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Orioles manager Buck Showalter answered the questions before Wednesday’s workout, but made a point to say that it wasn’t set that slugger Chris Davis would be his Opening Day leadoff hitter.
“It’s a possibility, not for sure,” Showalter said.
Later, when the questions continued, Showalter said, “Guys it’s not a given, but we can continue to talk about it.”
Showalter gets it, though. He’s been a media guy. In a clubhouse that is pretty much void of controversy heading into Opening Day, the idea of your most prodigious home run hitter and highest paid player batting in the spot usually reserved for quick-moving gnats is unusual and intriguing.
Because there are very few “true leadoff types” in baseball anymore – slap-hitting speedsters who see lots of pitches and have on-base percentages in the .400s – and the Orioles haven’t had a conventional one since Brian Roberts in the late 2000s, Showalter has messed around with the top spot over the years. He’s often used it as a way for struggling players to get out of their own heads and focus on something different. He’s done that with Adam Jones and Manny Machado in the past with solid results.
“There’s that thought of conventional unconventionality, so to speak. There’s a lot of things to think about there. I think the batting order is sometimes made way too much out of, but, in this case, I think it’s something that has a little more bearing,” Showalter said. “There are some private things I’ve talked with Chris about. Some things that, if we did that, he’d have to be sure he was on top of.”
As for Davis, who has hit in every spot in the order besides leadoff in 1,127 big league starts, he’s good with the challenge. He enjoyed it in spring training and he is cool to do it when the games count.
“It’s going to be interesting. It’s something I’ve definitely embraced in spring training. I understand what’s at stake here, I understand the window is closing. I hate saying that, but it’s true. There’s a sense of urgency here,” Davis said. “Whatever I can do to help the team be successful, whether that’s batting leadoff, batting in the middle of the lineup or batting in the bottom of the order, I’m open to anything.”
When Showalter first batted Davis leadoff in spring, he was asked whether anything should be read into it. The manager quickly said, ‘No.” But then he immediately pointed out that Davis led the team in walks in 2017. We should have known Showalter’s mind was turning then.
There’s no question that a productive Davis makes the Orioles a better team. And no question that there’s no leadoff type on this roster. Davis has said all spring he is changing his approach to be more aggressive on balls in the strike zone, so maybe a switch to leadoff fully overhauls his approach.
“I think that was going to be the case, no matter where I was batting. That was something that I wanted to kind to change going into this season,” Davis said of being more aggressive. “Being in the leadoff spot makes it a little more intriguing.”
Bottom line is it is a goofy idea. And the Orioles should have tried to find a leadoff hitter this winter (I’ll stop banging that Jon Jay drum soon, I promise). But this is the roster they have.
So why not? Let Davis lead off. See what happens. It’s weird. But why not – for now, anyway.
Remember, when Davis first broke the club’s single season record with 53 homers in 2013, he did so by besting the 50-homer mark set in 1996 by Brady Anderson – a leadoff hitter.
Roster set, for now, Showalter says
One of the great things about covering this organization is you never know what’s next. The club isn’t announcing its Opening Day roster until it files with the commissioner’s office, which is around noon Thursday.
I don’t think it is gamesmanship. I think history, especially under executive vice president Dan Duquette, has shown that the Orioles could tweak things all the way up to the filing.
“Dan’s got some things going on, like always. So hopefully we’ll be able to get that done shortly,” Showalter said Wednesday afternoon. “Obviously, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what we’re doing right now unless something changes with something he’s got going on.”
One thing about the roster. Third baseman Tim Beckham (groin) should be fine to play Opening Day, Showalter said. So, really, the only mystery is what the order looks like against Minnesota’s Jake Odorizzi.
Good move to have Cobb on hand
Right-hander Alex Cobb, who signed last week with the Orioles, is starting the season in the minors to get stretched out. But the club received permission for him to get into uniform briefly and jog down the orange carpet Thursday for pre-game introductions. He’ll then fly back to Sarasota and continue preparing for the season.
Showalter said he thought it was important to include Cobb in the annual celebration. And I agree. I’m sure the fans will welcome him warmly.
Injured Orioles Zach Britton (Achilles) and Mark Trumbo (quad) will also be introduced to the crowd, but they won’t be coming down the orange carpet.
“I think it’s important that they have that presentation, so to speak. They’re gonna be on our team, they are gonna be major contributors, we think. And I think it’s important, especially with a new player like Alex that he gets to see (the festivities),” Showalter said. “I’m sure he appreciates Baltimore when you come in as a visiting team, but I don’t think you get the full effect of it like you do on Opening Day or, say, the playoffs. And I want him to be exposed to that and our fans to be exposed to him. He’ll come in from center field, I think. The other two guys will walk from the dugout, (they) have a little different movement.”
The Orioles always do Opening Day festivities right – they get bonus points from me for having retired athletic trainer Richie Bancells throw out the ceremonial first pitch Thursday – and allowing the fans to get a glimpse of Cobb before he pitches is smart.
Radio musings – Twins talk
If you are trying to get yourself prepared for Opening Day – and I’m talking about information-wise and not libation-wise – a good way to do so is to check out my radio show from Monday.
It features a lengthy interview with my buddy LaVelle Neal III, the Minnesota Twins beatwriter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He provides insight on Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and others. And I give my thoughts on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster.
If you didn’t catch it yet on Woyk1350.com or iTunes, you can check it out below. Heck, listen to it at a tailgate today.