2012 Season In Review

Norfolk finished with best record since 2005

By Ian Locke | September 11, 2012 10:45 AM

When the Norfolk Tides opened up their 2012 season, they did so with some unfamiliar faces at the helm. Gone was Gary Allenson, who managed the Tides for each of their first five years as the top affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. In his place was Ron Johnson, who joined the Orioles organization after spending the previous 12 seasons in the Boston Red Sox system. The Orioles also had a new person in charge of baseball decisions, as Dan Duquette replaced Andy MacPhail as the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations.

By the time the season began, the front office changes could immediately be seen on the field. The Tides opened up their 2012 campaign with just three position players who had previously appeared with Norfolk, and two of those players (John Hester and Josh Bell) were gone from the Tides within the first two weeks of the season. Duquette repeatedly brought in new players to see if they could help the major league club, and Johnson was tasked of molding the newcomers into players the Orioles could use to make a push in the highly-competitive American League East.

The roster turnover throughout the season was staggering. Norfolk set an all-time International League record by using 75 players during the season, surpassing the 74 players used by the 2003 Louisville Bats. The Tides also tied an IL record by using 25 different starting pitchers, and 15 different pitchers registered a save. Norfolk made 228 roster moves during the course of its 144-game season, and the Tides had just two players - outfielder Jamie Hoffmann and reliever Oscar Villarreal - remain active with the club throughout the entire season.

Duquette signed multiple veterans to Norfolk in hopes they would perform well enough to help the Orioles. Veterans Lew Ford, Nate McLouth, Bill Hall and J.C. Romero were all newcomers to the organization that played well enough to earn callups to Baltimore, while Miguel Tejada, Jamie Moyer, Joel Pineiro and Dontrelle Willis were assigned to Norfolk but never appeared in a game with the Orioles.

Through all the player movement, Johnson did a masterful job of managing the Tides and keeping them competitive. The Tides went 44-31 over their final 75 games to finish with a 74-70 record, the first winning record for Norfolk since the club finished 79-65 in 2005. Norfolk finished in 2nd place in the IL South division and just missed out on a playoff berth, finishing 5.0 games back in the Wild Card standings. More importantly, there were 26 players who appeared for both the Tides and Orioles, as Baltimore enjoyed its best season since 1997.

The Pitching

Under the tutelage of Pitching Coach Mike Griffin, the Tides ranked 3rd in the International League with a 3.41 ERA, the lowest mark for any Tides club since the 1995 team posted a 3.01 ERA. Norfolk allowed the fewest home runs (80) of any club in Triple-A, 15 fewer than their closest competitor (Charlotte, 95). Tides pitchers also registered 1036 strikeouts, the 2nd-highest total in Tides franchise history, seven punchouts fewer than the 1043 strikeouts recorded by the 1998 Tides.

The Starters

Jason Berken led the Tides in starts (26), innings pitched (144.0) and strikeouts (98), and his 3.50 ERA ranked 10th in the International League and 3rd among Orioles minor leaguers. Berken's 26 starts tied the record for most starts in a single season by a Tides pitcher as an Orioles affiliate. He was also selected to represent the Tides and the IL in the Triple-A All-Star Game, held July 11 in Buffalo, NY.

Chris Tillman got off to a slow start with the Tides, posting a 5.63 ERA through his first five starts of the season. After that he was outstanding, as the 24-year-old posted a 2.89 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 65 innings before being promoted to Baltimore at the beginning of July. Tillman continued to pitch tremendously with the Orioles, going 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA through his first 11 starts.

One of the most surprising members of the Tides pitching staff was right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who was signed as a free agent prior to the season after spending most of 2011 with Double-A Portland in the Red Sox system. Gonzalez held IL batters to a .143 average in 14 games (six starts) with the Tides before being promoted to Baltimore at the end of May, where he went 6-4 with a 3.62 ERA in his first 14 outings with the O's.

University of Maryland-Baltimore County product Zach Clark made eight starts for the Tides and posted an immaculate 1.75 ERA. He racked up 15 wins between Norfolk (5) and Bowie (10), a total that tied for 3rd among all minor league pitchers. Clark also led O's farmhands with a 2.79 ERA while allowing 150 hits in 167 innings pitched.

Orioles opening day starter Jake Arrieta enjoyed early success with Baltimore before being optioned to Norfolk at the beginning of July. He made 10 starts with the Tides, going 5-4 with a 4.02 ERA while holding opposing batters to a .223 average. Arrieta had a remarkable stretch to end the regular season, as he posted a 1.82 ERA with nine hits and 31 strikeouts over his final 24.2 innings. For his efforts, he was recalled to Baltimore when rosters expanded in September.

Left Hander Dana Eveland split the season between Baltimore and Norfolk, pitching well at both destinations. Eveland was used mostly in long relief with the Orioles, where he posted a 4.73 ERA in 14 games (two starts). Eveland also made 14 starts with the Tides and pitched exceptionally, as he registered a 2.79 ERA with 10 Quality Starts. He also surrendered just four home runs in 84.0 innings pitched with the Tides.

