New lineup spot, same approach for Brian Roberts?

The Orioles have released their batting order for their season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, which will surely get people talking because it is Opening Day and all. But manager Buck Showalter scribbled down more than 100 different lineups last season, so we probably shouldn’t make too much about Tuesday’s order.

Still, it will be pretty odd seeing Brian Roberts hitting from the nine hole instead of leading off like he has -- when healthy -- for most of his Orioles career.

“I’m happy to be healthy and playing, and my job for the past 13 years had been to be the best leadoff man in the game I could be,” Roberts said Friday. “And now I’ll be the best nine-hole hitter I can be.”

Nick Markakis, who bats left-handed, will lead off for the Orioles against David Price and the Rays on Tuesday afternoon, followed by Manny Machado, who is a right-handed hitter.

In his 1,200 career starts, Roberts was the leadoff hitter in all but 85 of them. He hasn't batted out of the top spot since 2009, though he has played in just 115 games in the three seasons since.

Roberts last batted ninth in 2004, a season in which Sidney Ponson was the Opening Day starter and some kid named Jose Bautista started the year on the O’s bench and was soon waived.

In four starts and 17 career games in the nine hole, Roberts batted .200 with no extra base hits and one run batted in. He also stole three bases. But 29 plate appearances is a small sample size and, as I pointed out, 2004 was a long, long time ago.

Overall, Roberts has batted .282 with 320 doubles, 80 home runs and 451 RBIs when batting first. In the other eight spots combined, he has hit .254 with 19 doubles, four homers and 31 RBIs.

Also worth noting, he drew a walk in 9.89 percent of his plate appearances when batting first and just 4.95 when he wasn’t.

His approach shouldn’t change too much when hitting in the ninth spot, though, because he is basically being asked to be another leadoff hitter, so getting on base will continue to be his top priority.

“All that changes is that you don’t hit for an hour,” he said.

It will still be interesting to see how Roberts adjusts, though. If he can stay healthy -- yes, I know that is the burning question for this 35-year-old with a history of concussion issues -- and get on base like he did when he was the leadoff hitter, that will give Showalter a nice weapon at the bottom of the batting order before Markakis.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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