Steve Pearce first came onto the scenes for the Baltimore Orioles during the 2012 season – which ultimately ended in the franchise’s first playoff birth since 1997. He was a utility player that the O’s ended up releasing midway through the season, only to end up playing for both Houston and New York as well. In 2013 as well as this year, he made the team out of spring training.
However here in 2014, the rest has been history as one could say. Coming into play this afternoon, Pearce is hitting .333 on the season, with a .377 OBP. Granted that’s through only 57 at-bats, however the guy’s consistently gotten on base and made major contributions in games when he’s managed to crack the lineup. As we also know, Pearce was DFA’d earlier in the season only to be brought back through a quirk or loophole in the rules of which Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette took advantage.
And that above-mentioned point is something that Orioles fans should also recognize. Pearce was offered a deal with Toronto while he was on waivers. (Yes, the same Toronto team that’s currently leading the AL East.) He opted to take the Orioles at their word that they were going to bring him back as opposed to latching onto another team. He likes the Orioles, he likes Baltimore, he likes Camden Yards, etc. When guys are turning down sure things to stay with you, I guess it’s worth saying that you probably have something special going.
The issue with Pearce is that he has a tough time getting in the lineup. Again, he only has 57 at-bats, but yet I hear many Orioles fans asking why they consistently see the likes of David Lough and even Nelson Cruz in left field with Pearce on the bench. And frankly, it might be a valid question to ask of Buck Showalter.
Pearce of course is playing first base today in Chris Davis‘ absence, as he did while Davis is on the DL. However Davis will return to the team in very short order, which means Pearce will probably return to the bench. Pearce is your classic utility player in that he’s played almost every position. If you combine all three outfield positions, he’s played more games in the outfield than anywhere else in his career (111). He’s played more games at first base (105) than any other specific position, and he’s played 43 games in left field specifically. Incidentally, he’s also fielding a 1.000 clip in left field.
It stands to reason that once Davis returns Cruz will slide into left field so long as the Orioles are still in Milwaukee. Obviously they’re playing by NL rules in National League parks, so there’s no DH. However would it not behoove the Birds to at least consider using Pearce as a semi-everyday left fielder in place of Lough or even Cruz?
Knowing Buck Showalter, there’s a plan in place. Orioles fans should have no doubt about that. He isn’t just making out a random lineup card everyday with whomever he sees fit. But again, it’s worth mentioning that all Pearce does is get on base and come through with clutch hits. And keep in mind, this is in no way a knock on David Lough. I do believe that he serves a purpose in this lineup. As fast as he is, I do believe that he’d be better utilized as a pinch-runner late in games. As close as some of the Orioles’ games are, that type of speed might make the difference in a few games.
Having said all of this, I will offer one counter-argument. Ken Weinman of WJZ radio (105.7-the fan) in Baltimore was talking yesterday about former Oriole and current Washington National Nate McLouth. McLouth was about as clutch as one can be for the O’s late in the 2012 season. Last year he was fairly solid, but he didn’t quite have the same umph that he showed in 2012. (I would submit however that most Oriole fans will look back on McLouth’s time in Baltimore and smile.) With the number of injuries that Washington has, McLouth has found himself playing everyday for the most part of late.
Weinman said that he feels McLouth has been over-exposed a bit by being in the lineup everyday. That’s a very valid point, and perhaps the Orioles are worried about that happening with someone like Steve Pearce as well. Obviously his average and OBP will go down if he plays six or seven days a week. However I would submit that if you believe in riding the hot hand (or the steady hand), you probably want Pearce in the lineup more often than not.