Trembley's challenge: Keeping everyone happy

Finding at-bats for bench players will be difficult task

February 24, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec | Baltimore Sun reporter

SARASOTA, FLA. — When Orioles manager Dave Trembley addressed his full squad for the first time his speech centered on the team over the individual. He'll now have to wait and see if his talk resonated in the days ahead.

Of all the tasks that Trembley faces entering this season, his ability to get his players enough at-bats to keep them happy might be the most challenging. While more talent and a deeper bench are issues that Trembley is willing to confront, he also knows that it can affect the positive team chemistry he is trying hard to cultivate.

"I think about it every day," Trembley said today. "In a lot of ways, it's a good situation. It's a challenging situation. You want to be fair, but you also have to do what's right. You have to do what's best for the team. Hopefully, everybody understands that. Everybody wants to play, but the reality is there are only nine guys in the lineup."

Barring an injury or a surprising trade, the Orioles' everyday lineup is essentially set. With Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada manning the infield corners and Luke Scott serving as the regular designated hitter, Ty Wigginton will be on the bench. So will Felix Pie, who is currently the fourth outfielder behind Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold.

They will be joined by a utility infielder, likely Robert Andino, and a backup catcher, a role for which Chad Moeller is the frontrunner.

"That stuff usually works itself out," said Wigginton, who hit .273 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs last season in 436 plate appearances. "I guess at this point, I'm coming in expecting to get the at-bats I did last year, at least until I'm told otherwise."

Pie, who hit .266 with nine homers and 29 RBIs last year and flourished when given the chance to play regularly in the second half, said he isn't concerned about how it will all work out.

"That's their decision, the manager and the general manager," Pie said. "They have to decide those things. What I have to do is play hard and do my thing on the field."

Both Wigginton and Pie joined the club with the expectation that they'd play regularly, so their situations are far more sensitive for Trembley than in the case of Andino and Moeller.

Acquired from the Chicago Cubs last January, Pie started the 2009 season as the Orioles' regular left fielder. However, he lost the job by hitting .157 in March/April, and his demotion to the bench paved the way for Reimold. Pie never got another extended look as a starter until injuries shelved Jones and Reimold for the rest of the season. When he did, Pie showed the tools that made him one of baseball's most-highly touted prospects as he batted .333 in August with five homers and 13 RBIs.

"You're more relaxed when you know you're going to play every day," Pie said. "You don't have to think, when you play one game, that you have to do too much so that you're in the lineup the next day."

Wigginton signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Orioles last February, feeling that he would move around some in his first season with the club and then become the starting third baseman once Melvin Mora left. The Orioles signed Tejada instead.

"Last year, [Wigginton] got his at-bats," said Trembley, who values Wigginton for his versatility and his right-handed power. "People asked me about him from the beginning, about how I was going to do it. I did it. There are unfortunate circumstances that come up. There are guys that get hurt. I know eventually it's something that's going to have to be addressed, but I do have some leeway and I do have some time to get it all sorted out. But I am very much aware of it."

Trembley said that he plans to speak periodically with all the players involved, and by the end of spring training, "they'll know what their role is." He does have options, but each one comes with a caveat.

He could platoon the left-handed hitting Scott at DH, opening up some at-bats there for Wigginton or Reimold, the latter allowing Pie to play more in left field. However, Scott hit a respectable .260 with 10 homers against southpaws last season and he's made it clear that he wouldn't be pleased in a platoon situation.

"I believe I've earned the respect to get a fair shot [at] a season where I get 550 at-bats," Scott said. "Last year, I hit 25 homers [in] 450 at-bats. Even with that nightmare slump, if I get an extra 150 at-bats, I'm going to have some pretty decent numbers at the end of the year. There's a lot of politics in the game that I don't understand, but one thing I've done is be professional and I've done what people have asked of me."

Trembley also could opt to give his regulars, specifically Tejada and Atkins, more days off than usual. However, Tejada, a former Most Valuable Player, is known to fight even the suggestion that he'd benefit from a day on the bench, and Atkins lost his confidence last season after he became a part-time player with the Colorado Rockies.

"You have to do the very best you can to keep everybody happy," Trembley said. "But you have to be realistic. You're probably never going to be perfect in that area."

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