Jones feels pressure despite Showalter's reassuring tone

Outfielder hopes to have break-through year thanks to revamped lineup

February 19, 2011|Peter Schmuck

This is a good problem to have.

Adam Jones says that this is a no-excuse year for him, and sees no reason he can't have a breakout 2011 season no matter where he hits in the Orioles upgraded batting order.

Buck Showalter, who certainly wouldn't mind seeing his flashy center fielder have a big offensive year, bristles a bit at the notion that Jones has somehow fallen short of the great expectations that followed him here from the Seattle Mariners organization three years ago.

"I think a lot of people miss that this guy hit .280 and had about 20 home runs and played center field in the upper echelon of center fielders,'' Showalter said. "I'm not going to talk about what he didn't do."

This is an interesting dichotomy — the brash young player calling himself out and the supposedly demanding new manager reeling him back in.

"I just want to feel like he is going be as good as he is capable of being,'' Showalter said. "It's just like I said about (Matt) Wieters. The want-to is there. The effort is there. The commitment is there. Be who you are. Be the teammate you're capable of being."

Okay, so we're not talking about two viewpoints that are in serious conflict. Jones wants to be the best player he can be and Showalter expects him to do what it takes to reach whatever level he was meant to reach.

Jones, however, clearly believes that he is the budding superstar that everybody said he was going to be when the Orioles acquired him in that big 2008 trade that sent pitcher Erik Bedard to Seattle. And he thinks this just might be the year to prove it.

"Why not?" he said after Saturday's workout. "With the guys they've brought in, both me and (Nick) Markakis can just relax and hit. I think we can put ourselves in the upper echelon of young outfielders. Obviously, I need to do that more than Nick because he's already had a lot more success than me."

The landscape certainly seems more conducive than it was a year ago, when several of the young hitters struggled under the weight of too much offensive responsibility during the early part of the season. The arrival of sluggers Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds should lift that burden and — O's fans can only hope — allow Jones to reach full bloom.

Showalter already has played a role in that, subtlety communicating his own expectations to Jones during a series of text message exchanges that started when Jones sent him a New Years greeting.

"I hit him up about New Years,'' Jones said. "It's 2011 and I let him know 'I'm right there with you.' He responded. Not right away, but he responded and let me know what's going on."

If it seems odd that the hip young Twitter addict and the straight-laced fifty something manager had a meeting of the minds on their Blackberries, it is both a sign of the times and an indication of how much of an impression Showalter made on everyone in the Orioles clubhouse during the final two months of the 2010 season.

"You can see the fire,'' Jones said.

It still is something of a mystery to a lot of people how the Orioles turned on a dime after Showalter introduced himself to the team before his Aug. 3 managerial debut, but it's no mystery to Jones. Showalter's reputation preceded him. His brief team meeting confirmed it. The O's responded immediately.

"He told us to play better baseball and we did it,'' Jones said. "His credibility factor is just different. Instead of waiting for him to get on us, we just did it. He's like Jim Leyland. He gets the most out of you. I don't think he wants to be associated with losing."

Which is a pretty good place to start if you're looking for a meeting of the minds.

"I hate losing, too,'' Jones said. "The last two months of last year were a lot better than my first two years and four months here. I just want to improve on that.

"Wouldn't it be cool to win for Baltimore? Wouldn't it make you happy if New York was mad? If Philly was mad or Boston was mad? Wouldn't that feel good?"

It would certainly be a good problem to have.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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