BALTIMORE — Trying to build upon the good vibes of their season-opening win over the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles returned to Camden Yards on Wednesday with a pair of changes to their lineup in the second meeting of a three-game set.
David Lough was penciled in to start in left field while the newly-acquired Steve Lombardozzi received his first start at second base as manager Buck Showalter tries to get all of his position players a start in the early days of the 2014 season. With right-hander John Lackey going to the hill for Boston, Lough was already expected to start in left — with Nelson Cruz moving to the designated hitter spot — and understands his role hitting in the No. 2 spot in the order.
“Just get on base. I get on base, I score,” said the 28-year-old Lough, who was acquired from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Danny Valencia in the offseason. “Look who is hitting behind me. A lot of great hitters.”
Meanwhile, Lombardozzi was excited to receive his first start with his hometown team after growing up in Columbia and graduating from Atholton High. Rookie Jonathan Schoop is expected to receive most of the playing time at second base — the position at which Showalter would like to play him exclusively — but Lombardozzi’s versatility makes him a valuable piece the Orioles acquired from the Detroit Tigers near the end of spring training.
Entering his fourth major league season, Lombardozzi played second base, shortstop, third base, and left field in his three years with the Washington Nationals even though he acknowledged prior to Wednesday’s game that his best position is second base.
Lombardozzi wasn’t sure of an exact count but expected plenty of family members and friends to be in attendance for his Orioles debut.
“I’ve definitely got some nerves, but I’m really excited to get out there and help this team win,” Lombardozzi said. “It was cool being out there for Opening Day. I came to a couple of them growing up. I’m very fortunate to be back close to home. It’s a good feeling to be with this organization.”
Markakis continues to lead off
Though he is still receiving treatment for a stiff neck, Nick Markakis was once again in the lineup and leading off as Showalter indicated the right fielder would remain in the top spot for the foreseeable future.
With Nate McLouth now in Washington and David Lough still trying to establish himself as an everyday player, Markakis represents the best option that the Orioles have despite lacking the prototypical speed for a leadoff hitter. The 30-year-old received his first extensive time in the role in 2012 when he batted .335 with five home runs, 28 runs batted in, and an .879 on-base plus slugging percentage in 54 games
“He doesn’t mind doing it. He embraces it,” Showalter said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a club that never dwelled on where they hit in the order like this one. I hope it’s because they kind of trust what we’re trying to get done. I asked Nick in the spring, ‘In a perfect world, where would you want to hit in the order?’ You can imagine what Nick’s response was. ‘I don’t care. Whatever you need me to do.’”
Showalter acknowledged that Lough’s speed might make him an attractive option in the leadoff spot at some point this season.
Santana, Bundy progressing
Showalter continues to be encouraged by the progress of veteran left-hander Johan Santana, who threw 30 pitches off a full mound in Sarasota on Tuesday. The two-time American League Cy Young Award winner threw his full assortment of pitches as he continues to try to build up his velocity after last year’s surgery on his left shoulder capsule.
The bigger question than how hard he can throw will be whether Santanta can find that ideal 10-miles-per-hour difference between his fastball and changeup, according to Showalter.
“He had one of the best changeups in baseball,” Showalter said, “but if his velocity is only 85, can he drop his changeup to 75? I don’t know. And is 85 enough? I think the hitters are going to answer a lot of those questions. In my mind, [I know] what I’d love to see on the gun in a perfect world. But all indications are so far, so good. He hasn’t had any setbacks.”
Top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy threw 25 fastballs from a mound on Wednesday as he continues to work his way back to full strength from Tommy John surgery. Showalter continues to be pleased with his progress even though he’s not quite as far along as Santana.
Outfielder Francisco Peguero had the cast removed from his right wrist on Wednesday and remains on the 15-day disabled list.
Here are Wednesday night’s lineups:
LF Daniel Nava
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
1B Mike Napoli
LF Jonny Gomes
CF Grady Sizemore
SS Xander Bogaerts
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Will Middlebrooks
SP John Lackey (0-0, 0.00)
RF Nick Markakis
LF David Lough
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
DH Nelson Cruz
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy
3B Ryan Flaherty
2B Steve Lombardozzi
SP Ubaldo Jimenez (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
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