beleaguered bewilderment. This is not bad luck. Some teams develop arms better than others. Those teams benefit from young, cheap rotations and win a lot of ballgames (see the Giants, the Rays etc).

Nobody develop arms worse than the Orioles. That is why, more so than AL competition or limited payroll, they get crushed every year. Once management gets real about revamping their pitching development program, the team will have a chance again. If they keep the same methods, they will stay a failure.

Defend Player Development all you want, but they still stink. Two of the best prospects - and half the should-be pitching staff (Loewen, Matusz) are done, one forever, one probably forever.

Defend the scouting dept all you want as well, but Matt Hobgood was the last straw. I'll bet they have not drafted half a dozen quality players this millenium. If you like fringe players like Matt Angle and Ryan Adams and Blake Davis, then this is your team. Otherwise, forget it.

And it is not just the first round. Anyone can pick Dylan Bundy (to be ruined at a later date), but they are incapable of getting to the guts of the draft, the lower round guys, where it actually takes skill.

Pittsburgh drafted where the Orioles drafted the past dozen or so years, and look at them now. But the O's have not improved one iota. How can a major league ballclub have so little talent? There is not a single guy we can bring up who can satisfactorily replace an injured player.

Buck is not blameless, either. Why on earth did he get rid of Kranny as Pitching Coach when he was so clearly doing such an excellent job with the young staff?

We can continue to blame Angelos - and make no mistake, he is the biggest part of the problem - but he doesn't scout for us and he doesn't develop players for us. Andy needs to clean house in development and scouting - and I mean everyone but the secretaries, and maybe even them - next season.

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Jeff Z's reply: I've been highly critical of the scouting and player development depts all season on this blog. I was just pointed out that there have been a couple of positives on the farm this system. I would hardly call that a passionate defense.

Let's hope Andy gets cell phone reception up at Glenn Abbey Golf Course in Ontario. He NEEDS to be working those phones trying to rebuild our farm system.

It speaks volumes that the only glimmer of hope mentioned on the minor leaguers are two guys down in Single A with batting averages well below .300. How's Bobby Bundy doing at Bowie? And, everyone spoke of how mature Matusz was but it sure does not add up if your comments about his offseason conditioning are accurate.
It sure must be a challenge to have to break out the swine lipgloss everyday.

Thats an amazing stat about the 3 top relievers. Amazing...
An aside, I've often wondered why Kranitz wasn't retained.
Showalter has made some really bad decisions at times, been extremely stubborn at others, and hasn't shown any abiltiy to light a fire on the few occasions that he's chosen to rant.
Perhaps his worst decision was the choice of pitching coach - the guy couldn't even last half a season and almost all the young pitchers took a step or two backwards.

I hope you're right about Matusz. If so, shame on him, but hopefully he'll have learned something and will go into the offseason serious about becoming the front line starter he can be. On the prospect front, throw in Tyler Townsend, and you have legit prospects at every infield position. I am not sure Schoop is really a third base candidate though. Second base seems more likely. There's also Mahoney and Givens, who could still pan out and maybe Miclat ends up as a utility guy. I still think there is a shot Josh Bell could become a legitimate major leaguer, but Snyder and Rowell will go down as major failures by our management. Too early to give up on Hobgood, but clearly he wasn't the right pick at such a high spot. If there is anyone who was involved in all three of those picks, they shouldn't have a job any more.

Jeff,

I understand your theory on Matusz, and it makes some sense. I find it difficult, however, to figure out how a 24 year old kid could get so OUT of shape. I know the first time I saw him pitch in person this year, my friends and I thought he looked like he had just gotten out of bed after a bad case of malaria. Obviously he is not pitching himself back into shape. If I were the Orioles I would DL him for at least 30 days and let him work with a strength, nutrition and conditioning coach.

It's good to hear that some of our prospects in the low minors are doing well. Hopefully the next batch will be able to keep moving through the organization, unlike many others in the last 10 years or so. The biggest jump a prospect makes is from A to AA. That's a whole different world. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Jeff,

Why are the Orioles holding on to Felix Pie? He is clogging up a roster spot that could be used to develop a young player. Do the Orioles really still think Pie has potential?

