Orioles manager Dave Trembley again challenged the club's lackluster offense before Tuesday's game, this time criticizing his hitters for not being patient enough.
"I do think there is something to be said for working the count a little better. Taking some pitches," said Trembley, who said he crunched some offensive statistics on Monday's day off. "When you've scuffled scoring runs, as we have done, I think a lot of times guys go up there and they are trying to catch up. … They take an approach that's not real conducive to being the best possible at-bat they could have. I think we have given away way too many at-bats.
"And hopefully it gets better. It's been addressed. I don't know what more I can do about it."
Heading into Tuesday, the Orioles have seen 3.80 pitches per at-bat this season, which is below the American League average (3.84) and ninth overall in the AL. Of the five teams with a lower number, only two, the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers, have a winning record.
A glaring example of the Orioles' impatience came in the sixth inning of Saturday's doubleheader nightcap against the Minnesota Twins. The game was tied 1-1 and Orioles' starter Kevin Millwood had just thrown a 15-pitch inning.
The Orioles' first two batters of the sixth, Craig Tatum and Julio Lugo, swung and were retired on Scott Baker's first offering. Nick Markakis let two pitches go by to allow Millwood to catch his breath, but then popped out on an 0-2 pitch. Millwood rested for five pitches, came back in the bottom of the sixth and gave up two runs in the eventual loss.
"I didn't think it was the right thing to do for Millwood, who was busting his butt out there," Trembley said. "The next inning he went out on short rest. You certainly don't expect that from guys who have played and have experience. And it also put Markakis in a hole where he had to take two pitches and basically his at-bat was thrown away."
There is a flip side to being aggressive, however. Against quality pitchers, first baseman Garrett Atkins said sometimes it is necessary to attack the first pitch, because it may be the only hittable one in an at-bat.
"If a pitcher is not walking guys and isn't beating himself, you have got to attack when you have the opportunity," Atkins said. "If the guy is wild and out of control, yeah, you need to work the count, work to see some pitches and maybe let the pitcher get himself into a little trouble. I don't think there are too many guys here that are going up there hacking for no reason at bad pitches."
Overall, the offensive output has been deflating, with the Orioles scoring two runs or fewer in 15 of their first 32 games. They rank 13th in the AL in runs per game (3.29), 10th in batting average (.244) and last in on-base percentage (.305).
Trembley named only four Orioles that he felt had been consistent so far this season: Markakis, Ty Wigginton, Miguel Tejada and Matt Wieters. And Atkins, for one, said that's not enough if the Orioles want to turn around their season.
"You can't really rely on three or four guys in the lineup that are swinging the bat well," said Atkins, who was hitting a career .289 hitter before 2010 but was batting .247 heading into Tuesday. "You need seven, eight or nine guys swinging the bats well at the same time and getting on base. And we really haven't done that."
Changes are coming
No roster moves were made before Tuesday's game, but that doesn't mean they aren't in the offing for the struggling offense.
"Today, there [weren't] any changes. But I wouldn't rule that out during the homestand," Trembley said. "As we go through this homestand, that possibility does exist."
The Orioles' best options at Triple-A are left-handed outfielders Corey Patterson and Jeff Salazar and switch-hitting third baseman Josh Bell, who has struggled against lefties. With the Orioles facing consecutive left-handed pitchers on Tuesday and Wednesday, it makes sense the organization wouldn't promote any of those hitters until Thursday, the earliest.
Candidates to be demoted to Triple-A include outfielders Lou Montanez, Nolan Reimold and Luke Scott, all of whom have minor league options available and are struggling to bat .200. Few Orioles' hitters right now are considered safe.
"With us struggling the way we have been, the luxury is not there to let a guy continue to try and find his swing in the lineup, whereas the other teams that are winning ballgames at .500 or above, they can afford to have a guy or two that is scuffling," Atkins said. "On a losing team like we are here right now, if you are not swinging, you are going to get a day or get two (off) or you are going to find yourself somewhere else. That's kind of the reality of the situation."
Roberts to start baseball activities
Injured second baseman Brian Roberts (herniated disk) is hoping that he'll be able to begin "small" baseball-related activities by the end of the week.