This, that and the other

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The Orioles begin a crucial non-division series tonight with the White Sox in town for three games.

Crucial no longer seems like a necessary designation. It's redundant. They're all big.

Every tie-breaking scenario comes into play with a packed wild card race, and the Orioles won three of four in Chicago back in June. Head-to-head results are important.

They missed out on a sweep after Dylan Cease, who starts tonight, held them to one run and struck out 13 batters in seven innings. They scored two unearned runs in the ninth off Kendall Graveman after consecutive errors by first baseman José Abreu in a 4-3 loss.

So long ago that Jonathan Arauz homered and had a run-scoring single.

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Rodriguez keeps making positive strides toward return to real games

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Grayson Rodriguez is confident that he’ll pitch again in September.

The progress he’s making from a strained lat suggests that he’s right.

The Orioles say Rodriguez is scheduled for another bullpen session, followed by live batting practice and a simulated game. All of it happening this week down in Sarasota, Fla.

A prolonged shutdown period led to flat-ground throwing with increased distances, a half-mound session and then regular bullpen sessions.

Throwing live batting practice and in a sim game finally allow Rodriguez to face hitters as he nears a return.

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Quick check of some prospects in Norfolk

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Left-hander DL Hall didn’t make it out of the bullpen yesterday at Triple-A Norfolk, if that’s where he sits when he isn’t scheduled to pitch.

He wasn’t on the lineup card. And he didn’t pitch.

The Orioles want Hall back in the majors as a power arm coming out of the bullpen. They’re shortening his outings and intend to do the same with his rest periods.

But not yet, apparently.

The minors shut down on Mondays except for the Florida Complex League, which went dark yesterday. Hall could get a few innings Tuesday night in Jacksonville.

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Orioles and Red Sox lineups (and notes - updated)

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The Orioles are in Williamsport, Pa. tonight for the Little League Classic and their first appearance in ESPN’s primetime game in four years.

Outfielder Yusniel Diaz has joined the team as its 27th man, an unexpected perk considering this isn’t a doubleheader.

Diaz struck out in his major league debut on Aug. 2 after a temporary promotion at the trade deadline.

The Orioles are 2 ½ games back for the last wild card spot. The Twins are one game ahead of the Orioles, and the White Sox are a half-game behind.

There’s a traffic jam in this race.

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Latest on Henderson, Means and Powell

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If you’re inclined to read a little or a lot into a player’s position change, Gunnar Henderson starting at second base last night at Triple-A Norfolk is a real page turner.

Henderson made his first career starts at first base in the past two games and moved to second last night, where his only experience was one game with high Single-A Aberdeen in 2021. He played five innings but didn’t start.

What’s going on with Henderson?

The same thing that put him at first base.

The Orioles want Henderson to get comfortable on the right side of the infield and increase their options if his contract is selected, which seems like a lock. They can use his left-handed bat in multiple ways, and the roster gains more flexibility.

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Orioles lineup vs. Red Sox

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The Orioles will try to clinch their series against the Red Sox today after moving within 1 ½ games of the last wild card spot.

They improved last night to 6-4 against the Red Sox after going 6-13 in 2021.

Michael Wacha’s reverse splits have produced a right-handed heavy lineup for the Orioles.

Austin Hays is leading off and playing left field, and Ryan McKenna is in center. Cedric Mullins is on the bench.

Also missing from the lineup are Rougned Odor and rookie Kyle Stowers. Tyler Nevin is playing third base, with Ramón Urías moving to second.  

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Ryan Ripken gives props to Orioles prospects

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With Ryan Ripken no longer playing baseball and venturing into the sports media world, he’s finding platforms to pass along his knowledge of the game and opinions on prospects who were teammates or simply caught his eye from the sidelines.

Ripken created a Twitter account this year and used it to announce his retirement, though he hasn’t ruled out a return to the field if the right opportunity becomes available. Cal’s son will always be an Orioles fan, and he’s enjoying their resurgence this year and presence in the wild card race.

“Let’s be honest, no one expected it this year,” he said. “It’s been cool. Happy for a lot of the guys, especially that I know.”

Shortstop Gunnar Henderson could debut this summer. He turned 21 on June 29 and is battering older Triple-A pitching.

“He was one of the guys that, when you met him, you knew he was special,” Ripken said. “Obviously, his success has been tremendous. He’s so young and he’s adjusting so quickly is what I think has been so impressive.”

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Orioles erupt for season-high 15 runs to beat Red Sox in series opener (updated)

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Jorge Mateo leaped in the air tonight as his fly ball cleared the left field wall, pumped his fist above his head and stuck the landing.  The two runners ahead of him kept circling the bases. Mateo walked back to touch first with hands still clenched.

Every at-bat seems to matter more in a pennant race, and especially for an offense that’s sputtered in the early innings. Mateo can be forgiven for hurdling the bag after wiping out a two-run deficit.

Those same hands must have tightened in frustration before opening again for high-fives in the victory line.

