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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-3 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 25 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles hitting three home runs in a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Buck Showalter rarely makes much out of a single win or loss over a 162-game season, but he expressed great pride over his club’s effort on a night when the weather was miserable and no more than a few thousand people were at the ballpark.

2. Adam Jones led that effort with a 3-for-3 performance, which included the game-winning two-run shot in the seventh. He entered the game 4-for-32 in his career against Chris Archer, but he exacted some revenge. His dependability in all conditions is rare and not lost on Showalter or his teammates.

3. Archer hadn’t allowed a home run to the first 130 batters he’d faced in 2017 before the Orioles clubbed three long balls in a five-hitter span in the sixth and seventh innings. That’s the definition of an outing crumbling quickly.

4. Ubaldo Jimenez throwing more balls than strikes and issuing five walks in 3 1/3 innings told the story of his abysmal start. Shane Peterson’s two-run double in the fourth appeared to be foul, but that can’t excuse Jimenez’s inability to build on his strong start in Cincinnati last week.

5. Jimenez was saved from further damage by Vidal Nuno, who struck out both Corey Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier looking to leave the bases loaded in the fourth. The lefty long man pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings and did a superb job keeping the Orioles in the game.

6. A combined 12 walks between the teams made for a difficult product to watch. During one stretch in the third and fourth innings, eight of nine Rays hitters and five out of six Orioles didn’t even put the ball in play as strikeouts and walks dominated the action.

7. It’s no secret that starts have been sporadic for Hyun Soo Kim due to the high number of opposing lefty starters, but he took advantage of his first start since last Thursday, drawing a walk in the fourth and hitting the first homer of the night off Archer.

8. Jonathan Schoop has been on the back end of all three pairs of back-to-back homers hit by the Orioles this season. There’s nothing meaningful to take away from that, but it’s an interesting coincidence nonetheless. He continues to hit after a rough opening week.

9. Seeing Showalter use his bullpen without Zach Britton is hardly ideal for the Orioles, but it’s been fun as he once again unleashed Mychal Givens for multiple innings like he did against Boston over the weekend. He’s becoming an even more dangerous — and much-needed — weapon.

10. It was another rough night at the plate for Mark Trumbo, who left four men on base in his first two at-bats. He’s started fast most of his career, but that certainly hasn’t been the case in 2017.

11. The crowd at Camden Yards was very small but spirited on Monday. I was particularly amused by the group of fans who heckled Rays hitters by slowly chanting their names à la the classic Darryl Strawberry taunt. If you’re going to brave the elements, why not have some fun?

12. News of Boston pitcher Matt Barnes’ four-game suspension broke shortly before the game. Based on precedent, it’s what I expected. I fear it’s going to take a serious injury occurring for Major League Baseball to ever crack down on the pathetic act of intentionally throwing a baseball at a hitter.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 win over Boston

Posted on 23 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their fourth straight game in a 2-0 final over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There was nothing fancy about his outing with a fastball maxing out around 90 miles per hour, but Jayson Aquino fetched the desired results by allowing two earned runs over six innings for his first major league win. He limited hard contact and made good pitches when he needed to.

2. Steven Wright appeared to be on his way to avenging his nightmare outing against the Orioles last week before completely losing the feel of his knuckler in the fourth. One of the good stories in the American League from a year ago is currently a mess for the Red Sox.

3. Wright will have nightmares about Trey Mancini, who now has two home runs in three at-bats against the right-hander. Mancini continues to dazzle and tied the major league record for home runs in his first 17 career games with eight.

4. The only real blemish on Aquino’s night was a hanging slider thrown to Jackie Bradley Jr. for a long two-run homer in the third. That was the first ball hit onto Eutaw Street this season and the 89th in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

5. Aquino’s best moment of the night was his curveball to strike out Hanley Ramirez and strand two runners in the top of the fifth. The rookie needed that shutdown frame after his offense gave him four runs in the previous half-inning.

6. Orioles pitchers have now allowed only three runs over their last 42 innings and have registered quality starts in eight of the last nine games. That’s not too shabby with Chris Tillman and Zach Britton currently on the disabled list.

7. Darren O’Day needed only one pitch to register the save, but Mychal Givens did the heavy lifting in the bullpen. He retired the top six hitters in the Boston lineup over two perfect innings. Lefties are also just 1-for-9 against him so far in 2017.

