BALTIMORE -- If you look up “leadoff hitter," you will not find a picture of Adam Jones staring back at you. But that hasn’t prevented him from spending the past four weeks at the top of the Baltimore Orioles’ batting order. The way things are going, he might be there a while longer.
In Wednesday’s 7-2 win over the San Diego Padres, Jones went 2-for-4 and scored two runs. It was his 10th multihit game in 26 contests since manning the 1-hole; that’s two more than he had in 41 games before the switch.
What stood out on Wednesday, though, wasn’t Jones’ lumber but his legs.
With two outs in the bottom of the third and the score tied 1-1, Jones laced a ground ball single up the middle and into center field. After Hyun Soo Kim lined out to left field, Jonathan Schoop hit a rope to the gap in left center. With outfielders Melvin Upton Jr. and Travis Jankowski converging on the ball, it looked like Schoop would be held to a single and Jones would go from first to third. Apparently somebody forgot to give Jones the memo.
Going hard on contact, the speedy 30-year-old veteran took a page right out of the Little League playbook and just kept right on running. So what if it looked like a single off the bat. So what if Jankowski had the ball in his hand well before Jones got to third. So what if reigning home run champ Chris Davis and current American League home run leader Mark Trumbo were the next two batters due up. Jones cared not. Instead, all he cared about was burning rubber.
“Run 'til they stop you,” Jones said. “It's not about what I think the hitter's gonna get. It's about what I'm going to do. And I kept running.”
He hoofed it so hard that by the time he got back into the dugout 270 feet later, he was running on fumes.
“I needed oxygen,” joked Jones, who scored easily on the play because Jankowski, assuming Jones would stop at third, threw toward second instead of hitting the cutoff man. In the scorebook, with Schoop reaching second on the play, it looked like nothing more than a guy scoring from first on a double. Happens all the time, right?
“You’re making more out of it than it was,” said Jones, trying to diminish the importance of his sprint. “I scored on a hustle play with two outs. That’s just my style.”
But in the moment, when it happened, it had that undeniable oh-no-he-didn’t feel to it. And to hear Buck Showalter tell it, it was a turning point in the game.
“It’s a big play,” Baltimore’s bench boss said. “If you're on the other team, you don't feel good about that.”
If you’re on the O’s, you feel great.
“I wasn’t surprised because I know that Jonesy plays hard all the time,” Schoop said. “That’s why he’s the captain of our team.”
Added Showalter: “Adam does a lot of things that create a lot of cache with me because of his effort and because he's engaged.”
Maybe a little too engaged at times: One of the arguments against moving Jones to the leadoff spot was that when it comes to taking pitches, he’s about as selective as a sumo wrestler at Golden Corral. This season, he’s averaging 3.56 pitches per plate appearance, fewest on the Orioles. He has swung at 47 percent of first pitches, the second-highest rate in the majors behind the Tampa Bay Rays's Steven Souza Jr. Not exactly what you'd called a textbook table setter.
While Jones has speed and hustle befitting a leadoff man -- as Wednesday’s mad dash demonstrated - that’s not why his manager made the move.
“I wish I could claim all that,” said Showalter, whose Orioles haven’t had a true leadoff hitter since Brian Roberts in 2009. “Just trying to give him a little different look and a little different toy. Just something different when he comes to the park. Throw him a whole new soup bone. It's worked out pretty well so far.”
Prior to May 27, when Jones assumed leadoff duties, he was mired in a season-long slump. Batting primarily in the 3-hole, he was slashing .223/.282/.357.
Since the switcheroo, those numbers have ballooned to .282/.311/.545. Even though his on-base percentage (.311) would never cause anyone to mistake him for Rickey Henderson, it’s an improvement over what Baltimore’s leadoff hitters were doing prior to the change (.302). As an added benefit, moving Jones up in the order allowed Showalter to finally plant Manny Machado in the No. 3 spot, where he belongs.
Most importantly, the Birds are winning.
Since the change, Baltimore has gone 15-11 to remain atop the American League East. And as long as that’s the case, you can expect Adam Jones to remain atop the O’s order.