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First-place Orioles have right stuff to beat lefties

BALTIMORE -- Last year, the Baltimore Orioles couldn't hit lefties. This year, they can't not hit them.

On Friday at Camden Yards, the Birds battered Chicago White Sox southpaw Carlos Rodon en route to a 6-3 win. It was the Orioles' third straight win against a lefty starter -- they bested Chicago's John Danks on Thursday, a day after beating the Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Moore.

A year after going 22-23 against southpaws, Baltimore is now 5-1 in games started by lefty hurlers, including a victory in Boston that came with David Price on the mound. Their only blemish is an 8-4 loss to the Texas Rangers' Cole Hamels, whom they still tagged for three runs and seven hits in five innnings.

Not only are the O's beating lefty starters, they're pummeling them. In the five games combined, they've outscored the opposition 39-18. It's a complete 180 for a team that last season hit much better against righties.

In 2015, Baltimore's OPS against righties was .752, compared to just .662 against lefties. That 90-point differential was the largest in the American League and second only to the Colorado Rockies in the majors. It was also counterintuitive given how right-handed the Orioles' lineup was last year.

Despite the drastic reverse split, one of Baltimore's main goals last offseason was to help balance the batting order by acquiring batters with lefty capabilities. They tried to land switch-hitter Dexter Fowler to play right field, but that fell through when he re-signed with the Chicago Cubs. They did land Korean lefty Hyun Soo Kim with the hopes that he would play left field, but he's had a tough transition and has hardly played.

Instead, it has been three righties who have ended up patrolling the corners of the outfield. Free-agent acquisition Mark Trumbo and Rule 5 draft pick Joey Rickard typically start against righties. Against lefties, Trumbo usually slides to DH with Nolan Reimold taking his spot. Over the past three nights, that trio has been instrumental in Baltimore's series of southpaw slayings: Rickard hit a three-run homer Wednesday off Moore, Trumbo took Danks deep Thursday, and Reimold went opposite-field on Rodon for a three-run jack that sailed through Charm City's April mist and lifted the O's to victory.

But they're not the only ones who've helped reverse the Birds' reverse splits.

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, whose .892 OPS against righties last season was more than 300 points higher than his OPSouthpaw, has turned things around to the tune of a .565/.839 righty/lefty split. On Friday night, he delivered a fifth-inning single that gave the Orioles their first two runs off of Rodon.

So what has changed for him? Nothing, apparently. Except for the calendar, that is.

"Some years, you're going to hit lefties better than righties," Schoop said. "Some years you're going to hit righties better than lefites."

As for the Orioles as a team in 2016, they're clearly hitting lefties better. Through their first 22 games, the AL East leaders have a .769 OPS against lefties, compared to .608 against righties -- although Buck Showalter was quick to point out that not all the damage is coming against starters.

"It's not like we're hammering 'em," said the Orioles' skipper, whose club didn't get a hit off Rodon until the fourth inning. "He was impressive."

Same goes for Moore, who allowed the Orioles only two other hits besides Rickard's homer. But at the end of the day, they still managed to get to Rodon and Moore.

Meanwhile, they roughed up Price -- who had dominated them last season -- for five runs in five innings in Boston's home opener (including another Trumbo dinger), and pounded out nine hits (and six runs) in five frames Thursday against Danks.

Still, despite going 5-for-6 against southpaws so far, Showalter reiterated his humble claim.

"It's not like we're beatin' the heck out of 'em."

Nah, they're just simply beatin' 'em.