SARASOTA, Fla. – Heston Kjerstad stood in the batter’s box and twisted his waist as if trying to guide his fly ball inside the left field foul pole.
Two home runs were nice, but he wanted a third.
He came so close.
The ball hooked foul to keep Kjerstad at the plate in the eighth inning. No problem. He lined a single into right field to go 3-for-3 in his first major league spring training game in the Orioles’ 10-5 victory over the Twins at Ed Smith Stadium.
“Definitely a good day,” he said later while sitting at his locker. “First day at the yard. There’s a lot more to come, so definitely a good little start, but I’ve got to remain focused. It’s a long year, and just keep showing up to the park and try to have good ABs and execute my plan.”
Getting the plan in motion was a huge accomplishment for Kjerstad, the second overall pick in the 2020 draft who couldn’t play after being diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.
A hamstring injury in an intrasquad game last March further delayed Kjerstad’s professional debut until June 10 with Single-A Delmarva. He reached High-A Aberdeen, was named Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League and hijacked today’s exhibition opener.
Kjerstad pinch-ran for Anthony Santander in the fourth inning and scored on Joey Ortiz’s triple. He followed Curtis Terry’s three-run homer in the fifth with a solo shot to left field and led off the seventh with a blast to left-center.
“Honestly, first game, I’m just trying to put the ball in play,” he said. “You’re trying to keep it simple, and luckily I had good timing on a couple of pitches and squared them up well.”
The Orioles invited Kjerstad to camp, gave him a locker in the main clubhouse and let his talents flow.
“I’ve felt great,” he said. “Had a great offseason, training went well. Feel like I’m in a good spot strength-wise, and my swing’s feeling good right now. So hopefully, I’ll be able to build upon that and carry it into the season.”
The game drew an announced crowd of 5,495, and the majority stood to cheer Kjerstad.
“Definitely a great atmosphere, a lot of fans out there for spring training,” he said. “That was fun to play. Kind of reminded me a little bit of some of the college games I played, kind of similar stadium, good fans. Makes the game a lot of fun.”
The camp is loaded with prospects and many were on display today. Ortiz had his triple, César Prieto singled twice and had two RBIs. Nineteen-year-old Jackson Holliday legged out a double in his first exhibition at-bat and later scored. Colton Cowser walked twice and scored two runs.
“It’s awesome,” Kjerstad said. “You get to see them play from some really good seats in the house and make some plays with them. Everybody out there is really, really talented and really, really good. You always see stuff every day that’s special you may not see for a while.”
Hitting three home runs in three at-bats in the first game certainly would have qualified as special.
“That one was slicing too much,” he said. “I was beat on that fastball. It was low and away, so I just had to get back in there.”
And barrel another ball.
“Really cool,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “He almost hit three. Third one just snuck foul a little bit. His power is so impressive. We actually had a little meeting with him this morning, how he’s felt. He looks amazing, feels great. The way he’s swinging the bat so far this spring has been really fun to watch. Really pulling for him. He’s done a great job.”
Holliday will make Sunday’s trip to Lakeland.
“I’m going to try to give him as much of this experience,” Hyde said, “just soaking in major league spring training games, being around our coaches. I think it’s all really beneficial for him. He just showed today what kind of player he’s going to be. How fast, the speed, how he’s going to play defense. He’s going to be really, really special.”
Holliday upheld the young prospect tradition of having his helmet fly off his head, exposing his long blondish hair that waved in the breeze.
“We have a lot of hair on this club. Doesn’t it seem that way?” Hyde asked.
“Maybe we have to get some chin straps for some guys.”
Pitcher DL Hall showed up today with a buzz cut and is donating his hair to a charity. More details to follow.
“Super cool what he’s doing,” Hyde said.
The game was played in 2 hours, 54 minutes under the new rules. The pitch clock impacted the pace early, but the teams combined for 15 runs, 17 hits and 14 walks.
Still made it under three hours.
“It’s a noticeable difference,” Hyde said. “That would normally be a four-hour spring training game.
“It’s different, no doubt. Can’t put your head down in the dugout. I think I missed a few pitches because I’m writing something down or whatever and all of a sudden here it comes. But it’s a noticeable difference, the pace of the game.”
Santander had the first violation, tagged with a strike in the fourth inning because he wasn’t ready to hit within eight seconds.
“I had my head down, so 0-1 on me,” Hyde said. “I told him, 0-1 on me, also.”
Hyde did catch Daz Cameron’s assigned strike for the same violation.
“It’s just different,” Hyde said. “It’s that first pitch of the at-bat that’s going to be a huge adjustment. It’s going to happen the rest of spring, but we’ll get accustomed to it. It’s a noticeable difference with the tempo with the pitcher on the mound. Pretty quick with runners on base, also.
“I’m glad we have this month to get used to it.”