It was one of the last things Orioles Manager Dave Trembley wanted to see in last Wednesday's game against the Rays.
His emerging star center fielder, Adam Jones, hobbled off the field in the fourth inning with a strained hamstring. That is not the kind of news you want to face when you are about to embark on a 11 day, 10 game road trip, one that may significantly help define the Orioles character as a team in 2009.
Fortunately for Jones and the Orioles, the injury was not serious, and he is expected to return for Tuesday night's game in New York, against the Yankees. If this holds true, he will have only missed the four games played in Kansas City, in which the Orioles split 2-2 against a much-improved Royals ballclub. As a manager, you can live with that.
Frankly, nobody would consider it good news to have the team's leader in batting average (.370), on-base percentage (.426), runs scored (35, tied with Nick Markakis), and home runs (8) shelved for an entire four-game series. However, the silver lining in Jones' time out of the lineup comes from those who filled in for him in the KC series.
The first, and most widely anticipated, player to benefit was Nolan Reimold. Reimold was called up to the team on Wednesday after hitting .394 with AAA Norfolk. He then made his Major League debut on Thursday night, going 1 for 4. Reimold then had his first RBI and two-hit game on Saturday, a game the O's won 3-2.
He was in Trembley's starting lineup as the left fielder for each of the four games, finishing the series with four hits and two RBI. Though not spectacular, it is a respectable start for the 23 year old whom the Orioles hope will become the third and final piece of an extremely promising outfield, joining Markakis and Jones, for many years to come.
The second player who took advantage of the situation was Cesar Izturis. Although having played in 29 of the team's 34 games going into the Royals' series, Izturis had been a fixture at the bottom of the O's lineup. He had hit in either the 8 or 9 slot in every game. With Jones out, Trembley decided to hit Izturis second in the lineup, a spot which had been occupied by Jones.
Izturis did not disappoint, responding with a 2 hit, 2 run, 3 RBI game, which included a key 2-run triple, in Thursday's victory. After his stolen base on Sunday, he is also tied with Brian Roberts for the team lead in steals, with eight. The veteran shortstop was trying to serve notice to Trembley that he can handle hitting at the top of the lineup, something he has done at times throughout his nine year career.
The third to capitalize on added playing time was Felix Pie. The 24 year old outfielder had split time in left field with Scott and Ryan Freel (since traded to the Chicago Cubs). Pie had been struggling mightily at the plate for the season's first month, hitting just .158 through May 6. This put him in serious jeopardy of being either sent down to Norfolk, or perhaps being released.
After Jones left the game last Wednesday, Pie came in to replace him. He responded with two hits in two at bats, including a ninth inning home run. The next night, Trembley gave Pie the first of four consecutive starts in center field for Thursday's game, and he responded again by reaching base twice, and scoring twice, in five plate appearances. On Sunday, he hit an RBI triple and scored a run in the Orioles 7-4 loss.
With Jones about to return, there are a few questions that Trembley will have to ponder as the season moves along.
Will Jones remain in the No. 2 slot, keeping the same type of lineup we saw through last week? Or will he try hitting Izturis second and move Jones into the middle of the lineup, perhaps fifth, thereby allowing Mora and Scott to hit sixth and seventh. This could help boost a faltering bottom third of the Orioles' lineup.
What will be Luke Scott's role when he returns? Will he become the primary DH? Will he still get time in left field, despite the emergence of Reimold? It may become to difficult for Trembley to get Ty Wigginton the regular at bats he expects. With him hitting barely above .200 at the moment, that may not be a bad thing.
Who will see the most time in left field? Reimold, Pie, or a platoon between the two? While Reimold is the favored option from an offensive standpoint, Pie is the better defensive option with his speed. The competition for this spot could bring out the best in both these young players.
These are the type of questions Trembley will not mind facing. It should be interesting to see how he, and the team, respond with the return of Adam Jones. There will be a little more to look forward to in the Orioles' first series at the new Yankee Stadium.