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The Orioles are two weeks into spring training and the newness of it all still hasn’t worn off.

It probably won’t for a while.

During the eight springs of the Buck Showalter era, the back fields were a beehive of drills, instruction and little else. The budding Brandon Hyde era has a musical soundtrack, with outdoor speakers blaring the favorites of a new generation of Orioles players and a vibe that seems to project that business and pleasure are not mutually exclusive.

Of course, this is the honeymoon period for everyone at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, where Grapefruit League play just got underway Saturday with a 7-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. Hyde wants everybody to get comfortable. He recognizes there are more than 70 players and coaches in camp and most of them are just getting to know each other.

He wouldn’t think of saying his way is best, because his way is still very much in development. He’s actually one of the newest of the new kids on the block and he’s drawing heavily on the time he spent with free-spirited manager Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs.

“I don’t know if I’m reinventing any style or anything like that,” Hyde said. “I was just in a really winning environment for a while now and I know what that feels like.”

The Orioles organization is a couple of years removed from that, so — at the moment — the more important component of this rebuilding project is the fresh start. Nobody is strutting around saying how much better this camp has been than those of the past eight years. Showalter brought the Orioles more success than they had experienced in the 13 seasons before his arrival.

He ran a tight camp and that worked just fine until it didn’t. Hyde is drawing heavily on the feel that Maddon and his coaching staff have created in Chicago, where the Cubs have reached the playoffs in each of Maddon’s four seasons and won the World Series in 2016 for the first time since 1908.

“I think the biggest thing is wanting to build a new culture, a new identity for the Orioles and I think that, so far, it’s been great,’’ veteran pitcher Andrew Cashner said. “I think Brandon’s brought a lot of great ideas from other places he’s been and I think just our coaching staff as a whole is one of the best coaching staffs that I’ve had.”

Hyde is all about the interpersonal relationships that are forming in the clubhouse and, hopefully, will thrive outside it. Maybe that emphasis will be more evident this spring because of the huge number of young players — many of whom came over from other organizations during the flurry of teardown trades in July.

“That’s something that I just came from and we had,’’ Hyde said. “We had a group of people who enjoyed each other’s company and I think that’s something that translates on the field when you’re caring about the guy next to you and you’re caring about their performance and pulling for each other. That’s huge.”

The players seem to appreciate that, and those that thrived during the Showalter era can embrace this new reality without feeling like it is some kind of betrayal of the old guard.

“I think it’s just because it’s a new regime,’’ outfielder Trey Mancini said. “Everything that Buck and Dan [Duquette] did in Baltimore … I mean they turned the franchise around and I’m forever grateful for them. Because of them, I got to be a major league player, so I’m forever grateful for that and they did a great job here.

“With all that said, just having a new front office and new staff and a lot of young players, with all that comes a lot of excitement. I’ve been saying the whole time, it’s just been a great feel here. Everybody’s bought in.”

Pitcher Miguel Castro, speaking through interpreter Ramón Alarcón, said it’s not about the process being better or worse than before.

“I would say it’s just different,’’ Castro said. “It’s the same baseball. Personnel changes and players change, but it’s the same sport. I would just say it’s different.”

Other than the average age of the camp roster and an almost entirely new major league coaching staff, nothing looks dramatically different about this year’s camp. The players still run through many of the same drills that big league teams have been doing for decades. There are a few new gadgets arrayed around the practice fields and bullpen mounds which reflect the new-age emphasis on analytics that executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias brought with him from the Houston Astros organization.

Elias and Hyde are in the process of engineering a major organizational transformation, which is what you do after the worst season in the 65-year history of the franchise. Everyone knows that and would be crazy not to want to get where the new regime wants to take the team.

If that is reflected in a more relaxed feel around the facility, that’s a short-term mission accomplished, but Hyde might quibble with the semantics.

“I wouldn’t say relaxed atmosphere,’’ Hyde said. “I’d say positive atmosphere where players are looking to get better every single day without making them stay on the field too long where injuries can happen or resentment can happen, but getting a positive work day in. I think players are going to perform better and improve quicker in a good place to work.”

