Orioles' news, notes and opinions: Rotation, Matusz, staff struggles, Guerrero/Lee, Hardy
I have a real scary and disturbing thought to start your morning and I apologize in advance but here goes: As bad as the Orioles pitching has been lately, I can’t help but think that it could get a whole lot worse. What happens when Zach Britton, who hasn’t gotten many wins lately but still gives the Orioles a chance to win most times out, is officially shut down at some point in late August or early September? The Orioles don’t want the rookie lefty accruing over 175 innings this season and he’s already at 103 2/3 heading into tonight’s start. What happens if the Orioles decide to shut Jake Arrieta down early to get the bone spur in his right elbow removed? What happens if the club decides to trade Jeremy Guthrie, who is really only one of two legit trade chips (J.J. Hardy is the other) that the Orioles have right now? All three are realistic possibilities though I’ve said several times that I don’t expect Guthrie to be moved until this offseason, or next trade deadline. I guess the possibility exists that Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman could string together some solid outings for Triple-A Norfolk and enter the conversation again, or current relievers Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken or Alfredo Simon could pitch well enough to get the ball every five days, but in watching this club this year, it’s probably better to work off the worst-case scenario. You almost come to fully expect the next installment of Victor Zambrano or Victor Santos or Chris Waters to be on the mound in September with the Orioles facing all their divisional foes who need wins to get to the playoffs. It’s not a pretty picture.
Speaking of Matusz and not great news, I was told that his fastball velocity during his start for Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday was even lower than it had been while he was pitching in the big leagues this season. Just for comparison sake, in his six starts for the Orioles, Matusz’s average fastball velocity was 86.7, according to the excellent web site www.fangraphs.com. Matusz’s situation remains a big mystery to me. I’ve probably asked 10 different people either from inside the organization or outside the organization but familiar with Matusz, and gotten 10 different explanations. I’m not sure there is a more impactful issue in the second half for the Orioles than what becomes of Matusz. His progression – or regression - cannot be overstated with where the Orioles are as a franchise.
The frustration over the pitching staff’s struggles is understandable, but I think the calls for Rick Adair’s job are a little unfair. Sure, the staff’s numbers since Mark Connor resigned aren’t pretty, but consider who the Orioles have had to rely on recently, and also who has been on their schedule. In some cases, the Orioles are asking career minor leaguers to neutralize teams like the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox. It isn’t going to happen more times than not. This isn’t a pitching coach issue. This a depth issue and the Orioles simply not having enough pitching to compete regularly with the American League heavyweights.
I applauded the signing of Vladimir Guerrero at the time, and I also felt that Derrek Lee was the Orioles’ best option to fill their first base vacancy of what remained after they struck out on Victor Martinez and Adam Dunn. Well, I’m not breaking any news here but the veterans have really bogged down the middle of the Orioles’ lineup particularly with runners in scoring position. Between the two of them, they are a combined 23-for-129 (.178) with runners in scoring position. They have also combined to hit into 23 double plays, nine more twin killings than they have total homers. They seemed like good additions at the time and Lee has brought a solid glove and a lot of professionalism to a clubhouse badly in need of it. But in terms of helping out the offense, I couldn’t imagine those signings looking much worse right now. And I know some in the game feel differently, but I just have a hard time imagining a trade market for either developing unless something changes dramatically.
This is sort of an incremental update but it is a question we get asked a lot so it’s certainly worth passing along. The Orioles remain in negotiations with shortstop J.J. Hardy about a potential contract extension. They may not be talking on a daily basis, but the two sides are communicating semi-regularly. Hardy is eligible for free agency after the season and if the Orioles don’t think they have a chance to sign him, they likely will explore a trade. Nothing is imminent at this point, but both sides have expressed a willingness to get a deal done. This is totally me talking, not anything I heard from either party, but it’s hard to imagine the deciding factor in this not being whether the Orioles offer him three guaranteed years or not. Keep in mind Hardy’s history. His free agency was delayed by a year because the Milwaukee Brewers sent him down to the minors during the 2009 season, a move that Hardy has called a slap in the face several times. Hardy eventually kept the shortstop position warm for Brewers’ prospect Alcides Escobar. Hardy was then traded from the Twins to the Orioles are just one season in Minnesota. My point in documenting all that is you’d have to think that Hardy wants a little stability. He signs a two-year deal with the Orioles and probably after just one year of it, he’s again firmly on the trade block, especially if Manny Machado forces the Orioles’ hand a little bit.