I'm almost scared to write this post, because I like Steve Pearce. My posts have been on a real roll lately. I say the Orioles should bench Nick Markakis, and he proceeds to homer twice in a doubleheader and go on an 18-game hitting streak. I say goodbye to Steve Pearce and call him solid but unexceptional, and the Orioles immediately re-sign him and he goes on a nice tear and steals the spotlight in a few games. So it is with great trepidation that I now call on the Orioles to find more playing time for Pearce.
Steve Pearce's first stint with the Orioles this year reflected the fact that he seemed redundant on the roster, one of three right-handed corner outfield bats (along with Delmon Young and Nelson Cruz). Before he was temporarily cut from the team, he had all of seven plate appearances. But shortly after Pearce was cut, Chris Davis hit the DL with an oblique injury, and the Orioles, lacking another natural first baseman, hastily re-signed him. And a funny thing happened: Steve Pearce hit.
In 45 PAs since Davis hit the DL (yes, yes, small sample size), Pearce went .293/.356/.561 with 3 HRs. He stole the spotlight in a few games. He played solid (if unspectacular) defense at first base. And then Chris Davis came back on May 11th, and Pearce has gotten all of six PAs since.
Delmon Young seems to be taking up the right-handed spot starts at DH or LF, and while his season numbers look OK, he's slashing just .240/.240/.240 in May. This seems like the exact opposite of riding the hot hand, which is what you'd want and expect a team that's flirting with contention and in possession of some fungible roster spots to do.
The complete disappearance of Pearce also coincides with a period of rough offense from the Orioles, with top producers like Adam Jones and Chris Davis scuffling a bit, and Matt Wieters on the DL. Why, finding themselves in that situation, would the Orioles not make space for a bat that was red-hot -- particularly against left-handed pitching, against which Pearce rakes (.265/.349/.458 in his career) and several Orioles regulars (Davis, Markakis), in the exact positions Pearce can cover, frequently struggle?
Don't get me wrong - I don't think Steve Pearce is some magic bullet, nor is he a long-term fix, nor should he be considered any kind of part of the Orioles core. I'm talking about tactics here, not strategy. It's bizarre for the Orioles to let a hot bat languish, particularly when platoon splits would call for him to at least be making spot starts. This mismanagement of hitting resources seems like part of a larger roster management problem that the team is having this year, much like the bizarre deployment of bad relievers (Evan Meek) in high-leverage situations, the decision to call up Kevin Gausman on three days' rest with just one start under his belt after catching pneumonia, or the constant attempts to stretch Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez into late innings after they start to elevate pitches.
It's time for the Orioles to get Pearce into the lineup against lefties. Give Davis a day of rest here and there - he was just on the DL, after all - or cede the platoon DH role to Pearce instead of Young. Putting Pearce into full-blown disappearing act mode again is unjustifiable at this particular point in time.