Adam Jones received good news and bad news in the Orioles' clubhouse before Tuesday night's game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards. The good news was that the center fielder had been named the club's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes the player who best represents Major League Baseball through contributions on and off the field.
Unfortunately, the 26-year-old had also just learned that he was being held out of the starting lineup for a fourth consecutive game because of a sore right thumb, which left him in a somber mood as he spoke with reporters about the recognition he received for his work in the community.
"Giving back my time, I think that's something easy to do," said Jones, who entered Tuesday's game in the eighth inning as a pinch-runner. "I understand that we have a crazy schedule, but on off days, I think a couple of hours of my time, it's pretty easy for someone to do. Having the awareness and being able to contribute my time and be a role model to a lot of the young kids, that's fulfilling to me."
Jones was honored for his participation with the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA and Baltimore's Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) program. He said he isn't too familiar with Clemente, the Hall of Fame outfielder who died in a plane crash in 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, but Jones hopes to learn more about the former Pittsburgh Pirates great.
"When you hear people talk about Roberto Clemente, it's not just about the unbelievable player that he was, but the humanitarian he was, too," Jones said.
As for that troublesome thumb, Jones said it is swollen and painful — "I can barely hold a pen to sign something" — but he seemed disappointed when he learned that Orioles manager Buck Showalter hadn't inserted him into the starting lineup. Kyle Hudson started in center field.
"I'm available for him," said Jones, who had an X-ray taken on his thumb Monday.
The results came back negative, and the X-ray looked similar to one of the thumb taken in July. Showalter said that if the injury had occurred in the middle of the season when the team had 25 active roster spots, it wouldn't be serious enough to place Jones on the 15-day disabled list. He is hopeful that Jones will be able to return to the starting lineup Wednesday, but the Orioles could hold Jones out until after Thursday's off day as a precautionary measure.
"I know he's champing at the bit to get back in there," Showalter said. "He's not one of those guys that lets you see every ounce of discomfort he's feeling. So when he does, that's the cachet he's created through [playing through] balls off the foot and foul balls off the kneecap and diving all over the place, running into walls. Believe me, if it's an issue at all with him actually letting me or [trainer Richie Bancells] hear about it, it's something that's bothering him. He's a tough guy."
Wieters figuring out lefties
After a frustrating 2010 season at the plate, catcher Matt Wieters has rebounded in 2011, raising his batting average and setting career highs in home runs and RBIs. The biggest difference from last year is the way the first-time All-Star has fared against left-handed pitchers.
Entering Tuesday night's game, in which he hit a go-ahead two-run homer against Rays lefty J.P. Howell, Wieters, a switch-hitter, was batting .342 with eight home runs, 20 RBIs and .649 slugging percentage in 128 plate appearances against left-handers. When he batted right-handed against lefties in 2010, he had a .210 average with just two home runs.
Showalter said the increased production is a result of a concerted effort in spring training to get Wieters as many at-bats against left-handers as possible, whether it was by playing him against lefty starters in Grapefruit League games or by giving him simulated at-bats on the side.
"It was something that we felt real confident that Matty could do," Showalter said of Wieters, who batted fifth Tuesday. "And now he presents a real tough challenge for the opposing manager and presents a nice option for me to put behind somebody you don't want them to pitch around."
After nearly four decades in baseball, Showalter is still awed by the concept of switch-hitting.
"That would be like asking you to switch-write or switch-golf or switch-hockey," Showalter told reporters at his pre-game news conference. "If you stop and think about it, it's amazing that guys can actually do that at this level. I've tried it, and I couldn't do it."
Berken looking to finish strong
It has admittedly been an up-and-down 2011 season for Orioles reliever Jason Berken, who has twice been optioned to Triple-A Norfolk and was activated from the 15-day disabled list Monday after being sidelined since Aug. 22 with a right forearm strain.
"It's been disappointing for me," said the righty, who struck out two batters in one scoreless inning during Monday night's 5-2 loss to the Rays. "I expect a lot better of myself, but I can't dwell on what's already happened. I have to look forward. It's just a matter of finishing strong, putting together some good outings and doing whatever I can to help."
A revelation out of the bullpen in 2010, Berken wasn't as steady before he started his stint on the disabled list last month. Entering Tuesday's game, he was 1-2 with a 5.66 ERA in 41 1/3 innings over 36 appearances. Asked what he needs to do to get back on track, he said consistency is key.
"Last year, I was lucky enough to not have the real bad outings," Berken said. "This year, I've had some really bad ones. ... I feel like I've pitched well at times. I had some good stretches. But I haven't been able to maintain it throughout the whole year, so that will be a good challenge for me."
Around the horn
Infielder Chris Davis didn't start against the Rays. Robert Andino started at third base, and Mark Reynolds was at first. Infielder Cesar Izturis (groin) will see a physical therapist in Miami. High-A Frederick began its five-game Carolina League championship series against Kinston on Tuesday. The Keys got six strong innings from starter Jake Pettit in Monday's 3-2 win over Potomac, a performance that caught Showalter's attention. "That Pettit kid [has] pitched well," he said.
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