Ryan Mountcastle pulled a hoodie over his head this afternoon at his locker, with full range of motion in his left shoulder and the ease of a healthy player, and went outdoors to take some early swings.
He smiled. As if knowing that his stay on the injured list was concluding on the date of his eligibility. An expression that was missing for more than a week.
The Orioles reinstated Mountcastle this afternoon and optioned outfielder Ryan McKenna. He isn’t in tonight’s lineup but will start Thursday against Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale.
Manager Brandon Hyde indicated yesterday that it could be a few more days with Mountcastle.
“He took batting practice yesterday, we wanted to have another day of batting practice on the field,” Hyde said. “We put the machine out there, did some high-velocity stuff. He’s hit on the field twice, so I didn’t want to jump the gun and say he’s going to be activated if it didn’t go very well.
“He swung the bat very well earlier today and he’ll be available off the bench.”
Mountcastle went on the injured list Sept. 20, backdated three days, with left AC joint inflammation. He felt the shoulder pop while fouling off a pitch against the Cardinals’ Drew Rom, the last left-hander that the Orioles faced until Patrick Corbin tonight.
Mountcastle missed a month of the season due to bouts of vertigo, returning to the club on July 9 after a rehab assignment. He’s batting .324/.403/.494 in 50 games in the second half, with eight doubles, seven home runs and 27 RBIs.
Overall, Mountcastle is slashing .269/.325/.453 in 111 games with 20 doubles, a triple, 18 home runs and 67 RBIs. He’s hitting .340 with a 1.056 OPS against left-handers.
Asked about the boost that Mountcastle provides, Hyde said, “Just the second half, what he’s done offensively for us, especially. The defense he’s played at first base, always done a great job at first base, also. So, we’re really lucky there to have two premiere first basemen. But Mounty gives you a presence at the plate, a guy who can leave the ballpark. And just a good hitter.”
The Orioles can get Mountcastle the necessary at-bats to keep him sharp for the playoffs, but a division title comes with a bye that also allows him to rest the shoulder.
O’Hearn has made all of the starts at first base until tonight. Anthony Santander replaces him against Corbin.
“For me, that’s where we kind of caught a break there maybe a little bit, when we faced a bunch of right-handed starters in a row,” Hyde said.
O’Hearn is batting .298/.329/.494 with 22 doubles, a triple, 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in 107 games. He’s 24-for-80 (.300) this month, with six doubles and three homers.
“If you asked me in April, I didn’t think he was going to be hitting fourth for us the majority of the season,” Hyde said. “He has brought so much, on-the-field stuff. Big hits, line drive approach, uses the whole field, unbelievably competitive at the plate. He grinds out at-bats. Doesn’t walk a ton but gives you a really good at-bat almost every time out.
“He’s played a really good defensive first base for us. I’ve been able to put him in the corner outfield at times, so he’s given us some versatility, also. But what he brings in the clubhouse, too. He doesn’t have a ton of years in the big leagues, but he’s a very mature player and he’s unbelievably professional. Really likeable. Guys like him a lot. He’s just a baseball player, he’s just a gamer. Wants to play, plays his butt off, and keeps it loose in the clubhouse, as well.”
McKenna was recalled when Mountcastle went on the IL. The timing of today’s move makes him a possibility for the Division Series.
“We have four outfielders already,” Hyde said. “I can always put O’Hearn out there. I can put (Adam) Frazier out there. Frazier’s a good outfielder. So, there’s some versatility there from an outfield standpoint. But Mac does bring a lot. Mac brings plus defense in all three spots. He’s a good baserunner. Takes good at-bats, especially against left-handed pitching.
“He’s had a good year. He’s been productive this season. And not only that, he’s an unbelievable team guy, loudest guy in the dugout. One of the first guys here in the clubhouse every single day. Just loves it, loves to play, loves to be around the guys. He’s very likeable.
“It’s never easy to option somebody like that that is valuable. When you get good, you sometimes have to option players that you don’t want to, but that creates depth, and anything can happen at any time. … Just want him to stay ready. He’s still a huge part of our team.”
Hyde brought up Félix Bautista’s name in his media session before taking his first question. Bautista faced a hitter yesterday for the first time since he suffered a slight tear in his right elbow.
“I don’t have any new updates on Bautista,” Hyde said. “When I do get updates, you will be the second to know. I’ll let my son (Colton) know first. He’s real interested, as well. I’ll call him and let him know what’s going on. But I don’t have anything new and I’ll let you know whenever that is.”
The Orioles are wearing Brooks Robinson’s No. 5 on their uniform sleeve tonight and will wear the official patch beginning Thursday and throughout the postseason.
Besides the No. 5 banner hanging from the warehouse, the number also is spray painted in foul territory behind third base, and a black ribbon is tied to his retired number on the facing of the upper deck.
The Red Sox are starting Sale, Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford and Tanner Houck in the four-game series that concludes the regular season. The Orioles are listing only Dean Kremer Thursday and John Means Friday, with the possibility of clinching the division maybe influencing their rotation.
Last night’s win assured that the Orioles would go 90 series in a row without being swept. They can move to 40 games above .500 for the first time since the end of the 1979 season.
For the Nationals
CJ Abrams SS
Lane Thomas RF
Keibert Ruiz C
Joey Meneses DH
Luis García 2B
Dominic Smith 1B
Ildemaro Vargas 3B
Jake Alu LF
Jacob Young CF
Patrick Corbin LHP