Orioles pick Joe Saunders as Wild Card playoff game starter

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UPDATE: Sure enough, the Orioles just announced that they’re going with Saunders over Johnson against the Rangers. Showalter indicated that Johnson’s knee injury played a factor in the decision.

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Yu Darvish will start the Wild Card playoff game for the Rangers, but the Orioles remain undecided on who they’ll have on the mound. Or at least manager Buck Showalter hasn’t made his choice public yet.

It will either be left-hander Joe Saunders, who was acquired from the Diamondbacks on August 26, or right-hander Steve Johnson, a 25-year-old rookie who made just four regular season starts.

Based on experience and track record Saunders would be the obvious pick and he’s pitched pretty well since joining the Orioles with a 3.63 ERA and 23/8 K/BB ratio in 45 innings. On the other hand the Rangers are a very right-handed heavy lineup aside from Josh Hamilton and led the league in OPS versus left-handed pitching. Not surprisingly Saunders has pretty brutal career numbers versus Texas.

Johnson was excellent in 38 innings split between the rotation and bullpen, posting a 2.11 ERA and 46/18 K/BB ratio, but he’s been dealing with some knee problems and … well, trusting an unheralded rookie with four career starts in the team’s first playoff game in 15 years would certainly be a gutsy call by Showalter.

Padres release Phil Hughes

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The Padres have released right-hander Phil Hughes. He was recently designated for assignment.

Hughes was traded from the Twins to the Padres at the end of May in a deal that was, essentially, the Padres acquiring a Competitive Balance pick and agreeing to pick up half of Hughes outstanding salary, which is $13.2 million in 2019. The Padres used him for 16 relief appearances but he was terrible, posting a 6.10 ERA.

The 32-year-old is a 12-year veteran. Given that he’ll basically be free to anyone who wants him, it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll get a non-roster invite to someone’s spring training next year, but it could very well be the end for him as well.