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In return home, Jonathan Schoop offers hope for improved Orioles lineup

Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop talked with Manny Machado just before his walk-off homer. "Manny told me to hit a double for me to drive you in or hit a home run, one of those two,” said Schoop. (Kevin Richardson)

In the five games since second baseman Jonathan Schoop returned from nearly two months on the disabled list with a knee injury, the Orioles have won twice.

Schoop homered in both Sunday's win over the Chicago White Sox and Friday's 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals, a win secured by his first career walk-off blast.

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He has barely been back for a week, but Schoop is providing the Orioles a glimpse of a lengthened lineup with another talented defender in the infield.

"We were kind of looking for the guy who was there before he left, before he got hurt," manager Buck Showalter said. "Sometimes, we forget how young guys like him and Manny [Machado] and [Nationals outfielder] Bryce [Harper] and all those guys are. ... Jon's got a chance to be a good player."

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In 14 games this season, Schoop has already homered five times, and with two hits Friday, he raised his line to .250/.298/.614 on the season. The disappointment from his April 17 knee injury and the pain of the rehabilitation wanes with every day, and moments like Friday help, he said.

"It makes it worth it because you work so hard to be back and it's paying off right now quick," Schoop said. "We have to keep going. This is not the end. This is something to give me more motivation and get me more confident in myself."

Schoop said he's close to being the player who in April looked to be making a leap after a trying rookie season, though the repetitions against major league pitching and fielding big league batted balls every day will help.

Giving him everyday at-bats would come at the expense of Ryan Flaherty, who despite the lack of power numbers was a key part of the Orioles' first half. Flaherty spelled both shortstop J.J. Hardy and Schoop during their injuries, playing capable defense and batting .250 with a .712 OPS in 52 games.

Showalter was careful not to say that the lineup is better with Schoop in the No. 9 hole.

"There are some nights when it's strong with Ryan Flaherty in it and has been in the past. Ryan's had a pretty good first half for us and he'll play again, maybe tomorrow," the manager said. "We'll see."

But having Schoop at the bottom of the lineup - ambushing unsuspecting pitchers and possibly setting up prolific leadoff hitter Machado with men on base - could be a boon for the Orioles offense.

Schoop hit .209/.244/.354 out of primarily the No. 9 spot last year, hitting 16 home runs and 18 doubles in his first full season. An improvement in average, and him sustaining something close to the slugging percentage he's carrying through limited playing time so far in 2015, could extend an Orioles lineup that has been unsteady three months into the season.

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