Duquette on 2018 rotation: 'I don’t know where they’re going to come from, but we’ll have some good starting pitching' - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Duquette on 2018 rotation: ‘I don’t know where they’re going to come from, but we’ll have some good starting pitching’

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette views his club’s 2017 collapse pretty clearly.

He believed his veteran-heavy rotation heading into the season would be good enough to at least supplement a stout bullpen and a solid offense for another postseason run.

Instead, the rotation crumbled on its way to the worst starters’ ERA in modern franchise history, and the Orioles, as a team, secured a losing season for the first time since 2011, the year before Duquette took over the personnel reins.

“I think everybody had great expectations for the team and we got off to a strong (22-10) start,” Duquette said during a lengthy, season-summary interview with BaltimoreBaseball.com last week. “We were in first place at the quarter pole. Over the course of the season, we didn’t really have the starting pitching to maintain that consistency. But I like our team overall.”

Duquette points to the steps forward made by several individuals this season, specifically Jonathan Schoop, Trey Mancini, Dylan Bundy and Tim Beckham, as well as the late-season promotions and performances of top prospects Austin Hays and Chance Sisco. The problem, however, is that Bundy is the only pitcher among that group.

Rotation’s woes; lack of quality depth

And while the 24-year-old emerged as the most consistent member of the club’s rotation, Bundy (13-9, 4.24 ERA) is the only one that posted an ERA below 4.50. Kevin Gausman, who makes his final start of the season Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, was supposed to be the team’s emerging ace. But a disastrous first half (5.85 ERA in 19 starts) torpedoed his overall numbers (11-10, 4.61 ERA in 32 starts) despite a strong second half (6-3, 3.09 ERA in 13 starts).

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Chris Tillman, the club’s most dependable starter during Duquette’s tenure, was shelved by a shoulder injury in the spring, and never reclaimed his old form when he returned, posting an ugly 7.71 ERA – more than three runs higher than his career mark – in 23 outings.

Duquette was expecting veterans Ubaldo Jimenez (6-11, 6.81 ERA in 31 games) and Wade Miley (8-14, 5.52 ERA in 31 starts) to build on the relative success they had at the end of the 2016 season, but instead they regressed further. Add in Duquette’s July pitching acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson, who was 2-6 with a 6.97 ERA in 10 starts with the Orioles after being traded from the Philadelphia Phillies, and the rotation’s combined ERA currently sits at 5.65, higher than the franchise’s worst mark of 5.51 set in 2008.

Perhaps the primary criticism of Duquette’s work in building the rotation this year is that he did not have any true upgrades in the minors to take over in case the expectations didn’t come to fruition for his projected rotation. Alec Asher, Gabriel Ynoa, Jayson Aquino and Tyler Wilson all made starts for the Orioles this year, with Ynoa providing the most hope that he could be a usable member of the 2018 rotation.

Aquino and Wilson were both removed from the 40-man roster this year and outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk; meanwhile the Orioles lost Parker Bridwell to waivers in April and the rookie right-hander has gone 8-3 with a 3.86 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) for the Los Angeles Angels, further highlighting the Orioles’ inability to construct a competent 2017 rotation.

Depth, Duquette says, wasn’t the issue; depending on pitchers with track records that failed was.

“You can have all the depth you want, but when the guys that you are counting on with your starting pitching don’t come through, there’s not a lot of options for the club. And we were depending on Tillman to give us some quality innings. We were hoping that Jimenez would give us some quality innings, and Miley. And those are three of our five starters,” Duquette said.

“Even Gausman didn’t pitch — the first half of the season — like he’s capable of, like he did in the second half of the season. So, other than Dylan Bundy, who had a terrific year, there’s no major league team in the business that’s going to withstand three of their starters not pitching up to the level that they established for themselves. It’s just not happening.”

It’s a fair point. That, though, was 2017. What happens in preparation for 2018?

Building next year’s group

Only Gausman and Bundy are expected back. Jimenez, Hellickson, Miley and Tillman are all pending free agents (the club holds a $12 million option on Miley, but is expected to exercise the contract’s $500,000 buyout).

