Here are the Orioles’ and Rangers’ lineups for the Wild Card playoff game:
BALTIMORE ORIOLES TEXAS RANGERS
1. Nate McLouth, LF 1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. J.J. Hardy, SS 2. Elvis Andrus, SS
3. Chris Davis, RF 3. Josh Hamilton, LF
4. Adam Jones, CF 4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
5. Matt Wieters, C 5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Jim Thome, DH 6. Michael Young, 1B
7. Mark Reynolds, 1B 7. Mike Napoli, DH
8. Ryan Flaherty, 2B 8. Geovany Soto, C
9. Manny Machado, 3B 9. Craig Gentry, CF
SP Joe Saunders, LH SP Yu Darvish, RH
Buck Showalter is going with what has become his standard lineup versus right-handed pitching following injuries to Nick Markakis and Wilson Betemit. Jim Thome gets the start at designated hitter and will be playing in his 68th career playoff game at age 41. Of the nine players starting for the Orioles tonight only Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, and J.J. Hardy were in the Opening Day lineup at the same position (Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds also played the opener, but at different spots than tonight).
Ron Washington stacked the Rangers’ lineup with right-handed bats against left-hander Joe Saunders. David Murphy played regularly against lefties during the season, but he’s benched tonight in favor of Craig Gentry, which also shifts Josh Hamilton from center field to left field. Lefty-hitting Mitch Moreland is also out of the lineup, with Michael Young taking over for him at first base and Mike Napoli sliding into Young’s usual designated hitter spot. Geovany Soto, who was acquired from the Cubs to be Napoli’s backup, will catch Yu Darvish’s playoff debut.
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The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.