New infielders Jonathan Villar and Renato Núñez add continuity to Orioles lineup

Most Baltimore sports fans probably had never heard of Renato Núñez and Jonathan Villar before they joined the Orioles in late July, but they are making quite an impression as the team seeks to build a new offensive chemistry.

Villar just joined the team in Texas after coming over in the deal that sent second baseman Jonathan Schoop to the Milwaukee Brewers. Núñez was claimed off waivers early in the season, but made his Orioles debut July 20.


They aren’t going to make anyone forget Schoop and Manny Machado, who they replaced in the infield, but they have stepped in to provide some continuity for an offense that has struggled all year to score runs.

Adam Jones paid for the DC Mamie Johnson Little League team to travel to Connecticut for a tournament.

The four-game series in Texas provided a good example. The Orioles did not play particularly well and lost the first three games, but they averaged just over five runs per game, which is well above what they averaged before the All-Star break.

Núñez, 24, has been in the lineup since the break and is batting .326 as an Oriole. He has appeared in 12 games, has hit safely in nine of them and scored a run in seven.

Villar might have just arrived, but he already has made quite an early impression. He had eight hits in 18 at-bats against the Rangers and delivered one of the four homers the Orioles hit in Sunday’s 9-6 victory.

He’s got both power and speed — as evidenced by his 19 homers and major league-leading 62 stolen bases in 2016 — but said after the game that, for him, it’s all about getting on base to spark the offense.

“That’s my game,’’ Villar said. “If I hit a homer, that’s fine. I’m happy. But my game is get a base hit and get a steal. I’m working for that situation. Hit with two strikes. When I was in Milwaukee, my coach Carlos Subero told me all the time, ‘When you put the ball in play, you’ve got a lot of chance to get a base hit because you’re a fast runner and you can steal a base.’ ”

Villar got his first stolen base as an Oriole on Sunday, but he had to wait for the play to be reviewed after he initially was called out.

Said Núñez: “I’ve been feeling really good at the plate. I’ve been working a lot in the cage with the hitting coach, Howie [Clark]. I’m just seeing the ball well and feeling better at the plate.”

Villar is no rookie. He’s 27 and was an important part of the Schoop deal because the Orioles needed an experienced middle infielder to stabilize the defense. Núñez is a rookie, but he’s been up and down with the Oakland Athletics and Rangers over the past couple of years.

As well as he has hit since he came to the Orioles, he has struggled defensively this year, making seven errors in the 21 games he has played for the Rangers and O’s.

He said after Sunday’s game that Villar has been a calming influence who has helped him relax.

“We are having fun,” Núñez said. “Villar talked to me. After I missed a couple of balls, I got kind of mad, but he told me, ‘Just have fun. Enjoy this game.’ That’s what we’re going to do, enjoy the game and that’s why we played good baseball today.”

It’s hard to argue with the early returns. During the Texas series, Villar and Núñez combined for 15 hits in 33 at-bats, a combined .455 batting average.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun