Austin Hays' injury hamstrings Orioles' outfield defense - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Austin Hays’ injury hamstrings Orioles’ outfield defense

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini was characteristically hard on himself after Thursday’s Opening Day loss, knowing that he’s capable of better. Mancini will rightfully be given lots of space from fans who are thankful to see him well and playing after undergoing colon cancer surgery and chemotherapy last year.

He’ll get better, sooner rather than later, and hit like the player he was from 2017-2019.

Besides being disappointed in his first week’s performance, Mancini said that he had spoken with Ryan Mountcastle, who had two straight difficult days in left field.

Neither Mancini nor Mountcastle is a natural outfielder. Mancini, who’s back at first base, became an adequate outfielder. The Orioles hope Mountcastle can become one, too.

Mountcastle is playing left field because Austin Hays isn’t. Hays strained his right hamstring in the April 4th 11-3 win over the Boston Red Sox.

With Hays in left field, Cedric Mullins in center and Anthony Santander in right, the Orioles’ outfield is strong. It’s shakier with Mountcastle in left.

Last August, Mountcastle surprised observers by playing decently in left after being moved there to find a position for him. He caught the balls he was supposed to catch and hit well.

So far in 2021, Mountcastle has started in left four times, the games Hays has missed. In the Orioles’ first seven games, Mountcastle is hitting .179, including a two-run homer on Thursday, with five RBIs and 11 strikeouts in 30 at-bats, His only two walks came in the 11-3 win on April 4th.

His stats are nearly identical to Mancini’s. Both are 5-for-28 with 11 strikeouts and two walks. Mancini has yet to hit a homer and has three RBIs.

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The difference is, Mancini is back at first base, where he’s most comfortable. It also happens to be where Mountcastle is most comfortable at this point. In his minor league career, Mountcastle was moved around in an effort to find a position he could play well. He started at shortstop, went to third, then to first, and finally to left.

With Hays in left field, Mountcastle can be the designated hitter. A former major leaguer told me that if Mountcastle hits .280 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs, his defense will get a pass. If he gets hot at the plate, assume will happen, although his defensive miscues the past two games make it seem as if he has regressed.

Hays was 2-for-10 before he went on the 10-day injured list on Monday. Hamstrings are tricky. When outfielder DJ Stewart injured his left hamstring on March 5th, the Orioles said he’d be back quickly. Stewart didn’t play in another Grapefruit League game and started the season on the injured list, but could return on Saturday.

The Orioles optioned infielder Pat Valaika to the alternate site at Bowie on Friday.

If Hays, who wants to prove he can play through a season without a major injury, is able to come back in perhaps two weeks, that shouldn’t be a huge worry. If he’s gone a month or longer, that would be a concern.

Ryan McKenna, who the Orioles added when Hays was shelved, is a strong defensive outfielder but an unproven hitter. Because of the cancellation of the minor league season in 2020, McKenna never got to play Triple-A.

McKenna came into Wednesday’s game as a defensive replacement for Mountcastle. He also could back up Cedric Mullins in center field.

If Stewart plays in the outfield, Mountcastle could be the designated hitter. Stewart has more experience playing the outfield but is not as strong as Mullins, Hayes and Santander.

Through the first week of games, the Orioles are 10th in the American League with a .219 batting average and last in on-base percentage (.265).

They have struck out 91 times, an average of 13 per game, and have a major league record streak of five games with 13 or more strikeouts.

The Orioles have gotten little offense from their infielders. In addition to Mancini, shortstop Freddy Galvis (.115), second baseman Rio Ruiz (.174), third baseman Maikel Franco (.179) and utility players Urias (.167) and Valaika (.111) are under .200.

Mullins has hits in each of the first seven games and is hitting .448 while playing an excellent center field. Abandoning switch hitting and batting exclusively from the left side has helped him.

Although Santander is hitting just .231 with a .605 OPS, his right field defense has been superb. I was sitting directly in the line of his game-ending throw at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night, and it was a beauty.

Through the first week, Oriole pitchers have a 4.00 ERA. It’s too early for many in-depth observations. The nicest surprise has been right-hander Adam Plutko, who’s thrown 5 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing three hits without a walk. Plutko was acquired from Cleveland just before the end of spring training.

