HOUSTON — Early in the season, there was nothing day to day about how the Orioles set up their outfield. Even as they dealt with a brief absence from center fielder Adam Jones, more often than not it was Mark Trumbo and Joey Rickard manning the corner spots.
They had little reason to look elsewhere, with those two hitting well and the club winning more often than it lost.
A second straight start for left fielder Hyun Soo Kim on Thursday, combined with the cooling of Rickard's hot start, means there now might be more to ponder when assigning the corner outfield spots as the Orioles move forward.
"We're just going to take it day to day and keep everybody involved," manager Buck Showalter said, with the whole equation seemingly hinging on Kim continuing his production if he sees more time.
"We'll see. It's up to him. He's doing well when we put him in there, for the most part. Last night, he squared some balls up. That's the first ball in a while he's really driven, down in the corner there."
Kim had three hits, including two doubles, Wednesday in his first start in a week. He raised his average to .438 in the process. Kim started in left field in place of Rickard, who got a rare day out of the starting lineup but appeared as a pinch runner late in the game. On Thursday, Kim began the game hitless in his first two at-bats, but drove one ball the opposite way to the left-field wall for a loud out.
Showalter said the second start in a row was planned, and he could have started him in all three games because of favorable pitching matchups. But it all speaks to a developing circumstance in which there seems to be growing confidence in Kim.
When the Orioles tried to get him to go to the minors at the end of spring training, executive vice president Dan Duquette noted the longer spring trainings in Kim's native South Korea. He's had about as much time, between spring training and now, to replicate that. Showalter sees the improvement from a physical standpoint.
"He's running better, too," Showalter said. "I don't know if you've noticed. I don't know if it's a culture thing … but when he got to camp, he's about 12 pounds, at least, less than he was when he got to camp.
"I think maybe their spring, they're there so long — three months — I think they kind of come in in whatever shape and use that to really get in shape. Not that he was out of shape, but he's moving a lot better now than when he first got to spring. That may have something to do with it."
Any change in the outfield equation would include more time for Kim, as he has made just 10 starts in 45 games. Rickard's day off Wednesday was something Showalter said seemed welcome for the 25-year-old rookie.
"You could tell it was a little kind of a break, a little relaxing for him in a way," Showalter said. "I was watching him in the dugout before the game. He was pretty upbeat about it — not that he didn't want to play. I don't know. We'll see. He's been playing a lot."
Rickard raised his batting average to .350 with back-to-back three-hit games on April 20 and 21, but entered Thursday having hit .208 with as many hits as strikeouts (22) since. He has added speed to his game, stealing a pair of bases this week. But considering how Showalter talked about a potential spike in Kim's playing time, it could come at Rickard's expense.
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Both started in Thursday's series finale against the Astros with Trumbo serving as the designated hitter. The fourth outfielder in this equation, Nolan Reimold, has made 18 starts and appeared in 28 of the Orioles' first 44 games. He's used heavily against left-handed pitching and plays sporadically otherwise.
Moving Trumbo to designated hitter provides some flexibility to get Kim and Reimold more time without removing Rickard entirely. Trumbo has now made 20 starts at designated hitter, with 25 starts in the outfield.
Center fielder Adam Jones sees the playing time equation changing a bit, but views the possible transition as a natural progression in the season.
"You've got to change up the rotation sometimes," Jones said. "You've got to get Mark off his legs some days, give him some DH days. You've got to put Reimold out there also. There's going to be fluctuations. You've got to roll with the punches, take the necessary adjustments and the cool thing is, I know all these guys.
"I know Reimold obviously the best because I've played the most games with him. Joey, I'm getting very familiar with him. Kim, I haven't played so much with him but I'm getting very familiar. It's just the necessary adjustments that need to be made. We know what we can do."