Orioles' Mountcastle wants more hard-hit balls, less hard luck in '23; McKenna focuses on playing his role even better - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Orioles’ Mountcastle wants more hard-hit balls, less hard luck in ’23; McKenna focuses on playing his role even better

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Mountcastle often hit balls hard last season. Nearly half, 46.8 percent to be precise, of his batted balls were classified as hard hit, well above his totals for his first two major league seasons.

Many of those hard-hit balls were caught, however. Mountcastle’s batting average dropped from .255 in 2021 to .250 in 2022, and his OPS fell from .796 to .729.

“When we look at it on paper, he had a very unlucky season,” Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said last week. “A little bit of that were the [deeper] dimensions of the [left-field] wall, but he blasted a lot balls to center field, both here and elsewhere, that just didn’t get out. Super young, I think we all have hopes for a huge season for him.”

Mountcastle’s 33 home run set a record for most home runs by an Orioles rookie in 2021, but he hit 22 only last year. His RBIs were about the same — 89 in 2021, 85 in 2022.

“It’s tough. You’ve got to go wherever the ball’s pitched,” Mountcastle said at last weekend’s Birdland Caravan event at Evolution Brewing Company in Salisbury.

“I was hitting balls hard to the center of the field, and most of the time, you should be happy with that. I was a little unlucky with that. Hopefully, that luck can turn around this year.”

When Mountcastle came to Oriole Park on Friday, he glanced at the left-field wall, which was 30 feet farther and 8 feet higher than it was in 2021. The Detroit Tigers are moving their fences in at Comerica Park.

“It looked about the same,” Mountcastle said, jokingly. “I see all these other parks are moving it in, and I guess we’re moving it out. I guess that’s what it is.”

Mountcastle has been with the organization since 2015 when he was the 36th overall pick, and he has seen the Orioles in good times and bad—and now good again.

“We’ve got a little more expectations now coming into this year,” he said.”I think all the guys are excited for it, brings the fans out,” Mountcastle said. “More people watch us. It’ll be a really fun year.”

There are few open jobs among the position players. One question is who will back up Mountcastle at first base. Utility man Terrin Vavra, a left-handed hitter, has been practicing at first base, and over the winter the Orioles acquired three other left-handed first baseman with major league experience who will come into camp as non-roster invites — Franchy Cordero, Lewin Díaz and Ryan O’Hearn.

“I’ve still got to go out there and play hard and play well or else anybody can take your spot any day,” Mountcastle said. “Just go out there and have fun. I’m excited to see all the guys again, especially in the spring.”

Mountcastle was happy with the main acquisitions the Orioles made during the offseason — starting pitchers Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin, second baseman Adam Frazier, catcher James McCann and reliever Mychal Givens.

“We picked up some good names, big names,” Mountcastle said. “I’m excited to see how they mesh into the group. I think it’s definitely going to be a good year.”

McKenna’s drive: Ryan McKenna has proven to be a valued outfield reserve for the Orioles. In 2021, McKenna played in 90 games and last season, he played in 104.

With Cedric Mullins in center, Austin Hays in left and Anthony Santander in right, McKenna doesn’t play every day, but he finds his way into the lineup as a defensive replacement, a pinch-runner or as a starter at any of the three outfield positions when one of the regulars gets a day off.

“I go out every day to learn and execute as much as I can,” McKenna said in Salisbury. “I’m pretty confident in the experience that I’ve had so far … Coming into camp ready to go and ready to contribute to this team any way. I’m excited. It’s going to be such an awesome year and everybody’s looking forward to it.”

In 2022, McKenna hit .237 with two home runs and 11 RBIs.

“We broke down some things analytically that we could improve on,” McKenna said. “I think scoring early in games is something we can do to get better, and I know we’re going to be doing.”

McKenna said he doesn’t’ pay a lot of attention to the Orioles’ offseason moves.

“I’m aware, but I don’t religiously follow any of this stuff,” he said. “I focus on the stuff that I can do to get better, and work really hard to recover stuff that I need to and just prepare for the season.”

McKenna enjoyed last season’s playoff push.

“We’ve seen it. The fans have seen it,” he said. “We’ve had the number one minor league season for [a few] years now, the talent that we have coming up and the success that we had last year. We’re only going to build on it. We’re confident in what we’re bringing. The fans have been awesome, supportive.”

Call for questions: I’ll be answering Orioles questions on Monday. Please email yours to: [email protected].

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