Buck Showalter on the Orioles' rebuild: 'I think hope is a great thing'

Buck Showalter on the Orioles' rebuild: 'I think hope is a great thing'

Orioles manager Buck Showalter on Sunday reflected on the year that took the Orioles from wild-card contenders to one of the worst seasons in baseball history, and as the team’s rebuild is pitched to a national primetime audience on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” there was one word he kept coming back to: hope.

“I think hope is a great thing,” Showalter said. “Hope. It’s kind of similar to when I first came here. You’ve got to know who you are and how you’re going to do it and stay true to it and be honest with the fans, [saying] ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, here’s how we’re going to do it and stay with it,’ and you’ll get a return for it. And when? If you think that I wouldn’t go into next year trying to win as many games as possible and see what could be…”

The Orioles have been publicly leaning into their status as a rebuilding club since last month’s trade of All-Star Manny Machado, who was quickly followed out the door by Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop. Executive vice president Dan Duquette had plenty of areas to target to get the Orioles back to where they’d like to be competitively, including investment in analytics, international and pro scouting, player development and nutrition, among other things.

Showalter sees two things that will make the process go smoothly from his standpoint — good evaluation and good communication.

On the first point, Showalter said you have to be able to judge “not only the tools, but the makeup part of it, which is a big separator.”

“It’s funny, we have more analytical ways to evaluate players than ever before, but it seems like there’s more mistakes being made on players than ever before,” he said. “Sometimes, I think that we have all this stuff that analytically, physically, you can put your hands on, what a guy can do down a line or his range or whatever. But it seems to be still a challenge to identify the human element.”

On the communication aspect, Showalter said teams like the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros going through long periods of losing before they won a championship helps fans and observers at least understand what the Orioles will be attempting, though he noted how the Cubs and Astros consistently hit on their high draft picks and made shrewd moves around those young cores.

“You’ve got to stay the course, and you’ve got to keep fans educated — not educated, you don’t educate them — you just make sure they know why and what’s going on, especially here,” he said. “They just want the Orioles to be good, and they wanted to make a commitment and see it through. …

“Whether it’s societal or whatever, people are willing to do just about everything if they know there’s hope. Once again, there’s that word. There’s hope that this is going to get better. That’s all people [want]. You want to be a part of something that brings that everywhere you turn. It’s the ushers, it’s a multi-organizational thing. It’s everything. It’s the presentation of hope.”

As for what markers of hope the Orioles are presenting since their trades began at the All-Star break, Showalter said “that’s a question for the end of the year, the end-game.” Despite the trades, they haven’t gotten much younger on the field. Of their regulars, only Cedric Mullins and Renato Núñez are under the age of 24. And despite significant attention, the team’s defense has been a constant challenge to find consistency with.

“A guy like Cedric — I feel like he’s presented himself well,” Showalter said. “I actually think Austin Wynns has had some moments, too, where he’s starting and you think he might be getting it. Núñez has improved defensively at third, that was a big step for him. I can always find something positive.”

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Orioles notes: Showalter praises Thome as Hall of Famer has number retired in Cleveland; Hays heating up

Orioles notes: Showalter praises Thome as Hall of Famer has number retired in Cleveland; Hays heating up

Orioles manager Buck Showalter had nothing but compliments for freshly minted Hall of Famer Jim Thome, who was honored this weekend at Progressive Field and had his number retired Saturday.

Thome’s standout career ended with the Orioles during their playoff run in 2012, and Showalter said his presence made the up-and-coming team a bit more formidable.

“He was a big acquisition for us,” Showalter said. “He helps verify a lot of things. I can say it, a coach can say it, but when Jim Thome says the same thing — he makes managing easy.