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The Milwaukee Brewers traded for Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop at the Trade Deadline, but have rarely played him; some of us are wondering why?
It was interesting to see the Milwaukee Brewers trade for Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop when they already had a logjam at the position. It didn’t really make sense, but the Brewers were in a pennant race so they wanted to make the roster the best it could be heading in the playoffs.

Schoop has hardly played and when he has played, he’s struggled. He also struggled early in the 2018 season with the Orioles, but got hot and was putting up really good numbers after Manny Machado was traded.

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Jonathan Schoop is a streaky hitter that needs consistent at-bats in order for him to succeed and he’s not being utilized to his fullest potential in Milwaukee. He only appeared in 46 games after being traded from the Orioles. He’s played in three games in the playoffs with only seven at-bats with zero hits to his name.


I’m curious to see if upper management got Craig Counsell‘s approval for the trade before it happened because it sure seems like he’s not interested in Jonathan Schoop at all. Oriole fans are well aware of Schoop’s ability and how well he plays when healthy and getting regular at-bats.

Even Hernan Perez is getting more plate appearances then Schoop and he’s supposedly third on the depth chart. I’d love to be able to ask Craig Counsell why.

Maybe Schoop will be the starting second baseman in Milwaukee in 2019, but at the moment he will need to put up really good numbers in Spring Training for that to happen.

NEXT: Can the Orioles still sign Victor Victor Mesa?
It’s a shame because the Baltimore Orioles could’ve had a cornerstone at second base for the next decade if they offered Jonathan Schoop an extension.

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SARASOTA, Fla. — Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to say that he has a secret weapon in Craig Gentry. The veteran outfielder, who for the second straight season signed a Minor League contract with the team, is cherished by the manager.

Showalter believes that other teams must adapt when he inserts the 34-year-old into the game. For years, the Orioles have depended on power and have had few players with Gentry’s attributes. Showalter is convinced that Gentry makes opposing teams wary.

“They go, ‘They’ve got Gentry, we’re going to have to do this,'” Showalter said. “Not bring in certain pitchers, because they couldn’t hold runners.


“I’ve seen the weapons he gives us defensively. He can play all three [outfield positions] above average. He throws above average, and he can hold his own against [right-handers]. It’s not just a pure platoon thing. He’s well-rounded, with a lot of ways to impact your club.”

Gentry did not play in the Orioles’ 9-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday. He’s batting .333 (4-for-12) this spring.

In his Major League career, Gentry has a .261 lifetime average with a .334 on-base percentage in nine seasons with the Rangers, Athletics, Angels and Orioles. Last year, he hit .257 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 77 games for the Orioles.

Gentry’s walk-off single
Gentry’s walk-off single
Jul. 31st, 2017

Gentry re-signed with Baltimore just before Spring Training began, in large part because he has a champion in Showalter.

“It’s huge to have the skipper trust you, your abilities and support you and want you on the team,” Gentry said. “I think that’s a lot of the reason why I wanted to come back here. It’s a huge reason for me, the fact that I have some history with Buck. I respect him. I know him really well, and I enjoy playing for him.”

Gentry’s place on the Orioles’ 25-man roster isn’t assured. Joey Rickard, a much younger player, is also a right-handed-hitting outfielder who can play all three outfield positions, and is a plus runner as well.

But Showalter has always raved about Gentry. “[He can] serve multiple needs, whether it’s defense, whether it’s throwing, whether it’s running the bases, whether it’s hitting,” he said.

“He can give you a jolt on the day that he plays, a day game after a 14-inning game. He’s always ready to play. He’s a pro. He’s a baseball player.”

The Orioles were seeking additional left-handed-hitting outfielders, but they signed Gentry ahead of Alex Presley and Colby Rasmus, two left-handed hitters who joined the team in the early days of Spring Training.

