July 2010

Tejada to San Diego

Miguel Tejada has been traded to San Diego for right-handed pitching prospect Wynee Pelzer. Pelzer was ranked the Padres’ seventh-best prospect heading into the season and is currently at Double-A.

For more on the story, with Tejada’s quotes to come, click here.


Showalter hired

showalter.jpg

Buck Showalter was named the Orioles manager on Thursday, a move that will officially put him in the dugout when the team returns home on Tuesday.  An official press conference is scheduled for Monday, and Showalter’s deal runs through the 2013 season.

The rest of the Orioles coaching staff will remain in place with interim manager Juan Samuel moving back to third base and current third base coach Gary Allenson going back to Norfolk to manage the Tides. 
 
The 54-year-old Showalter has a tough task in helping a young Baltimore squad reestablish itself in the American League East. The Orioles are 31-70 and are well on their way to clinching their 13th consecutive losing season.

The man that friend and current Oriole Kevin Millwood called “the most prepared individual” he’s ever met, Showalter will be the Orioles 10th manager since Peter Angelos became the principal owner of the Orioles in August 1993. He will assume the full-time position vacated by Dave Trembley on June 4.

There has been no word on who Showalter will employ on his coaching staff although president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has said that the new manager will get to select his staff.

Showalter, who recently served as a baseball analyst for ESPN, met with Orioles brass several times, including a nearly three-hour formal interview on June 23. MacPhail, who is notoriously close to the vest, confirmed the meeting but did not publicly comment on any of the O’s candidates, a list which included MASN broadcaster and ex-Oriole Rick Dempsey, former Indians skipper Eric Wedge and ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine, who later withdrew his name.

Given MacPhail’s emphasis on experience the notoriously detailed Showalter quickly became the front-runner, with several national media outlets speculating the deal would be completed long before it was actually made official.

“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,” MacPhail said on June 23, which was also the day Valentine officially withdrew his name in hopes of landing a job with Florida.

“I don’t think, frankly given our place in the standings, urgency is as paramount as it might be to a team like the Marlins who are still a few game within striking distance.”

Showalter was named American League Manager of the Year twice — in 1994 and 2004 -and has compiled an 882-833 record in 11 years with the Yankees, D-backs and Rangers. He is credited in many circles for jump-starting the Yankees dynasty of the 1990s, and both New York and Arizona won the World Series the year after he left.  Showalter’s last year managing was ’06 with the Rangers, which is where he struck up a close relationship with Millwood, who 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,” Millwood said. “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 feels 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.” 

What do you do?

I’m off this series in Toronto with a prior engagement, but I’ve gotten a bunch of emails and questions on Twitter –enough to make me check out the remnants of last night’s game via the box score.

The question is, what do you do with Brad Bergesen? Should you have left him in longer? Do you call up Zach Britton in his place? Do you let Britton continue to develop?

Like I said, I’m not with the team and I don’t play couch-GM nearly as good as my friend/colleague MASN’s Roch Kubatko. I’ll be back with the O’s for Kansas City on Thursday, and by then I’m sure we will know Bergy’s fate.

The thing is, I’m not sure what the right move is here. It’s hard to punish a guy who is far from alone in his struggles. Do you send all the young guys back to Norfolk? Or do you let them develop in what is essentially a lost season ? Do you weigh each particular case in terms of who can maybe work through their issues up here and who can’t?

I wasn’t covering the Orioles last year and only vaguely remember Brad Bergesen when I covered an Os-Yanks series. I’ve heard he was great, a pleasant surprise for Baltimore. I’ve seen flashes of it (like that game at Fenway Park), but for the most part Bergy’s been ineffective. Is it mental or mechanical? Is the League catching up to him?

I’m just as perplexed/astounded as most of you are. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, interim manager Juan Samuel and pitching coach Rick Kranitz. But I certainly wouldn’t want any of their jobs right about now.

I will say this: I’ve done a lot of talking, mostly off the record in the visitors’ clubhouse and on the road. The general consensus about the Os young arms is they’re talented but the expectations placed on them this spring were incredibly unrealistic.
 
“Everything had to go right for those guys to have a chance,” said one rival GM. “And everything has gone wrong.”

None of these guys are even 25 yet. And most of them have about a year of service time -Bergy’s a little more, Jake Arrieta’s a little less, etc.  Will they all be as good as hyped? Probably not. But they aren’t this bad, either.

If they were scattered about other organizations maybe they’d still be in the Minor leagues or be a fifth starter with far less expectation. Instead, they are all up here together, pitching in the AL East with the general consensus being that they are the “Calvary” that will restore the O’s to prominence.

