There were two facts of particular note when the Orioles took the field against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night at Camden Yards.
Adam Jones was back in right field after three days in the witness protection program in St. Petersburg, Fla., and rookie outfield prospect DJ Stewart was in the house after getting a surprise call-up that seemed a little bit fishy.
It certainly looks like the Orioles realized that the rationale for sitting Jones three straight games — ostensibly to look at some younger players — wasn’t getting much traction when the one really new guy getting looked at was 28-year-old minor league journeyman John Andreoli.
The Orioles are trying to sell their long-term rebuild to the fans, so maybe the front office just figured everybody would get caught up in the Jonathan Villar high-wire act and not notice that executive vice president Dan Duquette was making good on his angry promise to sit Jones after he refused to accept that July trade to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Stewart call-up wouldn’t seem curious if the club had called him up right away instead of sending him home for a week before thinking better of it. Stewart got off to a strong start at Triple-A Norfolk, but struggled late and acknowledged Friday that he headed home believing he had played himself out of a September audition.
Maybe he did, but these are complicated times. The Orioles legitimately need to evaluate everyone in the organization to create the best opportunity for a quick turnaround. Stewart has a chance to be part of that, so his arrival does give the team some cover for the way it is handling what appear to be the final weeks of Jones’ career in an Orioles uniform.
Jones returned to the starting lineup for the series opener against the A’s, perhaps to show everyone that his absence wasn’t punitive or to show that the Orioles are aware of their responsibility to put a competitive team on the field in these late-season games against division and wild-card contenders.
There’s a better reason than any of those, of course. If Jones is coming to the end of his career in Baltimore, the fans who are still paying good money to come to the ballpark during this dismal season deserve to see him play his last games as an Oriole.
If you ask manager Buck Showalter, he’ll tell you that the answer is all of the above, which is exactly what he did before Tuesday night’s game when he was asked if the presence of the surprising A’s played into the decision to put Jones back in the lineup.
“It’s one of the responsibilities I feel when we’re doing a lineup, yeah,’’ Showalter said. “That’s one of [the reasons]. That’s one of the factors of many. … My first and foremost responsibility is to our organization and doing what’s best for it now and in the future, which should be the same thing.
“It’s really hard to bridge those two things every day … some of the hardest lineups I’ve ever made out.”
Showalter was asked if he could have imagined a few months ago that the best thing for the organization might be keeping a healthy and productive Jones on the bench for a significant number of games in September.
“I was certainly hoping that would not become the case,’’ Showalter said, “and it’s not always the case. Adam’s still going to play. He’s going to play some games. I’m certainly going to treat him with the respect he is due and with a real strong memory about what he’s been for us through the years. We’ve talked many times about it.”
Maybe it’s still possible that the Orioles will look at Stewart and some other outfield prospects and decide that their best course is to make peace with Jones and bring him back for a couple more years. The way the free agent market has played out the past few winters, it’s difficult to rule anything out.
And there’s certainly no guarantee that Showalter or Duquette will still be around when Jones hits the market in November.
For the moment, Showalter is stuck in the middle of a situation that will require a fair measure of managerial diplomacy to minimize the discomfort and keep all options open.
“It’s not always simple,’’ Showalter said. “There’s not always a right or wrong [that’s] clear cut. You keep asking yourself what’s best for the organization and what’s ethically right.”