Ynoa, Miguel Castro, who pitched well in long relief this season, and the soon-to-be out-of-options Mike Wright, among others, likely will get a chance to compete for a rotation spot in March. But, even if one of those captures the fifth-starter’s role, the Orioles still need at least two viable starters for next year’s rotation, and preferably ones with significant big league experience – and success.

“We’re going to upgrade it. We are going to rebuild it,” Duquette said of the rotation. “I’m sure we’ll find some pretty good starting pitching for next year and we’ll be able to improve our rotation.”

What’s concerning is that there is no obvious avenue, at this moment, that would seemingly lead quality pitching to Camden Yards for next year.

First, just about every team in baseball needs a rotation boost, so the competition for available arms is stiff. Based on the reputation of Camden Yards as a hitters’ park, for the Orioles to land a free agent starter of some pedigree, they’ll likely have to overpay. And since ownership has eschewed giving out extended, long-term contracts to free-agent pitchers – which, in fairness, rarely turn out as good investments, industry-wide – it’s highly unlikely the club lands a top-of-the-rotation starter this winter.

Secondly, this year’s free-agent pitching class is average at best (although better than year’s). The only true “aces” available are Los Angeles Dodgers’ 31-year-old right-hander Yu Darvish and former Oriole Jake Arrieta, now with the Chicago Cubs, and potentially Masahiro Tanaka, if he opts out of his long-term deal with the New York Yankees (and if he truly is an ace).

There are some other intriguing possibilities, but all have warts, whether it’s past injuries (Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Andrew Cashner) or age (Jason Vargas, CC Sabathia) or recent ineffectiveness (Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Miguel Gonzalez, Tillman).

Then there’s the preferred concept of building your own ace. Both Gausman and Bundy are former top draft picks and homegrown successes, and Duquette and company are excited about some promising minor league pitchers such as Hunter Harvey, Tanner Scott and Alex Wells.

Still, the Orioles’ current farm system is void of someone to be counted on to make the jump directly from the minors to the rotation for the early part of 2018. And though the organizational depth appears to be improving, it’s not flushed with top prospects that could be traded to land a Chris Sale type. like the Boston Red Sox were able to do last winter or what the Houston Astros accomplished in August for Justin Verlander.

Still, Duquette is undaunted in his pursuit of improving the rotation. He’s been here before, he says, and it worked out. It will again, he believes.

“I don’t know where they’re going to come from, but we’ll have some good starting pitching. That was the job in 2012, to go out and find some starting pitching and we were able to sign (Taiwan’s Wei-Yin) Chen and we picked up Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman emerged,” Duquette said. “That really propelled the team from the second division to the first division and then we were able to stay there since — until this year, when our starting pitching failed us.”

To Duquette’s credit, he’s been continually active in searching for rotation help in his tenure in Baltimore, tapping Taiwan, Mexico, Korea, Japan, the MLB free-agent market and orchestrating several trades. He’s landed some helpful pieces and acquired some duds, but an ace has remained elusive.

Holding onto the present, too

His best chance of finding veteran rotation help this winter is through the trade market. But he’s also reluctant to give up big league pieces that are instrumental to a potential playoff run in 2018, when his and Showalter’s contracts expire along with a chunk of the team’s core.

When asked about the future of star third baseman Manny Machado, who is a free agent after next season, Duquette said: “Manny has shown he’s a good player. One of the better players in the league. So (a contract extension is) something that we can visit in the offseason and see if there is an opportunity to extend that relationship.”

When asked if he would deal from his surplus of back-end bullpen arms, specifically closer Zach Britton and/or setup man Brad Brach, both free agents after 2018, Duquette responded: “Probably not. I’m not sure it’s surplus, OK? You see these teams that come in here (with deep bullpens) that we just played. The one from New York and the one from Boston. You think we have surplus?”

If the Orioles have a surplus commodity, and it’s not in the bullpen, it likely would be power. But given the enormity of Chris Davis’ contract and the youth and upside of Mancini, Schoop, Sisco and Hays, perhaps the most likely Oriole to be dealt this winter is designated hitter/outfielder Mark Trumbo, who has two years and roughly $26 million left on the contract he signed last winter.

