I’ve said it before this season, and it is worth reiterating.
One guy does not make this Orioles’ team.
But if I had to list the top few players the Orioles can’t be without in the stretch run, starter Chris Tillman and center fielder Adam Jones are absolutely on that list, perhaps behind only closer Zach Britton and third baseman Manny Machado.
Tillman is already on the disabled list with right shoulder bursitis, and will be out until at least early September.
And now Jones has left a second consecutive game due to left hamstring soreness/strain.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter removed Jones for pinch-hitter Pedro Alvarez in the ninth inning Thursday in Washington D.C. At the time, Showalter said Jones was dealing with hamstring cramping and Jones shrugged off the pain.
On Friday at Yankee Stadium, Jones seemed to re-aggravate the hamstring injury while running to first in the first inning. He was replaced in the field in the second by Nolan Reimold.
After the game, Showalter told MASN’s Gary Thorne that Jones’ hamstring was still hurting, but he didn’t think it’s any worse. He’s considering him day-to-day at this point. That’s encouraging, but these injuries tend to linger.
We all know Jones is one of the team’s primary leaders. He’s also their best outfield defender – it’s not close – and makeshift leadoff hitter. Since he was moved to the leadoff spot, Jones has hit .300 with 19 homers in 81 games.
The Orioles don’t have a true leadoff hitter – that’s one of the reasons Jones was shoved into the role.
They also don’t have a true center fielder on the 25-man roster. Reimold can do it in a pinch, but it’s certainly not something he’s done a lot recently. He dropped a fly ball in the second — directly after replacing Jones.
There aren’t many options in the minors – and no natural center fielder on the 40-man roster with Joey Rickard (thumb) on the disabled list and likely not returning until mid-September. In fact, the situation was dire enough that the club signed former Oriole Chris Dickerson last week and sent the 34-year-old to Double-A Bowie to get some reps. He hasn’t played in the majors since 2014 and hadn’t played professionally since having shoulder surgery in June 2015.
The best bet for a recall now is 30-year-old Julio Borbon, who is also at Bowie and played in five games – two hits in nine at-bats – for the Orioles earlier this year.
No offense to Dickerson, Borbon, Reimold or minor leaguers Mike Yastrzemski, L.J. Hoes and Xavier Avery, but none is Jones.
The Orioles have done a great job this year and in past seasons with the next-man-up philosophy. But replacing Jones, if they have to, is much different.
He is one of the toughest players I’ve ever covered. He’s going to try and ride this out, especially with only 34 games left to play.
He’ll do everything in his power to make sure it’s not a disabled list situation. So it most likely won’t be. And Jones may be a better option at partial strength than some of the potential replacements at full strength.
But that’s not a great scenario – especially considering the Orioles had time to prepare for Rickard’s absence, but did not acquire a fourth outfielder that could play center effectively.
The hope for the Orioles is that Jones can gut this one out. Because if he can’t, it likely will be the club’s most difficult test of the year. That it’s occurring in late August makes it doubly daunting.