A native of Baltimore, Steve Johnson pitched well enough with the Tides to earn his first-ever major league promotion. Johnson held IL batters to a .202 average while posting a 2.86 ERA in 91 innings before making his major league debut on July 15 vs. Detroit. On August 8 vs. Seattle, he made his first big league start and earned the victory, 23 years to the day after his father, Dave Johnson, recorded his first-ever victory for the Orioles.

After opening the season on the disabled list with left shoulder impingement, Zach Britton joined the Tides in early June. Britton struggled over his first four outings with Norfolk before finding his rhythm in July, when he posted a 2.14 ERA while holding IL batters to a .195 average. He rejoined the Orioles for good in mid-August and pitched exceptionally, going 4-0 with a 0.94 ERA, 21 hits and 29 strikeouts over a four-game stretch from August 18 to September 4.

Left-hander Rick Zagone only made four outings (two starts) with the Tides, but he certainly made them count. Zagone did not allow a run over 20.1 innings pitched, as he yielded nine hits and seven walks while striking out 16. Zagone finished 2nd among all Orioles minor leaguers with a 3.41 ERA between Frederick, Bowie and Norfolk.

The Relievers

As good as Norfolk's starting rotation was throughout the season, the Tides' bullpen was even better. Norfolk's relievers went 28-17 with 38 saves and a 2.83 ERA, as the bullpen registered more strikeouts (440) than hits allowed (433). In an example of the massive roster turnover, 15 different pitchers registered a save for the Tides, while 34 players made relief appearances during the season.

Left-hander Zach Phillips spent the majority of the season in the Tides bullpen, where he posted a 3.17 ERA and seven saves in 42 appearances. Phillips was particularly impressive during the final portion of the season, as he did not allow a run in 18 of his final 21 outings. The 25-year-old allowed just one of 13 inherited runners to score and was rewarded with a promotion to Baltimore when rosters expanded in September.

Miguel Socolovich was in his first season as a member of the Orioles organization and he quickly asserted himself as one of the top relievers in the International League. Socolovich went 4-0 with two saves and a 1.90 ERA in 28 appearances with the Tides, holding opposing batters to a .179 average. He represented the Tides and the International League in the Triple-A All-Star Game, and made his major league debut with the Orioles in mid-July. After being placed on waivers in August, Socolovich was claimed by the Chicago Cubs, where he earned a September promotion.

Promoted to Norfolk from Bowie in June, Greg Burke was a vital piece of Norfolk's bullpen down the stretch. In 21 games with the Tides Burke went 2-1 with three saves and a 1.53 ERA, and his ERA was a miniscule 0.65 from July 8 through the end of the season. In 43 relief outings between Bowie and Norfolk he went 3-1 with a 1.58 ERA, and his 17 saves ranked 2nd among O's minor leaguers.

Pat Neshek took the majority of save opportunities for the Tides over the beginning of the season, as the 31-year-old went 3-2 with 11 saves and a 2.66 ERA in 35 games. Neshek was the first Tides player to earn IL Player of the Week honors, and the submariner held right-handed hitters to a .202 average before he was acquired by Oakland in a trade at the end of July. Neshek quickly became an important piece of the Athletics' bullpen, as he posted a 0.73 ERA over his first 13 appearances for Oakland.

One of two players to spend the entire season in Norfolk, Oscar Villarreal proved to be a solid option out of the bullpen all year. Villarreal often served as a multiple-inning reliever as he registered a 2.88 ERA in 37 games (2 starts). He allowed just four of 15 inherited runners to score, and he allowed one earned run or less in 35 of his 37 outings.

The Hitters

In his first season above the Double-A level, Xavier Avery spent the majority of his year with Norfolk. Avery hit .236 with eight home runs, 34 RBI and 57 runs in 102 games with the Tides, and his 22 stolen bases ranked 4th among all O's minor leaguers. He also saw his first action at the major league level at just 22-years-old, as he appeared with the birds in three separate stints. He hit .231 with six steals and 13 runs scored in his first 24 games with the Orioles, and he belted his first big league homer on June 29 vs. Cleveland - an 8th inning solo shot off of Chris Perez that proved to be the difference in a 9-8 victory.

Another 22-year-old made a splash for the Tides in 2012, as L.J. Hoes joined the Tides on June 1 and proceeded to bat .300 with three home runs, 38 RBI and 54 runs scored in 82 games. Hoes ranked second on the club with 95 hits, and he put together a 20-game hitting streak from June 18 to July 12 - the 4th-longest hitting streak in Tides history. Hoes' .287 average between Bowie and Norfolk ranked 4th among O's minor leaguers while his 20 stolen bases between the two affiliates was the 5th-most in the organization.

First baseman Joe Mahoney was a mainstay in Norfolk's lineup, as he led the club in games (132), hits (130), RBI (56), doubles (29) and total bases (191). Mahoney also played phenomenal defense at first base, as he led International League first baseman with a .998 fielding percentage after committing just two errors in 1,168 total chances. He also earned his first major league promotion, appearing in two games for the Orioles.

