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Orioles

Schmuck: Don't go overboard on expectations for Orioles rookie Joey Rickard just yet

Orioles rookie Joey Rickard in the dugout at Camden Yards on April 7, 2016.

These are heady times at Camden Yards, where the Orioles are off to a nice start and Rule 5 rookie Joey Rickard has come out of nowhere to energize the fan base and make one of the great first impressions in recent club history.

What great fun it has been to watch him make his debut on Opening Day with a couple of big hits, then follow that up with a two-hit game Wednesday, his first major league home run Thursday night and two more hits Friday.

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Obviously, the Orioles could not have asked for much more this spring from a young player who had to make the major league roster or be subject to waivers. But this is as good a time as any to remind everyone that we're talking about a kid who has come a long way in a short time and should not be saddled with unrealistic expectations.

Rickard is having the time of his life, but even he knows that opposing pitchers and advance scouts already are breaking him down on video, looking for a flaw in his swing or a soft spot in his wheelhouse.

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"Yeah, it's a game of adjustments," he said. "These are professional pitchers. They're going to find ways to get me out and I have to keep adjusting to what I see from them. So far, I'm a new guy and they don't have a whole lot to go off of, so I think that's a big part of it. But I know it's going to get harder from here."

It's easy to see that he has a good head on his shoulders. Manager Buck Showalter liked the way Rickard carried himself from the first day of spring training, and while he was the club's most consistent hitter during the exhibition season, it was his comfortable presence in the outfield that made him seem like a real possibility for the Opening Day lineup.

Of course, everybody knows the Orioles organization is the Rule 5 land of opportunity, so Rickard figured to be here in some capacity, but it seemed more likely that he would be an extra outfielder who could spell a starter at any of the three positions. He didn't really emerge as a likely regular until it became apparent that free-agent signee Hyun Soo Kim was not going to be ready for prime time.

Rickard looked like every bit of a major league regular when he took the field Monday and, after becoming a media darling in Florida, needed just two regular-season at-bats to endear himself to a sellout crowd that began chanting his name when he came to the plate for the third time in the opener. Three nights later, he got a curtain call after his first homer.

Showalter likes to talk about the enjoyment he gets seeing that kind of thing through a young player's eyes, but you've got to wonder what he's really thinking when he sees Rickard with a crowd of reporters around him before and after every game during his first week in the major leagues.

This is a sport that is built on a foundation of statistical failure and the law of baseball averages is going to catch up with Rickard just as it has at some point with every youngster who has cracked the major leagues earlier than expected.

If you need an example of what often happens when an unproven hitter sprints out of the gate, just look back at Jimmy Paredes last season. He was one of baseball's surprise players in the first half of 2015 and momentarily led the league in hitting in May. But after carrying a .321 average into the final day of June, he struggled to adapt to the way pitchers handled him in the second half and hit just .204 the rest of the way.

It's way too soon to even speculate about what Rickard might do over the next three months, but it isn't too early to caution fans to keep his great spring and exciting regular-season debut in proper perspective.

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Rickard seems to be doing that. He's a smart kid who knows where he was a few months ago and — though it might look like he just burst upon the scene — knows what it took to get here and what it will take to stick around.

"This game, it's a roller coaster, but it's also a marathon," Rickard said. "We're [early in] a long season and we've got to keep working to get to where we want to be."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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


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