On August 22, reports had first surfaced stating that starting the Orioles’ third baseman, Manny Machado, would be out for the rest of the season with right-knee surgery. Considering Machado’s numbers this season (.278, 12 HR, 32 RBIs in 82 GP), any Baltimore player tasked with replacing him would have had some big shoes and even bigger expectations to fill if Baltimore hopes to make a deep run in this year’s Fall Classic. Then Steve Pearce walked in.
Everyday little man, Steve Pearce, has played a big role for the Baltimore Orioles this season, and now it is only going to get bigger. This year, whether it has been filling in for a struggling Chris Davis at first base or in left field to give Nelson Cruz a rest on defense, Pearce has sort of grown into the “go-to” guy for the O’s. Never truly being known as a key player for any of the teams he has played for in his eight-year career, with Manny Machado officially being out for the year with season-ending knee surgery, 31-year-old Pearce, moving forward, will now have to be exactly that.
If there ever was a season for Steve Pearce to truly fill in this role of difference-maker, it is this season. While splitting most of his time in left field and first base, Pearce has been setting personal bests in almost every single category. This season, while batting .287 in his most games ever played in a single season (80), Pearce has set career highs in the categories of Homeruns (14), RBIs (35), Slugging Percentage (.515), OPS (.867) and WAR (4.2).
Even though it has been his hitting that has highlighted Pearce’s season thus far, his always consistent and steady hands in the field will also be counted on as he embarks on this new and major role. In seven total seasons playing at first base, the position Pearce will most play on a day-to-day basis, he has a .995 fielding percentage. In 272 innings played at first this season, Pearce has just one recorded error.
As a player who has spent most of his time dwindling in between the majors and minors, Pearce has been making the most of his limited opportunities this year. However, as of late, Pearce has begun to struggle at the plate, batting just .222 since the All-Star break. With players like Delmon Young and Ryan Flaherty also nipping at the heels of extended playing time, Pearce should understand that this newfound role could be stripped from him just as quickly as it was given to him, should his bat continue to falter.
No one knows if Pearce can keep up his personal record pace, but with Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz continuing to struggle at the plate (batting a combined .167 the second half of the season), if the Orioles hope to make it past the first round for the first time since 1997, Baltimore fans better hope that he can. It has taken him nine years to be put in a role as major as this one and Pearce will surely be giving it his all in order to remain in it. However, if he continues to struggle at the plate, Pearce’s time – along with the team’s playoff chances- could both continue to shrink.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer Covering the Baltimore Orioles