Stevie Wilkerson hasn’t batted in the leadoff spot in the majors until tonight. However, he isn’t a novice.
Wilkerson has been perched atop the order at Clemson University and in the minors.
“I’ve hit almost everywhere one through nine at some point in my career,” he said. “I do have some experience hitting leadoff.”
It won’t change his approach - a question that’s always asked when someone rises to the top.
“Not really,” he said. “A lot of it is still dictated by the situation in the game and when to work the count and when to be aggressive and when to see some pitches. So not all that much.”
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde alerted Wilkerson to his assignment following last night’s game. Wilkerson arrived at Camden Yards today already aware that he’d be batting first.
“I love hitting leadoff, so I guess it was exciting just seeing that,” he said. “I hit leadoff when I was in Frederick for a little while and Bowie, as well, so it’s a fun place to hit. To be at the top of the lineup is an honor.”
Wilkerson is 22-for-64 (.344) against right-handers this season and 0-for-18 versus lefties. The Yankees are starting right-hander Domingo Germán tonight.
The same logic, spun in reverse, dictated last night that Hanser Alberto lead off against left-hander J.A. Happ. Alberto had a career-high four hits - three against Alberto and one against Zack Britton.
“I like the way Stevie’s swinging the bat against right-handers,” said Hyde, who hasn’t repeated a lineup in 48 games this season. “We’re facing a really good right-hander tonight. And I like the way Hanser’s swinging the bat against left-handers. Gave us a spark last night.”
Jonathan Villar had been leading off but he’s collected only eight hits in his last 46 at-bats since homering off Boston’s Josh Smith on May 6. He’s struck out 16 times.
“Just trying to switch things up a little bit,” Hyde said. “Jonny’s in a little bit of a struggle. I just wanted him to watch a few at-bats before he takes his first one and maybe get in an RBI spot.
“Just changing things up a little bit, I’m not sure for how long, but for tonight that’s what we’re going with.”
Catcher Pedro Severino is “a little sore,” Hyde said, “after being hit in the back and hand and taking a foul ball off his left foot, but he’s available tonight off the bench.”
Alex Cobb is in Sarasota and continuing his rehab program. Nothing new to report on him.
“I think it’s pretty open-ended on when he’ll be back,” Hyde said.
The Orioles are trying to make a full recovery from last night’s late-inning collapse that led to a 10-7 loss to the Yankees. The breakdowns in fundamentals were the most disappointing aspect for Hyde, who addressed them in various ways earlier today.
“Lots of individual conversations. I’ve talked a lot today,” he said.
“You talk to guys individually, you talk to guys as a core group, how we can do better. But you also want to turn the page and you want to have guys be ready for today and you don’t want to dwell on the negative and you want to stay positive. What’s important to understand is that we’re not young exactly, but we are extremely inexperienced and a lot of our players who are on the field have not been every day players in the big leagues.
“A lot of guys are playing every day or consistent baseball now for these first two months of the season and that’s an adjustment. And a lot of these guys haven’t been in spots like that, with game on the line kind of stuff and where the game speeds up, have to make a play. Even though you have a minor league career, it’s just not the same, and now you’re playing every day in the big leagues and getting consistent at-bats and playing every single inning or most innings.
“I think there’s an adjustment and we just want to see our guys continue to improve at this level, which isn’t always easy and there are going to be hiccups like there were last night. It’s our job to address them and to try to get these guys better.”
It’s a group effort that also requires communication among the players.
“We’re not blessed with a ton of veteran guys to help or to lean on,” Hyde said. “We have each other to lean on and they have each other to lean on. And I think that we’re going to roll with the roller coaster a little bit at times just because we don’t have a ton of experience. We’ve just got to focus on the positive and trying to get better.”
Players seemed to be in agreement that last night’s loss was the worst of the season and not only because a lead disappeared. How it vanished was the issue.
“That was hard to watch,” Hyde said. “You’ve got to be held accountable and this is the big leagues and those plays should and need to be made. And I’m not going to hide from that. You can be positive all you want, but you also have to hold people accountable and say this is where we need to improve. And those types of plays we just need to get better at and we need to eliminate that from ...
“It’s just not winning baseball. I think we’re still learning how to win at this level. We’ve been in a ton of games. We haven’t had the lead in a ton of games. And there’s a difference. There’s a difference between being down two in the eighth and being up two in the eighth against good lineups. That’s just something we’re going to go through.”
Hyde understands what can cause a player to throw to the wrong base in a critical situation. It’s incorporated into the teaching moment.
“A lot of those plays aren’t because of being lackadaisical or not engaged in the game,” Hyde said. “Those plays are usually from, I’m going to try to do something here, I’m going to try to help here, I’m going to try to throw this guy out here. When, in fact, there are a lot of plays where you just keep the double play in order and you just eliminate baserunners and you understand what my tools are compared to what their tools are. And if it’s a fast runner and we have a two-run lead I’m not going to throw the ball. I have no chance anyway.
“So just not allowing extra bases is part of winning baseball. Just like walking guys with a lead late in the game, not taking care of the ball, those types of things we just didn’t do well last night. We’ve just got to get back to playing better defensively and learn from last night.”
Pitchers took batting practice again today to get ready for interleague play this weekend in Colorado.
“Every pitcher thinks they rake and it’s not until they see 96 on the inside corner and you realize. But they all think that they’re great athletes and they all think they can hit,” Hyde said.
“I just walked by (Dylan) Bundy and (John) Means. Bundy was disappointed in his four rounds and Means said he was taking it easy just hitting line drives all over the place, so we’ll see.”
Andrew Cashner has 17 career infield hits, 12 of them bunting. His 32 hits in 200 at-bats in the majors include two doubles, one triple and one home run.
“Cash has got a lot of at-bats and he’s got a ton of drag bunt hits. He wanted me to know that,” Hyde said.
“When you play in the National League it’s beneficial if you’ve got a guy on the mound who can hit. You want him to at least be able to get a bunt down. That’s the most important thing. But if you can have that extra weapon of a guy who can hit, it’s a huge advantage.”
Hyde can get back to the National League style of play after serving as a coach with the Marlins and Cubs.
“The National League game is so much different,” Hyde said. “I think it’s fun for everybody to change it up a little bit and the National League game is a lot of fun and our guys are looking forward to it.
“If you’re a pitcher, you want to hit in Colorado but maybe not pitch in Colorado. That’s definitely a good place to go and hit.”
Reliever Nate Karns, on the 60-day injured list, became a first-time father on May 13 with the arrival of Brody Karns, who entered the world weighing 9 pounds and 12 ounces.
Dean Kremer has moved up from Single-A Frederick to Double-A Bowie and he’s starting tonight for the Baysox. Kremer, who’s recovered from an oblique injury, tossed 9 2/3 scoreless innings with the Keys.
Update: Gary Sánchez hit a three-run homer off David Hess with no outs in the first inning.
Update II: The Yankees took a 6-0 lead in the third inning on Gio Urshela’s RBI double and Clint Frazier’s two-run homer.
Update III: Frazier hit a three-run homer in the fifth for a 9-0 lead.
Update IV: Wilkerson hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth.
Update V: Sánchez’s fielder’s choice grounder in the sixth with Josh Lucas pitching gave New York a 10-3 lead. Gleyber Torres increased it with a two-out RBI single.
Update VI: Chris Davis doubled off David Hale in the sixth and scored on Alberto’s grounder to reduce the lead to 11-4.