ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — The Orioles’ late-season focus on auditioning young players is now taking away playing time from outfielder Adam Jones.
For the second straight night and the third time in six games, Jones was absent from the team’s starting lineup. Manager Buck Showalter said Jones is healthy and able to play, saying Jones is sitting in an effort to give younger outfielders more September innings.
“Want to see some other guys. I talked to Adam. He knows what’s going on,” Showalter said. “It’s been while since he missed some games being healthy, so a little different territory for him. But I think he understands what’s going on.”
Joey Rickard started in right field Saturday as the Orioles continued to start Cedric Mullins in center and get an extended look at John Andreoli in left.
“It’s a great opportunity for some guys to get some big league experience,” said Jones, 33. “It’s good to see some guys get big league experience, get into some games, get into some action. I’ve shown what I can do, so it’s good to, if you’re going to move forward with the new future. So, right now is no time like the present to get them some at-bats.
“Of course [it’s difficult], but at the same time I’m a pro about it and I want to see these guys succeed and I’m pushing for everybody when they get their chance. Right now is a great opportunity for three or four guys to get some at-bats going down the stretch.”
The benching of Jones — it’s unclear how much playing time he will get over the final three weeks of the season — marks the latest chapter in the club phasing out its identity of recent seasons and moving on with a rebuild. The team moved several pending free agents — Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Brad Brach — as well as controllable players Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop and Darren O’Day.
Jones, the team’s longest-tenured player, was the one cornerstone player and pending free agent who remained, but only because he had the right to block the Orioles’ efforts to move him. As a veteran with 10 years of service time, including at least the past five with the same team, Jones vetoed a potential deal to the Philadelphia Phillies, opting to remain in Baltimore to play out a losing season instead of moving to a contender.
But now, the Orioles are taking away Jones’ playing time. He has spent 11 seasons with the Orioles and his 1,596 games with the team entering Saturday were the fourth most among active players with the same club.
“Adam is a good teammate, a good pro,” Showalter said. “He’s really well respected. The challenge — not challenge, but I want to treat him with the respect that he deserves. This is a guy who is going to be in the Orioles Hall of Fame one day. He understands what we are trying to do as an organization. He’s a smart guy. It’s not like he’s not going to play the rest of the year.”
Showalter said he didn’t know whether Jones would play in Sunday’s series finale at the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Never say never,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Showalter said he hopes younger players realize they are getting rare opportunities to show what they can do.
“They know that Adam plays for us almost every day,” Showalter said. “I hope they’re perceptive enough to know, ‘I’m getting a rare opportunity here. I better do what I can do.’ It’s not always going to be that way. It’s important. There’s some things we hope to accomplish between now and the end of the year, some of that with Adam in the lineup. That’s what I hope they perceive.”
Giving young players innings in September is an important part of a team’s rebuild. The Orioles see the 23-year-old Mullins as a part of their long-term future, and Jones gracefully shifted to right field to allow the team to groom him as the center fielder. However, Rickard, 27, entered Saturday with 0.8 career wins above replacement over parts of three major league seasons, and the 28-year-old Andreoli played parts of eight minor league seasons before reaching the majors this year.
When asked if he has been given a clear explanation of the direction the club is going, Jones said, “I don’t think anybody knows what that message is in terms of what direction it’s going in. All I know is that I’m here, I’m going to finish out the rest of the year and I can only control certain aspects of what I can control, and I’ll do it with a smile.”