With chance at AL's top seed, Orioles look for ways to rest some key players

Right fielder Nick Markakis sat Wednesday, center fielder Adam Jones could sit Friday

September 17, 2014|By Dan Connolly | The Baltimore Sun

Now that the Orioles have clinched the American League East title, the regular season is all over but the roster shuffling.

The Orioles headed into Wednesday night trailing the Los Angeles Angels by three games for the top seed in the AL while leading the Detroit Tigers by seven games for the third seed.

It puts the Orioles into a bit of a baseball limbo: Do they try to catch the Angels and not give their regulars as much rest over the next 11 games, or do they forget about trying to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, be happy with the No. 2 seed and try to spell their regulars?

Based on his first post-clinching lineup and his comments at Wednesday's pregame news conference, it seems like Orioles manager Buck Showalter is going to do a little bit of both.

"Our guys are going to play. They're going to play. Especially with some of the emotion and the feeling in the ballpark, especially at home," Showalter said. "Going to New York, there's a good chance the games will still matter there. And even Toronto.

"Those are still meaningful games for us, though. There's something to be gained. If we reach the point where we can't lose home-field advantage to Detroit/Kansas City, and we can't catch Anaheim, then we have a different dynamic."

Showalter talked Wednesday with pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti to discuss pitching schedules and then had individual meetings with four of his key position players, outfielders Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, first baseman Steve Pearce and shortstop J.J. Hardy, to gauge their thoughts.

"Trying to give [pitchers] a little extra rest without giving them too much. Same way with position players. You're not going to see guys sit three or four days," Showalter said. "There's still some things [to accomplish]. One, we want to make sure we try to keep Detroit and Kansas City from catching us [for the second seed].

"I was looking at Anaheim's schedule last night. They've got a pretty tough row there at the end. … So you're never going to cede that possibility."

That said, Hardy has been dealing with back spasms this month. Pearce is recovering from a sore abdomen. Markakis took a fastball in the right shoulder blade Tuesday, and Jones is often a walking ice pack, with bumps and bruises that he won't reveal. Some rest wouldn't be a bad thing —that's why Showalter met with each player Wednesday.

"Talked about what my plans were, but more importantly what they thought would be best for them," Showalter said. "For instance, Nick gets today and [Thursday's team day off], and then he'll play Friday. Jonesy might get Thursday and Friday off. But I'm not going to have these guys sit around two or three days without playing. They don't want to. Keep that feel a little bit."

The Orioles also made a roster move that will allow Pearce to get some days off. The club added its Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year, first baseman Christian Walker, from the instructional league in Sarasota, Fla. Walker, 23, hit .288 with 53 extra-base hits at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in 2014.

Showalter said it would be a good time to evaluate what they have in Walker — and, roster-wise, it made sense. He'll take the spot of the suspended Chris Davis, who currently doesn't count against the 40-man roster. Showalter admitted that Davis' absence also had something to do with Walker's call-up.

"Talking to a lot of people during the year, they think he's got a chance to contribute here at some point, and we want to take advantage of the opportunity to see him in these environments that he's going to have, Yankee Stadium, Toronto, home," Showalter said. "It would help us evaluate [him] better as opposed to 40 at-bats against Double-A and Triple-A guys late in a ballgame in Sarasota."

Walker made his debut Wednesday, hitting seventh and playing first base. Pearce was in right field while Markakis was on the bench. Jimmy Paredes batted first with Markakis out. The Orioles' rotation may be shuffled a little, too, with Ubaldo Jimenez potentially getting another start.

Things get complicated because the Orioles' regular season ends Sept. 28 and they won't play a postseason game until Oct. 2. Showalter said the players will be given a full day off Sept. 29 before working out the next two days.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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