This spring, I spoke with an opposing pitching coach who watched Chris Tillman throw a Grapefruit League game and marvel at the possibilities. “They’re talented,” he said of the O’s young arms. “But they’re still a couple years away.”

The problem with relying on growing the young arms is the O’s don’t have any veterans or journeyman pitchers in the organization, or at Norfolk, who can come up and serve as filler. 

Look at the Tides rotation, or most of their roster in general. It’s a youth movement. I acknowledge that they’re trying to restock their farm system and really build a nice young core, but I think the element of adding a sprinkling of veterans, especially at Norfolk, was incredibly overlooked. Even the guys who are older, so to speak, don’t have years of League experience.

I know several AL teams overpay their Minor League veterans when they’re free agents to get them to stay in the system. The benefits are two-fold : first, you get a solid backup option if your prospects aren’t ready and you need a guy to come up for a quick stint. Two, you get veterans who are generally in good spirits about the organization and willing to help foster a positive, learning atmosphere. You get enough of these guys –particularly those who have been in the bigs — and your Triple-A team also starts to win a lot more games than it loses. In the Triple-A International League the top three teams are the Yankees and Rays affiliates, with Cleveland’s Columbus squad leading the West division. I’m not saying winning in the Minor Leagues is everything, but it’s certainly something.
  
The O’s lack of these types of veterans has also handcuffed them to an extent. It’s hard to trade away Jeremy Guthrie when you can’t think of a guy to take that roster spot. I know Kevin Millwood has come under fire, but he’s usually good for at least six innings.

People are clamoring for Britton to come up, but is he ready? He’s only made a handful of starts since being promoted from Double-A. He’s a guy you don’t want to have to shuttle back-and-forth, like they’ve done (erroneously in my opinion) with guys like Tillman and Bergesen.

This was supposed to be the year they all stood on their feet, so to speak. But having no backup option in case they didn’t, no Plan B, was risky. And now, you’re seeing just how dangerous it is.

****
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It starts with the starters

Orioles rookie Jake Arrieta became the latest promising young arm to labor through an ineffective and entirely too short start on Sunday, a one-time anomaly that has become a cause for increasing concern.

During the 65-minute rain delay, I got a little bored and was combing through stats and compiling numbers and sharing them with my fellow reporters. Here are a few stats that stand out.

*Excluding Jeremy Guthrie -who has posted two quality starts on the homestand – the Orioles starters have worked just 36 1/3 innings over eight games, allowing 41 earned runs on 54  hits for a 10.10 ERA.

*The starting staff has pitched  a combined 50 innings on the homestand, just six more than the bullpen, and only the 4-10 Guthrie has an ERA under 5 at this point of the season.

*This is why I have a hard time pinning the blame of guys like Jason Berken, Mark Hendrickson and Matt Albers - they are all in the top 8 in the American League as far as innings pitched out of the bullpen. When speaking to pitching coach Rick Kranitz the other day, I asked him if it was a concern that these guys were being used so much, in particular Berken and David Hernandez. Kranitz said they would try to start limiting those guys, but honestly when your starters are averaging 5 innings a game, it’s impossible to do that.

*Here are the ERAs for each starter in the second half. The O’s just wrapped a 2-8 homestand so each starter has had two outings, except for Kevin Millwood who came off the DL to replace Chris Tillman.

Jeremy Guthrie (1-0):
13 2/3 IP, 13 H, 3 ER, 1.98 ERA
Brian Matusz (0-2): 6 2/3 IP, 11 H, 9 ER, 12.15 ERA
Brad Bergesen (0-2): 11 1/3 IP, 18 H, 9 ER, 7.15 ERA
Jake Arrieta (0-1): 9 1/3 IP, 11 H, 10 ER, 9.64
Kevin Millwood (0-1) (one start): 6 1/3 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 5.77

*Including Tillman’s loss on Monday, the starters are 1-7 to start the second-half and continue to rank last in the Majors in total staff wins with 17. Yes, they should have more wins but they have posted a AL-low 42 quality starts in 98 games, so they aren’t helping their cause quite as often as other teams.

*And to continue to “beat a dead horse” as Samuel put it when asked about the team’s woeful productive hitting here’s a final stat for you. The Orioles two hits with runners in scoring position in the ninth inning on Sunday matched their total for the entire four-game set against the Twins

*In their two wins this homestand, they went 6-for-19 (.316) with RISP. In their 8 losses they were 8-for-69 (.116).

