ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter has said that as long as rookie Jonathan Schoop — like every young player growing into his role — plays well defensively, he can live with the infielder's struggles at the plate.
Showalter also knows that Schoop has the ability to hit a ball in a way that can raise eyebrows and change the outcome of a game.
And even though Schoop was in a 2-for-17 slump, he came up with the biggest hit of the game Wednesday, a go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning to lead the Orioles to a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in front of an announced 11,282 at Tropicana Field.
“He's a strong young man that's growing into his body, and he's always a pitch away from doing something good for you,” Showalter said.
With one runner on and two outs, Schoop turned on an 0-2 inside fastball from Brandon Gomes (2-2) and rocketed it into the left-field stands.
“It was really nice, especially to come through there, and especially to get a W,” Schoop said. “That's all this game's about, the win.”
With the win, the Orioles (17-14) kept at least a share of first place in the American League East for another day.
The Orioles, who lost 11 of their final 13 games against Tampa Bay last season, have now won their first four against the Rays this season.
Adam Jones carried the Orioles offense early, hitting solo homers in each of his first two at-bats to give the club a 2-0 lead. He hit both home runs to center field off Rays starter Cesar Ramos.
“They were right down the middle, weren't they?” Jones said. “That's the rule of thumb. I put some good swings on some pitches I should have drove.”
Jones, who sometimes draws criticism for his aggressiveness at the plate, made no mistake Wednesday by teeing up a pair of first-pitch fastballs over the heart of the plate and sending them over the fence in the deepest part of the ballpark.
“I love what he brings,” Showalter said. “Every day he's slashing. He's not going down without a fight, and he kind of epitomizes a lot of things that we hope to be about. You're going to like the finished product.”
Jones, who hit a career-high 33 homers last season, entered the night with just one homer in his first 30 games.
“Felt good to get the ball out of the infield,” Jones said. “It's a process, you got to stay after it. You got to keep swinging. Eventually I was going to do something. I'm just glad we got the W.”
Right-hander Bud Norris held the Rays (15-19) hitless for the first three innings, but he was charged with two runs and three hits in 52/3innings. Norris struck out five batters and walked four.
Closer Tommy Hunter escaped a ninth-inning scare, clinging to a one-run lead with runners at the corners with one out.
“You'd like to mix [a clean inning] in every once in a while,” Hunter said. “It's getting a little ridiculous, but we're winning ballgames. That's the bottom line. … You'd like for it to go a little smoother. Yes, I'm not trying to make this [stuff] this exciting.”
Hunter still managed to convert his 10th save in 11 opportunities this season, stranding the winning run at first base after inducing a lazy popup from Ben Zobrist and snagging a scorching liner back off the bat of Desmond Jennings to end the game.
“It's not always going to be aesthetically pleasing, and that's why guys that have the mentality to do that are in demand,” Showalter said. “Tommy's certainly got his feet wet with some adversity, and he's handled it well so far."
Norris allowed the leadoff man on base in each of the first five innings, but it didn't hurt him until the fifth, when David DeJesus hit a first-pitch delivery into the right-field stands for his third homer of the season.
Norris retired the first two hitters he faced in the sixth, but he left the game after hitting James Loney with a pitch and yielded a single to Wil Myers.
“I had to labor a little more than I would have liked, but kept my team in it,” Norris said. “Schoop is swinging the bat, Jones is swinging the bat.”
Pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez then hit an RBI bloop single to shallow center field off left-hander Brian Matusz to tie the game, and both runners moved up on Jones' wild throw home, but Ryan Webb induced an inning-ending groundout to second base to strand two runners in scoring position.
Webb (1-0) retired all four batters he faced, forming an important bridge to the eighth inning, and Zach Britton pitched a perfect frame. Over the first two games of the series, the Orioles bullpen has allowed just one run over 61/3innings.
Schoop, 22, also had a solid night defensively, highlighted by turning a key double play in the second inning and making a diving play on the edge of the outfield grass to rob Zobrist of a hit in the seventh.
After the game, Jones said it was fun to see his rookie teammate come through with a big hit.
“It's awesome,” Jones said. “You can't protect these guys forever. You are going to have to throw them in the fire. And we're in the [AL] East, it's always a fire. So, if he's going to be in there playing every day, if Showalter has the confidence in him, he has to have the confidence in himself and go out there no matter what and have good at-bats and put the ball in play, hit the ball hard. The kid is talented. It's fun to see his progression over the first month.”