The Orioles must proceed through their important four-game series and the ensuing days without their closer and, for now, their starting first baseman. But how long?
Félix Bautista is on the injured list with a slight tear of his ulnar collateral ligament – he’s playing catch on flat ground while the team determines whether he can pitch again this year - but Ryan Mountcastle didn’t join him today.
Mountcastle injured his left shoulder last night and underwent an MRI, but outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second-overall pick in the 2022 draft and one of the top prospects in baseball, had his contract selected from Triple-A Norfolk and Ryan McKenna was optioned. Mountcastle stays on the active roster and perhaps retains his day-to-day status.
Infielder Terrin Vavra was recalled from Norfolk and transferred to the 60-day injured list to make room for Kjerstad on the 40-man roster. Vavra has a shoulder strain and receives his major league salary and service time.
Also, reliever Bryan Baker was recalled from Norfolk and left-hander Nick Vespi was optioned for a fifth time. Vespi can’t be optioned again without passing through waivers.
Mountcastle suffered the injury last night in the first inning while fouling off a pitch from Cardinals starter Drew Rom. Mountcastle was removed for a pinch-hitter in the third and underwent his MRI this morning.
“It doesn't feel good. Just praying for the best,” Mountcastle said after the game.
"Took a swing, popped and just, it's where it is. I don't know what it is."
Mountcastle missed about a month of the season with vertigo but returned on July 9 and is batting .324/.406/.494 with eight doubles, seven home runs and 27 RBIs in 50 games after the All-Star break.
Ramón Urías replaced Mountcastle at first base last night. The Orioles also can use Ryan O’Hearn, Anthony Santander and backup catcher James McCann.
Kjerstad has made 37 starts at the position in the minors but is viewed as a better fielder in right. His bat is why he’s here, though he isn't in tonight's lineup.
It’s been quite a journey. A lot of miles.
Kjerstad was diagnosed with myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, shortly after the draft. He strained his left hamstring in March 2022 as spring training was about to begin, another setback to delay his professional debut. But he played at two Single-A levels, went to the Arizona Fall League, and forced a promotion this year by hitting 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.
MLB Pipeline ranks Kjerstad as the organization’s No. 3 prospect behind shortstop Jackson Holliday and outfielder Colton Cowser, and No. 24 in baseball.
The corresponding move for Mountcastle seemed obvious last night when Kjerstad was removed for a pinch-hitter in the middle of the game. The Orioles wanted him in Baltimore. But they aren’t ready to put Mountcastle on the IL and lose him for a minimum of 10 days.
Kjerstad joins a roster that includes former No. 1 prospects Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, plus Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and Jordan Westburg. Talent flowing through the system and into the majors, with the Orioles holding a magic number of four to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Baker had a 3.64 ERA and 1.310 WHIP in 45 games with the Orioles, and he allowed seven runs with seven walks and 16 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings with the Tides.
For the Orioles
Adley Rutschman C
Gunnar Henderson SS
Anthony Santander DH
Ryan O’Hearn 1B
Austin Hays LF
Cedric Mullins CF
Aaron Hicks RF
Jordan Westburg 3B
Adam Frazier 2B
Kyle Bradish RHP