Anyone who has closely followed the Orioles this year is likely able to identify one of their biggest problems on offense, and that certainly includes manager Buck Showalter. The hitters just aren't particularly patient, especially in high-leverage situations.
Heading into Thursday, Mark Reynolds was sixth in the American League in pitches seen per at-bat with 4.26 and led the team in walks with 48 this year, more than twice as many as any other Oriole. Luke Scott (4.16 pitches per at-bat) and Derrek Lee (4.13) have also show decent patience when they've been healthy and in the lineup, but outside those three, the Orioles have been a bit too aggressive at the plate with runners on base, frequently chasing pitches outside the strike zone.
Even the Orioles' two best offensive players this season — J.J. Hardy (3.82) and Adam Jones (3.51) — rank outside the top 50 in the American League in pitches seen per at bat. It's a habit Showalter keeps trying to break. Against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night, the Orioles had the bases loaded with no outs in the fifth inning against Chris Carpenter and the heart of their order at the plate. But Nick Markakis hit a curveball that was outside the strike zone back to Carpenter for the first out. Jones hit a curveball off the plate for a flyout. And Vladimir Guerrero hit a cut fastball outside the strike zone for a fly ball that ended the inning. Carpenter needed only 10 pitches to retire those three hitters.
"You can see there is a little anxiety in those at bats," Showalter said. "They're letting a guy like Carpenter, who feasts on emotional at-bats, use that against them. Certain guys take a swing that you haven't seen in a couple weeks. They want to [make it happen] too fast. It's kind of like Christmas morning. You want to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and find out exactly what [your presents are]. It's almost like your 'want to' is too much. You get in the way of letting the game happen."
Showalter said it's hard for hitters, especially when they're pressing a bit because the team is behind, to understand that a veteran like Carpenter is using their aggressiveness against them.
"In those situations when the fans are in it and there is some emotion going on and it's a key part of the game, you've got to, as much as you can, try to have an unemotional at bat," Showalter said, "because most veteran pitchers go soft instead of hard in those situations. They try to let you get yourself out. And let's face it, guys at this level have done things so much in their careers behind them in the minor leagues or college or high school, they're used to being able to do well in those situations. They're in swing mode. They want to do something, and you don't do something by taking pitches, in their mind. Sometimes you have realize that you do. There is so many walks to be had in those situations if you'll just be patient. … You can go through all those at bats last night and I'll show you. I've already gone through them. They're balls."
As one might expect, especially considering his history, Guerrero has shown the least patience of anyone in the lineup. The Orioles' designated hitter is seeing just 3.26 pitches per at-bat, and according to FanGraphs.com — which tracks the location of every pitch — 46.5 percent of the pitches he swings at are outside the strike zone. That's essentially the same rate he has swung at nonstrikes throughout his career, but he's no longer driving those pitches the way he once did. About 47 percent of his batted balls are grounders, and 20 percent of the balls he puts in play are infield flyouts. His home run/fly ball ratio of 7.1 percent would easily be the lowest of his career if it continues, as would his walk rate of 3.1 percent.
That could be one reason the Orioles didn't seem to mind sitting him on the bench during interleague play in National League parks. Showalter said Guerrero would once again likely be on the bench when the Orioles travel to Atlanta for their next series.
"That's the approach we're taking right now," Showalter said. "Something could happen injurywise [that] would be something that could change things."
Reimold gets start
Nolan Reimold was thrilled to see his name in the lineup Thursday. He hadn't played since coming on as a defensive replacement against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 23, and he hadn't had an at-bat since he started against the Washington Nationals on June 19.
"It has been a little while," Reimold, who started in left field and batted eighth, said. "But I am ready to go."
Reimold said the challenge for him is be avoid pressing.
"You can't do it all in one good swing," he said. "You really do have to have a good approach and not try to get hits, but have good at-bats. The hits will come as a result. If you have a limited number of at-bats, you want to take advantage of them, but if you press too hard, you won't be able to.
Showalter acknowledged it has been a challenge to get the right-handed-hitting Reimold in the lineup. The Orioles simply haven't faced many left-handed starters.
"It beats being in Norfolk," Showalter said. "It's part of the job description up here. Right now, that's the equation. But we like what Nolan can bring for us in that situation [against a left-hander]. And that's not to say that's something he's going to do for the rest of his career. We think he can do both. It's kind of funny how things work, even from my standpoint. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. You compare it to what's going on at that position, and you always think that it might be better."
Around the horn
The Orioles' 2009 first-round pick, Matt Hobgood, pitched two scoreless innings Thursday for the Gulf Coast League Orioles, giving up just one hit while striking out two batters. ... Lee collected his 1,900th career hit in the second inning Thursday. ... Triple-A Norfolk closer Mark Worrell was selected to the International League All-Star team. Worrell is tied for third place in the league with 13 saves. He has pitched to a 2.84 ERA in 30 appearances and has struck out 25 batters against eight walks.
Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun