Austin Hays had been activated from the 10-day injured list for Tuesday’s game in Miami. However, he wasn’t in the starting lineup and, although he hoped to play, he didn’t think it would be in the first inning.
The game’s second batter, Anthony Santander, singled to center but was forced to leave the game with what turned out to be a sprained left ankle. Santander rolled his ankle trying to get back to first base on a pickoff attempt by Marlins starter Nick Neidert. Santander fell to the ground and had to supported by manager Brandon Hyde and athletic trainer Brian Ebel when he left the field.
“It was a little quicker than I had anticipated,” Hays said Wednesday. “Obviously, I was never thinking there’d be an injury on the field. Just because it is National League play, I figured I would probably get in the game at some point, the fifth inning or later, a pinch-hit, going in on defense, something along those lines because of the nature of National League baseball.”
Santander’s injury changed Hays’ night and the dynamic of the Orioles’ outfield.
“You never want to see something like that happen,” Hays said. “It was early in the game, and I felt like I was still pretty loose from some of the cage work I had done before. I just tried to run a couple of sprints down the side to make sure my legs were good, and I would be able to score on a hit.”
Hyde hasn’t had to juggle playing time for his five primary outfielders — Hays, Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart.
Mullins, who has established himself as the team’s leadoff man and centerfielder, started the first 17 games of the season. Santander started 15 of the first 17 in right. Mullins didn’t start on Wednesday against left-hander Trevor Rogers but was used as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of the Orioles’ 3-0 loss to the Marlins.
All but Santander, a Rule 5 pick, are products of the Orioles’ farm system. Although they know each other well, they hadn’t been a part of the same Orioles’ outfield.
Last year, Hays missed a month because of a rib injury. By the time he returned in mid-September, Mountcastle had joined the team for the first time, and Santander had sustained a season-ending oblique injury.
Hyde said it’s likely Santander will be out two-to-four weeks because of the ankle sprain. Another outfielder drafted by the Orioles, Ryan McKenna, who played right field on Wednesday, replaced him on the roster.
“I understand we have a lot of great outfielders,” Hays said. “Guys that can play defense, guys that can hit. That’s all you can ask [from an] organizational standpoint, to have a lot of depth in the outfield. It’s up to the manager and the GM to make those decisions.
“It’s not our job. Our job is just to show up to the field and be ready to play, under any circumstance, any position. Wherever that finds me, whether it’s late in games, starting games. As long as I can get out on the field and help the team win, I’m here for it.”
McKenna, who had established himself as a useful defensive replacement and pinch-running option, was promoted to the major leagues for the first time on April 5th when Hays went on the injured list because a strained right hamstring. McKenna had been returned to the alternate training site roster but stayed with the team on its taxi squad.
Before Tuesday night’s game, Hyde didn’t appear to be concerned about a possible surplus of outfielders.
“Guys need days off, there might be some matchups that I don’t want to play somebody on that night, I’d rather play the other three, that sort of thing,” Hyde said. “But they’ll all play. The DH being in the American League is very helpful. So all these guys are going to get a ton of playing time.”
In the Miami series, the Orioles were without a designated hitter. Hays and Mountcastle didn’t start on Tuesday night. Stewart, another left-handed hitter, didn’t play on Wednesday.
“Depth is at a premium,” Hyde said before Wednesday’s game. “We have more depth than we’ve had in the past couple of years, but injuries happen. Sprained ankles happen. Tony will be back. I was just really pleased with the results that we got this morning because when I went out there, I was thinking the worst.
“Seeing him this morning, him feeling good about it only being a sprained ankle feels good for everybody because he’s a huge part of our team. Now, it’s time for other guys to get opportunity, pick up the slack, be a run producer for us, but I like the guys we’ll be putting in there in his spot.”