Orioles hope to overcome pitching woes, power way to playoffs
— The Baltimore Orioles’ record-spending offseason ensured that the team will once again rank near the top of the majors in homers after it placed third in the league last season with 217 long balls.
The team’s inability to address one of last year’s worst rotations could be the factor that keeps it from making the postseason for a consecutive year.
The re-signing of first baseman Chris Davis after he led the majors with 47 home runs last season, the acquisition of right-handed slugger Mark Trumbo in a trade from the Seattle Mariners and the spring training addition of former Pittsburgh Pirates power hitter Pedro Alverez are the major moves from the Orioles’ active winter that the team hopes will create an offense with plenty of power from both sides of the plate. Highlighted by the return of Davis, who signed a team-
record seven-year, $161 million contract in January, the trio is expected to slide into a lineup that already features third baseman Manny Machado and center fielder Adam Jones –a pair of righthanded hitters who have produced 30-home run seasons during their careers.
“We’re capable of doing some real damage, said Trumbo, who hit 22 home runs between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle last season. “Just from seeing the kind of pressure that we put on teams in spring training, we have an extremely potent lineup. I know everyone knows that but I think as you really see things develop and people get more comfortable with who’s in front of him and who’s behind him, we could really put up some crooked innings.”
Trumbo hit more than 30 home runs in both 2012 and 2013 while a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He hopes the smaller confines of Camden Yards, which yielded the most homers of any stadium in the majors last season, will help him generate a return to his former power.
“I’m excited about the possibility of putting up some big numbers,” Trumbo said.
Machado (35 homers, 86 RBIs) spent much of last season and this spring batting near the top of the order. Jones (27 homers 82 RBIs) is slated to hit behind him, while Davis, Trumbo and Alverez will likely fill out the middle of the order. Catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs two years ago, will start Opening Day after appearing in only 75 games last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop (15 homers in 305 at bats) and shortstop JJ Hardy (411 at bats) are expected to provide power and solid defense near the bottom of the order after missing substantial time a year ago due to injury.
Jones, who started last year’s All-Star Game, will be making his ninth-career Opening Day appearance.
“Every season you want to win a championship, the World Series. There’s no other reason to play,” Jones said. “I’m not just here to be able to play, I’m here to win. I made that evident with how I speak. The only thing that matters to me is winning.”
Starting pitcher Chris Tillman will take the mound to face the Twins on Opening Day. He represents the first Orioles pitcher since Mike Mussina from 1998-2000 to make three consecutive Opening Day starts. The right-hander experienced a down year in 2015 after making the All-Star game the season before.
“I didn’t pitch as good. I think that’s what it comes down to. I didn’t execute and I think it all comes down to execution like I said all year,” Tillman said in December. “That’s going to be something that I have to get better at if I want to get back to where I was. I like where I’m at right now.”
Tillman (11-11, 4.95 ERA) will anchor a rotation that returns starters Ubaldo Jimenez (12-10, 4.11) and Kevin Gausman (4-7, 4.25) from a group that ranked second-worst in the American League. Wei-Yin Chen (11-8, 3.34), the rotation’s top starter from a year ago, departed to the Miami Marlins in free agency, while the team released Miguel Gonzalez (9-12, 4.91) last week after a disappointing 2015 campaign and rocky spring training.
To help bolster the rotation, Baltimore signed Yovani Gallardo to a twoyear deal. The right-hander boasts a 102-75 record with a 3.66 ERA in nine seasons between the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers.
A pair of rookies, Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson, along with former Pittsburgh pitcher Vance Worley, will battle for the final spot in the rotation.
One of the league’s premier bullpens will once again be anchored by AllStar closer Zach Britton (36 saves, 1.92 ERA) and set-up man Darren O’Day (1.52 ERA). O’Day re-signed with Baltimore in the offseason.
“I hope it’s set,” Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace said of the bullpen in December. “But more than anything else, you need depth. You have Zach, you have Darren, you have [middle reliever] Brad Brach. You have [middle reliever Mychal] Givens. You have [left-handers] Brian Matusz and [T.J.] McFarland. But you know what? As you all know, it’s not 13 or 14 pitchers over the course of the season. So you’re always looking for depth, especially if one of our strengths is the bullpen. That’s a conversation that’s going on each and every day. How can we become a little bit better? How can we get more depth if something happens out of the bullpen? So, although it’s good on paper, it’s always a concern for a manager and a pitching coach.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig