Finding at-bats for all may prove tough for Orioles' Trembley

Orioles manager has potentially difficult balancing act ahead

February 25, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec |

SARASOTA, FLA. — - When Orioles manager Dave Trembley addressed his full squad for the first time this spring, his speech centered on the team over the individual. He'll now have to wait to see whether his talk resonates.

Of all the tasks 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 they can affect the positive team chemistry he is trying hard to cultivate.

"I think about it every day," Trembley said Wednesday. "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 everyday lineup is essentially set. With Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada at 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 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 front-runner.

"That stuff usually works itself out," said Wigginton, who hit .273 with 11 home runs 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 of the season, 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 expecting to play regularly, so their situations are far more sensitive for Trembley than those of Andino and Moeller.

Acquired from the Chicago Cubs in January 2009, Pie started last season as the Orioles' regular left fielder. However, he lost the job by hitting .157 in 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. At that point, Pie showed the tools that made him a highly touted prospect 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, [like] 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 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 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 at-bats for Wigginton or Reimold, the latter allowing Pie to play more in left field. However, Scott hit a respectable .260 with 10 homers against left-handers last season, and he has made it clear he wouldn't be pleased in a platoon.

"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 one-time Most Valuable Player, is known to fight even the suggestion that he would 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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