As Adam Jones heads back to leadoff spot, Orioles offense hopes for déjà vu

When the Orioles moved center fielder Adam Jones to the leadoff spot in late May 2016 in an effort to spark both him and the offense as a whole, it set off a five-week stretch in which the team set major league offensive records and took the division lead into the All-Star break.

Jones returned there Friday for the first time in 2017 as the Orioles, in their return from the All-Star break, look to recapture that spark and get back into playoff contention before it's too late.


"We're going to go out there and see if we can do it again," Jones said. "It's not a fresh start, because the fresh start happens at the beginning of the season. Your records are what they are at the break. I just think this could lead to something different to spark the team in a way. Who knows? Let's just try something different."

Manager Buck Showalter said the move could be temporary, due in part to the Orioles' attempt to present their best lineup against Chicago Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery.


Showalter batted the veteran Jones second for most of the year and fourth more recently, with Chris Davis on the disabled list. But with the first baseman back from his strained right oblique Friday, the Orioles went back to Jones at leadoff. Showalter had said said he'd try to avoid such an alignment this year, but he consulted his center fielder on the move before the team split up Sunday for the break.

"It's something he's fine with, kind of likes," Showalter said. "He's had some success there. It also has to do with Chris being back and a left-handed pitcher tonight. We'll see where it takes us going forward. But just with Chris back and kind of presenting the kind of challenges with a batting order we want to present to the opposition, it just fit a little better."

Jones was at his best last year as the leadoff hitter. Before he went to the top of the lineup, he was off to a slow start, batting .223 with five home runs. Batting first, he hit .282/.320/.471 with a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 108. He wasn't the Orioles' best or most productive hitter overall, but once he went to leadoff, the offense started clicking.

Showalter made the move last year coming out of a three-game series at Houston in which the Orioles struck out a record 52 times. After a brief adjustment period, they went on to hit a record 56 home runs in June. That month, they scored 6.6 runs per game and hit .300 with a team OPS of .888.

Pretty much everyone found their stride that month, and Jones' move to leadoff coincided with a swap of Hyun Soo Kim for Joey Rickard as the Orioles' everyday left fielder. But Jones' steadying and unselfish influence also was cited as beneficial.

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Plenty has changed in the year since for the Orioles. Kim has been supplanted by rookie Trey Mancini in left field. Their top sluggers — Mark Trumbo, Manny Machado and Davis — aren't as productive as they were a season ago. And Mancini and Schoop are having breakout seasons.

Keeping that group in the heart of the lineup — with Machado second and Schoop third, then Davis back batting fourth and Trumbo and Mancini back-to-back at fifth and sixth — was also part of the equation in Jones' move to the top.

"That has something to do with it," Showalter said. "There's a lot of different reasons. That's some of it, too. If you start moving things around, you end up with some people hitting seventh or eighth that you'd like to have hitting a lot higher with a chance to get more at-bats."


Showalter also said they hoped Jones' productivity with runners in scoring position this year, which has led to a .368 average and .977 OPS in such situations, would boost the bottom of the order.

"Adam has done well with runners in scoring position. Having Joey or somebody else down there is going to help him," Showalter said. "[Rubén] Tejada has swung that bat real well the last couple games he started. It just kind of fit us a lot better. We'll see how it goes. He just kind of did well from that spot, and we'll see how it works out."