The Orioles are swept by the Astros. (Eduardo A. Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
The Chris Davis leadoff experiment might come to an end Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter hoped that placing Davis atop the batting order would help him get off to a strong start while also spurring the offense. Although Davis is not the prototypical leadoff man, he does typically walk a lot and previous moves by Showalter to deploy an untraditional leadoff hitter — Manny Machado and Adam Jones are recent examples — netted results.
Showalter wanted to look at Davis in the leadoff position for the first two series of the season — the home series against the Minnesota Twins and road series at the Houston Astros — and then re-evaluate the batting order after that.
Now is that time.
Davis is 1-for-20 at the plate from the leadoff spot in five starts. He has three walks (one intentional) and five strikeouts. He didn't start in Wednesday's matinee series finale against the Astros, and while he was experiencing soreness in his right throwing elbow/forearm area — an injury that caused Davis to miss significant time during spring training — sitting out Wednesday was as much about providing the slugger with a mental reset after a horrible start at the plate.
In the only game where the Orioles scored more than three runs this season — a 10-6 loss to the Astros on Tuesday — Davis was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts.
Davis had one at-bat in Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Astros, pinch hitting for Danny Valencia in the eighth inning, and was quickly retired by right-hander Brad Peacock, striking out on four pitches after swinging through three sliders. His right elbow was wrapped heavily in ice for the second straight postgame.
Now hitting .048 on the season, Davis hasn't been the offensive catalyst that Showalter hoped he'd be atop the order, and if anything, it looks like Davis has put more pressure on himself by batting leadoff rather than giving him a clearer approach at the plate.
Third baseman Tim Beckham batted leadoff Wednesday and reached base twice in five plate appearances, going 1-for-4 with two strikeouts and a walk. He would seem to be the most likely hitter to bat first. He provided a spark atop the order when he first arrived in Baltimore after the nonwaiver trade deadline deal with the Tampa Bay Rays last season, hitting seven homers with 20 RBIs in 41 games from the leadoff spot, but striking out 50 times with a .314 on-base percentage in 41 games. But the move could help ignite Beckham, who is just 4-for-23 this season.
Showalter said he's had discussions with several players about the leadoff spot, but there's no clear fit. He took an extended look at both Beckham and the left-handed-hitting Colby Rasmus atop the order in spring training. He also tested out Trey Mancini in the leadoff spot, and liked the idea of him there, but decided Mancini seemed more comfortable lower in the order.
Jones and Machado have had success in the leadoff spot in the past, but Showalter would like to leave them in the run-production spots they currently occupy. Recently, Showalter even considered Rule 5 switch-hitter Anthony Santander in the leadoff spot.
Even though it's still early in the season, it seems clear that Davis in the leadoff spot isn't working out — at least for now — and with the Orioles offense looking for some way to formulate sustainable production, the changes will likely first come to the top of the batting order as early as Thursday in the Bronx.