Orioles hoping Avery’s return provides spark to jump-start offense

June 28, 2012 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With veteran Nick Johnson going to the 15-day disabled list with a right wrist injury, the Orioles hope the return of outfielder Xavier Avery can pump life into their dormant offense.

Avery was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take Johnson’s place on the 25-man roster and found his name in the No. 2 slot in the lineup as the Orioles prepared to begin a four-game set with the Cleveland Indians on Thursday. The left fielder batted .217 in 15 games earlier this season, initially providing a spark upon being promoted in mid-May before he began struggling with a steady diet of off-speed pitches.

The club’s recent struggles offensively are no secret as the Orioles have only two hits in their last 47 at-bats with runners in scoring position and are 5-for-58 in that department since the Pittsburgh series two weeks ago. Baltimore has been held to three or fewer runs in nine straight games.

The young outfielder believes he’s better prepared to succeed in his second stint in the big leagues. Though accustomed to being a leadoff hitter, Avery hit second behind Brian Roberts when the veteran second baseman was finishing his rehab assignment at Triple-A Norfolk earlier this month.

“[The first call-up] was an experience for me and the experience is what teaches you how to get better [and] how to make adjustments,” Avery said prior to Thursday’s game. “Definitely, it was a benefit.”

After being optioned back to the Tides on May 29, Avery slumped initially but was 14 for his last 42 with eight walks and five stolen bases before receiving the news that he was returning to Baltimore. Manager Buck Showalter has not provided any assurances of regular playing time to Avery, but his strong defensive skills and good speed make it likely that he’ll receive regular playing time against right-handed pitching.

Given how much progress Avery has made since the start of the season when the organization nearly decided to have him repeat Double-A Bowie after a lackluster 2011 season, it’s clear the Orioles want him to play as much as possible and not collect dust on the bench.

“He’d be a nice speed weapon on the bench to have too, but I’m going to try to play him as much as he allows me to,” said Showalter, who acknowledged that Steve Pearce will continue to receive plenty of opportunities in the outfield.

Avery was hitting .268 with 16 stolen bases, 36 walks, and 39 runs scored in 59 games with Norfolk.

Johnson will undergo an MRI on his right wrist on Thursday morning and remains optimistic that he will be able to return quickly. Managing the built-up scar tissue from previous surgeries has been a regular challenge this season, with Johnson admitted he feels pain on swings-and-misses and any contact that isn’t square on the bat.

The 33-year-old is hitting .207 with four home runs and 11 runs batted in in 87 at-bats this season and said he has received cortisone shots to manage the pain in his wrist in past seasons.

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