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Jeff Z's reply: I just want to make sure I was clear on Matusz about the preparation thing. I'm not suggesting he sat around all offseason and got fat. Not that way at all. But the impression I get was that he didn't do enough to keep his arm strength up and be baseball ready. As for Pie, I think there was a sense that they'd keep playing him to try to showcase for a trade but with how poorly he has played, that's kind of out the window. I think that's now why you're seeing Reimold start in left field even against tough right-handers, like Morrow last night. At this point, it probably makes sense to just use Pie as the fourth outfielder and either non-tender him or trade him at season's end. As long as Reimold is playing, I don't see Pie blocking anybody in the minors that projects to be a big league regular and needs to play up here right now.

Totally agree with all of your comments on Lee. He hasn't put up the numbers this year, but his approach hasn't wavered and I think he has 2 months of quality baseball in him. A platoon with Overbay in Pittsburgh makes a lot of sense. I know the Orioles wouldn't score much in return, but it's a deal that should be done if they can. What we would do at 1B for the rest of the season wouldn't be pretty, but it might allow us to work in Bell, Reynolds, and Reimhold, see if they're anything...

And I'd just like to say that I personally think it's nice to have Vlad back. Sure, he's not that good anymore and his signing was a mistake, but he still is a totally unique player and sometimes baseball's fun for its personalities and not just wins and losses (spoken like a beaten-down O's fan, but still...)

Jeff, what was the rationale from the O's brass for tinkering with Matusz' mechanics? The way he pitched in the second half of 2010, it's hard for me to understand what needed to be addressed.
Also, how could a loss of pitch speed go unnoticed in the offseason? Don't the pitchers have a professional responsibility to throw at full strength under a radar gun as part of a larger conditioning program? And how could this have gone unnoticed by the bosses? Something doesn't pass the sniff test, and this is just a shame. He's probably got 10-12 seasons in him, and one is basically lost to an unexplained physical malady.


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Jeff Z's reply: Connor and Adair obviously thought that there were things that could be done to make Brian even better, and help him control the running game. As for your other question, I would doubt that these guys are being clocked on the radar gun during the offseason, but I don't know that for sure. The offseason is about getting in good shape physically and building up the arm strength gradually. It's not really about how hard you are throwing in January and even in the first couple of weeks of spring trainiing.

Jeff,

I enjoy reading your posts but, from a blog perspective, the paragraphs are just too long and hard on the eyes.Anything after 6 lines is just too tough to easily read.

well, it's nice to see that 4 years after the GrowTheArms edict, the hot prospects don't include any pitchers, just 3 under 20 infielders. Though Bundy is having a nice year, and Klein, before his injury, was on his way to Baltimore in the near future.
Don't get me wrong- I think it's great that it looks like there are some young guys that are playing and developing. This is what is necessary and expected. That they might actually project as major leaguers and force their way up thru the ranks so that the deadwood can get pushed out. All 3 of those guys are under-age for their league, and have adapted. Hoes was playing AA last yr at 19 and learned enough to get back this year and play really well. Machado was killing it in Delmarva before his injury, and now looks to be getting comfortable at high A. On a side note, can we underestimate the benefit of these 3 guys actualy playing in a winning environment? Maybe the mindset is a little different for these guys now as they make their way to Baltimore, talented and prepared. I think it'd be a nice treat for the manager, whoever that might be, to have young players with baseball skills that are fundamentally sound. Might make the major league learning curve a bit easier and shorter.

Jeff-

Unfortunately hearing a perceived nice positive or two now falls on deaf ears in Os fan land. And it's a completely justified reaction.

For more than a decade we've been told about wonderful young prospects. One year Os marketing sold us on coming out to see the youth. Just last year we head about the calvalry coming.

And along the way the Os happily took our money and said wait til next year. Again ad again.

Now the Os are telling us essentially about yet another 5 year plan.

For whatever reason, the franchise is run to be little more than another Inner Harbor attraction - along the Science Center and Aquarium. A 3.7M fanbase is now a 1.6M fanbase - with 1/3 of them visiting to see the Yanks the BoSox.

So pardon us if we are not excited about the .238 hitting infielder in Frederick.

