As manager Brandon Hyde provides the occasional reminder that it’s still too early to offer a completed lineup projection for opening day, he keeps batting Austin Hays and Hanser Alberto in the leadoff spot during intrasquad games and offering a glimpse at the options that enable him to complete one of the tasks.
Proven leadoff hitters aren’t falling from the Orioles’ tree. Hays and Alberto are the only logical considerations - the former based on tools that eventually could lower him into more of a run-producing spot.
Alberto led off in 46 games last season and slashed .349/.364/.472. He hit .378/.391/.489 as the first batter of the game. It counts as a track record on this team.
Every story has a flip side. Alberto was a monster against left-handers, batting .398/.414/.534, but he slashed .238/.269/.340 versus right-handers.
Hyde could drop Alberto in less-favorable matchups as he did last summer with Jonathan Villar on the roster.
(Villar registered a .188/.257/.313 line as the first batter of the game, but I don’t think many people noticed.)
The Red Sox can’t send left-hander Chris Sale to the mound on opening day because he underwent Tommy John surgery in March. Lefty David Price was traded to the Dodgers and he opted out of the season. Southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez, the former Orioles farmhand, has been withheld from the summer training camp after testing positive for COVID-19 in Miami.
Alberto might have to wait for the second game to gain his advantage. Martín Pérez is lined up to make the July 25 start, slotted between right-handers Nathan Eovaldi and Ryan Weber.
Does anyone still think this is a legitimate season with a legitimate champion waiting to be crowned? I’ll fight that argument to exhaustion.
“I haven’t faced that many righties here, so everybody I face is lefty, lefty, lefty. And hopefully I’ll get the same result. Also, I’m working hard to have those results against right-handers, too,” Alberto said during a recent Zoom conference call with the media.
“Somehow I was seeing the ball better against them (last season). I don’t know why. I recognize the pitch against them better. I always have myself in a really good position to hit. Somehow, with the left-handers, I felt more comfortable last year and I think that was the key. I was super ready and I see the ball really good against them.”
Alberto, a native of San Francisco de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, couldn’t face anyone after first returning home.
“That was tough a little bit because my city was the city that started the COVID-19, so when I get there, a week later, they shut down the whole city. They closed the city. Nobody can go out, nobody can get in,” he said.
“That was tough for me to go out and work out and do baseball stuff because the city was like that for about a month and a half. I was trying to do the most I can at home, working out, but it was a tough challenge. So when they reopened the city, it gave me a chance into go to the stadium and work and see some live BP and stuff. I tried to put myself in a good position to come back to the states and get ready for the season.”
The temptation to lower Hays in the order also comes from needing someone to step up in Trey Mancini’s absence. Alberto is more of a table setter than the guy who’s going to clear it.
“We miss Trey, but we’ve got some good hitters here,” Alberto said. “I think we can all do a really good job. Obviously, we miss him and we want to have him in the lineup. We know what he represents. But I’ll try to do my job, what I can do, and let the other guys do their job, too.
“I think we’re going to do a really, really good job. We feel really good. I think on the 24th we’re going to be ready and hopefully we can do a really good job.”