When I interviewed Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette on the radio on Sunday, he pointed out that many factors have contributed to the Orioles’ dismal 6-16 start. But he seemed to focus more on the strikeout total on offense and the misplays on defense.
Duquette was my guest on “Orioles Baseball Tonight” on flagship station 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore.
I asked him if a team that has lost 10 of 12 and is already 10 games under .500 has dug too big a hole to climb from.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Duquette said. “The start that Boston got off to - a historically strong start - put a lot of distance between us and them. But I am encouraged in that our pitching is decent. If our pitching is decent, I’m hopeful that we can have our position players come around.”
The Orioles may have pitched well enough at times to win about half their games, even against a tough schedule, had they produced more on offense. Duquette agrees with that. But the Orioles have scored three runs or less 15 times.
“Yeah, that’s true. We haven’t been scoring any runs,” he said. “What is alarming about our hitting is the strikeouts. In the past, we’ve been a very powerful team, but we had not struck out at this kind of rate. That needs to change for us to have a competitive season.
“There are a couple of players whose walk-strikeout ratio is just not sustainable over the course of the season. And it’s just not healthy to have a long career.”
Duquette is right about that. A team that has often struck out a lot, the Orioles have not whiffed at their current rate in recent seasons. The 2015 Orioles had a strikeout rate of 22.2 percent which was third-worst in the major leagues. The 2016 Orioles had a rate of 21.7 percent, which was ninth-worst. The 2017 Orioles fanned 23.0 percent, which was ninth-worst. But in 2018, the club has struck out at a rate of 27.1 percent of the time to rank as the worst in the majors.
Ironically, the Orioles have struck out less in the current series with Cleveland. In their first 19 games, they whiffed 10 times or more 15 times. But in these three games against the Indians they struck out six, three and seven times.
So what can manager Buck Showalter and Duquette do to fix some of the issues?
“We’re going to need to put the ball in play more and catch the ball. If we do those things, we can stabilize our ballclub. Beyond that, we can look to see what we have at Triple-A and see if that will supplement our roster. But we have to stabilize our defense and improve our ability to put the ball in play,” he said.
Is Duquette looking to add anyone from outside the organization? Are there some potential additions that could help?
“Of course there are. But we’re not going to have wholesale changes to our ballclub,” he said. “That is not realistic at this point. We’re going to have to ride it out and see if we can get back to being a competitive ballclub.”
And if the Orioles continue to be a losing ballclub, Duquette and the front office may start looking to trade pending free agents, possibly to even include Manny Machado, who hit two more homers on Sunday.
Is a selloff possible if the Orioles continue to lose?
“Well, the issue now is to get the ballclub back, so it’s competitive,” Duquette said. “Unfortunately, we’ve dug a hole and we’re going to see if we can dig out of the hole. We can revisit that question later on. We have some talent on this team. We don’t have some depth in some areas where we need it and we have some injuries.
“Like Bill Parcells says, we don’t want to hear about your injuries or your schedule. Your record says who you are. Over the course of the season some of these things will even out but we are going to have to play a little better baseball than we have so far to compete in the American League.”
Duquette did address some minor leagues topics during our interview. He had plenty of praise for Double-A Bowie right-hander Hunter Harvey. So far he has thrown 4 1/3 in two starts allowing four hits and one run with two walks and strikeouts. The Orioles are holding down his innings total early in the year so he has more available in the second half when he might use those innings in Baltimore.
Duquette’s praise for Harvey includes the fact he believes Harvey compares favorably to Dylan Bundy, who has a 1.42 ERA through five starts.
“Hunter Harvey has that kind of talent,” Duquete said. “He’s got some serious talent. He is a lot like Dylan. His secondary pitches are coming around. You look at Dylan’s secondary pitches. He had that slider going the other night. He has progressed as a pitcher and improved his secondary pitches year over year. The kid works hard. I’m real impressed by him. Hunter Harvey has the same capability to help a major league ballclub that Dylan Bundy has.”