“I thought there would be a strong possibility,” Gentry said of his return. “I’ve never really been put in this situation before. Just kind of didn’t know what to expect. Happy I did, and hopefully can break with the team and help the team win.”

Knowing that he’s Showalter’s special weapon is something he doesn’t easily forget.

“That’s part of my game,” Gentry said. “I’ve got to use that stuff to my advantage. It makes teams adjust. You might not always be able to notice the big play here or there, but maybe behind-the-scenes-type things, I think that’s something that I can bring every day, and that I can help the ballclub with.”

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Kevin Gausman took his lumps in the first half of what was a frustrating season for him, one that he entered with sky-high expectations and left with more questions than answers.

He spent the first two-plus months contributing to the most frustrating rotation in baseball. But what he did to fix that could breed the same kind of confidence in him that his second half of 2016 brought this year.

Gausman’s mechanical tweak in mid-June, noted here in September, paid clear dividends. Gausman, 26, squared himself more to the plate to keep his cross-fire delivery a bit more on line with home, and almost everything about his season turned around.

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After he was shelled to the tune of seven runs on six walks and eight hits against the New York Yankees on June 11, Gausman had a 6.49 ERA with 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 4.41 walks per nine, good for a 1.90 WHIP.

From that point on, he had a 3.61 ERA with 10.13 strikeouts per nine and 2.84 walks per nine, with his WHIP lowered to 1.253. Last week on FanGraphs, Alex Chamberlain wrote about the implications of all that from a fantasy perspective, and the message will be similar for Orioles fans: If you have anything left in your jar of Gausman faith, tapping into it this offseason could pay serious dividends.

The Orioles have no choice but to keep the belief that the second-half Gausman from either 2016 or 2017 can be sustained over the course of a full season, and prefer that it would be next season. The only constants in their rotation carrying into next year are Gausamn and Dylan Bundy, with a host of internal options such as Miguel Castro, Gabriel Ynoa and other Triple-A pitchers who will audition to join them with an expected set of free-agent acquisitions.

Bundy, 24, is still evolving, but there’s been more good than bad from him over his two major league seasons. Gausman has been particularly volatile, but the peripherals from his post-adjustment starts are promising.

His swinging strike rate jumped from 8.3 percent to 12.6 percent after the adjustment, and that came with an uptick in pitches in the zone. As a four-seam pitcher who works up in the zone, he’s a fly-ball pitcher who plays in a division of hitter’s parks. His home run/fly ball rate is 13.3 percent in his career, and was 14.8 percent this year. There wasn’t much difference in how frequently he allowed home runs pre- or post-change in his mechanics.
And with the Orioles’ outfield not covering as much defensive ground anymore, some of the fly balls that do stay in the park fall in, as evidenced by his abnormally high .336 batting average on balls in play — which Chamberlain noted was one of the 20 worst BABIPs since 2000. That’s a historic level of bad luck, and if Gausman can do something to harness that — his late-season emphasis on mixing in his two-seam fastball and varying speeds on his four-seam for weaker contact could help — there’s plenty to take solace in going forward.

All of it ultimately comes down to Gausman, who the team will again be relying on to be a front-line starter, and to deliver on that for a full season. And it can’t just come once he grows his goatee in the second half.

But if Gausman is the pitcher he was after he changed his delivery for a full season, the Orioles might get the reward they’ve been waiting for from a pitcher who needs to turn his promise into actual performance.


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Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, is as good a venue as any to demonstrate how far Orioles outfielder Joey Rickard has advanced defensively since his rookie year — and how the perception of him has come along with him.

Last year at the Texas Rangers’ ballpark, Rickard was playing left field and shaded toward center field when a high but typically catchable fly ball fell near the foul line, with just too much ground to cover from where he was set up. Last weekend, he was manning that same left field spot and dove in the gap to take away extra bases and likely runs in the Orioles’ 10-6 win Sunday.

Rickard, the former Rule 5 draft pick who has settled into a platoon role this year, has made plays like that all season for the Orioles, who appear to have a legitimate corner outfield defender. His defense is a big part of why the Orioles were so comfortable handing him his fifth straight start Thursday night as they try to manage life without slugger Mark Trumbo, who is out with a rib cage strain.