8. I understood Boston’s displeasure over Manny Machado’s hard slide into Dustin Pedroia on Friday — the All-Star third baseman has to wear his reputation stemming from the bat-throwing incident in 2014 — but it was nice to see no retaliation. Hopefully that continues moving forward.

9. The Orioles are now eight games over .500 less than three weeks into the season. It’s only April, but stacking more wins now means a lighter burden down the stretch. A strong first half last year carried them to the playoffs despite mediocre play after the All-Star break.

10. Adam Jones stole his second base of the season to match his total from 2016. It only took him 16 games to do it this time around.

11. Regardless of the number of opposing lefty starters and Buck Showalter pointing to his lack of familiarity with knuckleballers — no hitters see them regularly — Hyun Soo Kim should be getting more at-bats and certainly shouldn’t be losing so many to Craig Gentry, who’s hitting .167.

12. The results weren’t pretty, but Chris Tillman told Showalter it was the “best he’s felt” in a rehab outing for Double-A Bowie against Harrisburg on Saturday. The recent performance of the starting rotation should ease some temptation to rush him back before he’s ready.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 2-0 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 20 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles pitching their first shutout of the 2017 season in a 2-0 win over Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The good Ubaldo Jimenez showed up at a perfect time after Kevin Gausman taxed the bullpen by completing only 2 2/3 innings on Tuesday. The maligned veteran turned in the longest outing of the year by an Orioles starter, allowing only two hits over 7 2/3 scoreless innings.

2. You typically know it’s going to be a good night for Jimenez when he’s inducing more ground balls early. Six of the first eight outs he recorded came on the ground, which kept the defense engaged early.

3. Jimenez did a superb job locating his two-seam fastball down in the zone and later found the feel for his secondary pitches. He only recorded three strikeouts and nine swinging strikes, but the Reds produced little hard contact until late in his outing.

4. The starting pitcher added to the fun by collecting his first hit since 2015. Having spent the first six years of his major league career in the National League, Jimenez is now 34-for-289, but he has never had an extra-base hit.

5. Jimenez collected the victory, but Reds starter Amir Garrett was very impressive, striking out 12 and walking one over his seven innings. His fastball velocity sits in the low 90s, but a 6-foot-5 frame with long arms and legs will make his pitches appear faster.

6. The Orioles struck out 16 times in Wednesday’s win, but they entered the day with the third-fewest strikeouts in the American League. It can be maddening to watch, but remember virtually everyone strikes out in today’s game.

7. Brad Brach looked comfortable in his first save opportunity filling in for the injured Zach Britton as he recorded a 1-2-3 ninth inning on nine pitches. As long as the starting pitching isn’t horrendous, the Orioles should be able to endure a short-term absence from their All-Star closer.

8. We’re only 13 games into a long season, but who would have guessed that Adam Jones would be second on the club in walks with six already? He’s had some really good at-bats so far in 2017.

9. I’m not sure when we’ll see it again, but you could have won some money two months ago if you’d predicted that Trey Mancini would lead off and play left field in the season’s 13th game. His nine-pitch at-bat in the fifth that resulted in a single was impressive.

10. Even with the encouraging updates about his health over the last few days, it’s a no-brainer for Britton to undergo a precautionary MRI on Friday to make sure his forearm strain isn’t something more serious.

11. Jayson Aquino was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to serve as a fresh long man out of the bullpen, but the Orioles fortunately didn’t need to use the left-hander. This increases the likelihood of Alec Asher or Aquino starting against Boston this weekend.

12. With Wednesday’s victory, the Orioles clinched a winning record for their first road trip of 2017. For a club that was a combined 19 games below .500 in away games the previous two years, that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 9-3 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 18 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles falling 9-3 to Cincinnati on Tuesday to begin the final series of a three-city road trip, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Kevin Gausman turned in one of the worst starts of his career, matching a career high with eight runs allowed and lasting only 2 2/3 innings. Giving up a grand slam to Adam Duvall on an 0-2 pitch in the second inning summed up his night.

2. After seemingly straightening himself out in his last start, Gausman once again battled command problems with his fastball while walking three and throwing 79 pitches. He has now issued 12 walks in 18 2/3 innings this season after entering 2017 with a career walk rate of 2.5 per nine innings.

3. Gausman’s split-changeup continued to largely be a non-factor despite facing a Reds lineup featuring five lefty-swinging hitters. He’s throwing it less frequently in 2017, and the pitch hasn’t been very good when he has used it. That needs to change.

