Myriad O's Thoughts: Rotation's rough patches; Castillo's big day; Miranda's flaws on display - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Paul Folkemer

Myriad O’s Thoughts: Rotation’s rough patches; Castillo’s big day; Miranda’s flaws on display

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

If the Orioles’ comeback win against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday proved one thing, it’s that the club’s offense and bullpen are strong enough to help them overcome early deficits.

If it proved another thing, it’s that the Orioles’ starting rotation still isn’t good enough.

The Orioles, who have been operating with a six-man rotation for the past couple of weeks, tend to get competitive outings from their starters two-thirds of the time. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are capable of stellar outings, while Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson can at least keep the team in the game more often than not.

But the same can’t be said for the other two starters, Ubaldo Jimenez (6.85 ERA) and Chris Tillman (7.91). On Wednesday, Jimenez struggled yet again.

He turned in his second-shortest start of the season, working only 2 2/3 innings before a six-run Mariners explosion in the third inning brought his afternoon to a quick end.

In fairness, Jimenez fell victim to some rotten luck. With runners at the corners and a 3-2 count to Yonder Alonso, Jimenez threw a pitch on the inside corner that was called ball four. Home plate ump Mark Carlson might’ve been screened by catcher Welington Castillo, who rose out of his crouch to make a throw to second base.

Nelson Cruz followed with a slow grounder up the middle that looked like a tailor-made double play ball … until it deflected off second base and out of the reach of Orioles infielders. Two runs scored on the gift single.

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Still, Jimenez let the inning get away from him. He coughed up two more hits — including Mitch Haniger’s bases-loaded, two-run double — and manager Buck Showalter had seen enough. After facing just 15 batters and throwing 54 pitches, Jimenez was pulled.

“As a starting pitcher, you don’t want to come out of that game, especially having (50)-something pitches,” Jimenez said. “But it’s not up to me. I just work to get ready for as long as they allow me. It’s part of the game.”

Jimenez also had some bad luck after he left. Miguel Castro induced a sky-high pop-up with two runners aboard, but shortstop Tim Beckham took a circuitous route ranging backwards and Adam Jones got a late start breaking in from center. The ball fell in for a hit, adding two more runs to Jimenez’s ledger.

Showalter regretted having to remove Jimenez so early.

“I don’t like doing that,” Showalter said. “Sometimes, you take into consideration the fact that a potential double play ball hits the bag, and the other two runs we had a popup that just got in no-man’s land. That’s unfortunate, what the numbers will read like. I thought he was carrying decent stuff. You’ve got [Mike] Zunino up there, who’s 3-for-4 off him with some damage.”

Jimenez disagreed with his manager’s reasoning.

“I struck [Zunino] out before, right? I struck him out in the second inning,” he said. “But, like I said, it’s not up to me. Of course, I want to be able to throw more innings. I know I gave up that big hit, but every pitcher wants to be there.”

Early hook or not, bad luck or not, it was another ineffective outing from Jimenez. Fortunately for the Orioles, their offense and bullpen stepped up their games to turn the tide and bag a win.

But the club can’t always rely on being able to overcome their starting pitching deficiencies. If the Orioles are going to be true contenders down the stretch, they need to patch the holes in their starting rotation.

Castillo’s hot bat

Castillo, at times, has become a forgotten man for the Orioles. He’s had a pair of stints on the disabled list, and with Caleb Joseph playing well, the two have entered a time-share arrangement behind the plate instead of Castillo being the undisputed starter.

Still, Castillo can be a game changer with the bat. He had four hits Wednesday, tying a career high, including his 15th home run. He’s now batting an even .300 for the season with an .838 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

Combined with Joseph, who is hitting .274 with a .749 OPS and eight home runs, the Orioles have gotten a lot of production out of their catching position.

“He and Caleb, what do they have, 24 or 25 home runs between them?” Showalter said. “And on the defensive side of it, we don’t have to think about one guy versus another. All the pitchers are comfortable throwing to both of them.”

Sharing the burden behind the plate might be keeping both Castillo and Joseph fresh down the stretch.

“At the end of the day, me or him want to play every day, but that’s not our decision,” Castillo said. “We just come every day here to play, prepared to play, but the decision has to be made by the skipper. [Joseph] is prepared to play every day. Me, too. That’s the [only] way every player can think about it.”

Miranda and Camden Yards: A bad combination

There’s been much discussion around these parts about the trade of Ariel Miranda for Miley last July. In my review of Dan Duquette’s trade history earlier this month, I gave Duquette a failing grade for trading a cheap, controllable lefty for a struggling, expensive Miley.

Well, after witnessing Miranda’s ugly Camden Yards debut, my opinion on the trade has softened.

Miranda, as Dan Connolly and others have frequently noted, has very much benefited from pitching his home games at spacious Safeco Field. He entered Wednesday with a 3.61 ERA in 12 starts at home and a 5.77 mark in 14 road outings this year.

Miranda also was tied for third in the majors with 31 homers allowed, despite his favorable home stadium. So, it stands to reason that if he played for the Orioles, or another team with a less pitcher-friendly ballpark, his stat line would look at lot worse.

That theory certainly played out Wednesday. The Orioles crushed Miranda for four more homers, vaulting him into the major lead with 35. The long fly balls that would’ve died at Safeco found their way into the seats at Camden Yards. Miranda, despite being staked to a 6-2 advantage, squandered the lead and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning.

