Dillon Atkinson: With Mancini’s emergence, Showalter may have to get creative

Orioles converted-outfielder Trey Mancini has gotten off to a tremendous start at the plate, slashing .348/.400/.913 with four home runs in 25 plate appearances. He has been used in a platoon role to start against left-handed pitchers - which has worked out well for him with playing time, considering the American League East is filled with left-handed starters - and also has gotten one start against a right-handed knuckleballer, who he hit two longballs off of.

Since his quick emergence to start the season, fans, analysts, reporters, and maybe even Buck Showalter have wanted to get Mancini into the lineup full-time. He has earned it with his hot start to 2017, but who does he play over? I pleaded, on Orioles Uncensored, that Mancini and Seth Smith should start in the corner outfield spots in Cincinnati with no designated hitter to use, but I’m curious to see what Showalter does when the Orioles return home and are able to use a DH again.

Against left-handed pitchers, it seems obvious that Mancini will be in the lineup, as well as Mark Trumbo and Craig Gentry (or possibly Joey Rickard instead, when healthy). But will Showalter sit one of Smith or Hyun Soo Kim for Mancini against right-handers?

Smith is off to a good start for the Orioles this season, slashing .259/.355/.593 with two home runs over 31 plate appearances. His .355 on-base percentage to start the year, along with .344 for his career, is helpful to an Orioles team that tied for the 20th-best on-base percentage last season. Kim isn’t off to as hot a start as Smith, slashing .278/.278/.333 in 13 less plate appearances, but his .302/.382/.420 line from 2016 has certainly earned himself consistent playing time against right-handed pitching to see if he can duplicate his numbers from a year ago. That .382 on-base percentage would certainly be nice, along with Smith’s, to mix in with the powerful all-or-nothing Orioles bats.

Could Trumbo use some days off? Yes, I realize he led the league in home runs last season, but he is among the team leaders in plate appearances to start the season, yet only has a .229/.260/.333 line with one home run thus far. Am I saying bench Trumbo for a full week? No, but some sort of rotation of Mancini, Kim, Smith and Trumbo in and out of the lineup could give all four fairly consistent at-bat, keeping your hottest hitter, your two on-base hitters from the left side and your league-leading home run hitter in the lineup throughout most of the week.

But wait. Showalter’s debacle may have just gotten a bit easier for him to manage. In Tuesday night’s 9-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, Smith left the game in the sixth inning with a strained right hamstring. The Orioles left-handed hitting outfielder said he thinks he can avoid the disabled list, despite Showalter opining that Smith could be a candidate for it.

It would be tough to lose Smith to the disabled list, but it may actually be a short-term solution for the O’s skipper when it comes to playing time for Kim and Mancini against right-handed pitchers, as they could start in left and right field, respectively. Then, if one is struggling when Smith is healthy and returns, that player will move to the bench in favor of the other starting.

However, if Smith is correct and he can avoid the disabled list with this being nothing more than a day-to-day injury, then Showalter will be back to making some tough lineup decisions. I’d stick with what I suggested above: rotate Kim, Smith, Mancini and Trumbo on a nightly basis against right-handed pitching, sitting one at a time unless one of them proves he should no longer be used in the starting lineup routinely.

No matter what strategy Showalter uses, there is one thing I know for sure: As long as Mancini stays hot, Smith and Kim continue to be on-base threats and Trumbo thumps the baseball like he did in 2016, the O’s skipper can’t go wrong with who he throws into the lineup each night.

Dillon Atkinson blogs about the Orioles for Orioles Uncensored. Follow him on Twitter: @DAtkinsonOU. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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