4. I had to chuckle at the suggestion that Bronson Arroyo’s home run rate would make him a favorable matchup for the Orioles. Arroyo was far from great over his five innings, but this lineup rarely has success against soft-tossing finesse pitchers.

5. The Orioles trailed 9-1 after three innings, but you wouldn’t know it from the play of Adam Jones. He made a superb running catch in shallow left-center in the fourth and then hit a two-run shot in the fifth inning.

6. The Reds didn’t really need it, but you can see how disruptive Billy Hamilton can be on the bases with his elite speed. His problem has been getting on base consistently in his career.

7. Seth Smith leaving the game with a right hamstring strain added injury to the insult of a blowout loss. Buck Showalter told reporters it could result in a trip to the disabled list, but the veteran outfielder expressed optimism that it wasn’t serious.

8. It was encouraging seeing Mychal Givens sit in the mid-90s with his fastball after his velocity was down in his last outing in Boston six days ago. Showalter said after the game that the hard-throwing reliever had been dealing with a back issue.

9. Credit Vidal Nuno and Tyler Wilson for eating 4 1/3 innings in a lopsided loss, but you would think that the Orioles will need to make a roster move for a fresh long man to back up Ubaldo Jimenez on Wednesday.

10. Facing the red-hot Yankees, ex-Oriole Miguel Gonzalez partied in the Bronx like it was 2012 by taking a shutout into the ninth. He has a 3.62 ERA in 154 innings with the Chicago White Sox since being dumped by Baltimore last spring in favor of Mike Wright and Wilson.

11. Perhaps his status will change with Smith’s injury, but Joey Rickard is expected to go on a rehab assignment in the near future. With Trey Mancini hitting the way he is, there isn’t room on the current roster for both Rickard and Craig Gentry.

12. Consider this my annual complaint about how dull it is to watch the pitcher hit in National League-style baseball. Talk all you want about Madison Bumgarner and the five other NL pitchers who can actually swing the bat a little bit; I’ll enjoy the designated hitter.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 11-4 win over Toronto

Posted on 16 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning an 11-4 blowout over Toronto on Sunday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What else can be said about Trey Mancini as he homered twice and tied a major league record for home runs in his first 12 games with seven? Buck Showalter has a good problem with Mancini, Seth Smith, and Hyun Soo Kim available for only two lineup spots.

2. Dylan Bundy continues to be superb so far in 2017 as he pitched six shutout innings to earn the win and lower his season ERA to 1.86. He’s allowed one earned run in 13 innings against the Blue Jays this month.

3. I still hold my breath seeing Bundy throw so many sliders given his history with the pitch, but there’s no disputing that being a game-changing pitch for his repertoire. It was a big reason why he struck out six and recorded 15 swinging strikes.

4. Bundy set the tone for the outing in the first inning after allowing a leadoff double and a bunt single. Instead of conceding early damage, the right-hander struck out Jose Bautista with a slider and got Kendrys Morales to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.

5. Craig Gentry went 3-for-5 and hit his first major league homer since 2013, quieting legitimate concerns about his ability at the plate. He shouldn’t be in the leadoff spot, but that was a strong performance from the veteran outfielder.

6. His homer wasn’t exactly a bomb, but Manny Machado needed that after seeing his average drop to .154 before his opposite-field homer off the foul pole in the eighth. I can’t imagine too many are concerned about the All-Star third baseman though.

7. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that Gentry and Machado homered using one of Mancini’s bats, but that’s still a heck of a post-game story. Whatever works, right?

8. After collecting only two hits and struggling to make solid contact over his first 19 at-bats of 2017, J.J. Hardy is 7-for-16 over his last four games and doubled twice on Sunday. He isn’t the power hitter he used to be, but throwing dirt on him was premature.

9. Seeing Adam Jones crash into the center-field wall in the eighth inning of an 11-1 game was the last thing Showalter and the Orioles wanted to see. Fortunately, he appeared to be OK and has the off-day to rest up.

10. As if things weren’t going poorly enough for Toronto, J.A. Happ left the game with left elbow soreness in the fifth inning after fellow starter Aaron Sanchez was placed on the 10-day disabled list hours earlier. The Blue Jays have to be begging for a mulligan.

11. Zach Britton told reporters in Toronto that his left forearm strain is closer to his wrist than his elbow, but anyone invested in the Orioles will be holding their breath until the All-Star closer is back on the mound and looking like himself.

