The Orioles had their worst moment of the season Saturday. Manager Brandon Hyde had his best.
After the Orioles dropped both games of a doubleheader with the Chicago White Sox to run their losing streak to 12, Hyde took questions from the media. There were no swings-and-misses.
Hyde has been criticized for not being more critical of his players. He seemed uncharacteristically blunt last Sunday after Austin Hays dropped a sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning of a one-run loss to the Nationals; it eventually led to the Nationals walking Trey Mancini with first base open. “No, absolutely 100 percent, no,” Hyde said about Hays’ decision.
He has talked about pitchers attacking the strike zone and hitters attacking less. But he doesn’t make it personal. He has been a pro with a team that is in short supply of them. He appreciates how John Means has stepped up and what Mancini has accomplished a year after having colon cancer surgery.
Hyde is not one who blames others or makes excuses. He knew what he was getting into when general manager Mike Elias hired him three years ago.
“I knew the job was going to be a lot of work, and it was going to be a rebuilding process. I did understand that,” Hyde said Saturday. “I am frustrated a little bit because you want to give the fans of Baltimore something to look forward to and something to hang their hat on, something positive. John Means is doing that. Trey Mancini, what he has done for the last three years, and you see what Santander has done. So those things are positive you want to kind of continue.”
He thought he saw promise in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season that might carry over to this season. It hasn’t worked out that way. Cedric Mullins has provided a spark in the leadoff spot and in center field but his partners in the outfield, Anthony Santander and Hays, have been slowed by injury, preventing the outfield from reaching its potential. It still shapes up to be a strength, but it’s a developing one.
Freddy Galvis has shown athleticism at shortstop and surprising power with nine home runs, and Maikel Franco is better than expected at third and can contribute offensively when he uses the whole field. Second base is in transition, and the catching has become a glaring weakness.
Designated hitter/first baseman Ryan Mountcastle epitomizes the Orioles’ rebuild. He hit .333 in 35 games in 2020, making the step up look almost easy. He has looked bad at times this year, chasing pitches out of the strike zone, particularly breaking balls, as pitchers exploit his aggressiveness. One gets the sense, though, that Mountcastle will make the adjustments he needs to make to be successful.
He is among those players who produce growing pains for a team in transition, a team that is trying to rebuild from top to bottom. A team that right now isn’t up to the challenge of the teams they’re facing. Hyde wants to win, wants to be competitive, but there is a bigger mission, and that is to make decisions on players such as Mountcastle and young pitchers such as Dean Kremer, Bruce Zimmermann, Keegan Akin and many others.
“We want to be able to compete in the big leagues,” Hyde said. “We’re finding out about our guys. That’s the bottom line. We have some guys we wanted to look at this year. We’re finding out about them from an evaluation standpoint and that’s good.
“But you want to put a competitive product out on the field. We’re facing good clubs that are built to win with starting pitching that is good. We have a tough time scoring runs.”
The Orioles haven’t had a hit with a runner in scoring position in the three games in Chicago. That has been a problem for most of the season. No one is more aware of it than Hyde.
“We look overmatched at times for me,” he said. “We have a really tough time with good starting pitching. And we have to get better offensively. We have to get better up here. It’s just going to take a little while.”
Hyde has been asked about the mental effect the losing streak is having. He said guys are pulling for each other in the dugout, that he doesn’t detect a change in attitude even if their confidence is being challenged. He also likes the competitive fire veteran starter Matt Harvey has shown at times because he said there are a lot of quiet players who might benefit from seeing that approach.
He pays close attention to what’s going on in Norfolk, Bowie and Aberdeen. He was encouraged by the promotion of pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez this week, and the power top prospect Adley Rutschman has been showing. He believes the future is bright, and he wants to be a part of it. But he’s not complaining about where he is, even thought there’s little joy in the job right now.
“It’s hard to lose, no matter if you’re rebuilding or you’re trying to win a pennant,” Hyde said. “It does stack up. From a coaching staff standpoint, we’re honest, but we also need to continue to pat guys on the back and kick guys in the butt. That’s our job and now it’s their job to perform.”
The Orioles lost two more games on Saturday, but their manager impressed with his candor — and his character.