Camden Chat's Mark Brown and I exchanged some questions ahead of the Opening Day series. You can find his responses on the Orioles, their injuries, and their rotation below:
1. What are we to make of your three starters in this series? Has anything changed in their approach?
The Orioles' starting rotation was one of the best in the AL by ERA last year and with the same group back, a big question for the team is whether they'll be able to duplicate that. As an Orioles fan, I hope nothing has changed in their approach because whatever they did last year (except for Ubaldo Jimenez, who isn't scheduled to pitch in this series) worked very well.
The starters in this series will be Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez. All are a bit homer prone, which doesn't seem like it would work very well for a team that plays in Camden Yards, but they manage to generate weak contact on fly balls most of the time. Tillman manages to keep hitters off balance despite not having overwhelming velocity; he's also been very good at controlling the running game. Chen fits well into the mold of crafty lefty, issuing few walks and deceiving hitters with his magic left-handed powers. Gonzalez is a contact-oriented pitcher who makes predictive stats like FIP throw up their arms and give up.
2. Steve Pearce profiles as one of the best hitters on the Orioles right now. Is that for real?
Pearce made a change to his mechanics that he put into place last year and we probably saw the best-case outcome from that scenario. Whether he holds that together into another season is another story, of course. Pearce was helped in accumulating last year's numbers because he was used in spots where he had the best chance for success. Even in that breakout season he only had 383 PA, and if the O's again are able to put him in a role like that, he'll probably do well, if not quite as well as last year. Repeating a .556 slugging percentage will be tough, but I think he could put together something like a .275/.350/.500 season.
3. Should the Rays be scared of Chris Davis? What's the story with the 25-game suspension ending on Game 2 of the Opening Series?
I don't know if the Rays should be scared of Davis, but I know that I am scared of him. He blames a lot of his struggles last year on an oblique injury that never fully healed, which he said caused him to have to make adjustments that he's never had to make before. It's true that he went on the disabled list for a while with an oblique injury. Through the spring the Orioles have sounded like it's going to be automatic that he'll be back and hitting 30+ homers again this year and I hope they end up being right about that. I just don't think that it will be that easy.
As for the one game suspension, that's because Davis was popped for a second positive test for a banned amphetamine with 17 games left in the 2014 season. He burned off seven more games of the suspension in the playoffs, three as the O's swept the Tigers in the ALDS and four more as the Royals swept the O's in the ALCS. That leaves him with one game to serve, which will be today. He tested positive for Adderall which (if you believe him) was not something intended to give him an edge on the baseball field but rather needed to keep his off-field life in order. This season he does have a Therapeutic Use Exemption for a similar drug called Vyvanse.
4. Is Machado healthy or are there still concerns? I still dread any player running through first when I remember what happened to him at the Trop in 2013.
Supposedly, Machado is healthy and will remain healthy after having two knee surgeries in as many seasons, one on each knee. The story is that there was something about his knees that made him more prone to the kind of injury he suffered in back-to-back seasons and now that each knee has been operated on, that condition has been corrected and he won't have the same risk. That's another one of those things where, to the outside observer/layman it just seems like too easy of an explanation, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.
He has looked like he's back up to full speed in spring training, which is good news for the Orioles. I just hope he's not like a time bomb ticking away until the next time one of his knees goes pop and then he's gone for the season.
5. Is this the same starting rotation you expect to have by mid-season? Does Kevin Gausman belong in the bullpen?
I am not pleased by Gausman opening up in the bullpen and I am hardly alone among Orioles fans in that. I think he's one of the best five starting pitchers and while I'm sure the Orioles have some kind of plan for him in mind, that hasn't been revealed just yet so for now it seems like they're intentionally having one of their best pitchers doing less than he could be. Six Orioles pitchers (the five guys starting in the rotation this year plus Gausman) combined to make 161 starts last season. Can the Orioles manage to juggle six starters without ever having a six man rotation again this year? Dan Duquette might try to pull off that caper just to see if he can.
I think that by the All-Star Break there will either have been an injury to one of the five starters to open up a chance for Gausman, or he'll just force his way in ahead of either Gonzalez or Bud Norris. If, heaven forbid, the Orioles are not contending, they could potentially try to trade either Chen or Norris, both pending free agents, and open up a spot for Gausman that way. Until then, he seems to be the multi-inning reliever out of the bullpen.
Many thanks to Mark Brown. I hope your Orioles lose.