Getting your bench players frequent at-bats is a problem every major league manager struggles with over the course of a season, especially in the American League. The Orioles have several proven major league hitters on their bench, but with the position players relatively healthy at the moment, Showalter has struggled to find them consistent playing time. Too many quality players is a good problem to have, but major league hitters need at-bats to keep their timing and be productive when called upon.
Although he hasn’t shown anything at the plate this season, Ryan Flaherty has shown flashes of above-average power over the previous two seasons. However, with the immergence of Jonathan Schoop, Flaherty has only seen action in five games this month. Part of his absence is probably a result of his lack of production so far this season, but significant time between ABs isn’t going to help his swing when he has to play. If the Orioles want to keep him on the active roster, they are going to have to find him at least some ABs.
Flaherty’s greatest asset is that he can play virtually every position. As the Orioles have seen thus far this season, J.J. Hardy hasn’t been the power-hitter they had seen in the past. Coming off an April where he was hampered by nagging injuries, the 31 year old slugger may benefit from more frequent off days. Giving Flaherty some starts at short could keep Hardy fresh in August and September.
The most difficult issue on the bench may be Delmon Young and Steve Pearce. Both have shown the ability to hit at the major league level in the past and both were productive early in the season. However, the issue in finding them playing time is their similarities. Both get the majority of playing time against lefties and both play similar positions. However, the advantage would have to go to Pearce because he can play first base as well as the corner outfield positions.
As Orioles fans saw in Chris Davis’ absence, Pearce can be a productive hitter when given the opportunity. Although it’s difficult to sit some of our best hitters, guys like Davis and Markakis could also benefit from more frequent off days. The Orioles could even start Pearce in left, slide David Lough to center and allow Adam Jones an off day. The Orioles aren’t losing too much at the plate with Pearce, and it would keep him sharp and others rested as the season goes on.
Delmon Young may be the odd man out. Young hit over .300 for the Orioles in April, however he has only 10 Abs since May 7th. With the way the roster is right now, the Orioles may gain more from a player like Jemile Weeks or Steve Lombardozzi in that final roster spot. However, if the Orioles choose to go in that direction, they would probably lose Young to another team.
The Orioles had five players play more than 150 games last year, more than any other team. It’s hard to say if that contributed to the less than stellar September, but one could argue other teams may have had fresher legs down the stretch. With quality talent behind them, the Orioles should consider doing more to keep their stars rested for a stretch run.