Orioles lineup has flexibility and balance, but no clear No. 4

April 05, 2010|By Dan Connolly | dan.connolly@baltsun.com

SARASOTA, Fla. — — Heading into spring training, the Orioles' lineup appeared crystal clear at the top and the bottom.

In the middle - from spots No. 2 to No. 8 - not so much.

With Opening Day on Tuesday, the batting order has shaken out, unofficially anyway.

A healthy Brian Roberts will lead off, something he has done 1,001 times in his career. Shortstop Cesar Izturis will bat ninth.

In between - at least for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday in St. Petersburg - it is expected to be Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Miguel Tejada, Luke Scott, Matt Wieters, Garrett Atkins and Felix Pie.

Orioles manager Dave Trembley tinkered with his order for much of the spring and said it still isn't "etched in stone." That was obvious last year when injuries, inconsistency and an infusion of young players led to Trembley's using 132 different lineups in 162 games. The most times he used one lineup last season was five. This spring was more of the same.

"You've got to keep playing with it and use spring training for your benefit. Spring training is to have options, experiment, move guys around," Trembley said. "It's a long season. You're not going to have the same lineup for 162 games. It's not going to happen."

This lineup, as it is constituted, is noteworthy in several ways.

For one, it is about as balanced from the left and right sides as an order can be. The club has three starting switch-hitters in Roberts, Izturis and Wieters; right-handed hitters Jones, Atkins, Reimold, Ty Wigginton, Craig Tatum and Julio Lugo; and lefties Markakis, Scott and Pie.

In addition, most of the regulars have hit up and down orders throughout their careers, so they aren't married to one specific slot. If they are, well, too bad, Tejada said.

"They better adjust because that's why we have a manager," said Tejada, who has started in every spot in his career, including 100 or more games each from second to eighth. "We have a manager, and they've got to learn the manager is doing the best for the team."

When Roberts was shelved for the first part of the spring, the offense scuffled without its table-setter. If that were to happen during the regular season, there's no obvious replacement at leadoff. The other eight spots in the lineup, though, seem interchangeable.

"I don't necessarily know that moving people around gives you that much of an advantage," Roberts said. "But having the flexibility to put different guys in different spots and match up left-handed and right probably gives us an advantage. I think most teams would like that balance."

The glaring deficiency in the batting order, however, is one that hampered the club for the second half of last season: There is no traditional cleanup hitter, someone who is expected to bash 30 home runs and drive in 100-plus runs. In 2009, Scott led the Orioles with 25 homers and Markakis was the RBI leader with 101.

"The only thing we're really missing is a true No. 4 hitter. We all know that. We don't have a pure cleanup hitter," said Jones, who batted there once in 2009. "Last year, we had [ Aubrey] Huff and we knew he was going to hit fourth. But I think that a good thing that we have in our lineup is flexibility. You got me, Markakis, Tejada, Atkins, Reimold, Wieters, Scott who can all move up or down the lineup. That adds a lot of flexibility and can confuse people."

The Orioles used eight players in the No. 4 spot in 2009, including three - Huff (94 starts), Melvin Mora (seven) and Oscar Salazar (one) - who are no longer with the club. Markakis basically took over the fourth spot when Huff was traded in August, making 46 starts at cleanup. No other current Oriole batted fourth in as many games last year, including Atkins, who hit cleanup 44 times for the Colorado Rockies.

In 2009, Markakis batted .298 with a .354 on-base percentage in 100 starts batting third and .274 with a .316 on-base percentage hitting cleanup. With the signing of Tejada this offseason, Markakis can move back to where he is more comfortable while handing cleanup over to someone with more experience in the role.

In his career, Tejada has hit fourth 417 times; the rest of the Orioles' projected roster has combined to start 361 times at cleanup. Tejada hasn't hit there since he was last with the Orioles in 2007. He batted primarily second with the Houston Astros in 2009 and third for them in 2008. He hasn't hit more than 18 homers or had 100 or more RBIs since 2006.

"For me, as long as I am in the lineup, and it is best for the team, it is fine for me," Tejada said. "There are a lot of guys here who can do it - me, Jones, Luke and Atkins - there are a lot of options."

That's a welcome change from his last time in an Orioles uniform, Tejada said.

"Before, it was different because we had a lot of guys who could not hit fourth or could not hit second," Tejada said. "Here now, you can see they are all young and they can all do that."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

Cleanup experience
Here are the players on the Orioles' 2010 roster who have batted cleanup and how many starts they've made in the No. 4 spot in the order: Player Career 2009Miguel Tejada 417 0Garrett Atkins 161 44Ty Wigginton 119 1Nick Markakis 48 46Luke Scott 24 8Nolan Reimold 4 4Julio Lugo 4 0Adam Jones 1 1Source: baseball-reference.com

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