Hyde on Kjerstad: "I’m sure he’ll be back up here soon"

Heston Kjerstad appeared only seven games with the Orioles and made the lineup four times before they optioned him today to Triple-A Norfolk.

He made 17 plate appearances. They want one of their top prospects to get busy again.

Asked earlier today whether the decision on Kjerstad was motivated by his need to play more, manager Brandon Hyde said, “That’s exactly it.”

“Just the way our outfield configuration is right now, we feel like it was important for him to go play every day, get everyday at-bats. I think this was a good experience for him, to get up here for a couple weeks, get a couple starts, get some pinch-hit opportunities. But just kind of where we are, health-wise, in our outfield, which is pretty strong, we feel like we want him to go play every day. He’s a big part of our future going forward, and somebody we really believe in. I’m sure he’ll be back up here soon.”

Kjerstad was batting .349/.431/.744 with four doubles, 10 home runs and 30 RBIs in 21 games with Norfolk when the Orioles recalled him. He went 2-for-14 with six strikeouts.

Defensive improvement was a big focus in camp and Kjerstad made a sliding catch Saturday while hustling toward the left field line. He had to chase a couple other balls, including one off the wall for a triple.

“I thought he played really well Saturday afternoon,” Hyde said. “A really tough left field to play, for me the toughest in the big leagues. He almost made that catch against the wall, he made another really nice catch down the line. I thought he played well since he was here.

“It was nothing performance-based at all. We need this guy to get more playing time and get some consistent at-bats.”

Kyle Stowers, another left-handed-hitting outfielder, replaces Kjerstad on the roster. He was batting .240/.315/.541 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs, 32 RBIs, 13 walks and 44 strikeouts in 165 plate appearances with Norfolk.

"I think I've done pretty well," Stowers said. "Obviously, the power numbers have been there. You've guys have heard me say this a million times: I feel like there's more meat left on the bone. I was getting in a rhythm and starting to put together better at-bats more consistently."

Stowers broke camp with the Orioles last spring but didn’t get regular at-bats and was 2-for-30 when they optioned him on May 15. He strained his right shoulder at Triple-A, costing him two months, and had his nose fractured when hit by a pitch.

“He had a tough year last year from an injury standpoint but had a great spring training, swung the bat extremely well, and off to a good start with Norfolk, hitting a bunch of homers,” Hyde said. “I haven’t seen him play yet this year but we’re happy to have him.”

The Orioles optioned Stowers last year on Mother’s Day. He found out yesterday that they were recalling him.

“Just a cool full-circle moment,” he said. “Obviously, a lot of work to be done still but just very excited to be here.”

Stowers is on the bench tonight and won’t be promised regular duty. A lot like Kjerstad.

“It’s day-to-day,” Hyde said. “I don’t know that, honestly. Right now we’ve got four other outfielders plus (Ryan) O’Hearn. It’s a good problem to have that we have a lot of guys playing really well.”

Stowers was bashing left-handers in spring training, with some memorable home runs, and has hit them over his professional career, slashing .330/.441/.577 against them in the minors in 2022. He isn’t designed to be a platoon player. But there aren’t any assurances that he’ll get into the lineup on a regular or semi-regular basis.

“I’m going to match up the best I possibly can, just like I do everybody else,” Hyde said. “Kyle took some good swings off some spring training left-handers, and we’ll see how it goes here.”

Austin Hays is available off the bench tonight after appearing in five rehab games with Double-A Bowie and working out at Camden Yards earlier today. His left calf is healed and now he’s trying to get hot at the plate after a 5-for-45 start.

Ryan McKenna was designated for assignment again to make room for Hays. The Orioles can try to trade him or hope he clears waivers and accepts an outright assignment.

“He is a clubhouse favorite and well liked in the dugout and the clubhouse with the energy he brings,” Hyde said. “I’m hoping for the best for him, whether that’s getting claimed by another team or back in Triple-A with us. Whatever the best situation is for him personally, that’s what I’m hoping for.”

The Orioles aren’t on the verge of making a roster move for Grayson Rodriguez. He’s going to have another bullpen session this week.

“He’s getting close,” Hyde said. “There’s no for-sure date back, but he’s getting close.”

Asked whether Rodriguez could rejoin the rotation this weekend, Hyde said, “It’s possible.” The Orioles host the Mariners in a three-game series.

Still no updates on Tyler Wells. He’s rehabbing his right elbow in Sarasota.

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