June 2010

Orioles All-Star among us

There’s a joke in there somewhere, I know. But this is actually a really nice award. Here’s the press release honoring Casey David, who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch in tonight’s series opener…

The Orioles, along with Major League Baseball and PEOPLE have
announced Casey David as the Orioles “All-Star” of the “All-Stars Among
Us” campaign, which debuted in 2009 and recognizes individuals who are
serving their communities in extraordinary ways.

Out of the three
“All-Star” finalists representing the Orioles, Davis, a Westminster
resident, has been chosen by fans across the nation for his community
service through DeafMD, an online service that provides health
education videos for the deaf. Davis, plus the other 29 “All-Stars
Among Us,” one representing each MLB club, will attend and be honored
during the pre-game ceremony of the 81st Major League Baseball All-Star
Game on July 13 on FOX beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Fans
across the nation cast 1.7 million votes, more than double the amount
of votes from last year, at PeopleAllStars.com to select the 30
“All-Stars Among Us” winners out of the pool of 90 finalists who are
serving as leaders within their communities.

After five
years of self-funded design and development, Casey Davis launched
http://www.DeafMD.org in 2008, which provides health education videos for the
deaf in their preferred language. Until then, no internet resource
existed to explain a wide variety of health-related topics in American
Sign Language for the deaf community. Now, more than 90 percent of the
surveyed visitors report they know more about their health because of
DeafMD.


Britton to Norfolk

The Orioles have promoted Zach Britton from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk. The news came following Monday night’s game and ended the speculation as to when Britton would make the jump. Britton was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week last week and is the Orioles representative in this year’s Futures Game (as part of the USA’s squad.)

Britton went 7-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 15 games for Bowie. He allowed just one run
and four hits over eight innings in his last Double-A outing, Friday at
Altoona.

I got a few emails asking if we will see Britton at some point this season. In my opinion, that’s a yes. He will likely be a September call-up, and depending on what the Orioles do at this year’s Trade Deadline could be in Baltimore even earlier. This spring, the organization made it clear the kid gloves are off and told Britton if all goes well he could reach the Majors this season.

His promotion to Triple-A was little surprise given that he’s been dominant as of late. Britton, who has been working on his changeup and keeping his ground ball rates high, has allowed one earned run or less in six of his past seven starts.

Atkins reacts

BALTIMORE–A day after the Orioles designated him for
assignment, Garrett Atkins was dealing with a mix of emotions.

“It’s frustrating, I didn’t do what I was capable of doing, and
when I got the chance I couldn’t produce,” Atkins said in a phone interview
with MLB.com as he waited in the airport to fly back home.

“I’m just trying to get things straightened out, get back to
California and go from there. See how it plays out in the next two weeks.”

Atkins was designated for assignment Sunday when the Orioles
activated reliever Koji Uehara (strained forearm) from the 15-day disabled
list. Baltimore has 10 days to trade, release or see if the first baseman
passes through waivers, in which case Atkins could accept a Minor League
assignment with the Orioles or entertain offers from other clubs.

Atkins said Monday if it was the right team and situation he
would “definitely be willing” to sign a Minor League deal elsewhere, but wasn’t
interested in returning to Baltimore. He also declined the notion of retirement
and was hopeful he could regain the power bat that has been missing for
arguably the last two seasons.

 “It was frustrating,”
said Atkins, who hit .214 with one homer and nine RBIs in 140 at-bats as an
Oriole.  “But you try to learn from it
and move forward and that’s all you can do.”

Atkins ineffectiveness at the plate relegated him to a bench
role, forcing the Orioles to trade for right-handed power bat Jake Fox on June
22. Atkins made just five starts in the Orioles past 28 games, going 0-for-3 –
including a double-play ball with the bases loaded — in his last start on
Friday.  Given the high expectations and
his guaranteed $4.5 million salary, Atkins was an easy target for Baltimore
fans’ ire, as they watched the O’s get off to a 2-16 start and languish in
baseball’s basement.

Atkins said he understood the disappointment and had no
problem shouldering part of the blame for the O’s punchless offense. Baltimore
is the only team in the Major Leagues without a homer from their first baseman,
with Atkins’ lone blast occurring when he served as designated hitter.