Os/Twins finale, Tatum to Norfolk

*In an unpopular but expected move, the Orioles optioned Craig Tatum to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Matt Wieters. Tatum, who won the backup job over veteran Chad Moeller this spring, has become of the most well-liked guys in that clubhouse and the move -which came down to him having an option to burn – certainly didn’t go over well.  
*President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said there was some thought to be putting Tatum on the DL after he took a foul tip off his right hand last night, but an X-ray was negative and Tatum was ruled to be OK today. In the end Jake Fox -who was out of options – and his versatility was too important given that O’s already have a shot bench.
* As for any pending trades, MacPhail said that has been a slow process and he thinks once the few premier pitchers get dealt, the market will start to open up.
*As for Wieters, he’s said he’s feeling good and ready to go. Interim manager Juan Samuel said he would probably catch him 3 games in a row and let him rest for Toronto’s finale. 

ORIOLES LINEUP:
Corey Patterson LF
Miguel Tejada 3B
Nick Markakis RF
Luke Scott 1B
Ty Wigginton DH
Felix Pie CF
Matt Wieters C
Julio Lugo 2B
Cesar Izturis SS
Jake Arrieta RHP

TWINS LINEUP:
Jason Repko CF
Alexi Casilla 2B
Delmon Young LF
Jim Thome DH
Michael Cuddyer 1B
Jason Kubel RF
Danny Valencia 3B
Nick Punto SS
Drew Butera C

Orioles/Twins lineups and roster move coming

*The Orioles are expected to activate catcher Matt Wieters and insert him into Sunday’s lineup. That means either Jake Fox or Craig Tatum will be taken off the 25-man roster. As I said the other day, Tatum appears to be the likely choice. What the O’s will likely do is send down Tatum (who has an option) over Fox (who is out of options) and look to trade Ty Wigginton by next week’s deadline. That way the Orioles can have Fox and Luke Scott (who could also be moved although it would likely  be an AL team) platoon at first and call Tatum back up, not losing either player.

*It is believed president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail didn’t want to trade away Wigginton before Brian Roberts –who came back Friday — was activated.  The Rangers, Yankees , Giants, Twins, Angels and Phillies are among the teams who have been mentioned as possible landing spots.

*Of course the Orioles could also make another trade to free up a roster spot, but if they do opt to send down Tatum he’d have to stay there for at least 10 days unless there’s an injury.

*While it’s a tough move to send down Tatum –who is one of the most popular players in the clubhouse –given how the Orioles starters have fared lately, the team needs all their relievers.

*Jim Johnson (right elbow inflammation) will throw some batting practice down at the team’s Minor League complex in Sarasota which would be the last step before going out on a rehab assignment.

*Lou Montanez (oblique strain) is participating in baseball-related activities.

ORIOLES LINEUP:
Brian Roberts 2B
Miguel Tejada 3B
Nick Markakis RF
Luke Scott DH
Ty Wigginton 1B
Adam Jones CF
Felix Pie LF
Craig Tatum C
Cesar Izturis SS
Brian Matusz LHP

TWINS LINEUP:
Denard Span CF
Alexi Casilla 2B
Joe Mauer C
Michael Cuddyer 1B
Delmon Young LF
Jason Kubel DH
Danny Valencia 3B
J.J. Hardy SS
Jason Repko RF
Scott Baker RHP

Roberts on his long-awaiting return

BALTIMORE– Interim Orioles manager Juan Samuel half-joked on Thursday that he was worried that an eager Brian Roberts — who offered to write the O’s lineup — would pencil his own name in the leadoff spot.

On Friday Samuel didn’t need to worry about any preemptive moves, as Baltimore activated Roberts from the 60-day disabled list prior to the second game of the Orioles-Twins wraparound set. And for the first time since April 9′s homer opener; Roberts’ name was exactly where it should be: batting leadoff and playing second base.

“These guys are probably exhausted and it is like Opening Day for me,” Roberts said with a grin as his teammates prepared for game No. 96, which will only be Roberts’ fifth start.

“I’m looking forward to just getting out there and playing. It has been a long time and I’m just excited to be back on the field.”

There was a time when Roberts wasn’t sure if that would be possible this season.

Officially on the disabled list since April 10, Roberts has dealt with several epidural injections to help quell the inflammation around a herniated disc in his lower back suffered this offseason, a bout of pneumonia that got him hospitalized and “unrelated back pain” that further postponed the prospect of getting in any rehab games at the Orioles’ Spring Training complex in Sarasota, Fla.

