Fuller on rescuing players from "pain cave" and lots more

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Double barrel action in a bullpen is the term used when two relievers are warming at the same time. For Austin Hays, it’s the unfortunate process of receiving treatment for two ailments in the trainers’ room.

Hays didn’t play again last night due to bruised ribs and tightness in his back, but he’s avoided another trip to the injured list. His status remains day-to-day heading into the three-game series against the Braves at Camden Yards.

The ribs didn’t prevent Hays from serving as a defensive replacement in left field Saturday afternoon. However, the back flared up and cost him a chance to start Sunday.

As usual, the timing is rough.   

Hays can set an example for Cedric Mullins, who went into Sunday’s game batting .170 with a .522 OPS and was hitless in his last 25 at-bats before a single and triple provided some relief. Hays’ problems at the plate stemmed more from poor health, dating back to his illness in spring training that caused him to lose about 10 pounds and feel weak. He went on the injured list earlier this season with a calf strain and was day-to-day in the Rays series.

The only at-bat for Hays on Saturday resulted in a double pulled down the left field line in the ninth inning. He had back-to-back two-hit games, including a double and a pair of home runs, to begin the month, and doubled again last Tuesday.

The season-long funk was lifting.

“Ced and Hays are obviously the best of friends and we’re so proud of Austin,” said co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller. “He was in that pain cave, too, going through a really tough time and there gets to a point where you exhaust all the mechanical options, and he did a great job of saying, ‘You know what? Screw it. I’m going out there, I’m a great player, I believe in myself. If my mechanics aren’t great tonight, I can still find a way to win.’ So that confidence, that belief going out there, regardless of what the scoreboard says.

“And that’s a tough thing to look at every day when you see your numbers going down, but still proving to yourself that I’m a player who can go out there. That’s one of the key reasons why Haysy has turned it around.”

Let’s pause here to fully appreciate the term “pain cave” and wonder if more can be done with it.

Fuller is able to provide a fairly simple explanation for why the Orioles seem immune to the downturn in offense in the majors this season. Oh sure, they have their moments when clutch hits elude them like house flies, they start slowly and fans yank out their hair in clumps. But they’ve also posted 19 comeback wins and began last night ranked first in the majors in home runs, slugging percentage and runs per game, tied for first in extra-base hits, tied for second in RBIs and third in OPS.

“We have really good players,” Fuller said.

“I know you could look at every team and say that, but these guys work incredibly hard. We are not looking at the numbers as a league, where everybody else is at. We’re just trying to go out there every day, score as many runs as we possibly can against really good pitching. Pitching is unbelievable and that makes our preparation more vital every day. But going out, we just focus on getting guys on base, scoring runs and taking really good swings.”

No team is more immersed in analytics than the Orioles. They’ve got data for days. Fuller and co-hitting coach Matt Borgschulte sift through it but won’t get bogged down by it.

“As coaches it’s key for us to be able to decipher what’s important and what’s maybe noise,” Fuller said, “but the magic is in what we give to the players, and the Orioles have given us the resources to have unbelievable feedback loops. So the guys get videos of their at-bat. ‘Was that a pitch I should have swung at? Was it a pitch I should have taken?’ So everything that we have as coaches we simplify into direct feedback for the players to be able to go through their game. ‘Was that a pitch I could hit? Was that a pitch I should take?’ And then go through their at-bats, too.

“Everything we have as coaches we try to be as transparent as possible with the players, too, given them those feedback loops, as well.”

The data is modernized to include Statcast, for example, but traditional numbers aren’t shunned.

It’s pretty obvious, though, where the organization leans. The hires since Mike Elias became executive vice president/general manager in November 2018 and the devotion to building an elite analytics department before worrying about the on-field product brought transparency to the plan.

“It’s gonna depend on the hitter, obviously,” Fuller said. “There’s different things that each hitter is going to have. What they’re working on. OK, what’s the metric that we can tack on to that to see progress here. Is it hard-hit percentages and their swing decision score? Are we working on contact rate on pitches in the zone? So it’s really going to be player dependent, but it goes back to those standards of swing decisions, contact damage, and within each of those categories we have kind of those progress goals that we can control rather than what the scoreboard’s gonna control.”

Gunnar Henderson is the reigning American League Rookie of the Year and one of baseball’s best young players, a draft steal as the 42nd-overall pick in 2019 who began yesterday ranked second in the majors with 20 home runs and fifth in slugging percentage at .583 and OPS at .954.

Henderson hit his 21st homer last night, his seventh in the leadoff spot, but he isn’t immune to cold spells and the frustrations that come with them.

He knows where he can heat up again.

“Every accolade, it’s so impressive,” Fuller said. “But what you guys don’t see is in the cage, him coming in and saying, ‘OK, I feel like crap today. We’ve got to piece this thing together today.’ So it’s easy to see his success on the field and it’s like, ‘Wow, it must be so easy for him.’ It’s a grind for him every single day. He’s playing every day, he’s tired, his mechanics can be off a little bit. But it goes back to that belief of, ‘I’m better than the guy on the mound. I’ll figure it out. I don’t need to feel or be 100 percent to get it done tonight.’ And he tinkers in there every day just to make sure that when he goes out there, he’s ready to do damage.”

When prospects get to Triple-A, skipper Buck Britt...
Burnes extends quality streak and Orioles complete...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/