“It’s been frustrating, you feel like you can probably do a
little bit more, and frustrating the team hasn’t really played up to its
ability,” he said.

“I figured [being designated] was going to come soon…and they
decided to keep the extra arm. That’s how it goes.”

Given Atkins’ salary, most interested teams will wait for
him to clear waivers, to ensure that the Orioles will pick up the rest of the tab
before taking a chance.  Atkins told
MLB.com on Friday that being released could be a blessing in disguise, calling
it a “welcome opportunity” to get regular playing time and another chance elsewhere.

Recently released Rays designated hitter Pat Burrell has
found a new home and regained his power stroke in San Francisco, and Atkins was
hopeful he could find the same thing.

“Sometimes starting fresh somewhere, probably those
things will help [his power potential],” interim manager Juan Samuel said
in Sunday’s press conference announcing the move.

“[Atkins is] a great guy. He was professional
throughout this whole process, and understands why he wasn’t playing. He was
very quiet, didn’t cause any issues in the clubhouse. He was just a veteran
professional.”

Wedge, Showalter quick updates

Buck Showalter was on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight discussing the Orioles job. He didn’t say much out of respect to interim manager Juan Samuel, which is the same sentiment he had when I initially contacted him.

Showalter  did admit he was interested in the job and that it wouldn’t “be ethical” to discuss anything in detail. The best line I thought he had was concerning the state of the Orioles, where Showalter said that “just because they’ve lost a bunch of games doesn’t mean everyone there is bad.”

Also, SI.com’s Jon Heyman posted on Twitter at around 9 p.m. that Eric Wedge had a great interview in Baltimore. Wedge was back for a second time to meet with president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and principal owner Peter Angelos. According to the Baltimore Sun, Angelos wasn’t present for Wedge’s first meeting.

Nats react to O's sweep

The Orioles sweep of the Nationals on Sunday gives Baltimore a 16-14 series lead. It was also their first series sweep since taking three straight from the Red Sox April 30-May 2.

Before the Orioles embarked on this four-game winning streak they had won just four games in the entire month of June.

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman was asked if losing three straight to the Orioles –who at 22-52 have baseball’s worst record — meant his club had hit rock bottom.

“I certainly don’t want to go lower,” Riggleman said. “Our players are dealing with the ballgame at hand when the umpire says play ball. We agonize over a loss, multiple losses. But I don’t have any phrases like that to attribute to it. I just know that if your ballclub doesn’t play hard, I might say something like that. But we played hard, we played good. We played good [on Saturday]. The Orioles beat us.”

On the Orioles bullpen which has allowed just one run on 10 hits over the last 1 2/3 innings.

“They really pitched good, Juan [Samuel] used them real well and matched them up good. They did a great job. It’s a situation where we just didn’t get them. Sometimes you feel like you missed pitches to hit and didn’t take advantage of them. But they made a lot of good pitches.”

Jones in June

jones hr.jpg

(Photo by Andrew Markowitz Photography)

Adam Jones has an eight-game hitting streak right now and is hitting .424 (14-for-33) over that stretch with four homers, nine RBIs and nine runs scored.

Jones doubled to drive in a run as part of the Orioles three-run fifth, but if you dig deeper into the stats it appears Jones has been markedly better this month.

He is batting .315 (29-for-92) in 24 June games, with seven homers and 18 RBIs. He had five homers and 15 RBIs combined in his first 50 games this season.

I asked him yesterday after he hit a solo homer to start the Orioles’ five-run rally, what the difference is. Is he being more patient? Not pressing as much?

“I’m just hitting, really,” Jones said.  “I’m not trying to think a lot. I’m just going up there and putting a good swing on the ball. I’m still going to swing hard, people ask why I swing hard, that’s just the way I play. I’m just trying to drive the ball rather than just put the ball in play.”

So far, so good. Jones has raised his average from a season-low .203 up to .271 and is starting to show why he was such a highly regarded young talent.

It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to consistently put up good ABs heading into the All-Star break. While I don’t think a late-surge is enough to warrant him going to the ASG, I do know that he’s well-thought of around the league and –outside of maybe Nick Markakis — has the most name recognition for the Orioles.

