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Orioles seeing improved production after making upgrades at corner outfield spots

Mark Trumbo #45 of the Baltimore Orioles congratulates teammate Joey Rickard #23 on scoring a run against the Minnesota Twins during the seventh inning of the game on May 11, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Orioles defeated the Twins 9-2.
Mark Trumbo #45 of the Baltimore Orioles congratulates teammate Joey Rickard #23 on scoring a run against the Minnesota Twins during the seventh inning of the game on May 11, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Orioles defeated the Twins 9-2.(Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)

The question is the same, but for vastly different reasons. Two months ago, during spring training, the Orioles were left to wonder who would man their corner outfield spots, and the candidates hadn't emerged.

Joey Rickard was still a Rule 5 pick, Mark Trumbo was a question mark in right field, and neither Nolan Reimold nor Hyun Soo Kim were hitting much at all.

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Yet six weeks into the season, one of the biggest differences between this year's front-running edition of the Orioles and the one that disappointed last season is the production at the corner outfield spots. The question is still which of their cadre of corner outfielders gets to play every day, but not because they aren't hitting. They all are.

"It's been an improvement," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "We've had an upgrade from over a year ago, and the guys are doing a good job. Nolan, we had, but Nolan's healthy and contributing, and he, Rickard, Trumbo, they're all contributing. They all have different skill sets, so it's a pretty good complement to one another. They help the team."

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The outfielders who are replacing the 15 players whom the Orioles cycled through left and right field last season are giving them more production.

Last year's collection of left fielders were among the worst in baseball, ranking 24th with -2.0 wins above replacement in the league, with a .210 batting average (29th) and a .640 OPS (27th). This year, the left-field corps ranks fifth in the league with a .323 average and an .842 OPS.

In right field, the Orioles had a -3.3 WAR last season to rank 26th in the majors, batting .275 (ninth) with a .767 OPS (12th). The Orioles' .328 average in right field is the best in the league this year, with their right field OPS of .905 third-best in baseball.

Both positions are barely above even in WAR because of some early defensive dings, but even that aspect has come around over the last few weeks and could swing back in their favor.

It's an early point of pride for the players involved, from starters Trumbo and Rickard to the reserves who they're somehow keeping out of the lineup, Reimold and Kim.

"I think everybody's just trying to do their part," Trumbo said. "It's hard to script how things are going to go, but I think with the amount of work and the quality guys that we have, I'm not terribly surprised that everyone's contributing the way that they are.

"I guess quite a few of us haven't been here to see whatever strengths or weaknesses that the common perception is, but I think we're all just trying to take a lot of pride in doing what we can to make the team better."

Trumbo, who has slugged his way into the everyday role with a team-leading 11 home runs and 27 RBIs entering Friday, has locked down right field against right-handed pitchers. Against left-handers, it's the hot-hitting Reimold who enters the outfield mix, with Trumbo going to designated hitter.

Reimold often takes over in left field for Rickard, who moves to right field. Rickard, who has pulled his average up to .280 with a .724 OPS over the last few games, relishes the chance to contribute at a position where the Orioles badly needed stability.

"It's something special, and it's something you work hard for," he said. "You kind of rely on the guys around you to make you feel comfortable and make you bring out the best of your abilities, in a way. It's exciting. You just try to find any way to help the team on any given night."

Rickard is the everyday left fielder because of the spring struggles of Kim, who entered spring penciled into that role but went hitless in his first 24 plate appearances and ended the spring not part of the lineup as the team sought to send him to Triple-A to continue his adjustment to American baseball after a standout career in South Korea.

Kim has played in nine games, making six starts and compiling a .478/.538/.522 line. He's played sporadically, but not given many reasons to leave him on the bench.

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"He's made a contribution whenever he's been in the lineup, and I'm sure he's working hard to observe and make adjustments to everything he had to make an adjustment to, and then be ready when he gets the opportunity," Duquette said. "He's very competitive. He makes good contact, and he's made some good plays in the field."

But because of the production they're already getting in the outfield, there's nowhere for Kim or Reimold to play. Reimold has been just as productive in a slightly larger sample, batting .348/.400/.609 with three home runs in 20 games while facing mostly left-handed starters.

Trumbo said it's rare that there would be four players all performing well, but that just as a snapshot in mid-March would have set off panic when it came to the corner outfield positions, one taken now may look different in a month.

"You take a snapshot and everyone's doing well now, it doesn't guarantee that two months from now it's going to be the same picture," Trumbo said. "That's kind of the benefit of having a number of guys. You never know how many guys you're going to need until you play the whole season out. I'd love it if everyone continued to contribute and be the best they can, and I'm sure [manager] Buck [Showalter] will find a way to get everyone involved. But having that depth is never a bad thing."

Said Showalter: "It's tough, and I try to keep them in there. I know I'm going to get a couple guys in there tomorrow, more than likely, that haven't played. I want to make sure of that. We're going to need them all."

Twitter.com/JonMeoli

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