Heston Kjerstad's bat heated up late for Aberdeen, plus O's notes

The Orioles’ high Single-A Aberdeen affiliate needs to win tonight to extend its season. Tuesday night the IronBirds lost 8-1 at Brooklyn in Game 1 of a best-of-three South Atlantic League semifinal series. Should Aberdeen win tonight at 7:05 p.m. at Ripken Stadium, the teams will play a third and deciding game tomorrow night in Aberdeen.

Aberdeen reached the SAL playoffs by going 43-23 and winning the first-half division title. Brooklyn won the second-half, when Aberdeen went 35-31 for an overall record of 78-54 under first-year pro manager Roberto Mercado.

Outfielder Heston Kjerstad was the only IronBird with a multi-hit game Tuesday, going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles. Kjerstad ended the regular season with a four-game hitting streak, going 7-for-16 with a double and homer. He batted .290 in September.

But overall in 43 games with Aberdeen, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft batted .233/.312/./362/.674 with eight doubles, two triples, three homers and 20 RBIs. This was after he tore it up for low Single-A Delmarva, posting an OPS of 1.201 in 22 games.

Mercado said in a recent interview that Kjerstad was indeed swinging it better later in the year.

“He seems to be getting about a hit a game and finding ways to get on base,” said Mercado. “His swing decisions have been really good, especially as of late, taking his walks. Been solid in the outfield, mostly in right field. Does what he needs to do to help our team be successful.”

But was it tough for him to hit so well at Delmarva and then go through some struggles with Aberdeen?

“I remember talking about (Colton) Cowser, how he handles things well and doesn’t stress about things," said Mercado. "I think that is a special tool to have and a lot of people don’t talk about that. But Kjerstad is very similar in that demeanor. With not caring to the point that it becomes a detriment to your development. We saw one night in Asheville, he was 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and his fifth AB hits a home run to give us the lead. True professional, not going to take at-bats to his next one.

“I think Zach (Cole, Aberdeen hitting coach) is doing a really good job with him in talking about balance at the plate, a little more balance with his back leg. That is really the main thing. Other than that, he hasn’t been here very long.”

Mercado said Kjerstad has shown the ability to use the whole field and has been a line-to-line hitter.

“He has been. He’ll smoke a ball to right-center," said Mercado. "And he got robbed the other day of probably a triple. He was flying around the bases on a ball to left-center. He’s got power to all fields and is fun to watch at the plate."

Baysox and Tides win: Connor Norby and Andrew Daschbach homered as Double-A Bowie won 7-3 at Akron Wednesday night. The Baysox are 39-26 in the second half and one game behind Erie for first place and a playoff spot with four games left. But Erie holds tiebreakers over Bowie.

Norby hit No. 16 with Bowie and No. 24 on the year. The Baysox bullpen, so strong in the second half, was good again. Winning pitcher Easton Lucas allowed one run in three innings and Connor Loeprich threw two scoreless for his sixth save.

Triple-A Norfolk outscored Charlotte 13-11 as Yusniel Diaz homered and drove in five runs. He's batting .440 with seven RBIs his last eight games.

Norfolk (68-69) is 14-4 in its last 18 games. The Tides hit back-to-back homers twice with Diaz and Brett Phillips connecting in the first and Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz in the fifth. 

Norfolk has hit 153 homers, a new franchise record, surpassing 151 by the 1971 Tidewater Tides. 

O's win again: In Washington, Gunnar Henderson's two-run triple in the seventh keyed a four-run inning as the O's rallied to beat the Nationals 6-2. The O's had 11 hits and produced back-to-back games this series of double digit hits, the first time they had done that since Aug. 5-6 against the Pirates.

Henderson went 4-for-9 with five RBIs this series. In his first 14 major league games, he's batting .320/.370/.520/.890 with five doubles, a triple, a homer and nine RBIs. 

The Orioles (75-67) are now 51-39 all-time versus the Nationals and 24-21 at Nats Park.

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