Infielder Blake Davis got off to a slow start with the Tides, as he batted just .181 through the end of May. Davis rebounded to become one of Norfolk's most steady contributors, as he hit .280 with two home runs, 29 RBI and 24 runs scored over his final 77 games. He also made several highlight-reel defensive plays, as he led all International League shortstops with a .985 fielding percentage (6 errors in 394 total chances). He was also named the IL Batter-of-the-Week after batting .565 (13-for-23) from August 6-12.

One of the best stories of the season was the emergence of Lew Ford, who joined the Tides in mid-May after being signed as a free agent out of the Independent Atlantic League. Ford hit an amazing .331 with 11 homers, 40 RBI and eight steals in 62 games with the Tides, as his average never dipped below .318. He had a five-hit performance on May 29, and he batted .510 (25-for-49) with runners in scoring position, including an astounding .571 (12-for-21) with RISP and two outs. The 35-year-old was rewarded for his efforts with a promotion to Baltimore - his first big league action since 2007 with Minnesota.

Another player who made the most of an opportunity with Norfolk was outfielder Nate McLouth, who joined the Tides in early June after being released from Pittsburgh. McLouth belted 10 home runs and drove in 33 in just 47 games with the Tides before joining the Orioles in August, where he quickly emerged as the Orioles' everyday left fielder. In his first 33 games with the O's, McLouth batted .268 with two homers, 12 RBI and five stolen bases.

Bill Hall served as a power threat in the middle of Norfolk's order for the majority of the season. Hall led the club with 15 home runs while appearing defensively at first base, second base, third base, shortstop and left field. Despite being hampered by a hamstring injury over the final 6 weeks of the season, Hall was a consistent threat against left-handed pitching, as he batted .314 with six home runs in 105 at-bats against southpaws. The 32-year-old appeared in seven games with Baltimore, and he belted a home run in his first game with the O's - a solo shot against Tampa Bay in a 5-3 win over the Rays on May 12.

One of two players to remain on Norfolk's roster the entire season, Jamie Hoffmann ranked among team leaders in walks (1st, 54), games (2nd, 110), doubles (2nd, 19), at-bats (3rd, 366), and home runs (T-3rd, 11). He reached base safely in 21 straight games from April 18 to May 12, and he committed just four errors all season playing all three outfield positions and first base. He finished his season strong, hitting five homers and driving in 15 over his final 33 games.

Infielder Steve Tolleson split his season between the Tides and Orioles. Tolleson batted .278 with a .358 on-base percentage in 50 games with the Tides, as he appeared in games at second base, third base and shortstop. He also appeared in games at second base, third base, shortstop and left field for Baltimore, where he hit .185 with two homers and six RBI in his first 24 games. One of his home runs was a three-run homer off of Philadelphia's Cliff Lee in a 5-4, 10-inning win over the Phillies on June 10.

Brandon Waring continued to prove he's a consistent power threat, as he belted 24 home runs between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk in 2012 - the 6th-straight year in which he's clubbed at least 20 round trippers. Waring's 24 homers were the most among O's minor leaguers, and the 13 long balls he hit with the Tides ranked 2nd on the club despite the fact that he only appeared in 66 games. The 26-year-old infielder was one of the IL's best players after the All-Star break, as he hit .294 with 10 home runs and 27 RBI in 42 games.

Claimed off of waivers from the Red Sox in April, catcher Luis Exposito joined the Tides and immediately impressed. The 25-year-old batted .305 through May before a broken left hamate bone sidelined him for six weeks. He returned from the disabled list during the second half and continued to display a potent bat, as batted .261 with six home runs and 19 RBI after the All-Star break. He also made his first stint in the major leagues, culminating with his first major league hit - a single vs. Texas on May 10.

Second baseman Ryan Adams had a large chunk of his season derailed due a broken right thumb he suffered on May 12. Adams did not return to the Tides' lineup until July 24, but he began to find his groove over the final month of the season. Over his final 26 games, he hit .271 with two home runs, seven doubles and nine runs batted in.

Catcher Chris Robinson was added to the Baltimore organization at the end of spring training, and he proved to be a solid addition to the Tides' lineup. Robinson hit .280 over his first 26 games while throwing out nearly 40% of opposing base stealers. However, a back injury severely limited his availability over the final three months of the season, as he appeared in just six games after June 22.

Another backstop who had a solid season for Norfolk was Ronny Paulino, who hit .287 with a home run and 15 RBI in 40 games. Paulino hit safely in 30 of the 40 games he appeared in with the Tides, and he batted .338 in 20 road contests. The veteran backstop also appeared in 20 games for Baltimore, where he batted .254 with five runs batted in.

Six-time All-Star Miguel Tejada joined the Tides on May 20 in an attempt to return to the major leagues. Tejada batted .259 with 18 RBI in 36 games while primarily playing third base, where he consistently displayed his above-average arm. The 38-year-old made just two errors in 72 chances at third base and batted .311 in 18 games at Harbor Park. After Baltimore notified him that there were no imminent plans to promote him, Tejada requested and was granted his release from the Orioles on June 25.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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