“Joey’s been solid out there this year, very quietly,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s actually throwing better than I’ve ever seen him throw. He works at it.”

While defensive metrics are best considered over periods as long as three years, and year-by-year statistics are difficult to draw conclusions from, Rickard’s numbers this year are among the best in baseball. By defensive runs saved, Rickard’s 10 DRS entering Thursday were tied for ninth most among players with at least 400 innings in the outfield. [All stats according to FanGraphs.]

Orioles shortstop Tim Beckham making speedy impression with new club
By UZR/150, which credits or debits a fielder for the expected run value of a batted ball hit in his direction and then extrapolates that value out to a full season, has Rickard at 21.4 — third best in baseball behind the Boston Red Sox’s Mookie Betts and Chicago Cubs’ Jason Heyward.

That company even surprises Rickard.

“I like to think that I’m up there,” he said. “I work really hard at it, so I’d like to be up there near the top, but I know that I still have a long way to go. I have great guys ahead of me to learn from.”

Orioles first base coach Wayne Kirby, who works with the outfielders, said there’s plenty that goes into Rickard’s improvement.

“You’ve got to start believing in yourself, No. 1,” Kirby said. “Believe he can do it. It’s no different from the minor leagues to the big leagues. There’s just a little more pressure up here and I think he overcame that. … We’ve been working. We’ve been working hard on his throwing, getting better jumps, and we talked about seeing the ball off the bat a lot earlier and getting ready a lot earlier. It’s work.”

Rickard, 26, credits playing next to center fielder Adam Jones, whether he’s in left or right field, with making things immeasurably easier for him. But he can’t really explain the statistical bump. In instances like his differing performances in the field in Texas, he said a year of familiarity is making a difference.

“A big part of it is being there before,” Rickard said. “Certain day games, you’re not going to see the ball off the bat at certain times of the day. It’s very specific reasons that could cause you to get a bad jump or miss a step, but I think being there once before helps a lot.”

Said Kirby: “The third deck is the first year. And then, once you’re in the stands and watch the ball hit off the bat, and get a better read on it, then it becomes second nature. Once it becomes second nature, you can just trust everything you see. That’s big. I mean, a lot of people don’t understand — when you don’t watch the ball hit off the bat, you don’t get the jumps you want to get. And when you don’t get ready, you don’t get the jumps you want to get. Now, he’s putting everything in there and when the ball is hit, he’s just reacting.”

O’s Recap: Orioles fall to Angels, 3-2
As for that lofty company Rickard keeps, Kirby said it’s possible the rest of the game could perceive him as they do those players if he keeps on this path.

“Of course,” Kirby said. “He’s more comfortable. It makes you more valuable, for sure.”

Rickard’s improvement in defensive statistics is a big part of him entering Thursday being worth 0.5 wins above replacement (WAR), as opposed to -0.7 last year. That’s all with this year’s .251/.287/.356 batting line being below last year’s .268/.319/.377.

Rickard and right fielder Seth Smith are the only Orioles outfielders with a positive UZR/150, with Smith’s at 1.0, though he had -6 DRS. Trey Mancini had two DRS, and Craig Gentry had one. Jones had a -16.6 UZR/150 and -6 DRS.

But overall, while the team’s stated goal was to improve outfield defense this year, their -5.6 UZR/150 entering Thursday ranked 29th in baseball, though their -6 DRS was up to 20th overall. Last year, they were last in the game with -51 DRS and -11.2 UZR/150.

Showalter said the team’s outfield defense is better on certain days than others.

“It depends on who’s playing out there. Like tonight, that’s a really good outfield defense that we run out there — really good,” Showalter said before the Thursday’s series opener against the Detroit Tigers. “It takes a lot of strain off of Adam, which is important. Having Joey and Craig out there really makes his job a lot easier, and also allows Kirb to do some different alignments that he can’t do with some other matchups.”