This season, the Orioles are once again jockeying for position atop the American League East with what appears to be one of most potent offensive lineups in baseball, but all is not well in Charm City. The team that ranks fourth in the majors in runs scored is suffering from a critical power outage at designated hitter, the one spot specifically designed to chauffeur runs to the plate.
In the first month of the season, Buck Showalter has shuffled six different players through the designated hitter slot, with woeful results. Through 32 games, Baltimore DHs have hit .150, the worst batting average in the American League for the position. Out of this spot, the O's have nine RBIs and 14 runs scored, once again anchoring the club near the bottom of the AL in terms of production. By comparison, the Boston Red Sox lead the division with their designated hitters combining for 59 total bases and seven home runs, twice as much as Baltimore.
The lion's share of DH at-bats have gone to outfielder Nolan Reimold (13) and journeyman Steve Pearce (9), with Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Ryan Flaherty and Matt Wieters getting the occasional nod. Between the two regulars, only Reimold is hitting above the Mendoza line.
Meanwhile, Mark Reynolds -- the former sheriff of Camden Yards whom the team let go last winter -- is clobbering the ball in Cleveland. With a club option in hand for 2013, Reynolds seemed poised to split DH and first-base duties with Chris Davis. Instead, the Indians snatched him up with a one-year deal, and Reynolds has rewarded them by hitting 10 homers and driving in 27 runs -- though the Tribe have opted to start him at third base.
The Orioles' Achilles heel is glaringly obvious, even without consulting the Elias Sports Bureau. Scan over a typical Baltimore box score and you'll notice the DH is MIA from the heart of Showalter's batting order. During a recent West Coast road trip, DH Nolan Reimold batted ninth against the Oakland Athletics in two of the four games.
Yes, the Orioles are thriving off the long ball in a way that would surely please the late Earl Weaver. But five National League teams -- the Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Padres and Reds -- have pitching staffs with higher batting averages than Baltimore's DH platoon. The franchise has been struggling to find a consistent DH for quite some time. Last season, general manager Dan Duquette shipped prospects to Philadelphia in exchange for slugger Jim Thome at the deadline. The excitement quickly faded, though, as the future Hall of Famer failed to drive in any runs during the postseason.
As Birdland eagerly awaits the major-league debuts of lauded prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, it may be a good time to cut ties with some young pitching to plug the leak in the Orioles' lineup. For the past three years, Jake Arrieta has taken the mound at Camden Yards for the home opener but struggled to stay in the rotation for an entire season. The Orioles have once again optioned Arrieta to the minors while Brian Matusz, a former first-round draft pick, pitches out of the bullpen instead of the top of Baltimore's rotation.
There's still plenty of time for both young hurlers to become reliable pitchers, but the Orioles need a premium slugger in order to stay in the win column this season. Boston is off to a blistering start. The Yankees are winning despite a depleted roster, and their lineup won't be limping for long once Curtis Granderson and A-Rod return to action.
For Baltimore to make another playoff appearance, it will need to find a DH capable of living up to the position's namesake.
Mateo Samper is a sports blogger and freelance writer. He graduated from Salisbury University with a degree in journalism, and is a lifelong follower of the Baltimore Orioles.
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