Versatile Orioles can handle Chris Davis' absence

Club will miss the first baseman, but do little things on offense better than years past

April 26, 2014|Peter Schmuck

It's tempting to look at the the uncertain status of Orioles slugger Chris Davis and think that the left oblique strain that forced him out of the lineup and onto the disabled list could not have come at a more inopportune time.

Of course, there’s never a good time to lose a guy who just had one of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of the franchise, especially when no one knows yet how long he will be on the DL. There’s nobody who is going to step into the lineup and send a shiver through opposing pitching staff the way Davis has done since he established himself as one of the premier power hitters in the game two years ago.

Combine that with the fact that the club already was experiencing an unexpected power shortage during the early weeks of the 2014 season and it might be fair to suspect that the baseball gods are having a cruel laugh at the Orioles' expense.

No one in the clubhouse, however, is looking at it that way. If the Orioles have proved anything over the first four weeks of the season, it is that they are a more versatile and multidimensional team than they were the past two seasons.

They are hitting with men on base at a rate that they — and their critics — could only dream of last year. They have been scoring runs in various and sundry ways, including the occasional three-run bomb, and are more unpredictable and resilient.

They will miss Davis because he has been a big part of that, but they seem better prepared to do without him for awhile than they might have been in the past.

"Somebody's going to fill in,'' said center fielder Adam Jones. "That's why there are 25 guys on the team instead of just nine. When someone goes down, someone has to step up. Obviously, we aren't expecting anybody to do what CD is capable of doing, but we expect them to play very good defense, have good at-bats and drive the ball."

The Orioles already have become adept at filling holes and handling adversity. They are still waiting for Platinum Glove winner Manny Machado to return from knee surgery and they've had to do without Gold Glove shortstop J.J. Hardy for eight of their first 23 games because of back and hamstring issues.

They’re hovering around .500, but considering the circumstances, their 9-6 record in their recent string of 15 straight games against their four AL East rivals is proof enough that they are built to tough out some tough situations. The question is whether they can keep doing that now that the going has gotten tougher, but Davis said he’s confident the team will persevere while deals with his oblique, a muscle located on the side of the abdomen.

Manager Buck Showalter plugged right fielder Nick Markakis in at first base for Saturday's game, but likely will use utility infiedler Ryan Flaherty there if Davis is out for more than a few days.

"These guys know what they're doing,'' said Davis, who underwent an MRI on Saturday. "We've had pretty much the same group of guys for the last couple of years. Flash (Flaherty) is a guy who can pick anybody up. These guys have really been picking me up all year any way. I have all the confidence in the world in them.

"You know, the last couple years our forte was three-run home runs and hitting the ball out of the ballpark, and I think early on we've done a good job of doing the little things, getting a guy over and then getting him in with a single or a sac fly. Those are the things that are going to pay off late in the season."

Give Showalter credit for creating an environment where every position player on the roster expects to be called upon to do whatever is required to put the team in the best possible position to win.

"That's the thing with our team, if we lose one guy I think we're built physically and mentally strong to play without that one or two players at a time,'' Markakis said. "We've got guys filling in and doing what they need to do. We just need to play baseball and play hard every day and whatever the outcome is at the end, it is what it is."

The fact that the Orioles have not yet lived up to their well-earned reputation as one of the most power-driven lineups in baseball just might end up working in their favor while they buy time waiting for Davis to rejoin the lineup.

"A lot of our big-scoring games have been when the bottom of our order has put some pressure on people,'' Showalter said. "We've really been able to kind of pass the baton and extend some long innings. We've left a couple of bullpens where they had to make some adjustments after we left, and it didn't have to do with the home runs. It had to do with the at-bats, and grinding it out, and the deep counts and singles. That's really how you put a club on their heels."

Jones insists that the offense — in spite of the injuries that have decimated it in April — hasn't lost its swagger, and won't.

"Oh yeah, this team is going to be really good,'' Jones said. "We're missing Manny, but he should be back soon. Big boy CD, we'll tell him to take his time and somebody's going to fill the void. Somebody's going to have to step up. I'm not nervous. I'm not worried about anything that has happened."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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