Showalter tames expectations as Orioles start off with a bang

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In an effort to build upon the team’s strong finish last year, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail aggressively addressed several weaknesses during the offseason. He added punch to the lineup by trading for Hardy and third baseman Mark Reynolds and signing free agents Lee and Vladimir Guerrero.

“We got a lineup top to bottom that anybody on any given day can take you deep and drive in four or five runs,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “That’s pretty hard to defend.”

MacPhail also shored up the bullpen with free agent closer Kevin Gregg.

But the biggest reason behind Baltimore’s 4-0 start is an inexperienced, makeshift starting rotation. Jeremy Guthrie launched the season with eight shutout innings at Tampa Bay, and 22-year-old Chris Tillman followed by pitching six innings of no-hit ball.

Emergency starter Zach Britton then allowed one run and three hits in six innings in his major league debut Sunday, and Arrieta continued the trend by scattering six hits over six innings Monday against a Detroit team that scored 19 runs in three games at Yankee Stadium.

“I think we all feed off each other,” said Arrieta, who went 6-6 as a rookie last year. “With each quality outing, we all continue to get better when we see our teammates pitching that well.”

Baltimore starters have a 0.69 ERA, and that’s with Brian Matusz and Justin Duchscherer on the disabled list. Britton filled in nicely for Matusz, and Brad Bergesen has been asked to replace Guthrie (fever) on Wednesday against the Tigers.

That’s the kind of depth that has been missing in Baltimore for years.

In addition, the Orioles have averaged over four runs a game despite slow starts by Lee (.214), Reynolds (.200), Guerrero (.125) and Jones (.125).

But Hardy, the last man in the lineup, has scored four runs; leadoff hitter Brian Roberts has two homers and eight RBI; and No. 2 hitter Nick Markakis is batting .429.

“We’ve been OK. I think we can be a little bit better,” Lee said. “Brian has basically been our offense so far. I think we’ll get some other guys get hot. When we all start clicking on all cylinders, I think we’ll be really good.”

Detroit manager Jim Leyland is already impressed.

“They’re pitching good,” he said. “They have a lot of things going for them right now.”

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