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Orioles news and notes: Jones, Johnson, Reynolds, Lee's defense

Adam Jones may be the team's most polarizing player among Oriole fans, but even his biggest critics would have to acknowledge that he's been playing a very good center field right now. He's playing at a much higher level defensively than even he was during his Gold Glove season in 2009. His game-ending catch of Denard Span's drive to the right center-field wall last night was just the latest example and it wasn't even his biggest highlight from the 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins. Jones has some at-bats where you start thinking that everything is starting to click. In the second inning last night, he got ahead of Nick Blackburn whose wild pitch with Jones at the plate put runners on second and third with one out. Jones swung and missed at a high fastball and then chastised himself for expanding the strike zone. On the next pitch, a 2-2 offering, Blackburn threw an 88 miles an hour fastball on the outside corner that Jones redirected down the right-field line for a two-run double. It was a great piece of hitting as Jones covered the strike zone and didn't try to do too much with a tough pitch. Fans love to express their frustration with all the times Jones flails at a slider out of the zone, but at-bats like that one have to be really encouraging for those waiting to see Jones make the next step to being a perennial All-Star.

Showalter certainly opened up himself for questioning last night when he didn't send Jim Johnson back out for the eighth inning despite the fact that he was dominant in the seventh, needing only eight pitches (six strikes) to dispose of three Twins batters. Showalter explained the decision after the game, pointing out Johnson had warmed up – or "gotten hot" in baseball parlance – two of the last three days. He also wanted to make sure Johnson is available if the Orioles need him to hold down a lead in tonight's series finale. Also, by using Johnson, Koji Uehara and Kevin Gregg each for one inning last night, the Orioles have their full bullpen available tonight. I'll be honest, I was a little surprised that Showalter didn't stick with Johnson for another inning just because how difficult wins have been to come by lately for this club, and when you get a chance for one, you have to make sure you nail it down. I'm sure nobody wants me to bring up last Thursday's disaster in the Bronx. However, I have a sneaking suspicion if the Orioles' opponent was the Yankees last night, you probably would have seen Johnson back out there.

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I know I run the risk of being called a Derrek Lee apologist for dwelling on the positives with him again, but while there are justifiable questions about his bat speed and his power, he remains ridiculously good defensively at first base. In the fifth inning last night with Matt Tolbert running down the line, Lee scooped a hard bouncing Robert Andino throw and he made it look so easy that it was almost comical. It's nearly a nightly occurrence for him to save one of his fellow Oriole infielders of an error. I'm sure you'd much prefer see him get in a few more hits and RBIS, but it certainly is fun to watch a first baseman look as smooth defensively as Lee does.

The Orioles are a superstitious group these days. Vladimir Guerrero, who went with the high sock look Tuesday and hit a homer, stayed with it Wednesday and homered again. First and third base coaches Wayne Kirby and John Russell went back to the cartoon bird helmets and the club has since won two in a row and is undefeated when the base coaches wear those helmets. I would also expect to see the black alternate jerseys soon after the Orioles broke those out with their losing streak at eight and have promptly won two straight.

Here was an interesting statistic that I saw yesterday courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information. Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds, who struck out with the bases loaded on Tuesday, is just 6-for-51 (.118) in his career with the bases loaded. He is also hitless and has 18 strikeouts in his last 26 at-bats (excluding sacrifice flies) with the bases loaded. He has fanned in five of his six plate appearances with the bases loaded and fewer than two outs. Just something to keep in mind next time you see Reynolds come up with the sacks full.

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