Orioles

The best pitcher in baseball is ... R.A. Dickey?

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The best pitcher in baseball is ... R.A. Dickey?

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- R.A. Dickey saved his career by cultivating a knuckleball. Now he's using it to rewrite the Mets' record book as baseball's most dominant pitcher. Dickey became the first major leaguer in 24 years to throw consecutive one-hitters and Ike Davis hit a grand slam to lead New York past the Baltimore Orioles 5-0 on Monday night. Coming off a one-hit gem at Tampa Bay last Wednesday, Dickey struck out a career-high 13 and allowed only Wilson Betemit's clean single in the fifth inning. He has not permitted an earned run in 42 2-3 innings, the second-longest stretch in club history behind Dwight Gooden's streak of 49 innings in 1985. "I don't really feel much more confident than I did the last couple years," Dickey said. "I've always felt like I have a pretty good knuckleball. I worked hard to do that." The previous pitcher to spin consecutive one-hitters was Dave Stieb for Toronto in September 1988, according to STATS LLC. The Mets said the last to match the feat -- or top it -- in the National League was Jim Tobin with the 1944 Boston Braves, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. Tobin tossed a one-hitter followed by a no-hitter. The 37-year-old Dickey (11-1) walked two and became the first 11-game winner in the majors, befuddling Baltimore with knucklers that ranged from 66-81 mph in a game that took just 2 hours, 7 minutes. He fanned the final two hitters and four of his last five, topping his previous career best of 12 strikeouts set Wednesday against the Rays. "Yeah, it's surreal," Dickey said. "You almost get emotional out there, especially that last hitter. You hear everybody, like one big heartbeat beating. That's the best way I could explain it." A longtime journeyman before joining the Mets in 2010, Dickey has won a career-best nine straight decisions and six consecutive starts. He is tied for the major league lead in ERA (2.00), strikeouts (103) and complete games (three). It was his fourth game this season with double-digit strikeouts, most in the majors, and the fifth of his career. The right-hander has an incredible 71 strikeouts and six walks in his last seven starts. "I'm going to leave it to you guys to explain it. I'm just going to try to be in the moment with it," said Dickey, a deeply religious deep thinker. Betemit's two-out single in the fifth ended Dickey's franchise-record streak of 13 hitless innings. "Do I have a chance to appeal that base hit? Did anybody dive for that ball? I got a bad view," Mets manager Terry Collins said, drawing laughs. The only blemish Wednesday night was B.J. Upton's infield single with two outs in the first, a high bouncer that third baseman David Wright tried to field with his bare hand. After the game, the Mets appealed the official scoring decision to Major League Baseball, asking the commissioner's office to review the play and consider whether Wright should be charged with an error, thus giving Dickey the team's second no-hitter this month. The appeal was denied and Dickey said he was relieved, explaining that there would have been "an asterisk by it bigger than the no-hitter itself." The only active knuckleballer in the majors, Dickey has a 1.21 ERA and 88 strikeouts during his nine-game winning streak. It was his fifth career shutout and second this season, both in June. Pretty amazing for a guy who relies on a seemingly uncontrollable pitch that he throws harder and with more precision than just about anyone else who's made a living on it. "He has no wild pitches this year. That's impressive," Baltimore slugger Adam Jones said. "He's in a groove." The Mets said Dickey has made five straight starts with no earned runs allowed and at least eight strikeouts, the longest streak in major league history, according to Elias. One of the people Dickey can thank for his incredible success story is Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was instrumental in persuading the pitcher to remake himself into a knuckleballer when both were with the Texas Rangers. "He had every attribute of a major league pitcher except the arm," Showalter said, his thoughts then turning to the fact that his team was about to face Dickey. "I wish it hadn't happened." After the game, Dickey said he would be remiss not to thank Showalter. "You know, and this is a tip of the hat to him: It was fairly poetic, I thought. The last game he saw me pitch live I gave up six home runs and tied a modern-day major league record," Dickey said. "It's really incredible." A member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and a first-round draft pick out of Tennessee, Dickey was devastated when the Rangers reduced their signing-bonus offer from more than 800,000 to 75,000 after they discovered during a physical that he was missing a major ligament in his pitching elbow. Undeterred, perseverance got him to the big leagues anyway. When he failed, the knuckleball brought him back. Committed to his craft, Dickey enlisted the help of former knuckleballers like Charlie Hough and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. Along the way, teammates and fans were introduced to his unique personality: A voracious reader, Dickey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in January to raise money for charity and released an autobiography that revealed suicidal thoughts and the sexual abuse he endured as a child. He's even featured in a documentary film called "Knuckleball." Dickey made his mark at the plate on Monday, too, sparking New York's big rally with a leadoff single in the sixth against Jake Arrieta (3-9). Jordany Valdespin doubled with one out and Dickey had to scramble back to third after he initially broke the wrong way on Wright's lineout to shortstop. The pitcher barely beat the throw with a headfirst dive, which turned out to be a crucial play. Lucas Duda walked and Davis hit the next pitch just to the left of center for his seventh home run of the year and first career slam. Valdespin tripled off Kevin Gregg in the eighth and scored on Wright's single. The Mets, who lead the NL with seven shutouts, had lost three straight and nine of 13.

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

So, the Orioles made some headlines earlier this week. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but minor league pitcher Asher Wojciechowski exercised his opt-out clause and is no longer with the organization. Please keep Orioles fans in your thoughts during this trying time.

As everyone reading this is undoubtedly already aware, the Orioles *also* made a trade yesterday, sending 26-year old superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return for their once-in-a-lifetime talent, the Orioles received a whopping five prospects from the Dodgers’ minor league system.

Yusniel Diaz, OF, 21

It’s fitting that this trade is being compared to the Erik Bedard trade, which was also a five-for-one, because Diaz could be a poor man’s Adam Jones. He’s not the prospect Jones was, but he could end up being a really nice player.

Talent evaluators are split on his ultimate ceiling. Some describe him as a bona fide stud, and others leave him off their top 100 lists. I’ve seen him ranked as high as 31st overall (by Baseball Prospectus), which, if accurate, is a terrific main piece in a package for a star rental. 

Most consider Diaz’s main flaw as a prospect to be his in-game power, though anyone watching the 2018 MLB Futures Game would be confused by that, as he became the second player ever to hit multiple home runs in the game. It’s possible that more power develops as he matures, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first player to hit for more power once reaching the Majors, but for now, it’s not a strength. I wouldn’t expect him to top 20 home runs in most seasons.

His bat-to-ball ability is his clearest strength, as he projects to consistently hit for a high average. His batting eye, while formerly a weakness, has become a strength in 2018, as he’s actually walked more times than he’s struck out (a rarity in this day and age). That will play well with O’s fans who are tired of seeing their players challenge strikeout records.

Dean Kremer, RHP, 22

Kremer isn’t a major name, which is a disappointment for O’s fans and one of the reasons their haul felt so uninspiring. Compared to more highly-touted prospects like Dustin May, Kremer looks like the team settled.

That said, he’s currently sporting the best K/9 ratio in the minors, and could end up being a diamond in the rough. He’s come a long way since being a 14th-round pick two years ago, and you have to wonder if the Orioles’ much-maligned pitching development can pick up where the much more successful Dodgers instructors left off.

Kremer is also notable for being the first Israeli-born player ever drafted in Major League Baseball.

Rylan Bannon, IF, 22

Bannon was an 8th-rounder last year and is having somewhat of a breakout this season. He’s leading the league in home runs, though playing in a notorious band box of a home park is skewing those numbers.

Bannon is undersized, but has a reputation of a good, if not elite, fielder. He’s a third baseman, but will likely spend some time at second as well. If the power breakout is real, he could end up a solid starter for the Orioles down the road. Again, that’s about all you can hope for in trades of this nature.

Zach Pop, RHP, 21

Pop has been described as potentially a future “right-handed Zach Britton,” which every O’s fan would take in a heartbeat. Of course, he’s not ranked like a future All-Star, as even in the weaker Orioles farm system he’s likely no better than around 25th. 

Still, the filler players in big trades like this are just lottery tickets, and considering his lack of pedigree, Pop seems like a relatively “safe” pitcher with projectability. He strikes out a lot of batters and gets a lot of ground balls, and at the very least can likely become a decent middle reliever.

Breyvic Valera, IF, 26

In a best-case scenario, Valera becomes the Orioles’ Ryan Flaherty replacement. If you squint, you can see somewhat decent upside in each of the other returning players, even despite their modest prospect rankings, but Valera is a clear utility player. 

He gets on base and hits for contact well enough to stick around and has proven capable of defending multiple positions, so there actually might be a spot for him at the end of the Orioles bench.

