Showalter still undecided on leadoff hitter

SARASOTA, Fla. - Nate McLouth is leading off and playing center field today, with Brian Roberts batting second. In other games, Roberts has hit first and McLouth has batted second or lower.

Roberts has been the Orioles' leadoff hitter when healthy, but manager Buck Showalter claims that he hasn't made a decision for this season. It could be Roberts, McLouth or Nick Markakis. Nolan Reimold moved to the top of the order in April. There's no shortage of candidates.

"I'm still looking at everything," Showalter said. "It's way too early to not have an open mind on anything that might present itself that makes us as good as we can be. I'm just excited we have multiple options. I'm not ruling anything out at this point. We've got over two weeks left."

Markakis showed up this morning with his neck feeling much better.

"When he comes in and plops down in my office and starts talking about something other than that, he feels good today," Showalter said. "He's got two or three more days on that dose pack, and then he'll have an in-depth conversation with the doctor and see what our next step is. Today's been a good day already."

Showalter is confident that Markakis will end up with more plate appearances than last spring.

"He knows he only needs about 25 and he reminds me of it all the time," Showalter said.

Pitching coach Rick Adair is watching Miguel Gonzalez's start today at Twin Lakes Park.

Showalter prefers to keep certain starters away from division opponents, but he also includes the Minnesota Twins, who visit Camden Yards for the Orioles' first homestand on April 5-7.

"We play them a week into the season. We're not going to do that with them, either," Showalter said.

"With power pitchers, bullpen, whatever, who depend a lot on velocity and stuff, I don't really care about them. It's no secret what's going to happen. But when you get guys who depend on pitch sequences and multiple pitches - the Hammels and Chens and Gonzalezes - I don't like... We're going to face them enough during the year."

Gonzalez is throwing in a Double-A game today, and the Orioles can control his pitch count.

"We know he's going to reach the perfect pitch count over there," Showalter said. "He's not going to all of a sudden have 30 pitches in an inning and we have to shut him down after two. You can control the environment.

"Later on in the spring, it may change a little bit."

Showalter indicated that the next round of cuts won't come before Sunday's split-squad games in Sarasota and Clearwater.

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