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May 24, 2011

Contractual Matters

The Orioles' Roster Roulette

by Jeff Euston

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Closing out a May weekend by winning a series with the Nationals isn’t exactly cause for celebration. But for the Orioles, who might charitably have been described as “reeling” as recently as Friday, winning the interleague Beltway Series was a positive end to a wild week.

Baltimore’s victories Saturday and Sunday stopped an ugly four-game slide, a stretch that saw the O’s endure the decimation of their bullpen and injuries to three infielders. How bad was it? Managing the fallout required 13 roster moves in four days, with transactions involving everything from the seldom-used restricted list to the new seven-day disabled list.

The wild ride began Wednesday afternoon, when shortstop Cesar Izturis was placed on the disabled list with nerve irritation in his right elbow that was causing numbness in his hand. Izturis, hitting just .192/.250/.192 in 29 plate appearances, was replaced by Brandon Snyder, the first baseman at Triple-A Norfolk.

That same night, the Orioles lost 4-1 to the Yankees in 15 innings, forcing Showalter to back starter Zach Britton with all seven pitchers in the bullpen, as well as Thursday’s scheduled starter Jeremy Guthrie, who came on to face three hitters to close out the final frame. In desperate need of fresh relievers, the Orioles made four more roster moves Thursday afternoon, moving two players injured earlier in the week to the disabled list and recalling two pitchers from Norfolk. First baseman Derrek Lee was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique. Brian Roberts, experiencing headaches after a headfirst slide, was placed on the new seven-day disabled list for players suffering from concussion-related symptoms. (Headaches ended Roberts’ 2010 season a week early after the second baseman knocked his bat against his helmet in frustration after striking out.)

The bullpen reinforcements—right-hander Chris Jakubauskas and lefty Troy Patton—were both immediately pressed into duty Thursday night after Orioles starter Brad Bergesen allowed eight earned runs to the Yankees and did not make it out of the fourth inning. The new relievers were not much better, allowing five runs in 5.2 innings, but at least gave the rest of the pitching staff a much-needed night off.

The innings-eating performance earned the pair tickets back to Norfolk. On Friday afternoon, Baltimore designated Patton for assignment and optioned Jakubauskas to Triple-A. Patton is required to pass through optional waivers before being returned to the minors because he is more than three years removed from his first appearance on a major league roster, which came with Houston in 2007. Those moves freed up the roster space necessary for the Orioles to add depth with two more promotions from Norfolk. Left fielder Nolan Reimold was recalled to fill the gap in the outfield, with Luke Scott shifting to Lee’s first-base spot. And the O’s purchased the contract of second baseman Ryan Adams, providing insurance for the club’s two remaining healthy middle-infielders, Robert Andino and J.J. Hardy.

After burning through another five relievers in Friday night’s 17-5 loss to Washington, Showalter again needed bullpen help. In the last three nights alone, his club had been outscored 34-8 and he had sent a cumulative 17 pitchers to the mound. So before Saturday’s game, the O’s demoted Jason Berken, who had been torched for six runs in just one inning the night before. To replace him, the club wanted to promote right-hander Alfredo Simon from Double-A Bowie, but doing so would have required opening a spot on the 40-man roster. (Simon had been removed from the roster and placed on the restricted list in February after being held in connection with a New Year's Eve shooting death in the Dominican Republic.) To free up space on the roster, the front office transferred Izturis, who will have elbow surgery this week, to the 60-day disabled list.

Guthrie, starting Saturday two days after his emergency relief stint, allowed only two unearned runs in seven innings, helping Baltimore snap its losing streak with an 8-3 victory. Reimold chipped in with a two-run homer, and Snyder added two hits. But the personnel shuffle wasn’t quite complete. Bench coach Willie Randolph was pressed into duty Saturday night when third-base coach John Russell had a cortisone injection in his knee. Mercifully, no formal roster move was necessary for that.

***

Bryan Stow update: Acting on a tip from a parole agent, Los Angeles police have arrested a suspect in the Opening Day attack on Giants fan Bryan Stow. The suspect, Giovanni Ramirez, has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon and is being held on $1 million bond. Two other suspects remain at large. Stow, who has been moved from a Los Angeles facility to a San Francisco hospital, recently opened his eyes but remains in critical condition.

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

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