Austin Hays takes an up-the-middle approach to reverse second-half struggles

SARASOTA, Fla. – After his OPS took a nosedive in the second-half of last year and the strong season he was having was tarnished, O’s outfielder Austin Hays came to this spring camp with a pretty simple offensive approach. Less pulling the baseball and more of using the whole field, especially working to drive balls gap-to-gap.

Hays saw his OPS+ drop a bit, from 107 in 2021 to 103 last season. His WAR per baseball-reference went from 3.1 to 2.2. And after the All-Star break he had a .626 OPS that had been .834 in late June.

“Want to be able to use the whole field rather than be more pull-side like I was later (in the year). Just a very standard middle-of-the-field and be able to drive the ball the other way approach. Nothing crazy. Just sticking with the basics.

“Been hitting the fastball to the other side of the field so far. Hit a lot of balls to the right side early on in camp and like I said that has been my focus, to use the whole field. It’s showing, what I did in the offseason and what I am trying to focus on.”

What caused Hays to get away from that as last season went on?

"It can be a number of things,” he said. “Can be something you are thinking mentally, could be things you are dealing with physically that are not allowing you to do some of the same drills or get to the same positions you were before. Could be anything during a long season. You play every day, you can develop bad habits sometimes. Just need to get back to what makes you good and stick with that.”

Hays said his attempt to have a middle-of-the field approach also depends on the pitcher and pitch location. He will do it when the chances present themselves.

“You want something that is out over the plate. You can’t force something to the right side. Try to get a pitch that is somewhat middle and if a pitcher is attacking you on the inside, you have to adjust what you are doing. But trying to use the middle of the field, whether that is the pull side gap or the opposite field gap, staying to the big part of the field. That is a big focus for me. At times I get a little too much to the pull side gap and start to smother balls on the ground.”

Last season his final numbers were .250/.306/.413/.719 with 35 doubles, two triples, 16 homers and 60 RBIs. His OPS was .779 at the All-Star break.

In the split-squad game Monday in Sarasota, Hays hit his third homer, a solo shot to left-center, in the last of the first. He went 2-for-3 adding a hot-smash infield hit. Through eight games he is batting .368/.455/.842/1.297 at 7-for-19 with three homers and seven RBIs. 

His overall spring approach for the several weeks the players spend in Florida is clear cut. And it has changed from his younger days.

“I would say it’s a little more health focused than it was when I was younger. Just would previously come in and think I would at times do too much trying to overwork during spring training. Now it’s just more so getting my body ready to go and play 162. That is where I am right now, really, really focusing on the health side of it."

And getting solid results so far for his batting approach as he looks to put together two solid halves of baseball in the O's 2023 season. 


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