Seeing some individual player improvement during a 5-3 start

Their pitchers - starters and bullpen - are coming off a solid weekend. Their batters are putting more balls in play and coming through at times in big spots. They are making more consistent contact, even against some tough opponents including Gerrit Cole, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow.

Their 5-3 record was third-best in the American League heading into Monday night’s action, and 6-2 was easily within their grasp in the second Yankees game in the ninth.

The Orioles’ strong start is surprising and certainly welcome around Birdland.

During a year when a lot stinks and people are on edge, seemingly 24-7, and fans are worried about baseball as an industry, maybe just taking time to enjoy what has happened for the Orioles thus far is the best move. Can this continue? Can they make the playoffs? Will more teams get hit hard by COVID-19? All good questions. But in a year when worry is staring us in the face every waking minute, maybe taking a few moments to enjoy this start is just fine.

Every result we have right now is part of a small sample size, got that part of it. But they have done this versus three AL East teams and just swept one that won 96 games last year.

It looks like the coaches and analytics department have provided players with areas where they can individually improve and some of that is playing out on the field.

They worked with Miguel Castro on his delivery. John Means showed added velocity in his first start. So far, Hanser Alberto is hitting better versus right-handed pitchers. Rio Ruiz looks like a better player - even then the one whose power ticked up in the second half of 2019. These are just a few examples.

Right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong has a chance to be another case. He believes some adjustments the coaches worked with him on during four days of a January mini-camp could be beneficial.

Armstrong-Delivers-White-ST-sidebar.jpgIn his first four years in the big leagues, in parts of 2015 through 2018, Armstrong pitched to a 2.95 ERA in 53 games with a 1.138 WHIP, a 3.1 walk rate and a strikeout rate of 8.2 per every nine innings. Then in 2019, he posted a 5.13 ERA with the Orioles in 51 games with a 1.546 WHIP.

So he went to work with coaches Doug Brocail and Chris Holt in January on everything from mechanics to the shape of his pitches, particularly his cutter/slider. Coaches even thought there may have been times he was tipping some pitches.

“We made some changes with the shape of the cutter, just to play (better) off my fastball,” Armstrong told me in this interview during the first spring training. “We’ve got that nailed down pretty good right now. TrackMan (data) and my live BP showed that it was right back to where it was in previous years. I’m focused less on velocity now than attacking. Attack, attack, attack. When I do get ahead, my numbers are pretty good.”

Armstrong’s throwing error was costly in Saturday’s win and led to two unearned runs against him. But over three innings for the season he has allowed two hits and no earned runs with one walk and four strikeouts. Last year he threw his fastball 59 percent and this year, so far, that is down to 36 percent. His slider usage has gone up from 29 to 54 percent.

“Having those guys (Brocail and Holt) in your corner it’s been very beneficial,” said Armstrong. “You get all different perspectives of the game. Making those adjustments kind of just simplified the task for me to be more efficient and on time (with my delivery). The biggest thing is to be consistent. So, I feel good about where I’m at right now. I just want to come in and pound the strike zone. Get in and get out as quickly as possible. Want to keep it rolling and stay consistent.”

During a Zoom interview Sunday, Armstrong was asked if he is comfortable playing the Marlins right now after their COVID-19 outbreak. The clubs are expected to play, weather permitting, four games over the next three days.

“I think so. The Orioles have done a phenomenal job doing everything they can possibly do to keep us safe. I don’t think we are stressed too much about the Marlins coming in. We’re doing our part here on and off the field and are controlling what we can control. We’re going to take care of one another and hold each other accountable,” he said.

Armstrong is part of a bullpen that has lost Richard Bleier - via trade to the Marlins - but has been excelling without him so far. The O’s ‘pen gave up just two earned runs in 14 2/3 innings over the weekend against Tampa Bay. Since the bullpen pitchers allowed nine runs on opening night in Boston, the ERA for the ‘pen is 2.78 over the past seven games.

Meanwhile, the O’s starting pitchers against Tampa Bay - Alex Cobb, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone - pitched to a 2.51 ERA. The Orioles do not have a quality start yet, and no starter has gone six innings to date, but four times their starter has allowed two earned runs or fewer. They are 4-0 in those games.

Alberto’s .429 average heading into Monday’s games ranked second in the American League. Alberto is 9-for-19 (.474) during a four-game hitting streak. He is batting .349 (9-for-26) against right-handed pitching. He is 6-for-9 (.667) with two doubles and a homer versus lefty pitching.

José Iglesias hasn’t played enough to quality for league leaders but he is 10-for-19 (.526). Iglesias was tied for the major league lead with five doubles through Sunday’s games and is 7-for-11 with four doubles his past four games.

Maybe Monday’s off-day will be a reset or reboot for center fielder Austin Hays. He is off to a 3-for-30 start. He is 1-for-22 with eight strikeouts in his past six games.

The Orioles added three players to their 60-man player pool on Monday. They are outfielder Ryan McKenna, lefty pitcher and Ellicott City native Bruce Zimmermann and right-handed hurler Kyle Bradish. Bradish is one of four pitchers the Orioles acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in December in the Dylan Bundy trade. He pitched in High-A ball last summer, going 6-7 with a 4.28 ERA and 120 strikeouts to 50 walks over 101 innings.

The Orioles now have 57 players in their pool.

blog comments powered by Disqus