Any trade involving Trumbo, whose power output was halved this season, would probably require the Orioles to take on another hefty contract (like a high-priced starting pitcher who has underachieved) in return.

The other burning question is whether the Orioles will retain the services of Showalter’s coaching staff and, specifically, first-year pitching coach Roger McDowell, who had sustained success in the same role in Atlanta before shepherding the 2017 rotation disaster in Baltimore.

“I think those are all things that you can take a look at in the offseason and see what you’ve got to do to restock your team for the coming season,” Duquette said, not addressing McDowell by name. “So, I think every team has to do that, and that’s a healthy process.”

As for his own job security, Duquette didn’t answer the question directly, but when asked whether he was confident he’d get the opportunity to build the 2018 roster, he said, “Oh yeah. I mean to field another competitive team? Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”

Frankly, given what the Orioles were when Duquette arrived, and what they’ve done since – 2017 as the exception – it would seem unfair to move on from him after one losing season.

The bottom line here is it’s pretty obvious what’s at stake in 2018 and what the Orioles have to do to be a legitimate playoff team. But finding starting pitchers that can properly and consistently elevate this rotation – given all of the factors previously detailed – is a significant challenge.

The ‘what’ is easy; the ‘how’ is the puzzler.

“That’s a good question for Dan. I’m gonna manage the people that get here and try to make them as good as we can make them,” Showalter said Sunday about how to rebuild the rotation. “I’ve got (five) games (remaining in 2017). It’s important. A lot of the things, those opportunities to see things, find out things, are gonna be gone here shortly. Then you’re gonna have to sit back and do all those things. I’m sure Dan’s given it some thought.

“But we’ve got some work to do.”

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. OsFanStuckInNY

    September 26, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Hey, why not see what Chris Davis can do on the mound — build on his career stats of 0.00 ERA, 1-0 record, and a K per inning?
    (Remember he struck out 5 times and hit into a DP while going 0 for 8 in that game — see, his true calling IS as a pitcher!)

    • Dan Connolly

      September 26, 2017 at 8:05 am

      Didn’t you read the part about how Os don’t give extended contracts to free-agent pitchers. 🙂

  2. Marshall

    September 26, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Water is wet, the sky is blue, the O’s need starting pitching. Haha.

    I’d like to see a play made for Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, & maybe a gamble on someone like Henderson Alvarez.

    • Dan Connolly

      September 26, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      I’m curious to see what Cobb and Lynn command. Both talented. Both already have had TJ surgery.

    • Dpsmith22

      September 26, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      Cobb needs to be the START of their rotation search. Last few starts, he has been showing his old velo and command. Not fond of Lynn but I am sure he will be on the list. I remember Duquette talking with San Diego about Lynn. Instead, we got Despaigne…..

  3. bigdaddydk

    September 26, 2017 at 8:37 am

    The pitching has been a known issue for some time. I’m encouraged to hear DD say that he’s going to pursue good starting pitching, but I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.

    Hellickson’s stats are a bit uglier than they appear on the surface since he came over. His two starts were solid, allowing only two walks and three runs total (sadly, taking the loss in the second one because the offense didn’t give him run support.) I was encouraged by him then. But since, he’s been pretty miserable overall with runs allowed. I’d like to see him actually get back to form because he’s been a good pitcher in the AL East before. Not sure if our organization is capable of making it happen though.

    • Dan Connolly

      September 26, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      What’s struck me about Hellickson is that he has walked more than typical. Not sure why that is.

      • bigdaddydk

        September 26, 2017 at 2:01 pm

        That seems to happen when pitchers come to Baltimore. In 10 starts for the O’s, he had three starts with four walks He’s averaging 3.0 BB/9 with the O’s, while averaging 2.4 BB/9 with Philadelphia. His career average is 2.7 though, so it’s not like he can’t get a little off at times. But he’s supposed to be more of a control artist, so the uptick in walks seems odd.

    • Dpsmith22

      September 26, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      We got what we expected from Hellickson. A #5 starter who will OCCASIONALLY throw a solid game. Only Duquette thought it was a good move.

