Often in the past 15 years, the Orioles have used September as a proving ground for the following season, experimenting with what they had in order to get a better idea of what they needed to fortify in the winter.
The Orioles head into this year's offseason with obvious questions at second base and left field — where incumbents Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth are pending free agents — and backup catcher after designating Taylor Teagarden for assignment last week.
With the expansion of rosters this month, the Orioles have promoted three 20-somethings who theoretically could be the answers at their respective positions: infielder Jonathan Schoop, outfielder Henry Urrutia and catcher Steve Clevenger.
Yet none have started a game since being called up this month. Only Urrutia has an at-bat, a pinch-hit single in the 10th inning Saturday afternoon.
The reasoning is simple: The Orioles are chasing a wild-card berth and need to put their best lineup on the field every day. There may be some temptation to see what those inexperienced players can do, but not at the expense of at-bats for McLouth and Roberts and designated hitter Danny Valencia; not, anyway, with the postseason on the line.
"Temptation? Not yet. I can fight that temptation as long as we're still fighting for a playoff spot," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Saturday. "Not that they couldn't be a contributor or wouldn't be asked to, but no, [not] where we are."
That could change, Showalter said, if the team is eliminated from postseason contention. But the question then is how much time would the Orioles need to evaluate those players.
Urrutia, the 26-year-old Cuban defector, played in 22 games this year, almost exclusively at DH, with just two innings in left field. He's hit .283 in 53 at-bats but didn't walk once and has just one extra-base hit. Yet he has impressed with his quick hands and baseball acumen.
"We talked about whether to bring Hank here or not [in September]. He is a real student," Showalter said. "Hank watches every [darn] pitch. He's into everything. He's a sharp kid. He's well-educated."
Clevenger, 27, came with Scott Feldman in the July trade that sent Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs. He's batted .199 in 211 career big league at-bats, all with the Cubs, but has received rave reviews for his hustle and versatility. He's jockeying with veteran Chris Snyder for the backup duties to Matt Wieters right now.
Schoop, who has yet to have a major league at-bat, is the most intriguing of the club's offensive call-ups. The 21-year-old Schoop is considered the top position prospect in the system, but the Orioles don't know yet if he is ready to be the club's everyday second baseman. And that's something they won't try to find out this month.
"Is it fair to [Schoop]? Is it fair to the pitcher? Is it fair to Roberts? Is it fair to [backup second baseman Alexi] Casilla?" Showalter said. "What if you're wrong? I just don't think it's fair to them right now, as curious as we all are. It's not spring training. They'll get their time. I hope it's not this year. So [expect] September to be a tryout camp or Instructional League? I don't expect that."
Clevenger happy to be home
Despite not playing in a game yet, Clevenger is an Oriole. And that means something special for the kid who spent part of his youth growing up in Pigtown, practically a long flyball from Camden Yards.
"Coming home, the hometown team. The team that I watched growing up," said Clevenger, a Mount St. Joseph graduate whose family moved to Linthicum when he was about 11. "A lot of special memories here."
Clevenger said he's been envisioning his first at-bat in Camden Yards for years. It'll be one of the highlights of his career.
"Definitely, it's going to be up there," he said. "My first big league at-bat, it's going to be right up there with it."
Around the horn
Manny Machado's fifth inning double Saturday was his major league-leading 47th of the season, tying Cincinnati's Vada Pinson in 1959 for second most by any player in his age-20 or younger season (Machado turned 21 in July). Only Seattle's Alex Rodriguez, with 54 in 1996, has had more in an age-20 season. … The Orioles' doubles record is 56, set by Roberts in 2009. … Conor Gillaspie's homer in the 10th inning Saturday was the Chicago White Sox's first pinch-hit home run since Orlando Hudson's grand slam on Sept. 29, 2012. … The Oriole Advocates are holding their annual "Cardboard to Leather" campaign Sunday at Camden Yards, collecting new and gently used baseball and softball equipment to send to underprivileged children abroad. Financial donations to help with shipping costs will also be accepted at the stadium's entrances Sunday. A silent auction of sports memorabilia will be held at the lower concourse near Gate E, with bids accepted until 3 p.m. … Norris, Sunday's starter, has a 7.16 ERA in three home starts with the Orioles; he is 2-0 in those games and the Orioles are 3-0.
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