During his postgame interview Sunday after he drove in two runs as the Orioles beat Texas 3-2, outfielder Austin Hays noted that his pre-game planning work was paying off during the games.
He is having one solid season for the Orioles. Over 50 games, Hays is batting .311/.354/.506/.860 with 13 doubles, two triples, six homers and 23 RBIs. He ranks fourth in the American League in batting average and 12th in OPS.
His OPS was .719 last season and now he has gained 141 points on that. Hays ranks in the top 19 percent of the majors in average exit velocity and the top 16 percent in barrel percentage. He's hitting the ball hard and getting quality results.
This time, in a pregame interview, Hays explained more fully what he meant by that comment on Sunday. And what was coming together so well for him in his pregame work and pregame planning with the club’s hitting coaches.
“Specifically (I was referring to) how the pitcher’s ball moves on his fastball and his offspeed stuff and being able to go into the cage and set the machines up for those exact movements and angles and train what I need to think to be able to attack the ball the right way. In the pregame work, we put together a plan and have a visualization of what the ball is going to look like. Especially if it is someone we haven’t faced before or in a while,” he said.
So basically they simulate the exact pitches and movements they will see at 7:05 p.m. or whenever the game will start during pregame work in the cage against pitching machines. They can simulate a pitcher’s slider or cutter or fastball movement. And they hit foam balls so they don’t beat themselves or their hands and arms up too badly during the pregame work. But the foam ball hitting the bat does produce some contact to simulate what they might produce later that night.
“You can make the pitches shaped that way and look like that (the actual pitches) so you can get in your mind what you need to think and feel to try and attack that pitch the right way,” Hays said.
The foam balls are a key in these simulations, he said.
“We could do this before, but using baseballs to try and hit 95 mph pitches off a machine is going to destroy your hands. You are hitting nasty sliders and sinkers and you would foul balls off your leg and foot.
“But now that we have these foam balls that are soft, but they still feel like a baseball. When you hit them you feel the same thing that you do what you hit a baseball. But when you foul one off or get jammed, it still kind of hurts, but it doesn’t break your bat or break a bone. You can train against stuff that is very realistic to the game without the chance of injuring yourself.”
The pregame training is having nice results for Hays in the game.
“It’s throwing really hard, sharp, late-moving balls that at times are nastier than what you will see in the game. So, that is kind of our idea. If we can train game-like in the cage, if you can match your training to what you will see in the game you will feel a bit more comfortable in the box," he said.
They even have resources and devices like HitTrax machines to provide instant feedback of how they have hit the foam balls and what that might mean in the game in terms of distance, exit velocity, etc.
For Hays, off to a very good start, the pregame work is producing in-game results.
O's win to even series: After scoring just eight runs total in the first four games of this homestand, the Orioles scored seven in the first two innings last night to beat Cleveland 8-5 at Oriole Park.
Now 35-20, the O's gained a game on the Tampa Bay Rays and are now three games back of first in the AL East.
Gunnar Henderson drove in a season-high three runs and Anthony Santander's three-run triple was part of his 3-for-4 night that featured two doubles and his fourth career triple. Santander hit the O's first bases-loaded triple since Jace Peterson hit one on May 2, 2018 at the Los Angeles Angels. He tied his career-high with three extra-base hits.
In May, Santander is batting .344/.432/.625 with 11 multi-hit games.