Thoughts on Núñez, series at The Trop and Bleier/Flores

Leaving D.C. behind has allowed the Orioles to get back to a normal lineup. They can use a designated hitter again in Kansas City, which more easily puts Renato Núñez into play.

Núñez started at first base Tuesday night against Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin, sending Chris Davis to the bench, and the arrangement could be repeated tonight with the Royals sending lefty Eric Skogland to the mound. Otherwise, Núñez is the DH as he tries to reach 30 home runs for the season.

Twenty-eight down, two to go.

Nunez-Swing-Gray-sidebar.jpgNúñez has hit only three in August, his lowest total for any full month, and he’s slashing .233/.306/.372 in 98 plate appearances after batting .304/.379/.576 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in July.

He’s 10-for-37 since his 5-for-5 day in New York.

Orioles designated hitters began yesterday ranked sixth with 25 home runs, the same total as in 2018 and two more than in 2017. Twenty-one have been supplied by Núñez and the club seems fine with keeping him primarily in the role moving forward with its rebuild.

Flexibility is nice and the Orioles keep working on his defense, but they’ll take this kind of power at DH and fill the other spots.

“I think anytime a guy has the ability to hit 30-plus homers for you, there’s obviously value there, and Noonie’s putting together a nice offensive year,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I think the defense can improve. I think he works hard on it daily. I think there is still a lot of improvement to be made there from both corner positions. But 30 home runs in the American League is not that easy to do, and for a guy to be able to drive the ball out of the ballpark at any time ...

“He’s only 25 years old, so this is a guy who could potentially get better in all areas.”

Núñez could occupy the infield corners more frequently in September with the roster expanded and Mark Trumbo possibly ready to join it. Trumbo figures to get most of his at-bats as the DH to ease the strain on his right knee.

Roster expansion is permitted on Sunday while the Orioles finish their series against the Royals, but where they go afterward is up in the air with Hurricane Dorian.

Reports have Dorian forecast to become a Category 4 due to projected maximum winds of 130 mph. It’s barreling toward the southeastern U.S. and the three-game series in St. Petersburg, Fla., could relocate to a neutral site or Camden Yards.

A postponement followed by a doubleheader at Tropicana Field is another possible scenario. The Rays have been in contact with Major League Baseball regarding a homestand that begins on Friday, and a resolution could come as early as today.

Four years ago, a series against the Rays was moved from Camden Yards to Tropicana Field due to the violence and protests in Baltimore following Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody. The Orioles were the “home” team on someone else’s field.

The Rays and Yankees shifted their series from Tropicana Field to Citi Field in 2017 due to Hurricane Irma.

I’m supposed to board a flight Sunday afternoon for Tampa because Monday’s game is scheduled for 1:10 p.m., but all plans are on hold.

The Royals series will begin after reliever Richard Bleier and third base coach Jose Flores clear the air over their dugout dispute Wednesday night that was captured on MASN.

It isn’t a big deal beyond the frustration that pitchers feel on occasion when burned by the infield shift. Bleier isn’t the first.

Bleier thought he induced a double play grounder from Juan Soto after Anthony Rendon’s single, but the ball found the vacant area and the Nationals had two runners on base. Asdrúbal Cabrera and Kurt Suzuki doubled, three runs scored and Bleier was pulled from the game.

The bullpen had surrendered three runs in the last 24 innings. Bleier matched the figure after facing only five batters and retiring one, and his ERA climbed to 6.30 with a 1.550 WHIP in 41 games.

His ERAs and WHIPs in his first three major league seasons:

2016: 1.96 and 1.043 in 23 games
2017: 1.99 and 1.184 in 57 games
2018: 1.93 and 1.224 in 31 games.

Bleier’s Wins Above Replacement is a career-worst -0.2 per Baseball-Reference.com. He’s been trying to regain his form since the lat surgery in June 2018 and his stint on the injured list in April with shoulder tendinitis.

He’s upset that he isn’t getting the same results on a consistent basis, and what happened Wednesday pushed him over the edge for a brief instant. Just long enough for everyone to see it.

Bleier and Flores will talk, if it hasn’t already happened. They’re staying in the same hotel. And both parties will move on from it, just as Hyde and Davis vowed to do earlier this month.

The Orioles will try to end their streak at two unfortunate and public displays of dugout aggression. Episodes that upset the organization because they aren’t a true indicator of the chemistry and unity that’s developed over the course of the season.

This isn’t a dysfunctional group. I’ve been around teams that deserved the label. Not this one.

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