BALTIMORE—After missing a month because of a fractured rib, outfielder Austin Hays returned to the Orioles’ lineup on Monday night, going 2-for-4 with a walk in the team’s 14-1 win over Atlanta.
He played left field for the first time, with Cedric Mullins staying in center field, and DJ Stewart playing right. Hays was glad to be back.
When he went on the 10-day injured list on August 14th, he expected to be back when those 10 days expired. That wasn’t the case.
“Originally, we had talked about shutting everything down for three to five days and resuming baseball activity,” Hays said in a video conference call on Tuesday.
“The whole idea was that I would be able to take a deep breath with no discomfort or no pain,” Hays said. “And I didn’t reach that point until Day 15 or Day 16. I ended up going about two weeks without throwing, running, hitting, anything like that.
“When we finally got to that point, I think it was on Day 16, where I was able to breathe with no discomfort, that’s when we started to do some small stuff like shoulder care, core stuff, some light swinging, and continued to build up from there and get back up into shape.”
Hays said that he was able to have consistent at-bats against good pitching at the Bowie alternate site.
“There’s a lot of really, young talented arms down there that have big league stuff,” he said. “You’re seeing 95-97, you’re seeing offspeed stuff, and you’re seeing a lot of command. You’re getting pitches to hit. I think that’s what’s helped guys, you’re getting to face really good arms consistently.”
Hays was the Orioles’ third-round pick in the 2016 draft. By the following September, he was in the major leagues, the first player from that draft to reach the majors. Hays hit .217 with a homer and five RBIs in 20 games that year.
An injury-riddled 2018 season that ended in ankle surgery resulted in a lost year, and more injuries in 2019 delayed his return until last September.
Three years after his Orioles debut, the team has been completely remade. Only Tanner Scott and Chance Sisco remain on the active roster from 2017. (Chris Davis, Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander are on the injured list.)
Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Mullins and Stewart, all Orioles draftees, are on the same team, representing a promising future for the Orioles. Manager Brandon Hyde said on Monday that he was going to move Mountcastle to first base for some games in the season’s final two weeks to allow his young outfielders to play together.
Mountcastle is playing first and batting fourth against Atlanta on Tuesday night.
“When I first came up, that was really my first time meeting any of the guys that were on this team,” Hays said.
During spring training, he’d gotten some calls to come over and join the Orioles as an extra player for Grapefruit League games.
“When I came up in September, it was a lot of handshakes and a lot of introducing myself,” Hays said. “This year, there’s a surplus of a lot of young outfielders, and these are guys that I’ve played with for the last three and four years.
“I said last night, when we were stretching on the lines, it was me, Mounty, DJ and Cedric. I was saying, ‘The Bowie boys are back from 2017 and 2018.’
“The guys that I came up with through the minor leagues, those are everybody that are in the big leagues right now. I just feel a little bit closer to the team than when I first came up.”
Hays said there are more prospects in the system.
“You’re seeing guys that are having success in the big leagues right now that have gone through every step of the way at every level,” he said. “It shows you we know what we’re doing, and we are making advances as an organization.
“Being able to go down to the camp where we had our 60-man player pool and see the arms that we have down there and some of the bats that are going to be the next wave.
“Where we were in 2017 and 2018; 2022 and 2023, those guys that are down there now are going to be making the next wave. I just think we have a really great young core, and there’s a lot more to keep coming.”