BALTIMORE — While the Orioles were trying to snap their longest losing streak since 2013 on Saturday night, Steve Pearce continues to fight his own struggles to begin the 2015 campaign.
Starting only once in the club’s last seven games, the 32-year-old is trying to recapture the magic that made him one of the best stories of the 2014 season. After hitting a career-high 21 home runs and posting a club-best .930 on-base plus slugging percentage in 383 plate appearances last year, Pearce appeared ready to pick up where he left off with two homers in the first two games of the 2015 season, which followed a strong spring performance. Since starting the year with three hits in his first five at-bats, however, Pearce has gone 5-for-41 with 12 strikeouts, dropping his average to .167 and his OPS to .551.
The activation of the hot-hitting Jimmy Paredes and Pearce’s struggles have largely left the latter on the bench. But Pearce can’t fault manager Buck Showalter for going with hotter hitters in recent days.
“I’ve been like a one-man rally-killer these past weeks,” Pearce said. “It’s just been frustrating, and I think Buck sees that I’m very frustrated. I’m not swinging the bat like I’m capable of doing. But baseball comes around; it always does. I just want to get back to where I know I can play.”
Pearce offered signs of snapping out of his slump Friday night with two strong at-bats off the bench against the Boston bullpen. Hitting for left field Alejandro De Aza in the bottom of the seventh, the right-handed hitter quickly fell behind 0-2 against Alexi Ogando before coaxing a walk in an eight-pitch at-bat to load the bases. Then, facing Red Sox closer Koji Uehara in the ninth, Pearce ripped an 0-2 pitch into the left-field corner for a long single.
The Orioles dropped their fifth consecutive game in a 7-5 final, but the flashes from Pearce are an encouraging development, especially when he was identified by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and Showalter as a big reason why the Orioles could endure the offseason departures of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz. Despite starting Saturday’s game on the bench once again, Pearce was happy to get a return for the behind-the-scenes work he’s completed in recent days.
“It definitely builds some confidence, but I’m working every day and working hard,” Pearce said. “Just mechanically, I want to get right and help the team get back on the right track.”
Seeing Pearce relegated to reserve duties for such an extended time is surprising considering his struggles have come in a small sample size.
His success from last year has allowed him to remain confident, but the journeyman outfielder and first baseman even recalls similar struggles in 2014 that weren’t magnified like they are now at the start of a new season. From July 6 through Aug. 16 of last year, Pearce batted just .167 with one homer and a .504 OPS in 82 plate appearances.
He bounced back to post an 1.144 OPS with 10 home runs over his final 118 plate appearances of the regular season.
“It helps a lot. I know I can play at this level,” said Pearce about drawing inspiration from 2014. “I went through the same period last year. I think it was after the All-Star break that I struggled exactly like this. I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”