Leftovers for breakfast

You won't find many Orioles swinging hot bats right now, and shortstop J.J. Hardy definitely needs to knock the frost off the ol' lumber.

Hardy is in a 3-for-40 slump that's lowered his average to .239. He went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts last night.

The Orioles have played 73 games and Hardy has started 71 of them. The obvious move is to rest him for a night, perhaps giving the start to Robert Andino.

Hardy is 0-for-9 lifetime against Jered Weaver, who starts tonight for the Angels. A relatively small sample size, but it's still zero hits in nine at-bats. And it's hard to imagine Hardy suddenly heating up against Weaver.

Andino is 1-for-4 - an even smaller sample size.

hardy swing back grey sidebar.jpgManager Buck Showalter is quick to defend Hardy and didn't appreciate a reporter bringing up the slump after last night's game.

"He's a very good player and we're real lucky to have him," Showalter said sternly. "He hit a couple balls hard tonight that didn't find a hole. He'll get a couple flares. I think we all feel confident about where J.J.'s going to end up. He impacts our team every night on the field. Just not where he's going to be offensively right now. And he spoils us at a high level for most of the season. It'll happen. I've got a lot of confidence in him."

The Orioles haven't scored more than three runs in a game since June 16 in Atlanta, when Jason Hammel tossed his one-hit shutout in a 5-0 victory.

Center fielder Adam Jones was asked last night about the impact of losing Nick Markakis, who still hasn't been cleared to swing a bat.

"You know, injuries happen, so therefore you have to make adjustments," he said. "We can't make an excuse that we don't have Markakis hitting in the lineup right now. It's good when he's in the lineup, obviously, but we've got to make do without him. Injuries happen. Different teams have to face it. We just have to battle."

Brian Matusz is struggling to keep the ball down and must improve his command. No excuses. But the Orioles aren't providing a whole lot of margin for error. They've scored fewer than three runs while he's been in the game 12 times in 15 starts. Last night marked the third time they've scored one run.

The Angels lead the majors with a 35-19 record since April 28 and are 12-1 in their last 13 road games, outscoring opponents, 68-34.

The Orioles recorded their seventh outfield assist last night. Five of them have come at home plate.

Jim Johnson was 21-for-37 in save opportunities in his first six seasons in the majors. He's 22-for-23 this year. How does Showalter explain Johnson's emergence as a shutdown closer?

"Because he's been through the process," Showalter said. "I talk all the time about how you can't cheat the process. I know what some people said about Jimmy when I first got here. I remember the first time I saw him over at Bowie on a rehab assignment. He's been around a lot of situations. He absorbs it. He understands who he is and what he's not.

"He's so much more a pitcher than most closers. He has multiple ways to get people out and he knows what he's carrying on most nights. It's just an evolution process. That's why closers aren't drafted, for the most part. It's just something you have to acquire. You can't just be born with it.

"Jimmy, all the exposure a good closer has to have, he had it behind him coming into the season and it's really worked out well for him and for us."

Johnson was 1.18 seconds to the plate Sunday with the Nationals' Ian Desmond on first base. Johnson recorded his 22nd save with a strikeout/caught stealing.

"That's real unusual with closers," Showalter said. "Matt (Wieters) had a 1.84 to second base, which is fast, but you do the math. If you're 1.6 like a lot of these guys to the plate, he probably doesn't throw (Desmond) out."

Speaking of Orioles closers, remember Chris Ray? He suffered his third blown save last night for Triple-A Columbus after allowing a run in two innings.

In that same game, Steve Johnson replaced Zach Britton for Triple-A Norfolk and didn't allow a hit over five scoreless innings. He walked two and struck out eight, and his ERA is down to 2.82.

The Orioles put Johnson on the 40-man roster and put him in the bullpen. Jamie Moyer left the rotation, and the team, but Dontrelle Willis moved into it. I guess Johnson has to wait his turn. In the meantime, that's some serious relief work.

The Orioles will honor Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver by unveiling his statue Saturday during a ceremony that begins at 2:15 p.m. All gates open at 2 p.m.

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