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Why is Jace Peterson playing so much?

While looking over the current roster and seeing how playing time has been allotted recently, it’s fair to wonder what’s going on with Jace Peterson.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It has been an odd journey for Jace Peterson in 2019. He played the majority of the season in the Orioles’ minor leagues with Norfolk. In 90 games in Triple-A he hit very well actually, putting up 10 home runs, 25 doubles, five triples and 13 steals to go along with a .313/.398/.512 triple slash line.

He had an opt out clause in his contract in mid-July and he exercised it, becoming a free agent on July 16. Yet three days after the Tides released him, he signed a new minor league contract and was promoted to the Orioles six days after that.

In 30 games since joining the Orioles on July 25, Peterson has started all but seven. In four of those 30 games he came off the bench as a substitute. He’s appeared in the outfield in 17 games — 16 games in left and one in right — while also logging eight games at third base and four at second base.

That’s a lot of playing time for a utility player. But do his hitting stats justify it?

In 101 plate appearances this season, Peterson is hitting .215/.267/.333. His career slash line — covering about six years in the show — is .227/.315/.330, giving him a career .645 OPS. The most home runs he’s hit in a season is seven, which happened in 2016 over the course of 115 games.

Perhaps this season is still part of Peterson’s audition to be the Orioles’ future utility man. Yes, Peterson was on the team last year, but Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde weren’t. They would want to put their own eyes on him before making any decisions.

The 29-year-old Peterson has been on four different ball clubs in the past six years, so one could say he’s well-traveled. On this very young team, that is one of the more experienced players in the clubhouse.

Maybe Elias and Hyde are keeping Peterson around because on this team, he is a solid veteran presence. Keep in mind, that’s a relative term here considering the youth on the roster. But consider even last year and how former manager Buck Showalter liked him.

It’s not too hard to see if you watch Peterson enough. He’s a hard-nosed, gritty type of player because frankly, he has to be. But how much hitting can a team sacrifice for gritty veteran presence?

One thing Peterson has going for him is his batting eye. Historically, his high walk totals have been masked by a low batting average. And bear in mind, this year is not the best example of his plate discipline, considering he has six walks and 21 strikeouts. But last year — between New York and Baltimore — he had 31 walks and 58 strikeouts. In 2017 he had 27/48, in 2018 he had 52/69 and in 2015 he had 56/120.

If Peterson had enough plate appearances to be eligible, his 4.12 pitches seen per plate appearance this year would place him 15th in the American League. Teammate Renato Nunez is 11th with 4.16 P/PA.

Quite possibly, Peterson is just another example of Elias filling out the roster in a season where the team did not have any expectations to compete. Another cost-cutting measure to keep the budget down until the team has a more realistic chance to win.

If the Orioles are treating some young guys with kid gloves or simply putting them in the best position to succeed, a guy like Peterson is a part of that equation. He’s been playing mostly third base and left field the past month or so, which are primary positions for a lot of inexperienced Orioles.

Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart play some left field as well, while Rio Ruiz and Renato Nunez have appeared at third. By sitting any one of these guys for a breather, or against a tough veteran pitcher, Hyde is able to protect them in a way. He may also just be playing the numbers, whether it’s batting splits or pitcher matchup stats.

But aren’t there other guys who deserve a shot at some playing time with the O’s in left field or at third base? Can’t you dip into the minor leagues and find someone hitting better than .212, who you aren’t rushing to the majors?

With September 1 and roster expansion approaching quickly, there should be a few more options for left field and third base added to the roster. We’ll have to wait and see how that affects the playing time of someone like Peterson.