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With new challenges, Showalter won't miss a beat

O's manager capitalizes on every minute in spring to prepare for season
March 10, 2016

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Two hours before game time, and Buck Showalter isn't in the house.Ninety minutes to the first pitch, and no one has seen the Orioles' manager.Fifty-five minutes to go: Showalter, in uniform and dark sun glasses, breezes into the dugout, grabs a red fungo bat and steps onto

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Two hours before game time, and Buck Showalter isn't in the house.
Ninety minutes to the first pitch, and no one has seen the Orioles' manager.
Fifty-five minutes to go: Showalter, in uniform and dark sun glasses, breezes into the dugout, grabs a red fungo bat and steps onto the Bright House Field turf.
Showalter is in a hurry. He's always in a hurry.
His Orioles were playing the Phillies, and most of the fans were in the ballpark before he arrived.
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The thing about Showalter, one of baseball's premier managers, is that he crams as much as possible into every minute of every day.
Showalter didn't ride his team's bus from Sarasota to Clearwater on this morning, because he wanted to remain back and scrutinize the players working out at the O's Spring Training complex before he managed the Grapefruit League game. He'd rather do that vs. sitting around, watching players stretch, take batting practice and prepare for the game.
"Plus, in the car driving up here, I got a chance to talk with [Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations] Dan Duquette about our roster and things we might have to do," Showalter said.
The three-time Manager of the Year Award winner is beginning his seventh season with the O's, the longest tenure he's had in 17 years as a Major League skipper. In 2014, he guided Baltimore to the American League East title, its first in that lofty position since 1997. Last summer was a huge disappointment, a third-place finish behind Toronto and New York.
"I've said it a hundred times -- we scored more runs last year than we did the year before, but we didn't pitch as well," Showalter said. "It's a given the other four teams in our division are going to be competitive, so that's something [pitching] we have to do better.
"Offense comes and goes with everybody, but what happens on the mound is what makes the difference."
An excellent example was the 2015 AL East champions. The Blue Jays easily outhomered and outscored the opposition, but they did not take off until they obtained lefty David Price at the Trade Deadline for the second half of the season.
No question, the 2016 Orioles will be strong offensively, with a batting order loaded with home run power. It could be one of the most feared lineups in the Majors.
In December, the O's obtained first baseman/designated hitter Mark Trumbo from the Mariners.
And in mid-January, they re-signed free-agent first baseman Chris Davis to a seven-year, $161 million contract. Davis blasted 47 homers last season and 53 two years before.
Add to that the just-completed signing of free-agent power hitter Pedro Alvarez to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million. He hit 27 homers and drove in 77 runs last year with Pittsburgh. When Alvarez was an All-Star in 2013, he led the National League with 36 homers.
Justice: Alvarez should thrive with Orioles
Davis, who asked Showalter if he could make the trip to Clearwater to get extra at-bats, believes facing the Orioles' lineup won't be easy.

"It'll be tough," Davis said. "Not just because of the power, but I think there's good balance in this lineup both right- and left-handed, from what we've seen so far. We haven't scored a ton of runs, but you see the body of work. … It's going to be fun to see what this lineup can do."
In the end, though, it will boil down to pitching. The addition of Yovani Gallardo provides experience to a rotation that lacks a true ace.
Against the Phils in this game, Gallardo made his long-awaited first start for the O's, who signed the free-agent right-hander on Feb. 25 to a two-year, $22 million contract.
Gallardo settles in after rocky 1st in O's debut
Gallardo said he tried to do too much in his first inning against the Phillies, who handed the Orioles an 8-4 loss. He gave up two doubles and a two-run homer to Darin Ruf before pitching a scoreless second inning.

"The guys in the clubhouse have made it easy for me here," Gallardo said. "It shows the kind of chemistry we have here, how close they are in our clubhouse. They work hard, but have fun and take care of business."
Credit much of that to Showalter.
"Every spring is different," he said. "Each one has a life of its own. There are things you take out of each. I learn from every Spring Training. It's a time to catch up with the times, what young guys are about and try to stay up to speed on them."
When Showalter took over the Orioles in August 2010, changing the clubhouse culture and restoring a winning atmosphere was a priority. He firmly believes players are more than athletic machines; they're humans with enormous talent, but also individuals with lives away from baseball. Because Showalter recognizes this so well, there's a comfort level in the clubhouse.
"I try to let the players know that if there's something important to them or in their life, I'm aware of it," he said. "You never go into routine mode. There are different needs that have to be addressed."
Showalter joked that he's even trying to learn some of the walkup music players use before each at-bat.
"Staying up with the music alone is a new challenge," he said.
Knowing Showalter, he'll be up to speed by the second verse -- or by Opening Day.

Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for Follow him @halbodley on Twitter.