“A lot of things they don’t get about Jimmy, he’s one of the smartest, most common-sense [people] of anybody you’ll ever be around. Just saw things through a pure lens. It was simple. It’s funny. When people talk about Thome, they don’t talk much about the player and what a great player he was. He made himself into a third baseman. When they asked him to go to first base, he goes, ‘Sure, what have you been waiting for? Does it help the team win? Let’s go.’ ‘Hey, we want you to DH.’ ‘Sure, if it helps the team win, let’s go.’ ”

Thome hit .257 with the Orioles, with the last three of his 612 career home runs coming with Baltimore. Thome spent 13 of his 22 major league seasons with the Cleveland Indians.

Hays hitting his stride

Outfielder Austin Hays went 4-for-4 with a home run and two doubles Friday to bring his average to .364 in his first eight games since he returned from an ankle injury with Double-A Bowie, and Showalter got a good report on Hays from farm director Brian Graham on Saturday.

“He made a point of bringing up Austin,” Showalter said. “As tough a year as he had physically, and a lot of things that he thought, we thought might be a little different this year, he’s really got it going right now. It’d be great to see him finish strong like he is and see what next year could present.”

Showalter said it would be up to Graham and executive vice president Dan Duquette to determine if another September call-up would be in Hays’ best interest, or whether a strong end to the season would make him worthy of one.

Mullins back in familiar spot

Rookie center fielder Cedric Mullins, who made his first major league start at leadoff Friday, said he’s flattered by the comparisons to former Indians star Kenny Lofton, who he met before Friday’s game, and said he hopes he can be that prototypical leadoff hitter with a bit of power mixed in.

Despite not getting a hit Friday, Mullins said he felt good back in a familiar lineup spot. He spent almost his entire minor league career as a leadoff hitter.

“I definitely felt back in my comfort zone,” Mullins said. “There were times batting seventh, eighth or ninth where I almost completely forgot where I was batting in the lineup. Getting back to the leadoff spot, I definitely felt better.”

Around the horn

Showalter said right-hander Hunter Harvey is throwing on the side after a long period off with a shoulder injury. “Everything is fine,” Showalter said. … Right-hander Jhan Mariñez (shoulder) will begin his rehabilitation assignment Monday in the Gulf Coast League.

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Grass or turf for Globe Life Field? Buck Showalter knows 'without a doubt' which the Rangers should choose

Grass or turf for Globe Life Field? Buck Showalter knows 'without a doubt' which the Rangers should choose

ARLINGTON – Baltimore manager Buck Showalter weighed in on the issue of whether the Rangers should have a grass or artificial turf playing surface at Globe Life Field.

“Turf,” Showalter said. “Without a doubt.”

Showalter went through this debate when the expansion Arizona franchised open play in 1998 in a ballpark with a retractable roof, which Glove Life Field will have. Showalter said the groundskeeper, hindered by a lack of air flow, could never get a suitable field.

“We spent the whole season re-sodding the field,” Showalter said.

According to Showalter, the problem continues in the other parks that have retractable roofs and grass fields: Houston, Miami and Milwaukee. Showalter said those park have the fastest playing surfaces in the majors because of the grass.

“All of these grounds-keepers are great at what they do,” Showalter said. “But if you think you’re going to get a thick, resilient grass in that environment, it just won’t happen.”

Showalter said artificial turf has improved and plays slower than in the past. He added that Tampa Bay, which plays in a domed stadium, has become the best pitchers’ park in the majors because of its artificial turf.

“That also allows you to pattern your team to the surface,” Showalter said.

Globe Life Field is scheduled to open in 2020 The Rangers likely will make a decision on the playing surface next year.

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Orioles notes: Chris Davis is 'banged up' and gets another day off; Jones rests, too

Orioles notes: Chris Davis is 'banged up' and gets another day off; Jones rests, too

First baseman Chris Davis was not in the Orioles’ starting lineup for the finale of the four-game series against the Texas Rangers on Sunday after also sitting out Saturday night’s game.

Manager Buck Showalter said that Davis is “banged up a little bit,” but indicated that he would likely be back in the lineup when the O’s open their road series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.

