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Connaughton gets a real shot at the NBA


Connaughton gets a real shot at the NBA

A year ago, Pat Connaughton never thought he’d be as highly coveted in the NBA as he was. Connaughton was the Orioles’ fourth-round draft pick in 2014, and because they forfeited their first two selections to sign Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, he was essentially their second pick.

Connaughton was a highly prized pitching prospect from Notre Dame, and after he signed, pitched six games for Aberdeen last season.

He won’t be pitching in any this year.

After pledging his allegiance to baseball, Connaughton returned to South Bend last summer for his final year, and a funny thing happened.

Both he and the Fighting Irish had much better seasons than anticipated, and after Notre Dame reached the regional finals, narrowly losing to Kentucky, Connaughton had the basketball bug.

When he signed, the Orioles assured everyone that Connaughton would play out his final year at Notre Dame and report to spring training when his season ended.

The season went longer than anyone thought and even if he reported when it ended, spring training was just about over.

Connaughton justifiably wanted to see how good an NBA prospect he was and went to the draft combine and had the highest measured vertical leap.

He worked out individually for several teams, and one of them, the Brooklyn Nets picked him 41st, the 11th pick of the second round and dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Second round picks generally don’t have a long shelf life in the NBA, though San Antonio’s Manu Ginobli, and Atlanta’s Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap, have proven otherwise.

Connaughton has a legitimate chance to make the Trail Blazers, who are a team in transition with lots of open roster spots.

Even if he had pursued his Orioles career, Connaughton would probably be no higher than Frederick now. David Hess, who was selected just behind Connaughton, is a starter with the Keys.

If everything worked well with Connaughton, he could have been in the major leagues no sooner than the end of the 2016 season.

This way, he gets to pursue his NBA dream now, and if he makes it, he’s playing at the major league level at least a year sooner than he would have in baseball.

But, unlike baseball, if an NBA second rounder washes out, there are limited avenues. There’s the NBA’s version of the minors, the D-League, with its low salaries and long bus rides, and then there’s playing abroad.

While players are called up to the NBA from the D-League, most languish there, and if he goes the foreign route, Connaughton would opt for making a living instead of chasing the dream since relatively few Americans make it to the NBA after playing abroad.

If Connaughton doesn’t find success in the NBA this fall, he could return to the Orioles next spring—if both sides are amenable—and they may not be.

Connaughton had no idea when he signed that he’d be such a big-time prospect, and as recently as March, wasn’t considered likely to be drafted. And, he was drafted higher than most mock drafts forecast.

The Orioles could hold onto Connaughton for five more years, but they may feel jilted, and try and recoup much of his bonus money.

If he has a long NBA career, Connaughton will feel it was all worthwhile.


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Orioles pitching falls apart as Tigers complete sweep in Detroit

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Orioles pitching falls apart as Tigers complete sweep in Detroit

DETROIT - Leonys Martin hit his first big league grand slam, Jeimer Candelario had four hits and three RBIs, and the Detroit Tigers beat Baltimore 13-8 Thursday to extend the Orioles' losing streak to six.

Jordan Zimmermann (1-0) gave up four runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings, allowing two home runs to Manny Machado and one to Chris Davis. Zimmermann was pitching for the first time since being hit in the jaw by a line drove off the bat of Cleveland's Jason Kipnis on April 11.

Alex Cobb (0-2) made his second start after signing a $57 million, four-year contract in spring training and his ERA rose to 15.43. He allowed seven runs - five earned - and 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Machado had four RBIs for the Orioles, who were outhit 18-14 in the game and outscored 23-15 in the three-game sweep.

Victor Martinez hit an RBI single in the first, but Davis put Baltimore ahead with a two-run homer in the second, his sixth hit and fourth homer in 10 career at-bats against Zimmermann.

Detroit went ahead for good with four runs in the bottom half after third baseman Tim Beckham's throwing error allowed James McCann to reach base leading off. Jose Iglesias hit a two-run triple, Miguel Cabrera had an RBI single and Nick Castellanos a run-scoring groundout.

Machado's homer in the third cut Baltimore's deficit to 5-2, but Candelario's two-run homer extended the lead to 7-2 in the bottom half. Martin homered off Mike Wright Jr. in a five-run fifth.

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Orioles fall in Detroit after wild 8th and 9th innings

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Orioles fall in Detroit after wild 8th and 9th innings

DETROIT -- Dixon Machado came to the plate with only one big league homer to his name, but the way this game was going, anything seemed possible.

"Walking to the plate I was thinking, `What if I hit a homer right here?'" the Detroit infielder said. "He threw me a fastball away but when he came in with a pitch I was ready for it and I just hit it hard."

Machado led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run , capping a wild final two innings and lifting the Tigers over the Baltimore Orioles 6-5 on Wednesday. Detroit led 2-1 before each team scored three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth.

Baltimore's Luis Sardinas tied it with a solo shot off Shane Greene (1-0) in the top of the ninth, but then the 26-year-old Machado hit a line drive off Pedro Araujo (1-2) that cleared the fence in left field. It was his second homer in 299 big league at-bats.

The game was moved from 6:40 p.m. to 1:10 p.m. in anticipation of bad weather. Although it was a sparse crowd, to say the least , the sun did come out, and those fans in attendance were treated to quite a few homers.

Miguel Cabrera went deep on his 35th birthday, and Jeimer Candelario and John Hicks also homered for Detroit. Hicks hit a three-run shot in the eighth that put the Tigers up 5-4.

Danny Valencia hit a solo homer for the Orioles, who have lost five straight.

Detroit's Matthew Boyd allowed a run, two hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings, striking out six. Baltimore's Kevin Gausman allowed two runs and nine hits in six-plus innings.

Cabrera's solo homer put the Tigers up 2-1 in the sixth, but Manny Machado and Chris Davis hit RBI singles as part of a three-run rally by Baltimore in the eighth. The drive by Davis was nearly a home run, but it hit the wall and stayed in play.

"There were obviously a couple bad breaks -- our ball hits the top of the fence and comes back and their ball goes over -- but there were four or five breaks we got during the game on bounces or pitch calls," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "If you lose focus and start feeling sorry for yourselves, every team you play is going to take advantage and step on your throat."