12. Yes, the Blue Jays have the worst record in the majors at 2-10, but the Orioles should be feeling good about themselves after continuing their division rival’s misery and taking three of four games at Rogers Centre, a place where they’ve struggled historically.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 2-1 loss to Toronto

Posted on 15 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles falling 2-1 on a walk-off home run from Kendrys Morales on Saturday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You won’t find a worse breaking ball than the one Tyler Wilson threw to Morales. Since Brad Brach warmed up in the top half of the inning, I was surprised to see Wilson still out there, but Brach was only available to close, according to Buck Showalter.

2. Marco Estrada labored early for the Blue Jays, but the starter gave the Orioles lineup fits with his changeup over seven shutout innings. Baltimore consistently has problems against pitchers who are more about finesse and changing speeds than velocity.

3. You never want to lose, but the performance of Alec Asher in his Orioles debut was an encouraging development for the big picture. Showalter couldn’t have asked for more from the former Philadelphia hurler, who was only acquired late in spring training.

4. Asher threw an impressive breaking ball to get some big outs when he needed them. He’s not going to overpower you with the two-seam fastball, so he needs his secondary stuff in order to compete.

5. The right-hander left a few too many fastballs up in the zone early as he benefited from some good defense behind him. The transition from the four-seam fastball to the two-seamer last year has paid dividends, but Asher clearly wants to live lower in the zone moving forward.

6. Asher certainly earned another opportunity as the fifth starter, but it’s fair to wonder how much of his success was the result of a Toronto offense that’s been woeful so far in 2017.

7. The Orioles certainly wasted early chances against Estrada, leaving five runners on over the first three innings. They went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Saturday.

8. Jonathan Schoop missed a golden opportunity to double off Jose Bautista with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. I’m still not sure what happened there as Darwin Barney then picked up the go-ahead RBI single off Donnie Hart two pitches later.

9. Adam Jones made a strong throw to the plate on Barney’s run-scoring hit to almost nail Bautista, but the one-bounce throw skipped away from Welington Castillo. The Orioles likely would have gotten a cleaner hop if that game were being played on grass instead of turf.

10. Craig Gentry showed in the ninth why the Orioles like him, stealing second and tagging up on a fly ball to go to third before scoring on Schoop’s game-tying sacrifice fly. His speed is an asset if he can hit a little bit, but that’s a big question right now.

11. You could tell by Mark Trumbo’s reaction that he missed a very hittable pitch from Estrada as he flied out to end the top of the third with two runners on. He was 0-for-4 and doesn’t have an extra-base hit since his walk-off homer and double on Opening Day.

12. Seeing all uniformed personnel wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day has become one of my favorite traditions in recent years. The importance of this man to both baseball and America needs to be celebrated and remembered.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 win over Toronto

Posted on 06 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles besting Toronto in a 3-1 final to complete a brief two-game sweep, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dylan Bundy was nothing short of exceptional, giving up one run and striking out eight over seven innings in his first start of 2017. Making his first career start against the Blue Jays, he set the tone early by striking out the side in the first inning.

2. Bundy induced 17 swinging strikes, a career high and a total Chris Tillman reached only one time last season. Getting that many swings and misses without issuing a single walk reflects how nasty his stuff was on Wednesday.

3. After shelving his slider last year with a focus on staying healthy, Bundy used the pitch extensively to keep Toronto hitters off balance throughout the night. As long as it doesn’t create arm issues, that pitch could do wonders for the 24-year-old.

4. Going through the order for a third time presented a significant challenge for the right-hander last season, but the Blue Jays were 1-for-7 with three strikeouts in the sixth and seventh innings. That’s how you put an exclamation point on a performance.

5. After hitting only three home runs and posting a .580 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handed pitching last year, Adam Jones homered off Toronto starter J.A. Happ in the third inning. His career numbers against southpaws suggest 2016 was much more of an aberration.

6. The two-run shot tied Rafael Palmeiro on the Orioles’ all-time list as Jones now trails only Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Boog Powell, and Brooks Robinson. That’s really impressive company for the veteran center fielder now in his 10th season with Baltimore.

7. Chris Davis also homered, his 200th as a member of the Orioles. Jones quipped after the game how Davis is only 23 behind him despite the latter having played just five full seasons here. It’s typically a good sign seeing the first baseman drive the ball to the opposite field.