  4. Parlay

    September 26, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Duq should contact me when it comes to FA SPs…The ol’ Parlay eye test has never lied. I can pick out the best tee ball pitchers in Severna Park. Is AJ Burnett available? I am a little behind on the times.

    • Dan Connolly

      September 26, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      He is. Get to Monkton and scout.

  5. Steve Cockey

    September 26, 2017 at 8:53 am

    The Chen and Gonzalez acquisitions don’t get talked about much anymore, but they’re perhaps the two very best moves of Duquette’s tenure — capable, inexpensive SPs who were both controlled for multiple years. If he can somehow replicate those, I think we’d all be thrilled.

  6. Bird Man 8

    September 26, 2017 at 10:00 am

    “Duquette was expecting veterans Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley to build on the relative success they had at the end of the 2016 season.”

    Duquette is absolutely delusional if he felt those two would be good this year. Duquette loves to take a look at the smallest sample size of a “run” of success for a pitcher, and hope that becomes the norm. There’s a reason these guys aren’t being courted by other teams at the start of free agency. The overall picture says they are bad news, you can’t be optimistically foolish into expecting a small sample size of success can become the norm. That’s just bad analytics.

    I’d also like to introduce Duquette to a stat called WHIP, and sever his ties for the pitcher stat Win. I don’t want to hear about being “old fashioned” and thinking “a Win is still an important stat because it means you are able to get the necessary outs to help the team.” What a crock of shit. The qualifications for a Win are so low, and completely random. 5.0 IP….that is all. If you can pitch 5 innings by the skin of your teeth as a starter, you can win the game. Is that really a stat to measure pitchers? That’s why he thought Wade Miley was a good pickup. The king of being over 100 pitches at the 5th inning, and giving up at least 3 or 4 runs. Which is turn then exhausts the bullpen for nearly half the game, and then we rely on 5 or 6 solo homers since nobody is an OBP type of hitter. This stuff is not sustainable.

    Perhaps he got the WHIP memo on Hellickson though, but unfortunately you have to able to analyze stats outside of the Fantasy Baseball 5×5 basics if you are the General Manager of a Major League team. Hellickson’s SO9 is just awful. Not that you need to strike everybody out, but striking out roughly 1 guy every 2 innings on average leaves a large margin for failure. Hellickson’s SO9 this year is 5.3 this year, and the ever climbing league average is 8.3. Also, with the HR9 average also climbing to a league high of 1.3, it might not be best to start a guy who can’t really strike people out. It certainly helps explain why Hellickson’s HR9 was 1.9. I guess Duquette will tell you he’s “old fashioned” in that category too, but he needs to wake up because the last time the league average for SO9 was 5.3 or under was 1983. Gotta move on from your “old fashioned” ways of analytics, Duquette.

    • bigdaddydk

      September 26, 2017 at 10:09 am

      In the day and age where pitchers don’t go 7+ innings, W-L record isn’t terribly valuable. WHIP is, as you pointed out, a better measure of pitcher effectiveness, along with a handful of other advanced stats that try to measure pitchers by factoring things like the park they play in. ERA+ comes to mind. While not all advanced metrics are good, I’m thinking of WAR as one, there are several that give much better data than the old W-L and ERA stats. There’s no reason for an analytics department to let advanced stats go unnoticed. Although, while I suspect our analytics team gives Duquette this information, I question how well he processes it and how much he’s simply using traditional stats to justify lower prices on substandard pitchers.

      • Bird Man 8

        September 26, 2017 at 2:43 pm

        Ha, yea, I don’t think he analyzes them much. He comes across as too arrogant to be interested in anybody else’s opinion on player analysis.

        I’m just getting tired of his approach. He seems to do the same thing over and over again with player management, I’m not sure why he expects different results.

