How does Cruz fit into the lineup?

SARASOTA, Fla. - During his session yesterday with the media, Orioles manager Buck Showalter challenged me to come up with a starting lineup. That’s what happens when you sit in the front row.

Showalter won’t reference Nelson Cruz by name until the deal becomes official, but he clearly intended for a projected lineup to include the veteran outfielder/designated hitter.

Cruz has hit in every spot, but it’s safe to assume he won’t lead off in Baltimore. My initial thought was batting him fifth.

I brought up the idea of batting Chris Davis fourth to separate right-handed hitters Adam Jones and Cruz. Matt Wieters could hit sixth and J.J. Hardy seventh.

Here’s where it gets complicated.

Showalter doesn’t want left-handed hitters in the eighth and ninth slots if Nick Markakis is leading off. Same if David Lough is batting first. That’s three in a row, which could cause matchup problems in the late innings.

So much for having Lough eighth and Ryan Flaherty ninth, or vice-versa.

By the way, a friend suggested that Lough would make an ideal No. 9 hitter. It’s like having a second leadoff hitter at the bottom of the order.

Anyway, the only way to break up the left-handers would be to move up Lough or Flaherty to seventh and drop Hardy to eighth, but that’s too low to slot the shortstop.

Lough could bat leadoff later in the season, but Showalter is more likely to put Markakis in that spot to begin the season. If Lough bats first, Markakis could drop to third, Jones fourth, Davis fifth, Cruz sixth and Wieters seventh. But again, Hardy is down in the eighth slot.

Davis batted fifth in 101 games last season and posted a slash line of .325/.401/.724 with 38 of his 53 home runs. I’d like him higher in the order to theoretically get more at-bats, but he seemed pretty comfortable hitting fifth.

It speaks volumes about this lineup that Cruz could be hitting sixth and Hardy eighth. But again, that’s in a scenario where Lough is leading off.

Also keep in mind that the opening day lineup could be different than the Game 2 lineup, since the Red Sox will likely start left-hander Jon Lester on March 31. Nolan Reimold, if he’s healthy and on the team, could be in left field against Lester. Or he could DH, with Cruz in left field.

Does Delmon Young still make this team? What about Steve Pearce?

Stay tuned.

The Orioles are scheduled to take the field at 10 a.m. today, but don’t count on it. They have a union meeting earlier in the morning and it tends to run long.

“That could take anywhere from an hour to seven hours,” Showalter said.

He’s exaggerating about the seven hours, but like baseball itself, there’s no clock.

The Orioles must elect a new union rep after the Jim Johnson trade. Darren O’Day was the substitute last season and probably will be voted into Johnson’s role, but Jones and Wieters also are candidates.

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