8. A 2016 Gold Glove finalist, Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar showed why by robbing Manny Machado of extra bases in the third inning. You never want to see someone crash into the wall as hard as Pillar did — he stayed in the game — but what a sensational catch.

9. Zach Britton found the reliable 6-4-3 double play off the bat of former Oriole Steve Pearce to nail down his first save of 2017, but the Orioles closer labored through a second straight outing and is still searching for his usual command.

10. Other than the two home runs allowed, Happ pitched very well for Toronto as he struck out nine and walked none over seven innings. His career renaissance going back to the second half of 2015 with Pittsburgh has been nothing short of impressive.

11. Trey Mancini wasn’t tested extensively in his first start in right field, but he made a good throw to the plate on a Devon Travis RBI single and handled both fly balls hit his way without incident. So far, so good with this experiment.

12. The new LED lights at Camden Yards have been a topic of conversation this week, but Jones didn’t exactly provide a great endorsement after Wednesday’s game (go to the 1:55 mark). They’re markedly brighter and at least provide the decorative perk of blinking during Britton’s entrance from the bullpen.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts as spring training winds down

Posted on 22 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles in the midst of their final two weeks in Sarasota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Ken Rosenthal fairly laid out positives and concerns related to Brady Anderson’s organizational role, but the big question is the future. With Dan Duquette’s contract expiring after 2018, is Anderson viewed as his successor and, if so, is he adequately preparing for that while still wearing so many other hats?

2. Anderson’s criticism of the handling of Jake Arrieta coincides with Baseball Prospectus’ latest look at the Orioles’ track record with pitching prospects. More scrutiny for both their talent evaluation and development remains in order from top to bottom despite the club’s success over the last five years.

3. Count me as a new World Baseball Classic fan. It’s refreshing seeing outward emotion without it leading to World War III. Cultivating more of this mindset in the majors would better grow the sport than obsessing over shaving 10 minutes from the time of game. Joy isn’t a four-letter word.

4. With baseball being a regional sport in terms of fan interest and player popularity, it’s been fun seeing Adam Jones shine in the WBC spotlight. In the process of pointing out what he isn’t, too many overlook just how important he’s been to the Orioles’ turnaround. He deserves this.

5. As the club counts down to Chris Tillman attempting a long-toss session this Sunday, you have to wonder what’s next if he again experiences shoulder discomfort after a platelet-rich plasma injection in December and a cortisone shot earlier this month. Plenty of folks have to be holding their breath.

6. You shouldn’t read too much into any spring numbers, but Trey Mancini is doing everything he can to make the club. In addition to posting a .926 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League, he is also learning the outfield. Finding a role for him is the obvious problem.

7. There’s much debate about whether Hyun Soo Kim is capable of hitting left-handed pitching, but he entered Wednesday just 2-for-5 with two strikeouts against southpaws in the Grapefruit League. It’d be tough to argue that Buck Showalter is committed to finding out if Kim can be an everyday player.

8. After Francisco Pena and Audry Perez were sent to minor-league camp on Tuesday, Chance Sisco remained as the only non-roster catcher in major league spring training. The 22-year-old isn’t making the club, but the Orioles wanting to take a longer look at him is a good sign.

9. Robert Andino will always be remembered for the final game of the 2011 season, but he’s appeared in only 13 major league games since 2013 and is just 4-for-39 with 11 strikeouts this spring. You have to wonder if the 32-year-old will be given a place in Baltimore’s minor-league system.

10. Perhaps Seth Smith doesn’t need a slew of at-bats to get ready for Opening Day, but he hasn’t played in two weeks because of a slow-healing hamstring injury. That’s an unsettling development for a 34-year-old right fielder who will likely be playing in cool conditions in April.

11. Despite his early success at the plate since re-signing, Pedro Alvarez going to the minors to learn the outfield should remain the plan. The corner outfield defense clearly hasn’t been prioritized recently, but run prevention needs to matter — at least somewhat — with a pitch-to-contact rotation.

12. After enduring headaches with fringe roster players being out of options in recent seasons, the Orioles’ only decision in that department is reliever Oliver Drake. The 30-year-old has had some limited major league success over the last two seasons, but he isn’t helping his cause with a 10.61 spring ERA.