The Orioles built a six-run lead and almost lost it the fifth, but they tied a season high with five homers and outlasted the Red Sox 15-10 before an announced crowd of 33,136 at Camden Yards.

The Red Sox responded to Mateo’s homer by scoring twice in their next at-bat to reclaim the lead, the Orioles got it right back on Anthony Santander’s two-run shot, and then the game veered into crazy.

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Hyde: "Stowers is going to see quite a bit of action in the outfield"

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Kyle Stowers is starting in right field tonight and batting fifth for the Orioles, and he’s going to play regularly against right-handed pitching. This isn’t presented as another brief look at one of their prospects.

The Orioles selected Stowers' contract today from Triple-A Norfolk, his real debut on the 40-man roster after serving as a substitute player in Toronto.

“Stowers is going to see quite a bit of action in the outfield,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Every day we’ll look at matchups. It’s good to get guys off their feet, also. We’re in late August and just try to rotate those guys around as much as possible.”

Asked about the timing of Stowers’ arrival, Hyde said, “Just feel like he’s ready to contribute for us. He’s had a nice year in Triple-A and we’re excited about his future, and looking forward to watching him play up here.”

The Orioles have wanted more hitting from the left side, and the upcoming slate of games magnifies the importance.

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Orioles select Stowers' contract and DFA Phillips (plus other moves and notes)

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The Orioles made a series of roster moves this afternoon, selecting outfielder Kyle Stowers’ contract from Triple-A Norfolk and recalling infielder Richie Martin and left-hander Nick Vespi.

Outfielder Brett Phillips was designated for assignment, infielder/outfielder Terrin Vavra went on the paternity list, and reliever Logan Gillaspie was optioned to Norfolk.

Stowers made his major league debut in June while the Orioles were in Toronto, serving as a substitute player due to Anthony Santander’s previous vaccination status, and he went 1-for-7 with a double, RBI and four strikeouts. He’s batting .264/.357/.527 with 29 doubles, three triples, 19 home runs, 78 RBIs, 45 walks and 104 strikeouts in 407 plate appearances with Norfolk.

MLBPipeline.com ranks Stowers as the No. 9 prospect in the system, and Baseball America has him 11th. He leads the organization in home runs and RBIs, and is tied with infielder Jordan Westburg for first in doubles.

Phillips, acquired from the Rays at the trade deadline for cash considerations, was 2-for-17 with two doubles and nine strikeouts.

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Vavra ready to play first base if Orioles need him

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Terrin Vavra didn’t work out at first base yesterday, his early reps coming in right field before playing his first major league game on that side. Infield instructor Tony Mansolino might get his pupil back on Friday. Other lessons waiting for the rookie.

The Orioles came to Vavra last week with the idea of shifting some of his work to first base. The initial set of ground balls were hit Sunday morning at Tropicana Field, and the club has integrated cutoffs, relays, double plays, bunt plays, pickoffs and short hops.  

“Just trying to familiarize me with it in the event that there’s an opportunity and be ready for it,” Vavra said.

“The game’s the game. It’s just where you’re standing out there. There’s little things that come with time and experience playing each position, but I like to think that I can handle the situation pretty good and give my best effort and do a pretty good job anywhere.”

Trey Mancini’s trade to the Astros has caused the Orioles to sort through their options, and creating new ones, in case of injury.

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Orioles rally late but lose to Cubs 3-2 (updated)

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The Orioles are in a pennant race and the offense has a disturbing tendency to slow to a crawl.

No baserunners for eight innings Sunday in St. Petersburg, Fla., none for six innings yesterday in Toronto. Two runs total in the losses.

Cedric Mullins had the first Orioles hit this afternoon with a two-out triple in the third inning, and Cubs starter Adrian Sampson didn’t allow another until Austin Hays doubled with one out in the fifth and was thrown out at the plate.

The pressure on the starters and bullpen intensifies. Austin Voth tossed six scoreless innings yesterday, and Spenser Watkins blanked the Cubs today for 5 1/3 before Willson Contreras homered.

Contreras homered again off Joey Krehbiel in the eighth inning, and the Orioles were on the verge of being shut out for the eighth time this season. They took advantage of two walks in the bottom half to score twice, but the Cubs held on for a 3-2 win before an announced crowd of 19,454 at Camden Yards.

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Notes on Vavra, Santander, Hays, Araúz and more

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Rookie Terrin Vavra is making his fourth start in the outfield this afternoon, and his first in right.

Vavra keeps moving around, with three starts in left field and two at second base. He’s served as the designated hitter in six games.

The Orioles like his versatility, but also want his bat in the lineup. Vavra is slashing .297/.391/.378 with a double, triple, seven RBIs and seven walks in 46 plate appearances.

“He’s been out there a couple times. Not right field here, obviously, but in the outfield. I thought he’s looked comfortable, did a nice job,” said manager Brandon Hyde.

“We have some really good outfielders that, I’ve taken him out with a lead to get guys with some more experience out there. That might happen again. But he’s going to at least get some at-bats in and get some work out there. I know he feels comfortable, so excited to have him be so versatile and do a lot of things for us.”