“It did get to the point a couple of times, where I didn’t know if it was better off just not even pushing it anymore,” Roberts said on Monday after taking pregame batting practice in preparation for his first Double-A rehab game “But, you know, you just go through the process and you see where it takes you.

“I was going to continue to go through that [process] until it got to the point where there was no hope at the end.”

Fortunately for Roberts and the Orioles, it never got that far. The second baseman started his rehab last week and after going 8-for-15 in three games with the Gulf Coast League O’s, Roberts hit 429 (6-for-14) with two doubles in three games at Bowie, and campaigned heavily for a weekend return.

“We were trying not to have him back, so we wouldn’t take a chance and have him play on the turf [next week] in Toronto,” Samuel said.  “But he stated that he’s ready to go. And we feel like he knows his body better than anybody else.”

Roberts is tentatively scheduled to play back-to-back games, rest on Sunday and take off the middle game (Tuesday) of next week’s Toronto series. While much of his playing time will depend on how he feels, Roberts said he’s not worried or uneasy about pushing to return to the lineup so soon.

“Obviously there are things I still haven’t done, but I am not too worried about going out there in the game and doing the things I normally do,” Roberts said. “I may make some adjustments. We’ll see how it goes.”

Roberts played three consecutive games at Bowie and said on Thursday he accomplished everything he set out to do on the short rehab stint.

“I played two nine-inning games, one at 11 a.m. [ET],” Roberts said. “I figure if I can play at 7 [p.m.] and turn around and play at 11 [the next morning], I am doing all right. Obviously, seeing pitches, getting at-bats, things like that. I felt like I got out most of what I needed to.”

With Roberts’ return, Samuel acknowledged the importance of having a premier leadoff man and how much B-Rob’s presence will benefit middle-of-the-order hitters Tejada and Nick Markakis.

“We’ve been using Corey [Patterson at leadoff], we’ve been using Felix Pie there,” Samuel said. “Felix doesn’t look very comfortable there. He seems more comfortable to be hitting down in the order. It’s a mindset. Brian is a guy that works the count, takes pitches.
 
“We will definitely welcome Brian back. We know how much he means to our club in the leadoff spot.”

A dynamic table-setter, the switch-hitting Roberts hit .283 with a .356 on-base percentage and a .451 slugging percentage in 159 games last season. He hit 16 homers with 79 RBIs and a franchise-record 56 doubles, which also set the all-time single-season mark in a season by a switch-hitter.

While Roberts’ return is expected to bolster a beleaguered Baltimore offense, Samuel said he will use caution in bringing back Roberts given how much time he missed and the nature of his injury.

The 32-year-old Roberts — in the first year of a four-year, $40 million deal — missed most of Spring Training after receiving his first epidural for the injury he originally suffered during offseason workouts in Arizona. He had just 19 spring-at bats, but both Roberts and the team pronounced him to be in playing shape, and Roberts was starting in his fourth consecutive game on April 9 when he reinjured his back on a successful first-inning headfirst slide stealing second.

“We have to be careful, especially in Toronto,” Samuel said. “Let’s see how [Roberts] feels after playing him back-to-back games here [at Camden Yards]. We want to be smart with that.”

Samuel on umpires and accountability

Orioles interim manager Juan Samuel, a player for 16 years, agreed that there has been a shift in the way blown calls are handled. In the wake of last night’s trio of ejections, which started when first base umpire Gary Darling ruled J.J. Hardy safe at first base, Samuel was asked if there’s a difference in accountability now as opposed to when he was playing.

“Gary’s been around for a long time,” Samuel said of Darling. “And I just think for me, from my point of view, [if] guys will admit, ‘Yes I missed it. And everything stop there.’

I think nowadays guys kind of they say, ‘Well I see it this way, and that’s how I see it and that’s how it is’. In the past, I think guys would admit things more and you just wish it was like that again. But you also have a lot of new and young umpires coming up and you are going to have those situations.”

Questioned after the game, Darling said he saw the replay although he was hesitant to completely admit he got the call wrong.

“[Wigginton] missed him the first time and on a close play, he got him the second time it looked like,” Darling said. “It was a close play.”

In case you missed it, Wigginton was suspended for three games by Major League Baseball for his actions on Thursday night and will appeal the suspension

Wiggy suspended, will appeal

Orioles first baseman Ty Wigginton will be handed a three-game suspension from Major
League Baseball for Thursday night’s tirade. Wigginton and president of baseall operatoins Andy MacPhail both said the organization
will appeal the suspension (which also includes an undisclosed fine) which is expected to become official around 5 p.m. ET.

