BALTIMORE—The Orioles have one-third of their season remaining, 54 games, and 15 are against the Toronto Blue Jays, who lead them by four games in the wild-card standings. The first is Monday night at Camden Yards.
“Any time you’re playing against teams that are ahead of you, they’re important games,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Every game is important. We’re in the middle of August, and we’re in it. We just want to play well down the stretch no matter who we’re playing.”
The Orioles were scheduled to open the season against the Blue Jays but those three games were postponed because of the Major League Baseball lockout and rescheduled for the final three games of the season, October 3rd-5th.
The teams split four games last month.
“It’s a really good lineup,” Hyde said. “They’re pretty balanced in that they have a little bit of power, speed, superstars in the middle. It’s a really, really good team that we have to pitch to carefully. I thought we did a pretty good job in Toronto the first series … We have to pitch well, and they’re very dangerous.”
Outfielder Austin Hays is back after missing four games because of an oblique muscle injury.
“It’s a divisional series, and it’s a good team,” Hays said. “They can swing it, so we’re going to go out there and play how we have been. Our pitchers are going to keep doing what they’ve been doing.”
Hyde is glad to have Hays back in the lineup.
“He started feeling a lot better yesterday,” Hyde said. “He swung the bat pretty aggressively in the cage and didn’t feel anything, so we felt comfortable about getting him back in the lineup today. An oblique is something you have to be really careful with. We didn’t want to lose him for a long period of time, so I think the right thing to do was to give him some days off, which we did. He’s ready to go today.”
Hays is batting sixth and playing left field. Ryan McKenna is leading off and playing right while centerfielder Cedric Mullins is batting eighth.
Hyde is batting Mullins that low because Toronto is starting left-hander Yusei Kukuchi. Left-handed hitters are batting .170 (7-for-53) against Kukuchi.
It will be just the fifth time Mullins has batted eighth and the first time since August 20th, 2020.
“Mac’s been swinging the bat well against left-handed pitching this year,” Hyde said. “They don’t have a left-hander in their bullpen. We’re trying to get right-handers against Kukuchi as much as possible.”
Head called up: Louis Head is no stranger to being summoned from the minor leagues. Last year, the 32-year-old right-hander was optioned to the minors 12 times by Tampa Bay.
Head, who was traded by the Rays to Miami last November, was claimed on waivers by the Orioles on July 13th. The Orioles recalled him from Triple-A Norfolk on Monday. Head was 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in seven games for Norfolk.
Last year, Head was 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA in 22 games with the Rays and had a 7.23 ERA in 20 games this season with the Marlins.
“Just trying to get me back where I was last year with Tampa,” Head said. “They’ve got something going on over here … by the way the guys are playing, the energy they’re bringing. You can definitely tell by the way the players are playing.”
Head said being optioned so often by Tampa Bay wasn’t discouraging.
“It could have been, but putting things into perspective I wasn’t playing the years before, so just getting the opportunity to go up and down, I was extremely grateful for that,” Head said.
In the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can’t option players more than five times.
Head pitched against the Orioles four times last season with a 3.38 ERA.
“He’s got a good arm,” Hyde said. “He has pitched out of the bullpen against us with Tampa. Had a nice year last year in Tampa in a role where he got bounced around a lot, Triple-A to the big leagues. He threw the ball really well last time out in Norfolk, adding another right-hander to our bullpen against [Toronto], we felt like that was important.”
Head will be the 53rd player used by the Orioles this season.
Right-hander Beau Sulser was optioned to Norfolk after Sunday’s game. Sulser who allowed a run in 2 1/3 innings on Sunday, had a 4.35 ERA in four games with the Orioles.
Dodgers claim Bannon: Infielder Rylan Bannon, who came to the Orioles in the July 2018 trade that sent Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers, was claimed by the Dodgers on outright waivers. Bannon was 2-for-14 (.143) in five games with the Orioles this season.
Minor league update: Norfolk infielder Gunnar Henderson is now the top-rated prospect by Baseball America. Grayson Rodriguez, who’s on the minor league injury list because of a lat strain, is rated fourth best and the top pitching prospect.
Other Orioles in the new Top 100 are Jackson Holliday, the top pick in last month’s draft, who’s 41st; Norfolk left-hander DH Hall, who’s 61st; Bowie outfielder Colton Cowser, who’s 97th; and Norfolk infielder Jordan Westburg, who’s 98th.
High-A Aberdeen right-hander Cade Povich, who was obtained from Minnesota Twins as part of the trade for closer Jorge López, was named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week. Povich pitched six scoreless innings, allowing one hit in his debut.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB