BALTIMORE—After the Norfolk Tides completed their season on Labor Day, DJ Stewart wasn’t chosen as one of the additions to the Orioles’ roster. Though Norfolk manager Ron Johnson told Stewart to stay ready, the Orioles’ No. 1 pick in 2015 thought his season was done.
Stewart, 24, spent much of spring training with the Orioles. His addition to the roster at some point this season was expected, but a hamstring injury sidelined him in late May. His July and August numbers weren’t very good, and Stewart ended up with a .235 average, 12 home runs and 55 RBIs.
“For me, it was kind of the tale of two seasons,” Stewart said. “It started off relatively hot, kind of carried over from the last year in Bowie. To me, I think, this is not making excuses at all, after I got injured a little bit, now that I’ve had time, that week, to think about it, I feel like when I got back, I was trying to get back to where I was, hitting before I got hurt instead of just playing.
“Early in the season, I was just playing the game, having fun and getting hits. When I got back, it was kind of like putting too much pressure on myself, trying to do too much, trying to get three hits in one at-bat. Nobody can do that. It was a mental thing. I let it snowball on me a little bit. To have that week off it’s like a new start, honestly. For me, get these last couple of weeks into the season, and see what happens.”
Stewart didn’t play Tuesday, though manager Buck Showalter said he expected him to start on Wednesday.
“[Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette] and I have been talking about it for a while,” Showalter said of Stewart’s addition. “Late August, September, we kept waiting for him to kind of get it going again and have him come up on a positive note. I think some of the pressure of that probably weighed on him, too. You see guys go up and you know the opportunity might be there. I just look at it as a guy who has the opportunity to have a future in our plans. Let’s take a chance. Why not?”
Stewart had to be added to the team’s 40-man roster over the winter, and the Orioles get what in essence is a free look.
“We want to take advantage of a rare opportunity to see him,” Showalter said. “He had a good year last year, he was well on his way to a good year this year, just didn’t quite finish it off … Hopefully, he can end on a good note here and go into next year with positive feelings about where he’s heading.”
In his several days at home in Florida, Stewart began thinking about his January wedding.
“I was focused on that, but then I shifted gears back to baseball,” he said. And he thought about what he had to do better in 2019. He wants fans to know more about him.
“That I can play,” Stewart said.” Everyone who hasn’t really seen me play, they kind of just see statistics and stuff like that. When they watch me play, they’ll enjoy what I can bring to the team and how I can go about the game and how I can play. I think it’s something I can contribute to the team.”
There are things that don’t show up in the stat line that Stewart is proud of.
“It doesn’t show that I’m in there, grinding every single at-bat,” Stewart said. “I make the pitcher work every single at-bat. I may swing at a few bad pitches, but I’ll also make the adjustment each pitch instead of taking the entire at-bat to process that. Once you see my entire game, it gives you a little bit more idea of who I am.”
Stewart could compete for a spot next spring with John Andreoli and Joey Rickard, who are already on the Orioles, and with Austin Hays and Anthony Santander, who aren’t.
“The effort, the baseball player part of DJ is really good,” Showalter said “You’re going to like the way he plays, the way he competes. Sometimes that can be rewarded, too. He’s got a good eye at the plate, he’s got some pop … I’d be surprised if he doesn’t hold his own here. He’s a talented kid. I really like the way he approaches things from an effort standpoint.”
Despite Stewart’s struggles at Norfolk, he’s in Baltimore, playing for Buck Showalter instead of Ron Johnson.
“No one wants to be in Triple-A,” Stewart said. “R.J’s cool and all that, but it’s a little bit cooler up here.”
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