“We’re going to give him the benefit of another day and the off-day tomorrow,’’ Showalter said. “Hopefully, he’s back in the lineup on Tuesday. Just felt like he needed one more day.”

Davis is one of the few remaining veterans who have not weighed in on the sweeping changes in the Orioles clubhouse. He has not made himself available to the media for several days.

Showalter was asked if he noticed any change in Davis as far as being more of a leader now that there are more young players on the team.

“I think Chris is more, right now, trying to get back into what Chris is capable of,’’ Showalter said. “It’s one of those things where you’ve got to take care of yourself first. I think Chris is focused on that. I think you’ll see some of those things settle in a little bit over the last month and three quarters.”

Trey Mancini started at first base for the second game in a row.

Adam Jones gets a day off, too: Adam Jones also was not in the starting lineup, which is not unusual for a Sunday day game.

Jones had started the past 11 games, but got an unscheduled night off when the Orioles were rained out of their July 25 home game against the Boston Red Sox. He has hit safely in 12 of the 13 games since the All-Star break.

Joey Rickard took his place in center field.

Showalter on Givens: Showalter made reference on Saturday night to the solid performance by reliever Mychal Givens, who has had an up-and-down season and had been scored upon in four of his previous six appearances.

Givens came on after rookie Paul Fry gave up a leadoff homer to Rougned Odor in the eighth inning. He needed just 13 pitches to retire all three batters he faced, striking out two.

So, was an adjustment made or did he just get back into a groove?

“He’s always making tweaks after every outing,’’ Showalter said. “You don’t just say ‘Que sera, sera’ and continue down that path. Being able to stay together mechanically over a long season … that’s why consistency is such an elusive thing sometimes for pitchers. There are so many things that can get out of whack.

“Because Mike’s stuff is so good, sometimes he can get away with the command not being there, but when he gets the command and the stuff he had last night and had for most of his career, it’s fun to watch. It’s really tough, and he’s not been able to get the ball where he wants to get it, so he’s just trying to stay a little more in his mechanics and it’s been harder for him this year.”

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Orioles notes: Buck Showalter isn't any closer to naming a new closer

Orioles notes: Buck Showalter isn't any closer to naming a new closer

The success of rookie relievers Evan Phillips and Cody Carroll on Friday night led to questions about the way manager Buck Showalter will fill the closer role over the final two months of the season.

“Right now, the challenge is being able to get to that situation,” Showalter said. “It’s like a step forward, a step back for a lot of guys — some people I’d like to see in that situation. One, we’ve got to create that situation and sometimes you have to use some people you want to see in that situation to get to that situation.”

Mychal Givens, who is the most experienced pitcher in the bullpen now that the club’s top three short relievers have been traded, probably will get his share of the save opportunities in the near term. But Mike Wright Jr. and Tanner Scott have been mentioned over the past few weeks as possible closer candidates of the future.

“It’s not something I’m going to announce and tell them and anoint them,” Showalter said. “It’s going to be kind of pick and choose, and we’ll get enough looks at it to get a feel. What I really, more than anything, when this year’s over, I want to be ahead of the curve on some things we have to make decisions about in the offseason.

“These opportunities are not only for the players but for us to see them in this environment, which is going to be gone at this point.”

Self-scouting session

Showalter sat down in the video room with rookie starter David Hess on Saturday and examined the right-hander’s performance in Friday night’s lopsided loss to the Texas Rangers.

“I went through David’s outing completely today, every pitch on tape,” Showalter said. “So, ‘What were you trying to do there? What happened and why did it happen?’

“If there is failure, we’re going to attack it. A lot of guys that went on to have great careers, started out this way, too. I just don’t go, ‘He doesn’t have the ability,’ or, ‘This guy doesn’t do that.’ They’ve done it somewhere to get this opportunity and you’ve got to figure out a way to try to help them to see if if will play here.”