Gonzalez slated to start rehab

Update on the IronBird game: Gonzalez gave up a one-out, two-run homer in one inning of work, facing five batters and allowing two hits. He got three ground outs to end the inning.

Michael Gonzalez will start for the Aberdeen IronBirds tonight, with starter Tyler Sexton to follow.

Gonzalez tossed two scoreless innings in the Gulf Coast League last week and told me in a text message that he hoped to rejoin the team by the end of the homestand. That would put him in line to join the team for July 2’s series in Boston.

Gonzalez has been on the 60-day disabled list since April 10 with a left shoulder strain.

Os managerial search updates

BALTIMORE– As of Sunday afternoon, the Orioles are believed to have two managerial candidates officially in the mix, with former Indians manager Eric Wedge and current ESPN analyst Buck Showalter both interviewing for the position vacated with Dave Trembley’s dismissal on June 4. Bobby Valentine was also brought in to interview, but removed his name from contention on June 23.

Beyond that, there’s been plenty of speculation as to who the Orioles might inquire about as well as several candidates publicly lobbying for the job.  Former Oriole Don Baylor was the latest in the latter category, telling the Boston Globe on Sunday that he’d love a chance to manage back in Baltimore.

“That’s where my heart is at,” Baylor told the newspaper. “That’s where I learned to play the game. It’s tough to see the struggles they’ve had there. The [American League] East is now three teams.

“I know it’s been difficult for the great fans who supported that team for so long and grew up in the tradition there.”

Baylor’s name has not been mentioned as a candidate, and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail had no comment on the story. It was MacPhail who dismissed Baylor -1995’s NL Manager of the Year in Colorado – from his last managerial job with Chicago. Baylor was replaced as Cubs manager prior to the ’02 All-Star Break.

MacPhail is scheduled to meet with former Oriole and current MASN broadcaster Rick Dempsey on Tuesday, and although Dempsey has made it no secret he wants the job, he told several media outlets he’s not sure if the meeting is an official interview. Interim manager Juan Samuel will also be considered, although neither candidate fits the description MacPhail has stressed the most: prior managerial experience.

“I think we want to get it right, whether it’s in two weeks or two months [is] probably not as important as getting the right guy,” said MacPhail, who said last week that he didn’t anticipate making a hire prior to the All-Star break.

Given the young makeup of the Orioles roster, the experienced Showalter appears to be the leading candidate at this stage. The American League Manager of the Year in ’94 with New York and in ’04 with Texas, Showalter also spent three years rebuilding the D-backs. He led the second-year team to a 100-win season in ’99.

“He’s probably one of the most prepared people I’ve ever worked with,” said Orioles pitcher Kevin Millwood, who played under Showalter in Texas and still plays golf with him in the offseason. 

“Whether you mesh with a group of guys or not, you never know how that’s going to work out. But I think he’s definitely qualified.”

Millwood said the biggest factor in a managerial switch is getting the players’ respect, which is something he felt Showalter could do right away.

“I know guys respect [interim manager Juan Samuel],” Millwood said. “If you are going to bring somebody else in, I think to play hard for somebody you have to respect him.

You would think [Showalter would get respect]. [But] you just have to wait and see. I think everybody is being prepared for what’s coming.”

 With the first phase of the managerial search over, the organization is expected to start reaching out to other Major League teams to inquire about currently employed members of another club’s staff. The first phase, according to MacPhail, was to contact candidates who weren’t currently employed elsewhere.

“We have a list, we’re working back from,” MacPhail said.

More on the Atkins farewell

BALTIMORE–The Orioles designated Garrett Atkins for
assignment prior to Sunday’s series finale against the Nationals, recalling
right-handed reliever Koji Uehara in his place.

Atkins batted .214 with one homer and nine RBIs in 140 at-bats
and his ineffectiveness relegated him to a bench role, forcing the Orioles to
trade for right-handed power bat Jake Fox on June 22. Atkins made just five
starts in the Orioles last 28 games, going 0-for-3 -including a double-play
ball with the bases-loaded — in his last start on Friday.

The pending return of outfielder Felix Pie –coupled with
the production of Fox and Scott Moore – made Atkins’ release in Baltimore a near
certainty, with rumors swirling the last few days.

