At a time when Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle have been two of the Orioles most productive hitters, they are showing an ability to hit in the clutch, too. They keep coming up with big hits in key spots, both early and late in games. They are doing damage and doing it in some of the biggest moments of the game.
It may be yet another step in the development of the young hitters.
Through 62 games, Hays is batting .280/.342/.456/.798 with 15 doubles, nine homers and a team-high 37 RBIs. He has an OPS of .797 at home and .798 on the road. Mountcastle has hit .269/.307/.480/.787 with 11 doubles, 12 homers and 36 RBIs. He went hitless Sunday to end an eight-game hitting streak during which he hit .400 with an .857 OPS. His OPS was 1.072 in June through Saturday’s games.
Hays is batting .302 with runners in scoring position, along with an OPS of .860 with RISP. For him it comes down to knowing one important fact – in big spots late in games, it's the pitcher who's in more trouble.
“It goes hand and hand with however is on the mound,” he said over the weekend about hitting in the clutch. “I feel like pitchers tend to make more mistakes in tighter situations in games. I don’t know if they are afraid to make a mistake or are trying to do too much. But for me personally, I feel like I get more good pitches to hit and more mistakes in clutch situations of games. And I just really try to lock in on not chasing pitches out of the zone and making those pitchers make a mistake. I feel like if I wait them out they are bound to make one.
“I don’t have any analytics or advance metrics or numbers behind that. That is just a guess, an opinion. But I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of good pitches to hit late in games when there are guys on base and there is nowhere to put me.”
So Hays stays locked in with his approach in such spots.
“It is just knowing you are in the driver’s seat at that point. Your teammates have done a good job to either get a hit or draw a walk. Now everything is heightened and there is more pressure on them to make a pitch. They tend to make more mistakes in those situations.
“When you are a younger hitter, you get in those scenarios and it can be like, ‘I really want to hit a home run here.’ And you start thinking about the result as opposed to just getting a good pitch to hit. The older you get, the more of those situations arises, the less you think about the result you want and just continue to focus on getting a good pitch to hit.”
Hays doesn’t know, he said, what makes one player get a reputation as a clutch player compared to another. Why those guys who just seem to handle those spots better almost want to see the game come to them with the result on the line.
“I have always, even in the minors, I’ve always hit better with runners in scoring position. Maybe it’s our team as a whole has really gotten a lot of guys on against bullpen arms and late-game arms and I seem to come up often with men on base late. And personally I have always hit better in those spots. So part of it is my teammates are doing such a good job, setting the table and getting on. They are creating moments where I have done well at in my career,” Hays said.
What a weekend in Birdland: The Orioles and Rays played three straight one-run games over the weekend with the Orioles winning 1-0 and 2-1 Friday and Sunday, respectively. Saturday’s comeback fell short by a 7-6 score.
The Orioles continue to show well versus American League East clubs. Last year they went 6-13 versus Boston and now they are 5-3. Last year they went 1-18 against Tampa Bay and now they are 4-5. They went 5-14 versus Toronto compared to 2-2 now. They are 4-9 versus New York and went 8-11 last year.
They are now 15-19 versus the AL East after going 20-56 last year. In 2021 they were a combined 7-31 against the Red Sox and Rays and this year they are 9-8 against those two clubs.
At 30-38 after Sunday's win, the Orioles improved to 7-4 in rubber-match games and to 6-3 over their past nine games. Five of their last six games versus Toronto and Tampa Bay were decided by one run and they went 3-2 in the five games.