A little more on Hays' injury

Austin Hays avoided the injured list for the past two seasons, a huge turn in his career after the litany of setbacks dating back to the minors. Much of it bad luck, like the sprained thumb in 2019 on a stolen base attempt after the Orioles optioned him from camp. A head-first slide that he’s done countless times, except he hit the bag wrong.

Hays had slashed .351/.385/.892 in 12 exhibition games, with three doubles, a triple, five home runs and 13 RBIs. But the Orioles wanted to continue his development in Triple-A following his ankle surgery the previous year and the sore shoulder that had interrupted his spring training.  

The toughness was never questioned. Hays played through a lot of pain. And he reached 500 career games while the Orioles were in Pittsburgh.

“He’s tried to be healthy all throughout the year,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “He’s done that the last couple of years as best as he possibly could.”

That’s why yesterday’s news seemed so cruel.

Not surprising, given his absence from the lineup and Hyde’s response Sunday when asked for an update, but still unfair.

Hays went out to left field for the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday at Kauffman Stadium, but headed back to the dugout before a pitch was thrown. Colton Cowser came off the bench to replace him.

It was an odd scene, usually reserved for a mid-inning double-switch or Reggie Jackson loafing in right field. Hyde explained afterward that Hays had some cramping in his calf, which gave Cowser the opportunity to throw out Kyle Isbel going first to third on Maikel Garcia’s run-scoring single.

We didn’t ask which calf and regretted it later. Yesterday brought confirmation that it’s the left.

Hays wasn’t in the clubhouse during media access Sunday or yesterday. Hyde told reporters in Anaheim that Hays shouldn’t be out long.

“It’s unfortunate,” Hyde said. “We’re pretty confident he’s going to be back really soon after the IL stint but just needed for it to calm down a little bit.”

At least there’s that. But Hays hasn’t caught a break since reporting to spring training. He’s never gotten a chance to get in rhythm at the plate and on a roll.

There was the stomach virus in Sarasota and another illness in Pittsburgh that was described only as “being under the weather.” Not the same thing, Hays said.

“It’s been a little bit of a tough year for him so far this year,” Hyde said yesterday. “It’s unfortunate because I thought he was starting to swing the bat these last couple games he played and he’d be in there tonight, but injuries happen and hopefully just a little blip on a good season for him.”

Last night’s lineup can best be described as unusual with Ryan Mountcastle unavailable due to a sore knee. That one sneaked up on everybody. Mountcastle seemed fine. But he was on the bench against a left-handed starter.

Ramón Urías made his eighth career start at first base, the other seven last season. Ryan O’Hearn has received only three at-bats against lefties this year, and none to begin a game.

Hyde is trying to get Urías in the flow but it’s tricky with a lineup that’s more set than in the past. He rebounded from a painfully slow start with a hit in seven consecutive games with an at-bat before last night.

A healthy Mountcastle probably would have moved Urías to third base, with Jordan Westburg at second., unless Hyde wanted Jorge Mateo at second. And Westburg might not have batted third for the first time in his career.

There are two ways to go with that last one. Either Westburg should move up in the order because he began last night slashing .333/.392/.639 with five doubles, a triple, five home runs and 18 RBIs in 80 plate appearances, or you don’t fix what isn’t broken and you don’t mess with a good thing and you don’t spit in the wind – the latter having nothing to do with Westburg but still sound advice.

Westburg batted eighth in eight games this season, fifth in five, sixth in four and seventh in three. He’s been highly productive at every spot.

Another roster move is coming today. The Orioles weren’t keeping three catchers. Bañuelos, though, is the king of perfect timing, being on the taxi squad again when a player went on the injured list.

Heston Kjerstad is joining the club in Anaheim, a source confirmed late last night. The Baltimore Sun first reported it.

The Orioles decided to replace Hays with a left-handed hitter. Kjerstad earned a promotion by batting .349 with a 1.175 OPS, four doubles, 10 home runs and 30 RBIs in 21 games with Triple-A Norfolk.

Does he stick around after Hays returns or is this temporary? Does he crack the lineup tonight against Angels right-hander Griffin Canning?

It would be easier if Mountcastle stays on the bench with his sore knee. Ryan O’Hearn could start at first base with Kjerstad serving as designated hitter, Colton Cowser staying in left field and Anthony Santander staying in right.

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