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Orioles notebook: Joey Rickard adjusting to leadoff role

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11: Joey Rickard #23 of the Baltimore Orioles throws towards home during the sixth inning of the Red Sox home opener at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD **
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11: Joey Rickard #23 of the Baltimore Orioles throws towards home during the sixth inning of the Red Sox home opener at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD ** (Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

Orioles Rule 5 outfielder Joey Rickard seems to have a strong hold on the leadoff spot in the lineup, even after the man whose absence pushed him into that role in just his third game — center fielder Adam Jones — has returned to the lineup.

They say that a leadoff hitter only leads off once a game before the randomness of the batting order takes hold, but in that one opportunity, Rickard is performing well.

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He has five hits in 10 plate appearances as the first Oriole to bat, and has reached base six times in that role. He has six hits in his other 33 plate appearances in that span. Even if he's seen pitchers adjust to him later in the game, he sees value in his place atop the lineup.

"It's just one of those things that's happening where I've been getting on base at the beginning — not so much later on," Rickard said. "I'm going up there and trying to see pitches early on, seeing what's working and what's not for the pitcher and relaying that to some of the guys."

Just being in that role, setting up for the red-hot Manny Machado, is a confidence boost as the league begins to adjust to Rickard and some of the rougher edges for the 24-year-old rookie start to show.

"I just think this team is so deep," he said. "If you're here, you can do something to help the team win. It's definitely a confidence boost that they believe that I can get on base and prove that I can help this team win ballgames."

He entered Wednesday's game batting .300/.315/.440 in a dozen games.

In the field, he plans to continue to do that with aggressive play in the outfield, though it cost the Orioles Tuesday. He dove for a fly ball off the bat of Blue Jays second baseman Troy Tulowitzki, and saw the ball get past him for a two-run double.

"When in doubt, I just stay aggressive," Rickard said. "I kind of didn't know it was going to be the difference in the ballgame, honestly, that early. It's something I'm going to continue to do. Hopefully it doesn't work out like that all the time. Hopefully I catch a couple."

Rickard said after the play, Jones encouraged him to keep laying out for the team and playing aggressive. He's learning when it's appropriate and when it's not, a sign of the relative inexperience that's leading manager Buck Showalter to protect him a bit.

"I take every opportunity just to slow them down, just to be fair to him," Showalter said. "I think he's handling it very respectfully. … There's a lot of roads to cross on him. We even have some people in the organization, they're just running — slow down. Nice kid, nice player, like him. Wish I had another daughter, but I don't."

Alvarez coming around: Showalter said that in the course of a season, different players heat up at different times. The one Orioles batter who isn't hot now — designated hitter Pedro Alvarez — is someone he hopes gets there once one of the others cools off.

"I'm thinking Pete has a chance to be one of those guys," Showalter said. "But he's close. He's close."

In times like this, Showalter leans on a player's track record. Bench coach John Russell's familiarity with Alvarez from his time in Pittsburgh also informs the Orioles' hope that they'll get a return for their faith in him. Alvarez entered Tuesday batting .143 with seven walks through nine games

"[Russell] said when it's good, it's fun to watch," Showalter said. "He's going to through some times when he's not quite there, and I think he's getting close to having those times behind him. It would mean a lot."

Matusz likely back Saturday: Left-hander Brian Matusz (strained intercostal) will likely be activated from the disabled list Saturday in Kansas City, Showalter said.

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Matusz pitched four scoreless one-hit innings, striking out nine Tuesday with High-A Frederick.

"It felt good to be able to get extended, throw four innings and mix in all four pitches," Matusz said, adding he felt he was past the injury. "It was a positive outing. … Strikeouts are great, but I think ultimately the key was just pounding the zone, throwing strikes and mixing and keeping hitters off balance."

Around the horn: Jones spent part of Tuesday night in the hospital after leaving the game with a stomach virus, but "feels good now," Showalter said. "They gave him two different rounds of some anti-nausea, some fluids. … There was no extended spring training game in Sarasota on Wednesday, so outfielder/designated hitter Jimmy Paredes (wrist) did a lot of drill work and hit in the cage in advance of an anticipated rehabilitation assignment beginning Monday. … The Orioles have no starter listed for Saturday in Kansas City, on what would be right-hander Vance Worley's day to pitch. Showalter said the team has decided privately who will start that game, and Worley would be available in the bullpen Wednesday.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

twitter.com/JonMeoli

Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article.

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