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Orioles news, notes and opinions: July 4 edition

I'm not going to go too much into Nick Markakis' offense because quite frankly, I don't want to spend my entire July 4 holiday fending off attacks from the Pro-Markakis crowd (they tell me that I'm too hard on the right fielder), and the Anti-Markakis Establishment (they tell me that I'm too soft on him and remind me that he's a $66.1 million singles hitter). But I will say this: it had to be a welcome sight yesterday to see him unleash an absolute rocket of a throw to second base to nail Brian McCann trying to stretch a single into a double. McCann isn't exactly fleet of foot, but it still took a near perfect throw to get him, and Markakis provided it in one of the biggest plays of the game. I've said many times that his throwing arm isn't what it used to be and I attribute that to the wear-and-tear on his left shoulder from his days as a pitcher, but perhaps reports of its demise were a tad premature.

I am traditionally asked by my editors to do a midseason and postseason report card on the Orioles' individual players. I really haven't started working on it yet, but I don't know if there is a harder player that I've had to grade than third baseman Mark Reynolds. After his game-winning shot yesterday, Reynolds has 18 homers and 46 RBIs, putting him on pace for a 36-homer and 92-RBI season. I severely doubt that there's one Oriole official who wouldn't have signed up for those numbers in February. He's also cut down on his strikeouts and is on pace to fan 168 times, which seems quite high until you consider that he's averaged 213 strikeouts over the past three seasons. But it's impossible to ignore the defense and Reynolds leads all Major Leaguers with 19 errors, many of them leading to runs and big innings. Such is my dilemma.

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While we're still on the topic of Reynolds, do yourself a favor and just once get to the stadium early enough to watch the Orioles take batting practice. On the last home stand, Reynolds deposited one shot into the second deck in left field at Camden Yards. Before Friday's game at Turner Field, Reynolds put one ball in the upper deck in left field, just below where the Braves retired numbers are. It was easily one of the most impressive batting practice clouts that I've ever seen, and that includes the times I saw Josh Hamilton and David Ortiz hit balls midway up the scoreboard in center field at Camden Yards.

Everybody is entitled to a couple of bad games, especially somebody like center fielder Adam Jones who has made nice strides, played his butt off and been the Orioles' best all-around player in the season's first half. But Oriole fans should hope that's all Sunday's performance was for Jones: a bad day rather than the start of a slump. Jones went 0-for-5 and stranded eight baserunners. Jones mixes in some head-scratching at-bats from time-to-time, but I can't recall him looking worse at the plate at any point this season. He was swinging at everything and appeared intent on trying to hit the ball 500 feet rather than getting in a run or having a productive at-bat. The result was three strikeouts and two foul outs to first base. Jones is an emotional guy and he wears those emotions on his sleeve. His body language yesterday was particularly poor. I don't know if not making the All-Star team was the reason, but he was clearly disappointed when he learned that he wasn't on the squad. I have no problem with that. Jones wants to be around the great players. He wants to be in the spotlight. Those are good qualities for a young player as talented as Jones, as long as he channels that disappointment in a positive manner. I'm pretty confident that yesterday was just a blip and he will.

As a side note, I had no problem with catcher Matt Wieters' selection to the All-Star game and he may have been a better fit for manager Ron Washington's squad. Still, that doesn't take away from the fact that Jones has been the team's best player through the first half.

Give credit to reliever Koji Uehara for getting out of a jam in the eighth inning yesterday and keeping the Orioles' one-run lead intact. But if you watched his outing, which he completed by striking out pinch hitter Brooks Conrad to strand two runners, you were reminded about the challenges that manager Buck Showalter is going to face over the next couple of months in handling Uehara's workload. A couple of pitches into his outing, Uehara was drenched with sweat and appeared to be running out of gas. The heat took a toll on a lot of people yesterday, including starter Zach Britton. But it's no secret that Uehara, who got used to pitching in climate-controlled domes in Japan, has had some issues physically in the heat. I'm sure the fact that he had also pitched the night before didn't help matters. Showalter and his staff have done a great job managing Uehara's workload and keeping him healthy, and the right-hander has rewarded them with a very good first half. But it's only going to get more difficult in the coming weeks.

Nobody asked me, but here is the lineup I'd like to see Showalter run out for the final seven games before the All-Star break: 1. J.J. Hardy, SS; 2. Nick Markakis, RF; 3. Adam Jones, CF; 4. Mark Reynolds, 3B; 5. Vladimir Guerrero, DH; 6. Matt Wieters, C; 7. Nolan Reimold, LF; 8. Derrek Lee, 1B; 9. Blake Davis/Robert Andino, 2B. Maybe, I'd run out Luke Scott at either first or in left against a particularly tough righty, like the Texas Rangers' Alexi Ogando on Wednesday. And I'm well aware Wieters will probably sit one or two of the final seven games, but more often than not, that's who I'd run out there until the All-Star break.

Here's an interest stat tweeted last night by my colleague, Kevin Van Valkenburg: In 22 at-bats, the Oriole pitchers have as many extra-base hits (three) as Guerrero did the entire month of June in 75 at-bats.

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