At a time when the Orioles offense has come up a short a few times in recent days, perhaps one slumping Bird took a step in a better direction during Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
Outfielder Austin Hays talked before the game about adjustments he was making to help his offense, and then a couple of swings he took during the game provided some encouragement.
Hays was 0-for-16 over his most recent five games heading into Thursday’s game at the Yard. He was batting .158 with an OPS of .459 his last 16 games.
Then he struck out in the second inning against the Cubs, but then ripped a double into left-center with 104 mph exit velocity in the fifth-inning. He lined to left in the seventh and hit that one 101 mph off the bat. He reached on an error in the ninth.
“Physically I feel really good. My body’s healthy,” Hays said in the clubhouse Thursday afternoon. “It’s just a matter of trying to get the ball in the air a little more. All the balls I’m hitting hard right now are on the ground. Hard to find holes on the ground. Need to hit more balls on a line. So, I’m working with our hitting guys every day to hit the ball in the air a little more and be on time with the fastball and stay in the middle of the field.”
Hays said pitchers have not necessarily made any big adjustments against him from earlier this year when his OPS was .810 at the end of June. Now it’s .728.
“For the most part it’s been the same,” he said. “I think they are just executing a little better right now and I’m fouling off some pitches that I was not missing earlier in the year. I was capitalizing on those mistakes. The balls that I am hitting hard right now they are on the ground more often than earlier in the year. Just (looking to make) a couple of changes to some drills I am doing in the cage to reset where I was earlier in the year and more driving the ball in the air through the middle.
“I really want to zone the middle of the plate and not swing at edgy stuff early in the counts. Stay inside those balls and hit line drives to the middle and not top mistakes and hit hard groundballs pullside.”
In their last six wins, the Orioles have scored 40 runs (6.7 per game) but in their last six losses, they have scored just 10 runs (1.7 per game) scoring one, three, two, one, one and two runs.
In looking for a playoff spot for the first time since the 2016 season, Hays doesn’t see pennant-race pressure as a problem for the team.
“No, I think it makes it a lot more fun. Every game is meaningful. At this point last year we were so far out of it and didn’t have that feeling. This is everything you play for. You play for every single game to matter and have a chance to get to the postseason. It’s just a great feeling to have everything mean something.”
Hays personally said he doesn't do a lot of scoreboard watching.
“Just trying to focus on what our team is doing every night and focus on winning games,” he said.
He added that the team's daily approach hasn't changed even though the games seem to mean more this time of year.
“I think the thing this team has done such a great job of all year is coming in with an excellent amount of energy night in and night out, no matter what happened the day before. I don’t thjink anything has really changed from that. Guys are playing for one another and there is a tremendous amount of energy in the dugout backing each other. And guys are staying locked in for nine innings," added Hays.