DL Hall closes in but still some work to do, plus O's notes and Hays' cycle

He is one of baseball’s best pitching prospects, lefty DL Hall of the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, the Orioles top draft pick from 2017. They selected the lefty from a Georgia high school No. 21 overall and now he is on the doorstep of the majors. But when he'll take that next big step is the question now for the Orioles as Hall closes in.

Perhaps his latest outing on Tuesday at Lehigh Valley showed us both reasons to go get Hall and reasons why more time on the farm would also not be a bad thing for the 23-year-old hurler.

Through nine Triple-A starts, Hall is 1-2 with a 3.86 ERA over 35 innings, which is already a few more innings than he threw in seven 2021 starts with Double-A Bowie. He has allowed 27 hits with 23 walks while getting 57 strikeouts, recording a .206 batting average against and 1.43 WHIP.

That WHIP number is a bit of a challenge right now, as are the walks. In Tuesday’s outing, Hall threw a season-high 92 pitches but cleared just 4 1/3 innings. He allowed four hits and five runs, just two earned, and recorded five walks and three strikeouts. In his two previous outings he has walked five and fanned 17 over nine combined innings. The strike-throwing ratio took a step back on Tuesday night.

Before Hall's start on Tuesday, Norfolk Triple-A pitching coach Justin Ramsey, who is spending time right now helping the O’s staff, said Hall had indeed made some gains in this department this year.

“He’s been fantastic, both on and off the field, in terms of growth,” Ramsey said in an interview with MASN. “He’s done a really good job of getting ahead of hitters. His last outing (the June 16 game), he was 18 of 20 first-pitch strikes. Obviously, that has been a big focus of his, the strike-throwing component. People talk about the walks, but if you paid attention to his outings, even last year in Bowie but also this year, there are still some walks but they are far more competitive. The zone is getting attacked with every pitch. And even when there are walks, it’s not like they are spray shots like they might have been in ’19 and years prior. He has been a lot more consistent in working around the zone.”

While Hall’s pitch efficiency needs work, the kid is still tough to hit, allowing just 27 hits and a .206 average against. But his walk rate this year is 5.9 per nine innings, and it was 4.5 last season at Double-A. So maybe he's still got some work to do before he's ready for the majors. But the Orioles look forward to a day soon when he makes some starts at the big league level. And O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias talked about that on Saturday during an interview with O’s reporters.

“DL is making great progress in Norfolk,” Elias said. “You see his outings getting longer, the pitch counts are going up. He’s had an outing when he’s covered five innings, a couple where he’s run out of bullets in the fourth, but the stats are getting better and better. I think that the efficiency is getting better. He’s really on a good path and doing what we want to see him doing.

“On the other hand, this is a kid that, because of injury and the pandemic, has really not thrown that many minor league innings since signing. He’s still learning a lot there. But very excited about where he’s at coming off the injury last year, what we’re seeing from him in Norfolk. I think where his head’s at is good, and it’s at the point where, obviously, we’re watching his outings very carefully, but doing so not just from a player development standpoint but from a major league relevancy standpoint, and we’re going to be looking for the right time to possibly see what we’ve got there.”

Hall ranks as the No. 48 prospect in the Baseball America top 100 and comes in at No. 77 for MLBPipeline.com. Baseball America puts a 70 grade on his fastball and MLBPipeline grades the pitch at 65. FanGraphs.com is bullish on Hall and lists him No. 30 in its top 100.

Hays' cycle leads O's to win over Nats: On Tuesday night, O's outfielder Austin Hays went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. That left him 1-for-15 his past four games and 4-for-31 over the last eight.

In answer to that mild slump, Hays delivered the sixth cycle in Baltimore Orioles history last night, and he was the first to do it in just six innings as the O's blanked the Nationals 7-0 in a rain-shortened game.

Hays had an infield single in the first, solo homer in the third, triple in the fourth and two-run double in the sixth. He joins Brooks Robinson (1960), Cal Ripken Jr. (1984), Aubrey Huff (2007), Felix Pie (2009) and Jonathan Villar (2019) as O's to hit for the cycle. 

"It was crazy. I was definitely thinking about it," said Hays. "I was just thinking about getting a slider that was hanging over the middle of the plate and hitting it to left-center, and sure enough, (Steve) Cishek hung a slider right there and I was able to hit the line drive to left-center. It was a really cool feeling. Goosebumps hit me right as I was touching second base. Nothing else to do but just point up to the sky and thank God for the opportunity for that. It was a really cool moment."

Hays produced his fifth outfield assist in the first inning, and the big offense was still to come. His strong season continued amid the raindrops at Oriole Park.

Said manager Brandon Hyde: "He's impacting the game on both sides of the baseball. He's playing incredible, Gold Glove type defense, on top of swinging the bat extremely well. It's been fun to watch his growth as a player. He's really starting to come into his own."

The Orioles (31-39) are now on a pace to finish 72-90. They have won four of six, seven of 11 and are 17-15 the last 32 games. They are 10-9 in June and begin a 10-game road trip tonight in Chicago against the White Sox. 

 

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