Atkins, who was well aware of his situation, acknowledged on
Friday that being DFA’ed could be a blessing in disguise. Recently released
Rays designated hitter Pat Burrell has found a new home and regained his power
stroke in San Francisco, and Atkins said when the O’s cut ties, he won’t look
at it as a bad thing.

“Not at all,” he said in an interview with
MLB.com. “[It would] be a welcome opportunity.”

Atkins was non-tendered by the Colorado Rockies after the
2009 season and was signed by the Orioles to a one-year contract guaranteed to
net him $4 million this year. Baltimore had a club option for 2011, and by
choosing to designate Atkins, will also pay him a $500,000 buyout.  

“We gambled that we could resurrect a bat and it just wasn’t
happening,” said president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who was
hopeful when he signed Atkins this winter that he could return to the 20-homers,
100-RBI form of seasons’ past.

“From Spring Training we just didn’t see the power coming
back,” MacPhail said. “And Moore and Fox offer us more flexibility in more
positions. With Atkins it was either first base or DH.”

Toward the end, it became just the bench. Atkins made 17 starts
in March/April and May, but appeared in just six games, with 14 at-bats in the
month of June. 

“I know [interim manager Juan Samuel] feels bad,
there’s only so many spots to go around in the lineup,” Atkins said Friday.
 
“Guys that have been in my position have done a good job. So, you can’t
really complain about not playing when guys are playing good.”

Samuel, who had a meeting with Atkins during the team’s
recent series in San Diego, praised the way the veteran handled the situation.
He reiterated that sentiment during Atkins’ farewell.

“[Atkins] said he was
sorry things didn’t work out for him, that he wasn’t able to do more to help
us,” Samuel said. “He’s a veteran. He understands.”

A soft-spoken guy who rarely left his locker, Atkins was
described as a professional by several teammates, including Ty Wigginton and
close friend Moore, who works out with Atkins in the offseason.

“Unfortunately it was a tough situation, but he’s always
been a professional,” Moore said of Atkins, who lives just twenty minutes away
from him in the offseason. “[He] always had a good attitude, always was here
rooting for [his] teammates and the team.”

While Moore has started to hit his way into more playing
time, the acquisition of utility-man Fox was widely regarded as the nail in the
coffin regarding Atkins’ tenure.

“His opportunities were going to become fewer and fewer,” said
MacPhail, who added that he thought the organization gave Atkins ample time to
turn it around.

The move will free up at-bats for Fox off the bench, as well
as Moore, and Samuel said he has no problem using either one of those guys at
first base, if need be.

As for Atkins, he will be placed on waivers, where the
Orioles will have 10 days to either trade him or grant him his release. If
Atkins clears through waivers, he would have to accept a Minor League
assignment with the O’s or could opt to sign a Minor League free-agent deal
elsewhere.

It’s an option Atkins has not ruled out, and he told MLB.com
on Friday that he would weigh all available options before deciding what was
best.

“Sometimes starting fresh somewhere, probably those things
will help [his power potential],” Samuel said.  “He’s a great guy. He was professional
throughout this whole process and understands why he wasn’t playing. He was
very quiet, didn’t cause any issues in the clubhouse. He was just a veteran
professional.”

Added Wigginton: “He was always one of the first guys getting excited when somebody else go to big hit or whatever. He was one of the first guys to give the guy a pat on the back. He was a very good teammate.”

Atkins DFA'ed, Koji back

The Orioles designated Garrett Atkins for assignment prior to Sunday’s series finale against the Nationals, recalling right-handed reliever Koji Uehara in his place.

Atkins was signed as a free agent in December 2009 after seven season in
Colorado. He is a career .285 hitter but batted just .214 with nine
RBIs and one home run in 2010.  The pending  return of outfielder Felix
Pie –coupled with the production of Jake Fox and Scott Moore — made
Atkins’ release in Baltimore a near certainty, with rumors swirling the last few days.

Atkins, well aware of his situation, told MLB.com on Friday the chance to get regular at-bats and play for another team would be a “welcome opportunity.”

Uehara has been on the disabled list since May 20 (right forearm strain). He threw 21 pitches for four batters in a simulated inning prior to Thursday’s game against the Marlins and was given two days to rest before being activated. In six appearances this season Uehara has pitched five innings with a 1.80 ERA.

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