Overall

This trade has been described as anywhere from adequate and somewhat deflating to a great haul O’s fans should be excited about. Four of the five players have decent ceilings, though the chance of all four (or even just two of them) reaching those ceilings is highly unlikely. It’s just the nature of baseball.

Ultimately, this trade will be judged on the success or failure of Yusniel Diaz, who is the clear centerpiece of the package. Whether or not he succeeds will be partially up to him, and partially up to the front office and player development team.

If this trade is the beginning of the core for the next competitive Orioles team, then it’ll have to be considered a success. If these players each bust out of the league, then it was still the correct decision to trade Machado instead of settling for draft pick compensation, but it will still sting all the more for O’s fans seeing Manny soar to new heights elsewhere.

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Nationals players were critical of Dave Martinez's decision-making in the first half

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Nationals players were critical of Dave Martinez's decision-making in the first half

Baseball fans love the long ball. They love the flashy plays. They love the no-hit bids and the rare perfect game. All of these things dominate headlines and capture our attention. 

The often overlooked bullpen of a club, however, almost always serves as the glue holding everything together. Relief pitching is derived of unsung heroes who are asked to perform on short notice and in sticky, high-pressure situations. 

Head skipper of the Washington Nationals, Dave Martinez, is being criticized for his handling of the bullpen during the first half of the season. 

By now it's well-documented that the Nats played their first 96 games at .500 leaving the club in third place in a division the team has dominated much of the last two years. 

Sure, one can chalk it up to injuries, lack of roster changes or an inexperienced first-year manager working through kinks. But, there's a reason this team expects to compete for a pennant year in and year out: depth. The buzz around Martinez's decision-making continues to point toward his inability to dish out relief pitching assignments to the player's liking.  

Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, Sammy Solis and Matt Grace once made up the team's relief staff in May. Between disabled-list periods for Kintzler and Madson, and Sammy Solis being sent down to Class AAA Syracuse, the staff took a beating in the month of June. 

Nats relievers aren't necessarily upset about overuse, but more so because of a lack of communication between player and manager. 

“A lot of times when Davey asks, you just tell him, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m good,’ ” Madson said. “He’s got a lot of stuff to worry about. It’s typical for bullpen guys not to be as honest with the manager. That’s just the dynamic there.”

But there did reach a point where relievers -- Kintzler, Madson and Solis in particular -- felt overworked and that their wishes were not being acknowledged nor granted by Martinez. 

Sean Doolittle was quick to point out that the addition of Kelvin Herrera, who joined the team on June 18, sparked a change in Martinez's approach. 

“Over the last maybe month or so, maybe since we got Herrera, he’s gone around to the relievers and been a lot more proactive with that communication,” Doolittle said. “I think that’s helped.”

On a more complicated note, trust has also been targeted as an area needing improvement. 

When a starter gets in a jam or doesn't seem like he is 100%, Martinez often calls on reinforcements to begin the warming up process. Guys have noticed a pattern in which relief pitchers who initially warm up are often not the ones who start the following inning. 

From a relief pitcher's perspective, this is a sign of Martinez's distrust. Dramatic or not, there was a glaring disconnect throughout the first half of play. 

“With a veteran group, I think we all expect to come into a team and say we’ve all been there; we just want things to go boom, boom, boom and be a piece of cake. But we also all know it’s not like that,” Shawn Kelley said. “ . . . It’s funny: I think you could probably go anywhere and complain about the manager 

as a reliever. I don’t know if any manager has ever had seven relievers say, ‘He was perfect.’ ”

Handling his veteran rotation in the second half of the season should become easier for Martinez as Stephen Strasburg is expected to start Friday. The right-hander was placed on the disabled list June 10 with right shoulder inflammation. 

Strasburg pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac on Sunday, allowing three runs while striking out seven and walking one. It was his second rehab start since going on the DL. He allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings for Potomac on July 11. Strasburg is 6-6 with a 3.46 ERA this season, striking out 

95 in 80 2/3 innings.

One thing that hasn't been criticized is Martinez's positive attitude. Players often rave about him as a person and how he brings a source of energy in the clubhouse. 

This was on full display during Monday night's Home Run Derby at Nationals Park. 

Moments after Bryce Harper won the Derby, Martinez was among the first to congratulate his All-Star slugger as he hoisted him in the air. 

As the second half of the season gets underway Friday, expect to see a manager who brings forth an openminded approach to his club while in pursuit of a deep October run.