One question facing Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles coming into camp this year has been who will be leading off. It seems like in the past the Birds have used various lead off men, including Brian Roberts, who faced his old team for the first time last night as a member of the New York Yankees (a game won by the Orioles, 3-2). Down the stretch in 2012 we got to see Nick Markakis in that role, and he turned out to be a good lead off man. That fueled an idea that Markakis could be the guy in 2014 as well, but if the first few spring games are any indication David Lough has inserted his name onto the ballot.
The Orioles of course traded for Lough back in December, and he’s now in the fray to platoon in left field along with Nolan Reimold,
Francisco Peguero, and even Nelson Cruz. Speaking for myself, Lough was one of the big standouts in Saturday’s 9-7 comeback win over Toronto. While he obviously was long gone from the game by the time it was settled, he had a certain hustle to his approach that reminded me of Nate McLouth in 2012. Perhaps the one thing that impressed me the most was his first at-bat of the game, an at-bat during which he eventually struck out. However Lough worked the count full and by the time Lough headed back to the dugout the starting pitcher had thrown nine pitches.
Even in a regular season game, I would call that a bit of a success. One thing that AL East teams seem to do is make the opposing pitcher work. The Orioles haven’t always been the best at that, as sometimes hitters will take three-pitch at-bats and so forth. In last night’s win over New York, Lough’s two at-bats yielded a single and a triple; he’s 4-for-7 overall this spring. Lough also showed some speed on the base paths, with a stolen base in Saturday’s win over Toronto.
As I said, Lough seems to be coming across as Nate McLouth, who in my view was the epitome of hustle when he was with the Orioles. Lough is thus making Showalter and Dan Duquette’s jobs very difficult early on in the Grapefruit League schedule, as they will ultimately need to find places for lots of different people. If Lough is kept as the everyday left fielder and lead off hitter, where does that leave Reimold? One might argue that Reimold as the fourth outfielder might help to keep him healthier for longer, given that he won’t be playing everyday, and would in essence be a pinch hitter. However if anyone’s emerged as a prime lead off candidate very early on, it’s Lough. That obviously has some far-reaching ripples, including left field, DH, and perhaps even who bats in which slot in the order.
The Orioles will travel back down to Ft. Myers tonight to take on Minnesota at 7 PM. Chris Tillman will get the start, and he’s expected to go a big further in the game than the two innings he pitched last Friday against Tampa. Two night games in a row are odd in spring training given that most of the games are during the day. But you play them whenever they’re scheduled.