Orioles manager Buck Showalter called the lack of playing time he's been finding for outfielder Hyun Soo Kim "probably one of, if not the, most difficult thing for me to manage for me, personally."
And the emergence of rookie slugger Trey Mancini has something to do with that. Put it all together, and the 25-year-old Mancini, who was handed another start against right-hander Max Scherzer on Tuesday night, is responsible for blowing up the best-laid plans the Orioles began the season with.
"Well, I've got some really good options," Showalter said. "I think Kimmy knows that I see him pulling for them. It's hard not to continue to give Trey some looks there. I think he understands that, but it doesn't mean he doesn't want to play. … The opportunities haven't presented themselves as much as we thought — and Trey has something to do with that. It's not like something he hasn't done. For Kim, it's kind of what somebody else has done."
The contrast has been as stark as the opportunities presented to them. Discounting the injuries to Seth Smith (hamstring) and Joey Rickard (finger) that kept them out in April, the Orioles have run into an unprecedented equal split of left-handed and right-handed starters.
Rickard and Mancini are the first-choice duo against left-handers, while Smith and Kim are expected to get the nod against right-handers.
Rickard and Smith have been on tears of late, with Smith batting .333 with an .829 OPS since returning from a hamstring injury April 24. Rickard is batting .324 with an .843 OPS since he was activated April 29. Their roles have been static, but the main fluctuation has come with Kim and Mancini.
With his first-inning home run Monday night, Mancini is second on the club in home runs (seven) and RBIs (20) behind star third baseman Manny Machado. Kim, by contrast, is batting just .227 with one extra-base hit this year.
As a result, Mancini is cutting into Kim's expected playing time, getting two starts against Boston Red Sox right-handed knuckleballer Steven Wright and now two starts against traditional right-handed pitching.
"Instead of just blindly staying with something you thought [about] the way it would work out before the season started to keep everybody involved, he's taken the opportunities given to him and run," Showalter said.
During spring training as these platoons were laid out, Showalter said he expected at one point or another that someone would break through it and play every day. Mancini said that message was never directly conveyed to the team, but that is always understood.
"Everyone wants to go out every night and do well for the team, and that's all I think about," Mancini said. "I don't think about the next day — if I play well today, I'll be in the lineup. It's just something that'll happen. You can't control it. Nobody in here makes the lineup, so it's something you don't think about too much when you're playing. You're trying to help your team win a game."
Mancini said he expects the playing time to even out between him and Kim, even if it's not something he should allow himself to think about.
While many aspects of the Orioles offense aren't exactly firing on the whole, the performances of the players involved means the outfield platoons are exempt from that. It's created a good feeling in the clubhouse that Showalter said even Kim is riding, even if the opportunities are limited.
"I think we're just getting more comfortable in our role and meshing together," Rickard said. "It's something that you're not going to be ready for right away — it's something new for everybody really, but we're feeling good."
Even so, it's a familiar feeling for Kim, who has made just two starts in May and seems to have lost the faith he built up batting .302 as a rookie last season. Entering Tuesday, he has 49 plate appearances, a step up from the 26 he had in the first month-plus of last year.
It wasn't until late May that he became a regular part of the lineup against right-handed pitching, though the alternative last year was basically only Nolan Reimold. With the team's shifted roster and all the left-handed starters it has faced, Kim has endured long stretches out of the lineup.
"He's a professional," Rickard said. "He kind of knows his role. Everybody knows what's going on, but you can't tell just by [looking at] him by any means. He's the same dude."