Austin Hays has shown he can provide power to the Orioles’ lineup and play solid defense in the outfield.
He just needs to stay on the field.
Hays, 25, has battled injuries throughout his young career and most recently came off the injured list Sept. 14 after a non-displaced rib fracture kept him out of the lineup for a month.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde put him back in the everyday lineup and Hays has responded with key hits. He went 3-for-5 with a double, a solo homer and three runs in a 13-1 victory against the Boston Red Sox Sept. 24.
Since coming off the IL, Hays has gone 16-for-40 (.400) with three home runs and three RBIs.
“We need to keep him healthy. That’s the bottom line,” Hyde said. “When he has been healthy, he has played well. Really impressed with his September last year. He’s been swinging the bat since he got off the injured list this last time, so excited about that.”
Overall, Hays is slashing .275/.333/.404 with four home runs and eight RBIs in 30 games (109 at-bats). The Orioles could enter next spring with Hays, Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart battling for time in the outfield.
The key for Hays is staying healthy. After making his big-league debut in September 2017, he missed time in 2018 with an ankle injury and missed time in 2019 with thumb and hamstring injuries.
“I like the defense he plays, like the athleticism and speed he can bring to the lineup and on the bases,” Hyde said. “So we’re excited about Austin. We just need to keep him on the field.”
Hyde also likes Hays’ versatility in the outfield. He has 42 career starts (51 games) in center field, 12 starts (17 games) in right field and five starts (seven games) in left field, where he played for the first time Sept. 14 against the Braves.
Hays also has speed and hit the 23rd inside-the-park home run in Orioles history Aug. 11 against the Philadelphia Phillies in the 10th inning.
“I think it’s just continuing to get consistent at-bats is a big part of it for me,” Hays said.
Hays initially flashed when he was promoted from Triple-A Norfolk late in the season. He hit .309/.373/.574 with four homers, 13 RBIs and six doubles in 21 games (68 at-bats).
Last September against the Toronto Blue Jays, Hays became the first MLB rookie to have five or more RBIs, a stolen base and an outfield assist in the same game since RBIs became an official stat in 1920, according to STATS, LLC.
Hays has managed to maintain some momentum when he’s been healthy this season. His goal moving forward is to prove he can stay on the field.
“I feel like I’m almost to that place now and I feel really good offensively,” Hays said. “I need to continue to prove myself. I’m a young player. I don’t have a lot of experience, so every single at-bat and every single inning and every single game I get to play is an opportunity to continue to show what I can do.”
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