Stoked. Excited. Relieved.
Heston Kjerstad summed up his emotions after getting the news last night that the Orioles wanted him in Baltimore. He isn’t in tonight’s lineup, but he reached the majors in his first full professional season.
The wheels were in motion after Ryan Mountcastle injured his left shoulder while fouling off a pitch. Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton pulled Kjerstad from the game after two plate appearances.
“For precautionary or whatever,” Kjerstad said, “and then postgame Buck let me know that I was getting called up.”
Kjerstad called his parents, Dave and Jody, and his siblings. They'll be part of his cheering section tonight at Camden Yards.
“It’s been a good 24 hours,” he said.
“Something you’ve worked for paying off. Getting to go chase your dream.”
The pursuit required Kjerstad to keep “staying focused where my feet were at.”
“Just taking it day-by-day,” he said. “As I was coming through some of the obstacles I went through, just each day enjoying what I had in front of me and taking advantage of it and seeing how I could get better every day.”
The main obstacle wasn’t typical.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias expected Kjerstad to move quickly through the system after making him the second-overall pick in the 2020 draft out of the University of Arkansas. However, a diagnosis of myocarditis put Kjerstad on a much slower track until he was cleared for games.
“A good accomplishment,” Kjerstad said. “It’s been good for me to have a support system around me through the team, my family, to help get me through some of the things I’ve been through. It’s been a journey but it’s been fun.”
It culminated in his arrival at the ballpark, his locker at the end of a row beside first baseman/outfielder Ryan O’Hearn. The No. 13 jersey hanging in it.
“It’s great,” he said. “It’s something I’ve worked for my whole life, something you’ve thought about, so just to finally be here and be in the moment has been awesome so far.”
The moment is much bigger with the Orioles playing a four-game series against the Rays that could seriously impact the division race.
“Definitely two great teams going at it, and to be able to be part of the O’s and hopefully help contribute to them winning more games and chasing the pennant, everything like that, definitely an honor to be a part of this stacked lineup,” Kjerstad said. “Just wanting to contribute any way I can.”
Kjerstad told the media in spring training that his major league debut could happen in 2023, though he hadn’t played above the Single-A level. He hit a combined .303/.376/.528 in 122 games between Norfolk and Double-A Bowie, including 29 doubles, eight triples, 21 home runs and 55 RBIs.
He was right.
“In the back of my mind, I wasn’t really trying to focus on it,” he said. “I was trying to show up and become a better player every day, whether that was in Bowie or Norfolk and everything like that. But now that we’re here, definitely excited that it’s a part of my journey and excited to see what comes.”
Family and friends share his enthusiasm. Kjerstad is hoping their flights arrive on time.
“They’re pumped,” he said. “Mom cried, Dad was super excited. Me and my brothers, we were pumped, FaceTiming each other. It will be good to see everyone in person. Definitely a special moment and thankful to have my family. They’re a big part to get me here.”
Kyle Bradish brings his 3.03 ERA into the game, allowing two runs in six innings in four of his last five starts. The exception was six scoreless innings on Aug. 20 in Oakland.
Bradish has faced the Rays twice this season and allowed four runs in 11 innings with 13 strikeouts.
Yandy Díaz is 5-for-11 with a double against Bradish. Randy Arozarena is 3-for-11 with two homers.
Arozarena is a career .343/.401/.657 hitter against the Orioles, with 16 homers and 41 RBIs which are his highest totals against any opponent. He’s 6-for-30 with a double and home run this season.
Tampa Bay right-hander Aaron Civale has allowed 17 runs and 38 hits in 35 2/3 innings in seven starts after the deadline trade with the Guardians. He allowed nine runs and 16 hits in 11 innings in two starts against the Orioles in 2021.
The Rays have won five of their last six, 12 of 17 and 18 of 25. They need to sweep the series to gain the tiebreaker, with the Orioles 6-3 against them.
For the Rays
Yandy Díaz 1B
Brandon Lowe 2B
Randy Arozarena LF
Isaac Paredes 3B
Josh Lowe RF
Harold Ramírez DH
Taylor Walls SS
Luke Raley CF
Christian Bethancourt C
Aaron Civale RHP