Scott's ready to play first base if Lee can't

Orioles have options if Lee's sore wrist prevents him from being prepared to start the season

March 09, 2011|By Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — — The Orioles cling to the belief that veteran first baseman Derrek Lee will be ready to start the regular season on time, but manager Buck Showalter didn't hesitate when he was asked who would likely open at first base if Lee's sore wrist prevents him from getting enough at-bats this spring.

It's the same guy who would have been the designated hitter if the Orioles hadn't signed Vladimir Guerrero, and the same guy who arrived in camp as the likely left fielder after the O's signed Guerrero and Lee.

Luke Scott, of course.

"That's probably the direction we'll go,'' Showalter said, "but don't hold me to that."

Don't mistake that for Showalter being non-committal. He just knows that the club is only halfway through spring training and stuff happens. Scott is the logical choice, both because he's one of the top Orioles run producers and because the move to first base — if necessary — would make it easier to keep both Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie past the final roster cut.

Scott was at first base on Wednesday when the Orioles hammered Francisco Liriano and the Minnesota Twins, 11-2, at Ed Smith Stadium. He didn't play particularly well there, but you're probably going to see a lot more of him at first base over the next week or two if Lee does not make a speedy recovery.

"Luke is starting his second game at first base and we've obviously seen a lot of the other guys at first base with Jake (Fox), Josh (Bell) has been over there, (Joe) Mahoney, Brandon Snyder, (Brendan) Harris,'' Showalter said before the game. "There have been a lot of guys over there. Hopefully, it doesn't come to that."

It probably won't. Lee underwent an MRI late Wednesday afternoon that confirmed the cause of the wrist soreness that flared up just as he was returning to normal baseball activities after months of rehabbing his surgically repaired right thumb. Orioles orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens examined him Tuesday and attributed the soreness to rehab-related tendinitis, but ordered the MRI just to be sure.

Still, even though there is no structural damage to Lee's wrist, the timetable for his Grapefruit League debut will remain uncertain while he waits for the inflammation to subside, which is why Showalter admitted that he already had begun preparing for the possibility of an Opening Night without him. Scott is doing the same.

"You have to be ready for whatever,'' said Scott. "I don't know yet what's going to happen. What will we have in three weeks? That's still quite a bit of time. As for me, I'll prepare the best I can for whatever I have to do."

Scott has flirted with first base before. He played 10 games there in 2009 and 19 games there last season, but former manager Dave Trembley was not comfortable playing him there. Scott did not look particularly comfortable playing there on Wednesday — though he did have his first hit of the spring — but said before the game that he welcomes the opportunity to prove he can do an adequate job if Lee needs several more weeks to get ready.

"It's a challenge and I enjoy that,'' Scott said. "I believe I can do a good job. If you give me time to work and prepare for something, I think I usually do pretty well."

That was also the postgame message from his manager after Scott looked awkward on a couple of plays at first.

"He's been focusing so hard on left field,'' Showalter said. "He's going to have to work at it, and he'll be better.

Showalter projected earlier this season that Lee would need at least 20 at-bats to find his timing at the plate, but explained again on Wednesday that there are a lot of ways to manufacture at-bats during spring training. Lee could get extra at-bats in some minor league games or lead off every inning in an intrasquad game to get into regular season shape.

The important thing, however, is to get him to the point where he can swing the bat without pain.

"Oh yeah,'' Showalter said. "I hear these guys talk about 100 percent. Nobody is 100 percent once the season starts. You'd like for that to be the case unless it's something that is manageable. I'm leaning toward pain-free."

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