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Orioles' Brandon Hyde bats Chris Davis seventh: 'I'm going to try to do everything I can to take pressure off of him'

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has one former All-Star in his Opening Day lineup — first baseman Chris Davis — and called his decision to bat Davis seventh a strategic one, from the matchup to the struggling slugger's confidence.

"I want Chris to get off to a good start, so I'm going to try to do everything I can to take pressure off of him," Hyde said. "I want to see him succeed as well as everybody else does. We've talked a lot with him about picking the right spots for him to play. [Masahiro] Tanaka is a good matchup for him. So, he's in there, and that was just splitting up a left-right situation. But Chris is going to be a big part of our lineup."

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In terms of splitting left-handed hitters up, the Orioles lineup features March trade acquisition Dwight Smith Jr. batting second and December waiver claim Rio Ruiz, another left-handed batter, hitting fifth.

Outfielder Joey Rickard splits up Ruiz and Davis, and though no one above him has the track record Davis does, Hyde said it didn't require an extra conversation with the longest-tenured Oriole. Coming off a year in which Davis batted .168 and compiled one of the worst seasons for an everyday player in baseball history, Hyde has had his work cut out for him in bringing Davis along on a young team that doesn't exactly fit with what he brings.

"I think we've had quite a few conversations, and I'm really happy with how our relationship — one, how it started, and how it's grown," Hyde said. "I think especially this last week of camp, I thought he really started taking some really good at-bats, as well as just all camp long, [he] really bought into the culture of what we're trying to create. I give him a lot of credit — coming off a really, really tough year, to how he approached this spring training has been fantastic."

Last Opening Day, Davis batted leadoff in the failed experiment to get him going by then-manager Buck Showalter. It lasted five games before Davis was moved back to the middle of the order.

Davis struck out in his three at-bats Thursday, twice swinging and once looking, before being pinch-hit for in the ninth inning by Renato Núñez against hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman.

“Everybody wants to get off to a good start, and I'm sure he's hoping he had a better game offensively,” Hyde said after the game. “I thought they pitched him well, and I thought he had a couple calls that didn't go his way. But it's part of the game, and you come back in a couple days and you do it again.”

Karns a natural opener

Hyde said the team started floating the idea of using the "opener" strategy of a reliever starting a game and then following him with a starter "maybe a week ago," with those discussions furthered when Alex Cobb suffered the groin injury that took him out of position to make his Opening Day start. The Orioles plan to use Nate Karns in the “opener” situation for Saturday’s game.

"I think we talked a lot in spring about Nate Karns and him breaking healthy, and that was our main [goal]," Hyde said. "Now, it still is to keep him healthy, and if we have an opener situation, and I can give him a full, proper warm-up in potential cold weather, all those type of things factor into making that opener start."

Hyde said he hasn't decided who will follow Karns on Saturday — with Thursday's game playing a role in that — but saving him to start the second game of the season made sense on a lot of levels.

“He's started before, he's coming off a couple injury-plagued years,” Hyde said. “So to be able to let him not have to rush in the bullpen to get him into the game, and have him start on a normal routine, that definitely was a factor."

Around the horn

Hyde said Cobb was progressing in his path back from a right groin strain and was still in line to pitch the home opener next Thursday at Camden Yards, also against the Yankees. ... Right-hander David Hess will start Monday's series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, Hyde said. Dylan Bundy was already scheduled to pitch Sunday, and Andrew Cashner can come back to pitch Tuesday on full rest.

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