Orioles Analysis: Top of the order

BALTIMORE - When the Baltimore Orioles reported to spring training in late February, the team had several viable options to serve as the team's leadoff hitter. Nate McLouth, Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, and Nolan Reimold all hit first at some point during the 2012 season.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter opted to hit Reimold and Roberts lower in the order, and utilize both McLouth and Markakis in the No. 1 slot. Through the first few weeks of the season, Markakis has primarily served as the leadoff hitter against left-handed pitchers, while McLouth has filled the role against righties.

Both have done the job well and set the table for Baltimore's middle-of-the-order power bats.

Markakis recorded a hit in 13 of the Orioles' first 15 games. In five games as the leadoff hitter, the Orioles right fielder started 7 for 22, a .318 average, with two runs scored and a walk.

Last year, Markakis was also successful in the role. In 45 games, he hit .335 with five homers, 28 RBIs, and 34 runs.

But that stretch ended when Markakis broke his left thumb against the New York Yankees on Sept. 8, 2012. That's when McLouth filled the void. And he did so more than adequately.

In 24 games, McLouth hit .263, as well as drawing 11 walks, good for an on-base percentage of .342. McLouth has done the same this season.

The Baltimore left fielder has an on-base percentage of .375 with eight runs scored in 10 games leading off.

"That's ideally how you want it to work," McLouth said. "Top of the order guys get on for the guys in the middle."

Those Orioles' bats in the middle have rewarded the leadoff batters for getting on, too. In the team's first 15 games, Adam Jones and Chris Davis combined to bat .365 with 10 doubles, 12 home runs, and 33 RBIs.

Jones and Davis had a slugging percentage of .667 combined, while the rest of the team combined to slug .370. The duo drove in as many runs in the first 15 games as Miami Marlins did as team.

"Those two have been good all season," McLouth said. "We have more than one guy capable of doing damage. ... It's important for me to get on base for those guys."

Davis said it certainly helps getting up to the plate with guys already on base.

"When you get up to the plate and there's guys in scoring position you know you have an opportunity to really impact the game," Davis said. "It makes your job a little bit more worthwhile."

On Thursday and Friday, McLouth was not penciled into the lineup against two left-handers in Tampa Bay's David Price and Los Angeles' Hyun-Jin Ryu.

While McLouth and Markakis have done a good job of getting on-base in the early parts of the season, McLouth has brought more speed to the basepaths. McLouth has stolen three bases after swiping 12 last season.

He has yet to be thrown out this year, and is 15 for 16 in his 68 games with Baltimore.

Meanwhile, Markakis has provided more power and run production to the lineup this season. He has hit a pair of home runs and driven in five runs.

Showalter said McLouth may hit leadoff against lefties later in the season. But for now, the platoon is working out well for the Orioles.

McLouth said it's beneficial to have two guys who can fill the leadoff role well.

"It's nice to have interchangeable parts in your lineup," McLouth said. "It gives Buck more options."

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