Slow starters and catching candidates

Want the Orioles to be better in 2017? It may prove beneficial to stop being so slow out of the gate.

It appeared at times that the opponent was taking an early lead while the Orioles still were lined up for the anthem. Hands over hearts while fans covered their eyes.

The Orioles were outscored 107-86 in the first inning this season, the largest margin of any frame. They were outscored 100-80 in the sixth, but the instant deficits tend to be more magnified, especially with the Orioles outscoring opponents 92-73 in the seventh, 78-59 in the eighth, 47-34 in the ninth and 10-2 in extras.

Ubaldo Jimenez allowed 24 runs in the first, 10 more than any other inning. Wade Miley surrendered 24, nine more than any other inning. Yovani Gallardo gave up 22, six more than his next highest total in the second. Chris Tillman allowed 15, two more than any other inning. Kevin Gausman allowed 15 in the first and third.

What’s the solution? Warm up longer, warm up less? There’s no easy fix or it would have been implemented.

* The Orioles re-signed catcher Audry Perez to a minor league deal, according to Baseball America. Left-hander Kyle Lobstein and outfielder Julio Borbon elected free agency.

Borbon has a tendency to come back. He wouldn’t be a bad insurance policy, though he may not want another assignment to the Eastern League.

The Orioles acquired Lobstein from the Pirates on Aug. 31 for left-hander Zach Phillips. They designated left-hander Ashur Tolliver for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.

Lobstein was designated for assignment a few hours later to make room for outfielder Drew Stubbs on the 40-man, cleared waivers and was outrighted. The Angels claimed Tolliver, a loss that could come back to bite the Orioles in the future.

Lobstein worked out in Sarasota, but we never saw him. I feel abandoned.

Wieters-Tag-Play-at-Plate-Sidebar.jpgExecutive vice president Dan Duquette included Perez’s name last week while discussing possible in-house replacements if Matt Wieters leaves as a free agent. The Orioles bypassed Perez for Francisco Pena after Caleb Joseph went on the disabled list, but they obviously like him.

“We do have a lot of good depth in the organization,” Duquette said. “A lot of teams like (Chance) Sisco other than our club. We know that from our trade discussions at the end of July. Whether they can do that job or not, that remains to be seen, but we do have pretty good depth in the organization at the catching position.”

Sisco is the top prospect at the position, but he’s only played four games above Double-A and continues to work on upgrading his defense. Scouts used to trash him, but the reports have improved. He’s working hard at it.

The bat plays. Sisco is a career .323/.402/.434 hitter in four minor league seasons and he won the batting title at Single-A Delmarva in 2014. The power has been slow to develop, with Sisco never hitting more than six home runs in a season. However, he homered in the Futures Game and hit two in his four games with Norfolk.

The Orioles were reluctant to part with Sisco despite the trade inquiries and are more determined to keep him after sending Jonah Heim to the Rays in the Steve Pearce deal. He’s positioned as the long-term replacement for Wieters, but there’s still the matter of a short-term solution.

Lots of fans clamored for Joseph last year before and after Wieters accepted the qualifying offer. Joseph’s support group quieted after he batted .174 and failed to drive in a run, but he’s better than that and his work behind the plate is solid.

The testicular injury gives him a free pass in my book. Just getting back behind the plate earns him my undying respect.

“Caleb Joseph had a disappointing year with the bat, obviously, but he handles the pitching staff pretty capably,” Duquette said.

Perez has appeared in only three major league games, the last in 2014 with the Cardinals. The Orioles purchased his contract from the Rockies late in spring training in 2015, leaving the media to scramble for information on him. Not exactly a household name, and one I’ve botched more than once by referring to him as “Aubry.”

Perez hit .291/.343/.386 in 84 games at Norfolk, contradicting his catch-and-throw reputation. He was named an International League All-Star and he earned a longer look next spring.

Pena, the son of Yankees coach and former major league catcher Tony Pena, went 8-for-40 with a home run in 14 games with the Orioles. He threw out four of eight runners attempting to steal.

“Pena came up and did pretty well during his time,” Duquette said. “He showed good capability controlling the running game, excellent arm, and he showed some value against left-handed pitching. How far away is he? He already came in and helped us.”

The free agent market is filled with placeholders. Wieters is the most attractive catcher now that Wilson Ramos reportedly anticipates a seven-month recovery from knee surgery that’s scheduled for Friday and suggests that he may need to serve as a designated hitter until ready to get back behind the plate.

Here’s the list of free-agent catchers as supplied by MLBTradeRumors.com:

Alex Avila (30)
Drew Butera (34)
Jason Castro (30)
A.J. Ellis (36)
Ryan Hanigan (36) -- $3.75MM club option with an $800K buyout
Nick Hundley (33)
Chris Iannetta (34) -- $4.25MM club option
Jonathan Lucroy (31) -- $5.25MM club option with a $25K buyout
Jeff Mathis (34)
Dioner Navarro (33)
A.J. Pierzynski (40)
Wilson Ramos (29)
Carlos Ruiz (38) -- $4.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (32)
Geovany Soto (34)
Kurt Suzuki (33)
Matt Wieters (31)

The Orioles aren’t big Hanigan fans, primarily because he can slow a game to a crawl with his deliberate pace and frequent visits to the mound. He must get paid by the hour.

Showalter wanted Hundley back before the veteran signed a two-year deal with the Rockies. He could be in play until Sisco is deemed ready.

I’ve talked to people in baseball who wonder if Hundley is much of an upgrade over Pena. He’s certainly had more opportunities.

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