Orioles' absent offense is no cause for alarm in spring training

Orioles manager Buck Showalter looks out at the Ed Smith Stadium field before a spring training exhibition game against the Yankees.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter looks out at the Ed Smith Stadium field before a spring training exhibition game against the Yankees. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

SARASOTA, FLA. — It is a popular theory that there is an inverse relationship between spring training results and regular-season readiness, but that doesn't keep anyone from noticing that the Orioles have three wins and an average of 2.85 runs through their first 13 exhibition games.

This is, after all, supposed to be a free-swinging, let-it-all-hang-out kind of lineup that preys on pitching mistakes and peppers the bleachers with long home runs. Yet the Orioles have scored more than three runs in Grapefruit League play just four times, and the hitters projected to play regularly during the regular season have combined to bat .182, with five homers and 13 RBIs.


Cause for alarm?

Nobody seems to think so.


Manager Buck Showalter said before Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays that he would like to see more guys crossing the plate as the Orioles near the midpoint of their exhibition schedule, but he'd probably say that if the Orioles were averaging six runs per game, too.

"Sure, and I'd like us to be pitching shutouts," he said. "I'd like to make every play and not make any base-running mistakes, but that's why I'd rather they happen here. This is a pretty professional group. They know where the finish line is. There are a lot of guys tinkering and trying new things, thinking about trying to get better. That smoke will start to clear around the 22nd, 25th [of March], and they'll start saying: 'OK, here's where I'm going with it.' "

That's also the sentiment in the clubhouse, where the veterans seem confident the numbers will go up when the lights go on. Even catcher Matt Wieters, who hasn't gotten a hit in his first 20 at-bats, thinks there's no reason to be concerned about a team that led the major leagues in homers last year and ranked among the top eight in runs, hits and batting average.

"It could be a good thing," Wieters said. "You don't want to be leaving a whole lot of bullets down in spring training. At the same time, you just want to be constantly working and improving on your swing. It's something to where, if you are going to struggle for a little bit, you'd rather it be in March than in April or May or any other month during the season."

There are a number of legitimate explanations for the Orioles' lack of ability to get into any kind of offensive rhythm, starting with the way Showalter sets his lineups through the early part of spring. Few potential regulars get the opportunity to play in back-to-back games, because very few of them go on road trips and the club rarely plays consecutive home games.

The Orioles also have a number of hitters who are coming back from injuries, including Wieters, who hadn't swung a bat in anger in 10 months. Third baseman Manny Machado missed almost half of last season, and first baseman Chris Davis struggled through a lingering oblique injury before getting suspended for the final month of the season.

Machado has looked very good at the plate, but Wieters has a lot of catching up to do, while Davis has just two hits in 16 at-bats.

It might be tempting to point to the free-agent departure of 2014 home run king Nelson Cruz. But Cruz did not hit a homer last spring and drove in only four runs, which supports the argument that veteran players don't need to get too caught up in exhibition stats.

"I think, early on, everybody's trying to get their timing down," Davis said. "I've had spring trainings where the team has gone out and hit like .400 in the first couple weeks, but you've got a lot of guys going up there and ambushing [the] first pitch. I think with our lineup, especially the starters, the guys who are going to be here during the season, I think you've seen them have a lot more patient at-bats.

"Adam [Jones] doesn't take a lot of pitches. He's an aggressive hitter and, for the most part, our whole lineup is aggressive, and you've seen guys take a lot more pitches this spring. And I'm glad that we are, because I think it's going to pay off down the road."

Jones doesn't even know why anybody pays any attention to spring training statistics, at least when it comes to players who aren't fighting for a spot on the final roster.

"Why? Is there a playoff or championship at the end of spring training?" he said.


Seems like a fair point.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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