Even after an 0-for-2 showing in Monday’s 7-1 loss that snapped a nine-game hitting streak, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is off to one of the best starts of his career through the first two weeks of the 2015 campaign.
The numbers resemble something from a video game as Jones is hitting .438 with five home runs, 16 RBIs, and a 1.294 on-base plus slugging percentage, but the most encouraging stat that could make room for Jones to sustain improvement in 2015 is his impressively-low number of strikeouts. Entering Monday with a career 19.3 percent strikeout rate, Jones has gone down on strikes just five times in 54 plate appearances this season.
Jones has only walked three times, but he’s making more contact on pitches in or out of the strike zone. Of course, we’re dealing with a small sample size, but even a reasonable improvement from his career 73.5 percent contract rate — Jones entered Monday making contact on 78 percent of his swings — could make an already-dangerous hitter even better.
Manager Buck Showalter has also noted that several of Jones’ big hits early in the season have come on pitches well outside the zone, which should serve as a reminder for those who like to harp on his lack of plate discipline and inability to draw walks. You take the good with the bad with Jones, and there’s been much more of the former in his eight years with the Orioles.
** The final numbers showed that all five runs that Wei-Yin Chen surrendered on Monday were unearned, but anyone who watched his performance knows nearly all of the damage was self-inflicted for the Taiwanese lefty.
Committing an error and walking four batters in the third — he walked no more than three in any of his 31 starts last season — Chen struggled to shake off the fielding miscue and allowed it to affect his performance on the mound. Of course, the error committed by Manny Machado with the bases loaded led to two more runs and a 5-1 deficit.
The defensive gaffe and the control problems are uncharacteristic for Chen, who is regarded as an exceptional fielder and walked only 1.7 hitters per nine innings last year. For now, you chalk it up as one of those days even though he’s now walked eight batters in 14 2/3 innings in 2015.
** With another strikeout on Monday, Chris Davis has now gone down on strikes 21 times in 50 plate appearances to begin the year.
It isn’t news that Davis strikes out a lot as he fanned 199 times in his 53-homer season in 2013, but the left-handed slugger striking out in 42 percent of his plate appearances is alarming even for his standards. Despite this, Davis has still managed to produce with two home runs, seven RBIs, and a .457 slugging percentage.
What might be more concerning than the strikeout rate is the fact that Davis has only drawn two walks this season. Despite his nightmarish 2014 season that included a .196 average, Davis still drew 60 walks in 525 plate appearances to at least salvage a .300 on-base percentage.
With the increased use of the shift against him, Davis will do himself no favors if he doesn’t have patient at-bats. Of course, pitchers may not feel the need to pitch him as carefully this season, which could also impact his ability to earn free passes.
** Once J.J. Hardy returns, many assume Everth Cabrera will become the primary second baseman in place of the injured Jonathan Schoop, but I’m not convinced.
Cabrera has just 12 games of major league experience at the position while Ryan Flaherty has proven he can play above-average defense at second. The former has also shown little at the plate with a .244 slugging percentage this season after posting a .572 OPS in his final season in San Diego last year.
Flaherty is a polarizing figure among Orioles fans, but he’s off to a strong start in 2015 with a .333 average and two homers in 24 at-bats. If you view him in his proper context as a utility player who can play six different positions well, it’s easier to see why manager Buck Showalter likes him so much.
Because of Flaherty’s power potential and his ability to play good defense at second, I’d be inclined to give him an extended look at the position before automatically handing the job over to Cabrera when Hardy is back at shortstop.
** The silver lining in Monday’s rain-shortened game was the Orioles bullpen receiving a breather aside from Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia, who pitched for the first time since April 10.
Orioles relievers pitched 12 1/3 innings in the first three games at Fenway and will now travel to Toronto to take on a potent Blue Jays lineup that entered Monday ranking first in the majors in runs scored. On top of that, Baltimore will not have another day off until April 30.
** The Orioles Hall of Fame has come under criticism in recent years with a number of players being inducted who were viewed as unworthy, but Melvin Mora shouldn’t be mentioned in that group after it was announced that he and former platoon partners John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke will be enshrined this August.
Mora, a two-time All-Star selection, is 13th in all-time wins above replacement in club history and ranks in the top 10 in a number of categories including doubles, RBIs, home runs, runs, and total bases. That sounds like a player deserving of inclusion, regardless of whether you think the overall standard has dropped.
His 2004 campaign in particular goes down as one of the most underrated seasons in franchise history and Mora was one of the lone bright spots in a very dark time period for the Orioles.
In the same way that we don’t attach the stench of 1988 to Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, Mora shouldn’t be classified as an unworthy inductee for the Orioles Hall of Fame because of the terrible teams on which he played.