Jeff,
Your forgeting maybe one of our best IF Tyler Townsend, 23, Frederick Keys Ave. .318, Hrs 13, RBI 50


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Jeff Z's reply: Yeah, I thought of him,b ut he has to stay healthy and that has been a real problem. Wrist, nagging hamstring. He just hasn't been on the field enough for me to feel that good about him.

Don't look for the Pirates to go after Lee. They added Lyle Overbay before the season, for all the same reasons the O's got Lee, and with very similar results. So they already have a good guy, clubhouse leader, calming presence, can't hit the ball first baseman. It's doubtful they'd want two.

Blancione - no mention of Markakis in this artice so your continued "analysis" of him here is patently unwelcome and frankly incorrect and a total bore.

Rich - this isn't twitter. I like the long updates!

So the Jays, 13 games out, snag an OF sought by many playoff bound teams.

Anthopoulos makes MacPhail look like a boy in a man's world.

in regards to lee. i wouldn't trade him for low level guys. we have no first baseman if he goes and none in the minors ready. the only exception in the minors could be mahoney who had a great spring training and then was hurt early in the season. lee would be fine at first for next yr unless they can get a quality player in a trade or free agency. if we get players in a trade they need to be major league ready or very close. we have little talent at norfolk and bowie.

I agree with Rick, I think as long as there is meat and potatoes the post entry should keep going. I want information, which Jeff does well (shameless suck up) not the ADHD ESPN 10 second sound bite. As long as there is some good info to convey, this format is fine. I might draw the line at Moby DIck (remember him, 3B in the 19...jk) Back to Matusz didnt I read here in spring about how he worked on conditioning and lost weight hard over the off season, but was behind on the throwing program because of the wart and the other ST stuff? Maybe we need to get him a few sandwiches. Works for me when I'm down.

Jeff,

Arm strength is one thing, leg strength is another. What is the training regimen in the majors and minors to build and maintain pitchers' leg strength?

OBP has not, and apparently is not, stressed in the O's system, from the big league team down. Why not?

Between Guthrie, Koji (whom I'll really miss - a pitcher who actually throws strikes and makes hitters earn their way on base), and Lee, the O's should be able to at least get themselves a 1B (or 3B, and move Reynolds to first), and some pitching prospects.

There is no need for Izturis, last year's worst hitter in the AL. Davis or Adams should be playing to see what they can do (I like Adams because he's a good OBP guy in AAA. He needs defensive coaching.)

A lot of people think Vlad is still an O because, even as a DH, he still does outfield practice and shag fly balls. The kids would do well do do half the work he does.

Wow, .273 and .238 in A-ball? I don't know if those are exactly the kinds of stats we want to promote as proof that the Orioles player development has had some successes this year...

It's clear that the Player Scouting and Development teams have been in a slump in the last couple years. There was some sizable attrition last year, which has had the effect of knocking off a bunch of those players acquired in the 2009 draft under the radar. Last year was a lost year for much of them, and if they ever reach their potential, it will be as "sleepers," so to speak.

That said, Schoop and Machado are pretty exciting. The organization just needs to press on, and continue forward. No organization bats 1.000 every single year. The better organization just seem to put out so many feelers and research that they end up placing a lot of high percentage bets, which has the aggregate effect of minimizing any damage to the overall farm. With the Os, it feels like, with their minimal footprint into the International market, it has the effect of magnifying their setbacks, without enough ok or solid prospects from other sources to minimize the damage.

Everything will get better when Brian Roberts returns. He is the SPIRIT of the
team. Derrick Lee is also a good booster on the team. He has maturity,
wisdom, and responsibility. DO NOT TRADE HIM! The only one that can be traded is Mike Gonzalez. Everyone will
start working together better when Brian
returns!

at the end of all of that mess, that deal for the jays was frasor for rasmus and the other guys on each side were throw ins. i thought for a minute that was an NBA trade.
LaRussa did not like Rasmus, the feeling was mutual, and the kid was underperforming and the Cards had their opinions on why. The Cards also need pitching bad and got Jackson.
Let's see if Rasmus gets it together in Toronto . He'll get every opportunity on a bad team.
Maybe the Os could have gotten Rasmus for Guthrie plus a reliever or 2.
Who knows.