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Orioles lineup vs. Cubs

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The Orioles return home today after going 3-4 on their three-city road trip.

Yesterday’s 6-1 loss in Toronto left the Orioles 1 ½ games back for the third wild card spot. The Twins moved past them and are one game behind.

Today’s game is a makeup from a June 8 rainout. The Orioles won the previous night 9-3.

Terrin Vavra is in right field today, with Anthony Santander used again as the designated hitter.

Ramón Urías is batting fifth and playing third base. Adley Rutschman is behind the plate.

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Gunnar Henderson preparing to make some starts at first base

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While the Orioles keep working out Terrin Vavra at first base before games, the drills beginning Sunday at Tropicana Field, they’ve got shortstop Gunnar Henderson doing the same with Triple-A Norfolk. Taking ground balls, making throws from a new angle.

Henderson is expected to receive some starts at first base this week, perhaps today against the Durham Bulls at Harbor Park.

To get Henderson comfortable at the position would assist the Orioles with roster flexibility if his contract is selected. They’re searching for left-handed options, particularly as injury insurance.

Henderson has started at shortstop and third base as a professional and played five innings at second base last summer with Single-A Aberdeen.  First base is new to him.

This doesn’t signal that Henderson definitely is coming up in 2022. It’s a daily conversation within the organization, and the strikeouts – 62 compared to 32 walks in 53 games with Norfolk before last night – offer a reason to wait.

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Orioles lineup vs. Blue Jays

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The Orioles will attempt to sweep the Blue Jays this afternoon, winning five straight games against their division rivals and perhaps take sole possession of the third wild card spot.

They would move past Toronto for third place in the American League East.

To review: the Orioles have won 10 of the last 14 games, 12 of 18 and 26 of 37. They’re 25-27 against division opponents after going 20-56 last season.

A victory today would move the Orioles seven games above .500 for the first time since May 22, 2017. They’ve been six over on three occasions this season.

Adley Rutschman and Terrin Vavra are on the bench today.

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Orioles win another series and prove more people wrong

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Two straight losses to the Rays and a pending trip to Toronto were supposed to finally break the Orioles. The skeptics keep circling the dates for the club’s demise. Waiting for players to start turning into pumpkins.

Well, here they are, a half-game behind the Blue Jays for the last wild card spot and having a chance at a sweep.

The Orioles have won five consecutive games against the Jays in the same season for the first time since 1994. They won a road series against them for the first time since July 2019.

They totaled five wins over the Jays in 2021, one fewer than this year.

Overall, the Orioles have won 10 of the last 14 games, 12 of 18 and 26 of 37. They’re 25-27 against division opponents after going 20-56 last season.

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Orioles and Blue Jays lineups

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The Orioles won the series opener last night against the Blue Jays in Toronto, and they’re 1 ½ games back for the second and third wild card spots.

They’ve gone 5-2 against the Blue Jays this season, including four wins in a row for the first time since Sept. 28, 2016-April 14, 2017, and for the first time in a single season since Aug, 7-Sept. 17, 2014.

The Orioles haven’t won five straight games in one season against the Jays since May 9-June 26, 1994.

Ryan Mountcastle homered again last night, giving him five against Toronto this season and 14 for his career. He’s the cleanup hitter again tonight.

Austin Hays is out of the lineup. Ryan McKenna, who had a career-high three hits last night, is batting ninth and playing right field.

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The 2022 Orioles have done plenty, but is it enough?

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Since gambling is becoming so tightly attached to Major League Baseball that it’s almost cutting off the circulation, with advertisements running every half inning, coming at us faster than Rickey Henderson in his prime, it’s fitting to point out that the Orioles are playing with house money.

They weren’t supposed to be above .500 in the middle of August or to be chasing the wild card, holding the third position for a brief period over the weekend. After earning the first pick in the draft, tying the Diamondbacks for the worst record? No way.

To ask, “why not?” would risk exposure to an hour-long lecture.

John Means’ season-ending elbow surgery didn’t create this perception. It existed before he received his scar.

They followed two straight losses at Tropicana Field with last night’s 7-3 win in Toronto. It was so Orioles. Just when you think they’re out, they pull themselves back in.

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Mountcastle returns to Orioles lineup for opener of big series in Toronto

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The Orioles walked away from one important series and stepped into another, with three games against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

Yesterday’s loss to the Rays left the Orioles 1 ½ games away from the third wild card spot. The Twins and White Sox are a half-game behind them.

The Blue Jays are 35-23 at home. They’re 2-4 against the Orioles this season, splitting a four-game series in Toronto in June.

Ryan Mountcastle has returned to the lineup after sitting out yesterday’s game with a swollen left hand. He’s 12-for-25 with four doubles, four home runs and 10 RBIs against the Blue Jays this season, and is a career .361/.414/.730 hitter with six doubles, 13 home runs and 26 RBIs in 31 games.

Cedric Mullins is on the bench, with Ryan McKenna leading off and playing center field.

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