        Here’s how it goes, as we all know:
        A flawed pitcher, possibly with a QO, and a very slim upside goes unsigned into January.
        Duquette then starts sniffing around.
        We agree to terms with the questionable pitcher.
        The dreaded Orioles physical happens.
        We sign them. Some to a AAA deal with incentives.
        They suck.
        We continue to give them starts. They spin a few gems, to go along with a handful of dumpster fires.
        If they are in AAA, they simply never pan out.
        Around trade deadline we decide to add more arms.
        Nobody is interested in DD’s bad offers for good starters.
        Dan settles for another dumpster dive with flaws.
        The pitcher is a train wreck. But we start them anyways.
        We get into a dogfight of a Wild Card game, and bring in Ubaldo Jimenez (digressing badly here).

        I’d just like to see a new approach to pitching. I know the organization has failed at developing pitchers for 25 years, but does that mean they should stop trying? Stop trading all of them away for rentals at the deadline. Duquette is far too short sided, and selfish to make the right long term decisions for the team.

        The sad thing will be when the core of this team(MANNY) walks for more money elsewhere. Duquette has gotten away with bad General Management because a good core was in place. He’s done nothing to strengthen the core, he’s merely done patch work to keep the team running.

    • Dan Connolly

      September 26, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      I don’t think a lack of analytics is a problem. Duquette has built a department for that. And he’s often talking about advanced metrics. A lot of that goes out the window, though, based on simple supply and demand.

      • bigdaddydk

        September 26, 2017 at 2:21 pm

        The supply issue is valid. There seems to be a dearth of quality starting pitching in MLB right now. It’s interesting when you look at overall stats by year though and see that the major league ERA is slightly elevated but no significantly. It’s trended up for slightly for about 7 years, but since 1945 the average ERA in the majors has trended upward, and not insignificantly. From 1945-1992, there were 10 years with an average ERA of 4.00 or more. From 1993-2017, there have been 21. And this is with K/9 innings higher than they’ve ever been and more pitchers throwing in the mid to upper-90s than ever before. Walks have trended up by about .5 BB/9 during that same time but K/BB ratios have gone way up. A telling stat to me is the rather meteoric rise in BAbip. It’s routinely around .300 now, which represents a rise of over 20 points since 1945. So, hitters are putting the ball in play less, but they’re hitting for higher average when they do.

      • Bird Man 8

        September 26, 2017 at 3:06 pm

        Oh for sure, supply and demand plays a huge role. Ownership doesn’t like paying pitchers, and Ubaldo reinforced that philosophy.

        But after 5 years now, that comes back to Duquette not getting arms developed in the minors. We all know the that Angelos isn’t a fan of paying a premium for pitching. So the GM should know that if he’s going to have a solid rotation, he’s going to have to develop cheaper, younger talent in the minors, and not give it away. Duquette has failed miserably in this department. He’s too short sighted.

        Why is Kevin Gausman the only pitcher that he’s drafted starting in this rotation? There isn’t anybody on the farm even close to being ready to step up, and fill in a rotation spot next year. Alex Wells, and Tanner Scott? No. Seems to be a handful of 2017 picks who did OK, but once again, they are a long way off from potentially helping the major league roster. Even if we do start to develop them, Dan gets too jumpy around the trade deadline, and moves them for inept pieces (Minus Andrew Miller).

    • Dpsmith22

      September 26, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Agreed 100%. Duquette is big on small sample sizes. Here are examples.

      -Gallardo; good 1st half in 2015. CRUSHED the 2nd half, but Duquette signed him anyway
      -Snider; 200 good at bats out of 2000. Duquette traded 2 lefty starter prospects for him
      -Ubaldo; Great 2nd half in 2013. Had been inconsistent his ENTIRE career. Got 4 years from Danny boy.

  7. Orial

    September 26, 2017 at 11:09 am

    In Duquette’s defense going in to a season with Tillman,Bundy,Gausman to anchor your rotation is pretty promising. Tillman’s arm woes could have been foreseen but it was a worthy gamble at the time. Another article takeaway is your stating how Boston,Houston(arguably the AL’s 2 best teams with Clev) had the farm pieces to pull off those trades. To be a power house at both the Major and Minor league levels says a lot. Developement is desperately needed in the Orioles organization.

