Orioles juggle their lineup order

Orioles juggle their lineup order

BALTIMORE -- Who said you can't teach an old hitter a new lineup slot? Veteran Melvin Mora made a start as the cleanup hitter for the first time in his career on Monday, giving the Orioles a new look versus left-handed pitchers and relegating resident No. 4 hitter Aubrey Huff one spot lower for the season opener.

The move was designed to take advantage of Mora's prowess against southpaws and had the added bonus of splitting left-handed hitters Nick Markakis and Huff in the power slots. Mora batted .314 with a .622 slugging percentage against left-handers last year, and manager Dave Trembley hopes to see that trend continue.

"I'd like to start the season that way," said Trembley of his Opening Day batting alignment. "I talked to Melvin and Huffy in Spring Training about that, and that's the way I'd like to go early in the year and see how it plays out. I definitely want to split up the two guys hitting back-to-back left-handed."

Huff, who got 427 of his 598 at-bats in the cleanup hole last season, said the batting order won't make him change his approach. The veteran won the American League Silver Slugger Award last season as a designated hitter, and he believes he can be just as productive playing first base and batting one spot lower in the lineup.

Having said that, Huff also said he definitely expects to bat cleanup against most right-handed pitchers.

"Dave told me at the end of Spring Training that that's what he wanted to do," Huff said. "And Melvin obviously had more power off lefties last year, so it makes sense. But I don't really care. That stuff doesn't make a difference to me, as long as I'm in the lineup. There's going to be plenty of RBI opportunities from the five hole."

Still, despite Huff's compliance, the lineup switch provides another interesting chapter in Mora's erratic career arc. The two-time All-Star has already had a late career peak and gone from being a utility man to being a starter against all odds, and now he's trying to cement his transition from table-setter to run producer.

Mora batted .376 -- second in the AL -- after the All-Star break last season, and his 56 second-half RBIs outdid all but two other Junior Circuit hitters. The Orioles hope to jump-start the same kind of production from him early in the season this year, and Mora said hitting in the cleanup perch may be more to his liking.

"I think the difference last year, batting second or hitting leadoff, is you try to get on base for the big guys," he said. "I am not a big guy. I am a little guy, but if they make a mistake, I'll hit it."

Mora has seen most of his action as either the No. 2 or three-hole hitter, and his third-most experience has come as a leadoff man. The Venezuela native will likely bat fifth against right-handed pitchers, allowing the Orioles to split Huff and fellow left-handed power hitter Luke Scott, who will likely bat sixth on a regular basis.

Trembley, who normally bristles when asked about his lineup, was fairly expansive about his thought process. He said that he consulted with all his coaches before sketching out his Opening Day batting order.

"I pretty much had my mind made up three days ago," he said. "I wrote the lineup two different ways on the plane from Fort Lauderdale, [Fla.], for the exhibition game [in Norfolk, Va.], and yesterday, I was sure what I was going to do. I went around and told guys the slots they were going to be in, so that was all taken care of."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.