Who should bat cleanup for the 2010 Orioles?

Orioles’ pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla., on Wednesday, which means they just put stuff in their lockers and exchange handshakes with their teammates.

They don’t start throwing until Thursday. The full squad doesn’t work out until Feb. 23 and the first exhibition game isn’t until March 3.

I’ll be down in mid-March and will stay through the Orioles’ first two games of the regular season in April in Tampa.

Meanwhile, my baseball colleague Jeff Zrebiec is in Sarasota now reporting everything Orioles. And our columnist, Pete Schmuck, is there, too, wearing ugly shirts and doing whatever a Schmuck in Florida does.

I’m going to take a few weeks off between next week and mid-March, but the bar may stay open. I have a guest bartender idea. I just need to see how much he’ll cost me.

Meanwhile, I had to write one of our last lead-ins to spring training, an analysis of some of the main questions facing the Orioles this spring.

Lots of bar material there. But one struck me immediately.

In trying to put together what the club’s everyday batting order will look like, I got stuck on cleanup hitter.

At this point, the Orioles don’t have a slam-dunk candidate to bat fourth. Garrett Atkins should be that guy if he can get his power stroke back (he averaged 25 homers and 110 RBIs in 2006-08, but had nine homers and 48 RBIs for the Colorado Rockies in 2009). But there’s no guarantee there.

Luke Scott is the only Oriole who had more than 20 homers in 2009 – he had 25 – but his second half was so rough (.208 average, seven homers, 26 RBIs in 216 at-bats) that he probably won’t get a whole lot of consideration initially for the cleanup spot.

Young guys such as Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Adam Jones may be able to handle it eventually, but it’s a lot of pressure for players with such inexperience. I say don’t toss them into that fire this early, at least not consistently.

Nick Markakis batted fourth in 47 games last season (with an on-base-plus slugging of just .733), but I think he is much better suited for third or second.

So, to me, that leaves Miguel Tejada as the best fit to bat cleanup for this team, at least in April – and especially if Atkins is struggling. Tejada only had 14 homers last season with the Houston Astros and just 13 in 2008.

But he is a proven run producer and has hit cleanup in more than 400 games in his career. He no longer has cleanup pop, but he won’t be fazed by the pressure inherent in the four hole. And he’ll help protect Markakis or Jones, which will be key.

So if I am writing out the Orioles 2010 lineup – at least for April – I’ve got Tejada batting fourth. What says you?

Daily Think Special: Who should bat cleanup for the 2010 Orioles?

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