SARASOTA, Fla. - It's not completely safe to make assumptions about the opening day lineup when rosters don't have to be set until 3 p.m. on Sunday. There are... wait for it... a lot of moving parts as we near the end of spring training.
Tonight's lineup created a bit of a buzz. First of all, we didn't receive it until less than an hour before first pitch, which never happens. Manager Buck Showalter named the starters at each position during batting practice, but we didn't have the order.
Also, did you notice who batted ninth?
Brian Roberts was lowered to the bottom after hitting first or second in each game that he started. It seemed like a bigger deal because of the opposing pitcher, Tampa Bay left-hander David Price, who will face the Orioles on April 2.
Could Roberts bat ninth on opening day? Could he remain in that spot?
It wouldn't surprise me if Showalter withheld the lineup until talking to Roberts about batting ninth, as a courtesy to the veteran and the longest-tenured player on the team.
Roberts has been placed in every spot in the order during his career, though he doesn't have an at-bat as a cleanup hitter. He scored a run in his only game, so my guess is he pinch-ran.
Roberts has led off in 1,120 games, hit second in 80 and hit ninth in 17. He's 5-for-25 at the bottom, a small sample size.
Showalter has a few leadoff candidates to choose from, and he batted Nick Markakis first again tonight. Then again, he's also trying to give Markakis extra plate appearances, which is why the veteran will lead off every inning today for the State College of Florida.
Manny Machado hit second tonight. Most of the lineup speculation has Machado near or at the bottom. Could that change against left-handers?
Changes are in store whenever a right-hander opposes the Orioles. Nate McLouth didn't play tonight and he may sit against Price, but he figures to be in left field against righties. Steve Pearce served as the DH tonight and could do so again on April 2 if he breaks camp with the team, but Showalter needs a left-handed hitter to replace Wilson Betemit.
Ryan Flaherty doesn't necessarily strike me as the DH type, but if he makes the club - and I really like his chances - he could fill that role, at least on occasion. Doesn't exactly take advantage of his versatility, though.
Nolan Reimold could DH against right-handers while McLouth plays left field, though he doesn't replace Betemit's bat from the left side. Chris Davis could DH at times while someone else plays first. Or the Orioles could go out and get another left-handed bat.
Heck, Roberts could DH while Flaherty or Alexi Casilla play second base - again, assuming they're both on the roster.
It's late in camp, but it's still too early to figure out the lineups. The Orioles may not be done moving parts.
However, they may be ready to move down Roberts. Stay tuned.