Peter Schmuck: You don’t want to be Austin Hays right now - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Peter Schmuck

Peter Schmuck: You don’t want to be Austin Hays right now

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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It has been quite the fall from grace for Orioles outfielder Austin Hays, who has gone from being the starting centerfielder in last year’s All-Star Game to wondering how much he’ll be in the O’s starting lineup this year.

Maybe that’s an overstatement, since it’s very early in the season and probably too early to draw any sweeping conclusions about the makeup of this team over the long haul. Maybe Hays suddenly snaps out of his deep season-opening slump and Colton Cowser snaps out of his season-opening hot streak and it feels like 2023 all over again.

Still, watching Hays struggle to get his mojo back at the plate isn’t easy, so imagine what it would be like if you were in his cleats.

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He needed a bloop single on Saturday to end an 0-for-26 streak, which gave him a total of three hits in 34 at-bats and still left him with a batting average that doesn’t even start with a one.

Manager Brandon Hyde continues to express confidence that everything will be all right and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias echoed that sentiment during a pregame press briefing, but the leash cannot be all that long with Cowser sizzling at the plate and a couple more top outfield prospects treating Triple-A pitching with very little respect.

“He’s going to be fine,” Elias said. “One of the luxuries that we have with our roster is we have a lot of good players. When you have quantity, you tend to have a hot hand and a cold hand, sometimes. We have the luxury of being able to lean into that a little bit, and I think that’s what you saw the last few days.”

Elias paints a positive picture, but he is going to be pulled in several directions as the season progresses. He’s going to have to figure out what to do with Heston Kjerstad and Kyle Stowers at some point, whether that is by promoting them or – when the midseason trade deadline looms – using one or both to get the club more playoff-ready in another area. In his comments early Saturday, he even alluded to the latter possibility.

“We’ve got a ton of talented players,’’ Elias said. “All 13 of these position players we have right now are starting-caliber guys. It’s not easy for our manager, but it’s something we value. He’s going to rotate through guys based on matchups, health, day-to-day, a little bit of hot and cold in there. This is all going to work itself out, and we’re going to look up and everyone’s going to have played a lot and Austin Hays is going to have another good season, too.”

We can only hope. Hays is a popular player who has been a key component throughout the Orioles’ rise to prominence over the past two years. He is a terrific leftfielder and, when he’s right at the plate, a solid contributor to what has developed into one of the game’s best top-to-bottom offensive lineups.

So, what’s a manager or general manager to do?

I wouldn’t want to be either one of them, either.

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