I have to think that the market for Guthrie and koji is down to Texas and Detroit. Cincy just brought up Alonso to play, so nothing going there. Also, Davis is up for Texas.
Let's see what Texas got.

It amazes me the number of guys who think we should trade DLee for whatever we can get even if it means a couple of low minor leaguers. Heck, I would take corned beef (only the fatty kind, of course) on rye with brown mustard over two minor leaguers anytime.

No wonder we make so many crap trades - the fans are behind it.

We MUST send the message once and for all that we are out of the charity business. It is Lee's own fault that he will not be playing for a contender. We should not reward him with a giveaway. And other clubs need to know that they, too, will not be rewarded with giveaways.

From now on, the potential return we get in a swap can help the club or not help the club. And if it does not help the club, keep the player we have, no matter what and no matter who. Only then will we be on our way to reasonable offers

Anyone can see that Derrek Lee is shaking off his first half blues and can contribute greatly to a club over the next two months. But if they will not pay for him, then we'll keep him and win an extra game or two. No giveaways. And by that I mean: No giveaways.

When are the os going to start dumping or trading. Lee and Vlad meed to go. Bust signings. Guthrie needs to go. It's time to let go Justin duchenier the guy we signed from the A's. this was another Glenn DAvis bust trade. What's the chances showalter will be gm next year and Randolph or Russell will be coach.

This time last season this team was regressing under Dave Trembley. Its happening again this season under Buck Showalter. There is something wrong with our farm system and this has been going on since 1985 when our philosophy changed. Before 1985 we had the most productive and there was an endless chain of talent coming up and the rest of baseball wanted to emulate us. When Earl Weaver retired in 1982 did he know something that the rest of us did not know. Let us also question our scouting department as well. Lets face it, we have lowered our caliber and standards and are now seeing the results. Can we recover? Now there is a team in D.C. and our fan base has been splintered and the Phillies are always sold out and we aren't drawing the fans from Delaware not to mention that some of the old die-hards are unhappy with the current state of affairs. Are we at rock bottom? It can't get much worse than this.

I don't think we are going to see any dramatic trades this season. MacFail has decided to bolt and is just mailing it in for the rest of this season.

Since Angelos ran off Pat Gillick, I recall the Frank Wren one year era, the Syd Thrift era (really bad), the Mike Flanagan and friend era (rivals the Syd Thrift era) and the soon to be McFail epic regime of "grow the arms and buy the bats".

Under McFail, we really grew some arms. Loewen's arm fell off. Matusz and Tillman were superbly developed into losing their fastballs. Bergesen got lost. Arrieta gives up homers at a potential league leading pace. And who can forget the effective relievers we added lead by Gonzalez.

And we bought some serious bats. All washed up players on the cheap.

Cynicism is the failure to cope. I'm having trouble coping with the Orioles.

Who next after McFail? How about a reprise of Flanagan and friend?


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Jeff Z"s reply: John Hart is the name discussed the most.

Are the teams who were looking at Jeremy Guthrie passing him over and moving on, or are things still bubbling and we haven't heard much since execs are keeping cards close to their chest?
I want Jeremy to get traded for two reasons: I think the Orioles can get a quality bat for him, and since the O's can't give him decent run support, it doesn't really matter who throws in his spot. I'd just as soon see him go to a team that will give him some runs. I think it might take some of the pressure off him and he could really blossom.
Just my viewpoint.

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Jeff Z's reply: Oriole officials are keeping things very close to the best, but there are still a couple of teams on him - Tigers, Reds to name a few.

The frustrating thing about all of this is that once again the O's need to be sellers at trade time, and once again their poor scouting department will likely ensure that they get nothing of value for whatever players they give up. And even if we do get someone of value, our development system will ensure that the talent rots on the vine.

(I keep thinking about the scene in the previews for Moneyball where the scouts assume a guy has no confidence because he has an ugly girlfriend. I can absolutely picture O's scouts doing that.)

@Jeff -- if MacPhail signs on for another term, do you think things will remain the same within the scouting and player development areas? (As always, it's a pleasure reading your work.)


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Jeff Z's reply: Hard for me to say Gary because I am of the belief that MacPhail is on his way out. However, either way, I suspect that there will be a shakeup in both the scouting and player development departments.

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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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