For Orioles outfielder Austin Hays, as he produces an All-Star caliber season, there are probably not many highlights that will top when he hit for the cycle recently. He became the sixth Oriole in team history to do that. And he got it a game that was shortened to six innings by rain a week ago Wednesday, when the Orioles were hosting the Washington Nationals.
But most nights, Hays is just as excited, probably more so, when he can make a big defensive play such as running a ball down in the gap or throwing a runner out on the bases. He and the Orioles are doing that often. Heading into Wednesday’s game at Seattle, the club’s 17 outfield assists were fourth-most in the major leagues and Hays was tied for second with seven outfield assists. His 19 assists since 2020 were tied for fourth most in the majors.
“I take so much pride in my defense, I think it means more to me when I can throw out a runner or make a big defensive play in a tight situation late in the game," Hays said in a recent interview with me on my WBAL Radio Orioles postgame show. "I’d say that’s more fun for me or means more to me when I do that than do it on the offensive side of the ball.”
The guy is making accurate throws with a lot on them. The arm-strength-and-accuracy combo is very impressive. The Orioles recently released a stat showing that, since 2016, Hays' arm speed from the outfield has recorded the five fastest and 10 of the 11 fastest Baltimore outfield throws.
97.6 mph – May 20, 2022 against Tampa Bay
96.4 mph – June 23, 2022 at Chicago
95.0 mph – June 2, 2022 versus Seattle
94.5 mph – April 27, 2021 against the Yankees
93.9 mph – Aug. 18 2021 versus Tampa Bay
The arm strength, Hays said, comes from good, old-fashioned practice. He puts the work in.
“I have always thrown more than everyone else when I was younger,” he said during the WBAL Radio interview. “I long-tossed every day all the way through high school and college. Even into pro ball, and a lot of people told me I threw too much. But I think that is where it comes from. I was always long-tossing and always wanted to have a strong arm and always wanted to be able to make strong, accurate throws to bases and throw out runners. I think it just comes from all the years of long-tossing.”
And he maintains that arm strength through the long season with his pregame work daily.
“Anytime we are taking BP on the field, we throw to bases pretty much every day, just making sure we’re hitting cuts," Hays said. "And first day in Chicago, for instance, we were working on our throws to relay guys off the wall. But our normal routine every day is get loose and then make four or five throws to bases every day.”
And if you wonder if Hays has ever pitched or would like to try throwing that hard from the mound, forget it.
“I never pitched since I guess I was 10 or 11," he said. "I didn’t pitch in high school or college. Couldn’t tell you how hard I throw off the mound.”
Hays played at a pretty high level last year, producing an OPS of .769, which was seven percent above league average in 2021. Now that mark is .810 and he is 30 percent above current league average, and he is getting numerous clutch and big hits. He said that, as he continues to grow into a top talent, the guidance he has gotten behind the scenes from manager Brandon Hyde has been big.
“I’ve gotten to play for him for three years now," Hays said. "I’ve learned a lot from him, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with him about what I needed to do to grow in the big leagues and learn how to just turn the page from being a guy that was up and down to being an everyday player in the big leagues. So I’ve learned a lot from him, and I think I’ve grown a lot through some of the conversations that we’ve had. And I know he’s had those same talks and conversations with a lot of other guys on the team.
"So, I think we, as players, have a really good relationship with our manager because of that. He’s always been honest and up front with us about what we need to do to stay here and what we need to do to get better. I think he has a bright future with this team. We’re showing that we’re turning it around and he is a big part of that. I think he will be a big part of the future here in Baltimore.”
No June swoon: The Orioles began the month of June splitting the final two games of a three-game series with Seattle. Then they lost their first full series of the month, going 1-2 against Cleveland at home. They lost their last full series of the month, going 1-2 at Seattle. In between, they went 3-0-3 in the other six series, in what turned out to be a pretty darn fine month in Birdland.
The Orioles had the fifth-best record in the American League in June.
.815 - NYY (22-5)
.769 - Boston (20-6)
.643 - Cleveland (18-10)
.625 - Houston (15-9)
.538 - Orioles (14-12)
They went 6-5 at home and 8-7 on the road. They were sixth in the AL in runs scored in June, averaging 4.77 per game. They ranked sixth in the AL in homers in June (36), were fifth in team slugging (.427) and sixth in OPS (.722). Their June team ERA was sixth best at 3.86.
The O's head to Minnesota for three games this weekend to wrap up a 10-game road trip. They are 4-3 on this trip and 17-25 in road games for the year. But they are 11-9 the last 20 road games.
Though the Orioles lost the last two games of the month, their pitching stats still finished June pretty strong. O's pitchers have allowed just 20 runs the last eight games, 24 in 10 and 33 runs over the past 13 games.
O's starting pitchers have a 1.63 ERA over the last 10 games, and the Baltimore bullpen has an ERA of 2.55 the last 15 games.
The Orioles are 28-28 since May 1.