So what will Steve Pearce do for an encore?
Coming off the best year of his life, what can he do to try to repeat the amazing success he had during the 2014 season?
Consider that going into last year, Pearce had hit 17 career homers in 743 at-bats over parts of seven seasons with four different teams. Last season, he hit 21 in 338 at-bats with the Orioles and was a real key to the club winning 96 games and an American League East title. Pearce had never homered more than four times in any year until last season, when he hit his fifth homer on June 17. He had 11 homers by the All-Star break.
What a difference for him 12 months later. This season, he is not worried about just making the roster. His spot is secure and he’ll get his at-bats.
“It feels really good,” Pearce said. “Don’t have to stress as much. Little bit rewarding after having the year I had last year. But still working hard, still doing all the stuff, I’m not changing anything. Still going about my spring training the right way. I’m always going to work hard. This is how I prepare for the season every time to get my swing right for the season.”
Pearce batted .293/.373/.556 last season with an OPS of .930. He set career-highs in games (102), plate appearances (383), runs (51), hits (99), doubles, (26), home runs (21), RBIs (49), slugging percentage (.556), OPS (.930), walks (40) and stolen bases (five).
If he had enough at-bats to qualify last season, he would have ranked fourth in the AL in both slugging and OPS.
What were the keys to his big season?
“A big opportunity was there with (Chris) Davis going down. I was able to see regular at-bats and get into a groove,” Pearce said. “I started off hot and was able to kind of ride that wave for a while. There were a lot of factors that played into it. Just glad I was able to seize the opportunity.”
But won’t pitchers now make big adjustments in how they pitch to Pearce as they try to figure out ways to get him out consistently?
“They adjusted to me last year,” he said. “There are constant adjustments. I never look back at it and say, ‘That was an awesome year.’ I felt like that is how I play. I never thought pitchers just grooved me fastballs because they knew who I was. I was still pitched pretty hard. If I play every day, I feel that is the way I can play.”
Pearce’s at-bats per home run:
* Before the 2014 season: one every 43.7 at-bats
* During the 2014 season: one every 16.1 at-bats
Pearce cleaned up against left-handed pitching last season, batting .327/.405/.704 in 111 plate appearances. He also hit .319/.390/.569 with 28 RBIs in 82 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
He looks locked in this spring as well. He hit another homer yesterday against Pittsburgh. He is batting .382 (13-for-34) with five homers and nine RBIs in Grapefruit League games.
“I am constantly working on things,” Pearce said. “It is nice to be able to take it into games here and work on it knowing I have a spot on the team. In the past, it was like I gotta get a hit and you could press in spring. This year is a little less stressful, just can work on getting ready for the season.”
It seems strange to say it, but Pearce was released during his breakout 2014 season. The Orioles released him on April 25 and re-signed him four days later, when he passed on a chance to join the Toronto Blue Jays. Lucky for the Orioles.
He likes it here and and looks around the clubhouse and sees plenty of talent as the O’s look to make the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
“I got here in ‘12 and it is a lot of the same guys. The same core is here,” Pearce said. “We can talk about teams adding a bunch of players, but they don’t have the chemistry we’ve got. We still have a real competitive team and we can do damage in the East.
“It was a fun year last year. We overcame a lot and accomplished a lot. We get to go to war again this season.”