    • DauerPower

      September 26, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      I was like you, I thought TBG would get 45 wins with this offense and our bullpen. With those 3 doing well then Ubaldo & Miley could be .500 and we’d be ok.
      I think Tillman is worth a 1 year contract as I’d like him to have full off season to get his shoulder right.

    • Dan Connolly

      September 26, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      That was the plan. That Jimenez/Miley would be 4-5 and maybe if one struggled — which seemed likely based on recent performance — he could be replaced by the system depth. But 4 struggled. And that was the death knell.

      • Dpsmith22

        September 26, 2017 at 2:21 pm

        Dan, don’t forget that EVERY single “depth” starter he brought over, could not even get AAA hitters out. I mean really, he signed about 6-7 and ALL of them were plain bad….That’s not bad luck.

    • Dpsmith22

      September 26, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      Who has drafted for the past 6 years? Here’s a hint, he ALMOST signed Gallardo to a 3 year deal and luckily, thanks to medicals, only got shafted for 2.

      Not having prospects has alot to do with the drafts as well. Let’s not exclude Duquette from the fact that the system is rather weak.

  8. JParsley

    September 26, 2017 at 11:53 am

    has anyone mentioned the change in pitching coach from last year to McDowell, could have hurt the rotation. Dave Wallace did a great job with Tillman and others including the bull pin. I would definitely get rid of McDowell after the season

    • JParsley

      September 26, 2017 at 11:56 am

      I read further into your article and saw you did mention McDowell. still get rid of him

    • Dan Connolly

      September 26, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      Not sure it’s his fault. But everything has to be mentioned.

  9. willmiranda

    September 26, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Why talk of aces? We can’t find someone to pitch 5 innings, giving up fewer than five runs. With all the pitching –relievers were not so sharp, especially with inherited runners– so bad, I think you have to look at something more systemic rather than the collapse of so many individuals. I mean opposition scouting, sign stealing, and tipping pitches.Opponents seemed just too comfortable. Does the coaching staff scout out own pitchers? Note: I don’t regard bad performance and bad intelligence as mutually exclusive.

  10. Dpsmith22

    September 26, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Duquette was expecting veterans Ubaldo Jimenez (6-11, 6.81 ERA in 31 games) and Wade Miley (8-14, 5.52 ERA in 31 starts) to build on the relative success they had at the end of the 2016 season.

    ANYONE who believed this statement is a fool . Those 2 turds, along with Tillman being hurt, and you don’t upgrade? Really? 3 out of 5 starters are question marks, from a 25th ranked rotation the year before. This season was over April 1st.

    Duquette has shown on countless occasions, that the game has passed him by.

  11. GSISDANNO

    September 26, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    We have been waiting for Duquette to out together a good starting staff for quite a few years. He has had his chance. Time to give someone else a shot.

  12. Mau

    September 26, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t DD want to go to Toronto and was not allowed? Let him friggin go. It’s clear to me that when a guy who runs your organization wants to dip for a division rival you don’t let him hang around and scuttle your team. He’s made just enough moves to keep himself relevant while also keeping the O’s teetering on the brink. 1 Nelson Cruz is greater than 1 Davis + 1 Trumbo combined. That’s just 1 example. The farm has been crippled by Hurricane Dan. SP’s are the milqetoast of the division. Our strength, the bullpen, is showing symptoms of PTSD. It’s a rare gem that gets beyond 5 innings and is tiring and exposing some great arms. Meanwhile, a plethora of former O’s pitchers thrive, or at least perform at a higher level elsewhere. It’s on par with Jordan sending Detroit the nucleus of their championship team albeit disbursed league-wide. Hire a GM that wants to be in Baltimore and that can work with the Hells Angelos and maybe the O’s can once again rival Boston and NY. Last years season finale made me wonder if DD has a pee pee tape of Buck when Ubaldo was served up and not Britton.

    • John in Cincy

      October 1, 2017 at 6:30 pm

      There’s never been anything beyond rumors that Duquette wanted to take the Toronto job, and it’s not even been established that those were credible rumors. As for his tenure with the Orioles, it’s difficult to say how much of the blame for the club’s failure is attributable to him and how much was Angelos.

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