Orioles first baseman/designated hitter Ryan Mountcastle has had his downs during the 2021 season. He thinks things are starting to look up.
Mountcastle had a hit in his sixth consecutive game in the Orioles’ 8-4 win over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday. He also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
“All these pitchers up here know what they’re doing, they’re really good,” Mountcastle said after Friday’s game. “When you’re going through a tough spell these guys know what you’re thinking at all times. Going up there and being relaxed and not thinking about too much is what’s helping me the last couple of days.”
Mountcastle made a strong first impression in 2020, hitting .333 with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 35 games. He struck out 30 times and walked 11. This year, he’s hitting .202. Before his six-game streak started, Mountcastle was batting .167. He has struck out 30 times in 26 games and has walked just four times.
When Mountcastle came to the big leagues last August, he surprised observers with how well he hit. Last month, he surprised others with how much he struggled.
Hitting coach Don Long says that Mountcastle’s stats can be misleading.
“I looked at his chase rates a couple of days ago this year compared to last year, and it’s almost the same,” he said before Friday’s game.
“It’s not like he’s chasing more than he did last year. When he swung in the zone last year, in particular on fastballs, his production was much better.”
Long believes that even when Mountcastle was hitting well, adjustments must be made for long-term success.
“There are guys [whose swings] look ugly and can always hit, and they’ve hit from the time they were kids all the way through the big leagues,” Long said. “But there’s many times where guys do need to make some adjustments, and so I think that’s kind of where Ryan is right now.”
Mountcastle spent five years in the minor leagues, appearing at every level, and repeating Double-A Bowie after he was promoted from High-A Frederick in 2017. He hit just .222 in 39 games with the Baysox, walking only three times and striking out 35.
“I’ve had guys over the years who the first time they struggled was at the major league level for a prolonged period of time, and that is the toughest place to go through that for the first time. No doubt about it, because you’re asking yourself to make adjustments against the best pitching there is.
“From my standpoint, having been in development for many, many years, you almost hope you challenge a prospect-type guy and he does have a period of struggle coming up so they learn how to deal with it and they learn that they’re going to be OK.”
In Mountcastle’s case, he returned to the Baysox in 2018 and hit .297 in 109 games. Before his current streak, Mountcastle had been 1-for-28.
“I’m really encouraged by his at-bats here the last few days,” Long said.
“Again, we’ve been trying to make some fundamental changes, not in his swing, but in his pre-pitch in terms of his rhythm and timing and really being ready to hit and trying to simplify what he does, so he gets to a consistent, strong position to hit, so he can make better decisions about what he swings at. And when he does swing, put the ball in play hard and have the at-bat be over.”
Mountcastle’s RBI was just his eighth of the season, and his first since April 17th. He hasn’t hit a home run since the Orioles’ home opener on April 8th. Long is confident Mountcastle’s stats will steadily improve.
“You’re not going to dig yourself out of it in one game,” Long said. “But if you focus on doing that every day, doing the right kind of work and being committed to it every day, over the course of a long season the results will show. And I completely believe that he’s on that path right now and that’s the direction he’s headed.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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