For the moment, the Orioles seem committed to retaining their two Rule 5 draft picks, right-handers Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells. Sceroler has pitched only once, throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Wells has allowed two runs on three hits in 3 1/3 innings. He has appeared in three games.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said near the end of spring training that there will be countless moves, and that pitchers on the 40-man roster and some not on it will pitch for the team in 2021.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Behemoth

    April 10, 2021 at 7:04 am

    Is a healthy -month- from Hays too much to ask for?

  2. Orial

    April 10, 2021 at 8:30 am

    I like to generalize and look at the big picture when analyzing situations(if you haven’t noticed). I’m looking at an OF/DH glut of Mancini,Mountcastle,Stewart all being on this team and thinking back to Duquette’s draft priorities–” All bats,defense be damned”. Yes an exception(Hays) slipped in there. Hoping and believing that Elias is a little more focused on the “all round”athlete. We desperately need this MiLB season to start to see what what we really have. Curious as to how far away the young International signees are(that I believe is when this team will really make it’s big move–if present day MLB is any indication).

    • Bhoffman1

      April 10, 2021 at 8:59 am

      Diaz is a all around player and has all the tools. Let’s hope he is here by June

    • AZ ORIOLES Fan

      April 10, 2021 at 12:57 pm

      Agree thought Diaz would be here in place of McKenna

    • BrooksPJs

      April 10, 2021 at 5:17 pm

      Mullins and McKenna were drafted in 2015, probably not accurate to describe them as all bat and defense be damned.

      I disagree with your generalization of DuQuette’s drafting priorities, I tried to find an independent source stating the “all bat, defense be damned” priority or tendency but haven’t come across one. If you have a source for this characterization, please share.

    • 33d St

      April 10, 2021 at 7:20 pm

      Well so far Elias seems to prefer shortstops because of their athleticism and that they can be moved to other positions. Offhand I can’t think of any “future DH” prototypes he’s picked up.

      Of course sometime back in the mists of history I hear Mountcastle was drafted as a shortstop.

      • Hallbe62

        April 10, 2021 at 8:43 pm

        The major league’s a helluva place for a SS to learn to play the OF

    • CalsPals

      April 11, 2021 at 8:21 am

      For anyone, because SS are typically the best athlete on the field people think it’s an easy adjustment, agree with you Hall, maybe draft some legit position players…go O’s…

  3. Bhoffman1

    April 10, 2021 at 8:57 am

    Please tell me why Valeka was sent down instead of Urias. He’s more versatile and a better hitter. Hayes is super talented he was the one I thought would have a breakout year. It’s still possible but could it be he just plays to hard for his body to hold up or is it just a case of bad luck

    • OriolesNumber1Fan

      April 10, 2021 at 12:37 pm

      I believe Urias was kept because he’s the only player on the current roster with major league experience to play center field to back up Cedric Mullins. Although Ryan McKenna is now on the roster, he needs to learn the different ballparks before he plays which shouldn’t take too long. But once Hays comes back, I think McKenna will eventually go to triple a and Pat Valaika will be back.

      • BrooksPJs

        April 10, 2021 at 5:19 pm

        Urias’ only experience in OF In pro ball is 3 games in 2011 at rookie league level.

        • WorldlyView

          April 10, 2021 at 7:09 pm

          Kindly let us know if he had any catches or errors while in OF–and how many of each. Also need to know if his batting average was higher or lower in those 3 games relative to when he was in IF. Did his WAR stats change while in the OF? Please provide all details soonest.

    • BrooksPJs

      April 10, 2021 at 5:24 pm

      Urias had a better OPS than Valaika in 2020 and also better so far in 2021.

  4. willmiranda

    April 10, 2021 at 10:13 am

    Looking at the roster the other day (I mention the time because of the constant churn), I noted that Mountcastle was the only player younger than 25 and he is 24. There were only 5 players 30 years old and older. In other words, this team is almost all at or near the peak of their careers right now. We may be able to hope for some incremental improvement with additional ML experience, but mostly what we see is what we will get for the rest of the year. Of course, if that means continuing to win 4 of 7 outings, that won’t be too bad.

  5. Hallbe62

    April 10, 2021 at 10:41 pm

    Passed balls & back-to-back walks. Our needs are many. That was a very winnable game that somehow found a way to go south. I’ll be seeing more of this, I’m sure. Frustrating !

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