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2017 Orioles preview: Adam Jones

Posted on 03 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

March 1 – Manny Machado
March 2 – Kevin Gausman

CF Adam Jones

Opening Day age: 31

Contract status: Under contract through the 2018 season

2016 stats: .265/.310/.436, 29 HR, 83 RBI, 86 R, 2 SB, 672 PA

Why to be impressed: Despite being slowed by a rib injury over the first month of the season, Jones hit at least 25 home runs and drove in at least 82 runs for the sixth consecutive season. Often criticized for his lack of plate discipline, the veteran recorded a career-high 39 walks as well as the lowest strikeout rate of his career at 17.1 percent while being asked to serve in the leadoff spot for much of the year.

Why to be concerned: His .436 slugging percentage was his lowest since 2008 and his .265 batting average was his worst since 2007, which are concerns for a player entering his 12th season. Much has been made about his comments on the outfield defense, but Jones finished at minus-10 defensive runs saved in 2016 and is being asked to cover too much ground to make up for lesser corner defenders.

2017 outlook: Manager Buck Showalter doesn’t want to use Jones in the top spot again, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll remain healthy enough to see his power return to where it was prior to 2016. His .280 batting average on balls in play in 2016 was well below his .308 career mark, an indication that Jones should expect to experience better luck on his way to bouncing back from a down season.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .274/.314/.458, 27 HR, 80 RBI, 85 R, 5 SB, 660 PA

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Sorting Orioles corner outfield spots begins with Kim

Posted on 21 February 2017 by Luke Jones

At first glance, veteran outfielder Michael Bourn brings obvious skills that the Orioles are lacking.

His speed and defensive ability can be assets for an outfield that ranked last in the majors in defensive runs saved a year ago, but it remains to be seen whether the 34-year-old is a great fit among a crowded group of corner outfielders with question marks. A below-average hitter, the left-handed Bourn is trying to crack a 25-man roster that already needs a viable platoon partner for the lefty-swinging Seth Smith in right field.

And that brings us to the biggest key in sorting out the corner outfield hierarchy for 2017.

The Orioles must find out if left fielder Hyun Soo Kim can be an everyday player. The 29-year-old more than proved himself as the starter against right-handed pitching to the tune of a sparkling .393 on-base percentage last season, but he went hitless in 22 plate appearances against left-handers. That’s hardly a fair sample from which to draw any real conclusion, but an 0-for-17 body of work doesn’t exactly bring confidence, either. His numbers from his final two seasons playing in the Korea Baseball Organization suggest he could be up to the challenge, but that success doesn’t guarantee to translate to the majors.

Either way, he deserves an extended look against southpaw pitchers to find out.

If Kim is able to handle a full-time role, Bourn becomes easier to carry on the bench as a late-inning defensive replacement and a pinch runner while the Orioles use a platoon in right with Mark Trumbo then serving as the everyday designated hitter. But if Kim can’t cut it against lefties, the need for platoons at both corner outfield spots becomes more problematic for the makeup of the roster.

Joey Rickard’s .861 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties last year makes him the early favorite to serve as a platoon partner, but the Orioles are reportedly intrigued with the defense and speed of Craig Gentry so far in spring training. The problem is that the 33-year-old was little more than a league-average hitter at his best and has posted a .553 OPS over his last 353 plate appearances in the majors dating back to the start of 2014.

It’s worth noting that Bourn posted an .844 OPS in 75 plate appearances against lefties last season, but he owns a career .644 OPS against left-handed pitching. If the Orioles are putting that much stock in those numbers for a potential platoon, the 2016 struggles of both Adam Jones and Trumbo against lefties should be much bigger concerns than they’ll discuss. In other words, you shouldn’t draw anything definitive from one season of work against lefties compared to the larger body of work.

Manager Buck Showalter could always cite the defensive upgrade in left as justification for Bourn playing against left-handers over Kim. The Korean outfielder was worth minus-13 defensive runs saved in left field last season as he lacks range and a strong throwing arm. However, Bourn starting against lefties could create a big hole in a Baltimore lineup that already fared very poorly against lefties in 2016.

The Orioles could also elect to use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but finding the room to carry Trey Mancini as a designated hitter under such a scenario might be difficult with the addition of Bourn.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Bourn even makes the club as Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander shouldn’t be dismissed from the roster discussion. Gentry could win a job to push either Rickard — who has minor-league options — or Bourn from the 25-man roster.

There’s plenty of time for Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to evaluate and decide.

Regardless of how it all plays out, Kim showing the ability to hit left-handers would make life much easier for the Orioles.

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