Apparently, Hess will get more chances to break out of a five-start slump that has raised his ERA to 6.41, partly because the Orioles do not have a lot of other options at the moment.

Rangers honor Vlad

New Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero was honored Saturday by the Rangers with a pregame ceremony and a bobblehead promotion, though he played just one of his 16 major league seasons in Arlington.

He played for the Rangers in 2010 and played his final season with the Orioles in 2011. He became the first player to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a Los Angeles Angel.

Adam Jones and Chris Davis are the only current Orioles who played with Guerrero during that season.

“He was the ultimate veteran,” Jones said. “He commanded respect and got respect. Just a prime example of what to do between the lines. He came to work every day.”

Mark Trumbo didn’t play alongside Guerrero, but was a teammate in spring training on his way up through the Angels minor league system.

“He was a bona fide superstar at that time,” Trumbo said. “For somebody in my first or second big league camp, it was just really fun to watch the older guys. Watching his highlight film is always an experience. Pitches all over the zone. There was just nothing he couldn’t cover. Just a sure-fire Hall of Fame player.”

Around the horn

Showalter said both infielder Steve Wilkerson and outfielder Craig Gentry are getting close to starting minor league rehabilitation assignments, but wouldn’t get much more specific than that. “If I had to handicap it, I think Craig is probably a little ahead. They’re both real close,” Showalter said. … Trumbo entered Saturday’s game needing two more hits to reach 1,000 for his career.

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Orioles notes: Showalter prepared for possibility Sunday could be Adam Jones' final game

Orioles notes: Showalter prepared for possibility Sunday could be Adam Jones' final game

Orioles manager Buck Showalter went into Sunday’s game with the realization that this could be the final home game for not just franchise cornerstone Adam Jones, but other key players.

The Orioles’ afternoon series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays is the team’s last game before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. nonwaiver trade deadline. The team is off on Monday and opens a brief two-game series Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

The team has drawn steady interest in Jones, who can navigate his landing spot because of his 10-and-5 trade protection rights, with the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies still considered the leaders. But the Orioles are also looking to move the team’s other pending free agent, reliever Brad Brach, and have engaged discussions on controllable players like Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman, though it doesn’t appear imminent that the team will trade them.

Still, all trade discussions are considered “serious” at this point, according to a source, simply because of how close the deadline is. So, Showalter must be prepared.

“As a human being, it crosses your mind,” Showalter said of the possibility of the players’ final games. “You don’t dwell on it. But we haven’t been in this situation in a long time here. I’ve had experience at it before, but when you have such a long relationship with guys that you’ve been around so long, you try not to dwell on it because it’s kind of — I don’t want to say painful in today’s world – but it’s kind of sobering.”

Showalter noted the other side of the trades — the prospects acquired in the team’s rebuild — that are already in place after trading Manny Machado and Zach Britton.

“As unpleasant a thought as that might be, it’s also a real pleasant thought to watch a guy pitch in Triple-A, [Dillon] Tate and [Dean] Kremer pitching today in Double-A in a doubleheader. [Rylan] Bannon had two big hits last night. [Yusniel] Diaz is playing, I’m really impressed, in the outfield. We were talking about those things when I’m sure when we acquired Adam and Chris [Davis] and signed Manny and [Matt] Wieters, [Nick] Markakis, all the things this organization has done over the years. There’s both sides of that.”

Gentry’s rehab delayed

Outfielder Craig Gentry will now begin a minor league rehab assignment at low-A Delmarva on Monday as was originally planned, Showalter said.

Gentry, who has been in the disabled list with a rib injury since June 24, will receive additional tests to assure his injury has been completely resolved.

“Hopefully shorty thereafter, [he can begin],” Showalter said. “Just not quite there yet. Trying to be very diligent about that being healed before we go there.”

Around the horn:

Orioles utility man Steve Wilkerson is still scheduled to begin his minor league rehab assignment on Wednesday at high-A Frederick.

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