If possible, Showalter did not want to be saddled with a strict designated hitter this season like he was in 2011 when declining superstar Vladimir Guerrero clogged the DH and cleanup spots.
Heading into Friday's opener, and barring an 11th hour signing of a DH without a home — Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Guerrero are still available — Showalter will be able to mix and match his DH this season. That will allow him the flexibility to use the spot for specific batter/pitcher matchups or to give a partial day of rest to one of his regular position players.
As many as six players could routinely share the DH role, and that plays to the strength of Showalter, a master tactician who began seriously fiddling with his 2012 batting order as early as December.
"It can be a strength to be able to move people around with the matchups if it doesn't hamper their ability to perform," Showalter said. "The good thing is we've got a lot of people with a lot of experience hitting in different places in the order with the exception of probably 1 and 4."
The top spot continues to be an uncertainty with the tenuous health of proven leadoff hitter Brian Roberts, who will start the season on the disabled list. But at least the club knows Roberts will fill the spot if he battles back from concussion symptoms.
By not having that slugging DH type, though, a brighter light shines on what may be the biggest deficiency in the Orioles' veteran lineup. There really is no obvious hitter to bat fourth — the ever-important cleanup role — in 2012.
"We don't have a prototypical guy," Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley said. "Your DH is normally your fourth hitter in the American League. What Buck wanted to do is have that roving DH where it's not just one guy, where you live and die with him, whether he is a lefty or righty."
Currently, the Oriole with the most experience at cleanup is reserve Nick Johnson, who has had 721 at-bats in the spot, but hasn't done it in more than 35 games in a season since 2006. The two most likely options in the fourth hole for 2012 are Matt Wieters and Adam Jones, who have a combined for 118 at-bats hitting cleanup — roughly one-fourth of a season.
"We are leaning toward those two guys," Presley said. "Now, maybe there is somebody that gets hot and all that changes. Somebody gets really hot for a week or two or 10 days and he jumps into the fourth spot or the fifth spot to protect the fourth spot."
Last year, the offense often sputtered with the lack of production from Guerrero, who started 127 games at cleanup. He had just 13 homers and 63 RBIs overall, and the club's collective cleanup hitters finished 12th in the AL in home runs (16) and last in RBIs (65).
Perhaps the most telling stat is this: Only the ninth spot in the Orioles' lineup had fewer home runs and RBIs in 2011 than cleanup.
Struggling in the four hole is nothing new for the Orioles.
Since 2005, Orioles cleanup hitters have not finished better than eighth of the 14 American League teams in on-base-plus-slugging percentage. You have to go back to 2004 — the first season of the Miguel Tejada era — for the Orioles to show up in the Top 5 of most offensive categories from the fourth spot.
In the past three seasons, Orioles cleanup hitters have ranked 12th, 12th and 11th in home runs. They were sixth in the category in 2008 when Aubrey Huff had his monster Most Valuable Oriole season.
"For me, I've never necessarily had that big, 40, 45 home run guy hitting behind me, but I've had some damn good guys hitting behind me," said right fielder Nick Markakis, who has been the club's primary No. 3 hitter in the past few years.
"I've had Tejada hitting behind me, I've had Aubrey hitting behind me. The last couple years it has been sporadic, here and there. I've had several different guys hitting behind me. I personally don't necessarily need that 40-home-run guy. Anybody just wants somebody consistent hitting behind them. That's what you look for in this game. And you look at our lineup now and, all the way from top to bottom, we have consistency throughout."
To borrow a phrase from Showalter, if "big, hairy guys" in the middle of the order is what you want, the Orioles fall dramatically short.
Mark Reynolds has the most prodigious power and the most experience hitting fourth among the club's regulars. But his propensity for striking out limits Reynolds' presence at cleanup — particularly when No. 4 hitters are often coming to the plate in spots where contact, such as a fly ball, is useful.