After hot start, O's rookie Colton Cowser looks toward more opposite-field hitting

O’s rookie outfielder Colton Cowser got off to such a hot start this year, that even when his bat cooled a bit in late April, the stat sheet for him still looked good enough that he was named the American League Rookie of the Month for March/April.

After the first 17 games this year, he was batting .400 with a 1.229 OPS. Around that time he was named the AL Player of the Week for a period where he went 10-for-23 with four homers.

But then from April 23-May 2, he was 3-for-28. Cowser did not start for two days in the series last weekend in Cincinnati and realized then he needed to start using left and left-center more and get back to his usual all-fields batting approach.

The one that got him to the big leagues in the first place. The one that helped him win those awards.

“I think I made a conscious effort in Cincinnati to start to get going back that way. I had a couple of days not in the lineup and really was just trying to think about what’s been going on.

“My hands are good enough to be able to see the ball deep and you know I think most of my power is to left-center. I just think sometimes in this ballpark (Oriole Park) I try to pull some pitches that are pitches I can drive the other way. Sometimes when we’re here that is what happens," said Cowser before the O's 11-innings win over Arizona.

Cowser went 1-for-5 Saturday and hit into a double play with a chance to win the game in the last of the tenth. But he hit that ball 101.4 mph. In the bottom of the second, he lined out to right with a shot hit 107.9 mph off the bat. His fly out to left in the eighth was hit 99.3. The contact was mostly solid.

Wednesday in Washington he drove a double to left in the second inning and later had a sac fly that way. Friday night against Arizona he blasted a ball to deep left that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. made a remarkable over-the-shoulder catch on. So he hit a couple of balls that way that were caught, but it still told Cowser his plan to get back to hitting that way was working.

“When I’m going well that can open up the whole field for me. Recently at home some pitches that I could let get deeper and hit the other way, I would try to pull and that made me susceptible to some offspeed pitches.

“I’d say it's just about me trusting my hands,” he said.

When hitters refer to letting the ball get deeper, they mean seeing the pitch a split-second longer and it gets deeper toward the catcher before they make a move to swing or offer at it. It allows them to sometimes drive a fastball to the opposite field while they have hands quick enough often to pull an offspeed pitch. 

O’s manager Brandon Hyde appreciates a young player recognizing what he needs to get done and then doing it.

“Colton is a really smart kid," said Hyde "The ball comes off his bat hot and he’s got serious, serious power just to the pull side but we’ve seen him drive it into left-center and the other way. So he knows he can do that and for him to have the mindset of, ‘I can let the ball travel and still hit the ball hard (is important).’

“I think his approach is pretty advanced for someone that doesn’t have that many at-bats in the big leagues. And he knows himself pretty well.”

And after batting .115 in 26 games last year and going back to the minors, Cowser knows now he belongs in the bigs. He has that confidence after his great start to this season, even if his bat briefly cooled off.

Cowser is a young player with a strong combination of talent and smarts.

He told reporters in Cincinnati some things were getting in his head and he clearly has worked through that.

“Baseball is a game of mental warfare,” he said in the clubhouse Saturday afternoon. “It’s one of those games you can do everything right and not get results, hitting X number of line drives. Then you get jammed and get a hit. But it’s a long year and you have to work through some things.”

Cowser’s great start to this year though showed him he belongs here and that when his bat inevitably cooled, that slower period would have a time limit. He would get going again and he seems to be at that point now.

“After the first couple of weeks, a little bit more of a report got out and was then being pitched a bit different, but not crazy. Still getting some fastball to hit but missing them in recent days,” he said.

“Just trying to make sure I see the ball get deep now and recognize before I make a forward move," he said. 

O's keep winning: Trailing 4-3 in the last of the eighth Saturday, Anthony Santander's solo homer to center tied this game up. Then the O's bullpen put up zeros in the 10th and 11th in extras before Jordan Westburg's fourth hit gave the O's a 5-4 win in 11.

The Orioles have opened a 1.5-game lead on the second-place Yankees atop the AL East by winning seven of eight, nine of 11, 14 of 19 and 18 of the last 24 games.

They can complete a three-game sweep this afternoon at 1:35 p.m.

Cowser stays in center field for today's series fi...
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