Appealing the suspension means Wigginton will not be serving it just yet and MacPhail confirmed this would not change anything with the Orioles roster, which has seen a major shakeup in the last few days and is expected to active Matt Wieters on Sunday.

Interim manager Juan Samuel agreed the three games suspension was harsh, particularly considering Wigginton’s ejection –which came from first base umpire Gary Darling — was to argue a blatant miscall that Darling later admitted. While Wigginton said he was not aware any physical contact was made, Darling said Thursday night that he was bumped in the chest and that he would mention that in his report to MLB.  

Samuel and pitching coach Rick Kranitz were also ejected and are expected to be fined.

More quotes on the ejections

As you may have read, the Orioles had a trio of ejections — first baseman Ty Wigginton, pitching coach Rick Kranitz and interim manager Juan Samuel — that went down in the seventh innings of Thursday’s 5-0 loss to the Twins. The fully story is up, and you can read it here.

Here are some more quotes on that..

Ty Wigginton, who was ejected for arguing a call which first base umpire Gary Darling later admitted he got wrong…

“I don’t think they’ll be anything other than a normal ejection. In baseball you’ve got the option of questioning a call, and he ejected me for questioning a call.

“You get the leadoff guy on [in J.J. Hard] and he goes first pitch and we get him hung out to dry. I felt he was out. Getting that leadoff guy out would be a big part in the game. You’re four runs down, that’s one swing of the bat and it’s a tie ballgame.

“[First base umpire Gary Darling] said I missed him. I felt he was out. We’re in last place, and anytime you’re in last place there’s a lot of frustration in the season. Obviously that’s not where we wanted to be. Frustration is all part of the game.”

Rick Kranitz who was ejected one out after Wigginton for his actions on the bench when Hardy scored…

“I didn’t say anything [to get ejected]. I sarcastically clapped in the way that the umpire, I guess [home plate ump] Bill Hohn took offense to. Yeah you know I shouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t the right thing to do, but you know, you get frustrated. Especially when Kevin [Millwood has] been on the mound, crazy things have happened when he pitched. And he was on a pretty good roll on the time, it was reaction, shouldn’t have happened.”

“Sure there’s frustration. I think anytime you are not winning ball games, as many as we think we should be winning. [Twins starter Carl] Pavano had that game in hand, obviously. That call didn’t change the outcome of the game by any stretch of the imagination. It was just frustration on everybody’s part. I think we’re all tired of losing some ball games. And when something happens and it doesn’t go our way, you say and do things you shouldn’t do.”

“I was a little bit surprised with [the ejection.] Yeah, I am. I’m surprised.”

Juan Samuel who was ejected for sticking up for Kranitz…

 “We thought Wiggy tagged [Hardy] not once but twice. Gary after watching the replay probably will admit it was a blown call. Unfortunately, he didn’t go out way. Basically Kranny didn’t do anything to get thrown out o the game, so I guess emotions were very high tonight. And as a result, we saw what happened.”
 
(oh really?): “I don’t think I was angry tonight. I just didn’t think Kranny deserved to be thrown out. He did not do anything basically to deserve being thrown out. I don’t know if they know that they blew the call and fuses were very short.”
 
“Kranny didn’t say anything. That’s what I was trying to tell Bill Hohn. Kranny did not say anything. I was trying to tell him. How can you blame Kranny when one of your guys blew the call? Kranny didn’t deserve that. He didn’t miss the call.”
 
“I did not see Wiggy touch [Darling]. I did not see a replay. I did not see any video. I was just trying to make sure we didn’t do something that we would not be proud of. I was trying to restrain him a little bit. I did not see Wiggy touch him.”

Umpire Bill Hohn on Kranitz..

“I ejected him for his actions on the bench, is the reason why he got ejected. He knows the reason why he got ejected. You saw what he did on the field.”

Umpire Gary Darling, who said Wigginton bumped him in the chest during his tirade…

“I will send in my report to the league and they make the decision on anything.”
Darling also admitted Hardy was out..

“We looked at it, [Wigginton] missed him the first time and on a close play, he got him the second time it looked like. It was a close play.”

J.J. Hardy

“I thought I was [safe] until I saw the replay…I just got done talking to [Wigginton] and it seemed like he was in a pretty good mood. I think maybe we were talking about the weather before that pitch and he said it’s been really hot and then the next thing I know, he’s up in Darling’s face.”

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