Elias suggests patience with struggling outfielders

Anthony Santander led off the fourth inning yesterday with a single and poked a double down the left field line to begin the eighth before the pain from a bruised knee led to his removal in right field. Colton Cowser, who shaved his beard to “change things up,” broke his bat on a fourth-inning single and snapped a 7-for-55 streak. Austin Hays played in his first game since April 20 in Kansas City and delivered a pinch-hit double in the seventh after beginning the season 5-for-45.

Cedric Mullins was removed for Hays after popping up and striking out to extend his slump to 5-for-59.

That’s the latest update on the Orioles outfield. Some promising moments that proceeded Adley Rutschman’s walk-off home run. Not a clean sweep when it comes to perhaps busting out of funks.

The Orioles improved to 27-14 heading into their off-day and are winning without everyone at peak performance. Some players are far from it. And the club must monitor Santander’s knee – he played chess in the clubhouse afterward rather than being in the trainers’ room, which seemed encouraging – and Hays’ calf that forced manager Brandon Hyde to pinch-run for him despite his reinstatement this week from the injured list.

Minds aren’t closed to certain roster upgrades. However, the Orioles don’t appear to have reached a point where they’re going to actively pursue an outfielder in trade or from the waiver wire. They seem more inclined to trust track records and their internal options.

That’s the current vibe. Check back for any changes.

“I think it’s too soon for that,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said earlier this week. “Generally speaking, going back to last year since the team’s been a known contender, the needs have been on the pitching side. We have such a plethora of position players that we’ve been a little more content to just handle that internally. Certainly, that’s something, I don’t want to be too stubborn about and we’ll keep an eye on it as the next couple of months unfold, but it’s also not something we want to race to a conclusion.

“I think we’ve got plenty of position player talent in this organization right now and I think it’s a good idea to watch the guys in the organization that we have play.”

Santander is 9-for-30 in his last eight games, with two doubles and three home runs, but is slashing .220/.298/.447. His 11 doubles are tied with Ryan Mountcastle for the team lead. Mullins is hitting .183/.234/.349 and Cowser .252/.336/.495. Cowser is 5-for-35 this month.

Elias knows the numbers. But the front office reacts differently to them than people in panic mode.

“I’m definitely not immune to getting caught up in the hot and cold and the drama on a night-to-night basis of guys getting base hits and not getting base hits,” Elias said. “I think anyone who follows the team closely feels that. But we try to apply other methods to what should we be expecting from this player. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen every night or every week, but we kind of have a sense of what these guys’ skill levels generally are. We have tools in the front office that help us look at that and we try to stick by those, and it helps us be patient or helps us hopefully make the right decisions, because just doing it strictly on hot and cold, that would get pretty crazy.”

Kyle Stowers replaced Heston Kjerstad on the roster Monday afternoon and is waiting for his first at-bat. He pinch-ran for Hays yesterday and played left field, but Ramón Urías pinch-hit for him in the eighth. Kjerstad received only 17 plate appearances and was 2-for-14.

Playing time for prospects isn’t distributed in bulk. The roster just won’t allow it.

“I think that the depth that we currently have on the position player side and the upper part of the organization, MLB and Triple-A, it’s presenting a bit of a challenge for Brandon (Hyde) on a nightly basis with the lineup card,” Elias said.

“For us in the front office setting the roster, where we’ve got players that, let’s say they were in Double-A, you want to move them to Triple-A, but Triple-A to the major leagues is a whole different world, and right now we have a team of guys that, most of them are playing well and it’s not easy to leapfrog any of the current players in the lineup. And when we look at that next case, it’s a question of, do we want to leave somebody in Triple-A all year or bring them up for a limited role just to keep them exposed to the major leagues, kind of a change of scenery, a little different experience. And that’s what we did in Heston’s case, knowing that there wasn’t going to be an extended run of playing time for him. But you only want that to go on for so long, so this is something that we’ve done going back into last year.

“My point of view is, these guys, even if they’re prospects, if they’re on the 40-man, they’re on the 40-man, and part of being on the 40-man is sometimes your name gets called to come up and fill a role for a little while. So we’re trying to balance both of those things. But it’s certainly not the easiest thing in the world. I know it’s not easy on players to kind of come up, not play a lot, go back down. But it’s not because anyone didn’t perform or didn’t look good. It’s just because we don’t want guys of this caliber sitting on the bench for too, too long, even though it’s nice to be in the major leagues.

“Not something that’s easy to do and I don’t know that there’s a scientific playbook for this, but it’s kind of the way that we’ve rolled a little bit here and there. In Heston’s case, you look at Joey Ortiz last year, Stowers last year, Cowser we’ve done it. And so, we’ve managed things that way. Hopefully, it’s the best of a bunch of not-so-great options.”

The eventual return of Jackson Holliday at second base will be orchestrated with the idea of keeping him away from the minor league shuttle. However, others could get similar treatment to Kjerstad and Stowers.

“We’ll see,” Elias said. “I don’t want to get too far ahead. Somebody might get hurt or just circumstances might change. And also the roster composition on the position player side, the 13-man, it’s a little interactive, so it depends a little bit of who else we have on the roster, which profiles are already on there.

“I think we’ll just have to take everything in a totality of circumstances. But we do try to communicate to these guys that if you’re on the 40-man, you may get called up for service and it doesn’t mean that we’re going to give you a big, long, extended audition in that moment in time. It’s just kind of the reality of the situation. In Heston’s case, told him, and I always want to be clear talking about this, we don’t feel like we’ve given him any kind of extended audition yet. That time is obviously coming. He’s a big part of our future and this could be any moment now where that happens, but to date, going back to last September and now a little bit this spring, he just hasn’t gotten his full, lengthy, patient run of playing time in the major leagues. And it’s not because we don’t want to do that. It’s because we can’t really figure out a way to do that without benching somebody on this team right now. And right now the team’s playing well and everybody’s pretty healthy, knock on wood, and up and running.”

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