OK, so maybe Miranda wouldn’t have been the solution to the Orioles’ rotation woes after all. And Miranda’s latest blowup inflated his season ERA to 4.85, just 14 points better than Miley, who has a 2.76 ERA since July 30.

Considering Miley’s unremarkable Baltimore career so far, the Miranda/Miley swap still can’t be considered a success for the Orioles by any means. But with Miranda struggling to keep his head above water in the majors, the deal no longer looks as lopsided as it once appeared.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    August 31, 2017 at 7:54 am

    I love Ubaldo. Right or wrong (probably wrong), I’ve defended him for 2 years here at BB.com. But this is not the time of year for Buck to give him that extra foot of leash. Bad luck or not, Buck may have saved that game for us with the timing of his hook yesterday. The bullpen is a strength of this team, and Showalter is the master of it.

  2. karks

    August 31, 2017 at 8:08 am

    As we know, this is a very flawed rotation. But with this wild card race so jam-packed with other flawed teams, we have a shot.

    The bullpen is pretty well back to its top form and that helps a lot. Castro was just outstanding yesterday. All the rotation needs to do is keep us in the game (which is easier said than done this year).

  3. pedro

    August 31, 2017 at 9:34 am

    Trade for Miguel Gonzalez. His era is 4.30, which immediately puts him second among starters. He has a good history against AL East teams. I can’t imagine he would cost too much.

  4. woody

    August 31, 2017 at 10:41 am

    It was incredibly unfortunate for Ubaldo last night but it was a good call to take him out when they did.

    I have to say a couple of things about some performances of late…

    Manny – whats with the baserunning? You’re an absolute liability at the moment. I’ve counted 4 outs on bases this week alone and its happened throughout the season.

    And Tim Beckham – you’re starting to frighten me with these errors – I know no error was charged on the popup but that was his ball to be caught, and some of his plays to first just seem a world apart from what we’re accustomed to. I wouldn’t be surprised come Sep 1st that we see a lot more of JJ than expected as a defensive upgrade late on in tight games.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      August 31, 2017 at 11:39 am

      Woody, I’m with you 100% on both your points. Manny is without question, the worst base runner I’ve ever seen on any level above Little League.

      And the question all along with Beckham has been about his defense. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Buck were to fit JJ back into the every day shortstop role and figure out something else for Beckham. I’m not as convinced as most around there that the O’s have found their “shortstop of the future”.

      • woody

        August 31, 2017 at 12:47 pm

        Boog – Beckham, great speed & good arm. I do notice some balls up the middle he makes that JJ doesn’t due to that speed, so will give him credit for that. He’s not awful, its more that he’s sloppy. Can you coach someone to concentrate and focus on the fine details? Not sure you can.

        Would be a massive upgrade in the outfield corners compared to some of the donkey’s we rock out there.

  5. Osfan73

    August 31, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Talk all you want about the Miley/Miranda deal, but acquiring M. Castro is looking better and better as this season goes on.
    Who cares what Ubaldo thinks, his time here is done, he’s NOT dependable and shouldn’t start another game. He should be placed in a case that says ‘break glass only in the case of a blowout’. I mean how does he show up yesterday now in a playoff race with an effort like that?
    Really liking the catching situation. Getting good offense from both Castillo and Joseph, pitching staff seems fine with throwing to both. Nice to have. Go Os!!!

  6. Birdman

    August 31, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    As we know, not all professional athletes are “nice guys.” By all accounts, Ubaldo is one of the genuinely nice guys on the Orioles, but his public criticism of Buck’s decision to take him out of yesterday’s game leaves a bad taste. Over the past 4 years, no player has been given more opportunities, and produced less, than Ubaldo. With only 29 games left in the season, the Orioles can’t afford to worry about hurting Ubaldo’s, or Chris Tillman’s, feelings.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      August 31, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      I heard the interview with Jimenez after the game, and I didn’t take it as Ubaldo ‘criticizing’ Showalter for the decision. All I think he was saying was that he had some bad luck and wished he could have stayed in the game longer, although it wasn’t his decision to make. He also owned up to allowing the homer on an 0-2 count.

      I know what you’re saying Birdman, but as far as not worrying about hurt feelings, I doubt it’s quite that simple. Especially when you’re dealing with loyal team guys like Ubaldo & Tilly. Totally discounting your players feelings may not be the best road to building team chemistry. What kind of message to the rest of the team would such a cavalier attitude send?

    • Paul Folkemer

      August 31, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      Birdman, I didn’t perceive Ubaldo’s comments as being mean-spirited or hostile toward Buck. He was just frustrated (as any pitcher would be) about being removed so early in the game. I think he was annoyed with the unlucky sequence of events that unfolded in the third inning and wished he could’ve stayed in longer to clean up the mess.

      As you said, Ubaldo is one of the nicest guys in baseball, and he’s a great clubhouse guy. He’s not throwing his manager under the bus. He was also quick to praise Castro for doing a great job in relief of him.

  7. Homerago

    August 31, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    In Major League baseball, “first string ” shortstops and center fielders are rarely removed in late innings for defensive purposes. I doubt if Showalter will start to deploy this strategy when Hardy returns. It will be interesting to see what happens, especially since Beckham will, undoubtedly, bark at being moved elsewhere.

    • woody

      August 31, 2017 at 7:34 pm

      Homerago – you’re right, but that’s because the SS is usually the best defender in the infield. This is a rare situation where that’s clearly not the case, so if Beckham’s bat isn’t due up it makes perfect sense to switch him out.

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