Orioles outfielder Ryan McKenna maybe at one time didn’t envision his big league role as it has become. He’s a reserve on this team, but he has grown his role to become something of a super sub while at the same time getting constant praise from manager Brandon Hyde for the spirit and energy he brings to the dugout when he is not playing.
McKenna said the cheering for his teammates comes about simply because he wants the team to do well and he wants the teammates he likes so much to do the same. But he is also very focused while on the bench, maybe in the way a manager might be. Hanging on every pitch and trying to note things that could help him later in the game if he does get in.
“I think staying diligent mentally, honestly, is one of the biggest things I’ve focused on,” McKenna said before Monday’s game. “An open communication channel with the hitting coaches has been good. And also, by being in on every pitch when I am not playing – understanding and learning other pitchers and how they are attacking guys, you know, maybe trying to predict what pitches will come or why we are moving guys in the outfield the way we are – just being a student of the game is one of the biggest things.
“I think it is just an emphasis I have put on myself to be disciplined and into the game. Whether it’s a day game or night, 98 degrees, extra innings, or whatever, that is what I try to do.”
McKenna certainly brings a lot on defense and with his speed. But his OPS, which was .559 with a .183 batting average in 90 games last year is now .662 with an average of .255 in 64 games. His OPS plus of 88 is just 12 percent below league average.
He pays close attention to the action on the field when he's on the bench, almost as a manager or a scout might do in the stands.
“For sure," McKenna said. "For some examples, just being ready for your at-bat when you get a chance, or when you are in a pinch-running situation. Being ready. Who is playing the outfield? Who is coming up to hit? Are they in a shift, how many outs are there? Scout throughout the night and try and go and execute. Combine your instincts with the information at hand.”
Manager Brandon Hyde appreciates that McKenna has become a player with an ability to sit for extended stretches and then contribute to wins when he gets his chance. Like the running catch he made in the ninth inning Saturday night against the Yankees.
“Mac, because he is such an incredible teammate and stays in the game and is so in tune with the game every single night, think he prepares himself for those situations," Hyde said. "The other night, that was a game-changing play he made in right field. That balls drops and it’s bases loaded and who knows what is going to happen. The sprint into the infield was textbook too. That is something we talk to our outfielders about, but that's the first time I saw someone all-out sprint, which was phenomenal.
“But his makeup. I have such appreciation for someone that doesn’t play every day to stay so ready. And Mac is such a pro and he’s ready every single night. Give him a lot of credit for that. Pretty rare for a young player.”
McKenna understands that winning teams all seem to have bench players that step up when they get a chance.
“I think you look at any good team and winning club, that is very prevalent," he said. "Obviously, I would like to be playing every day. But understand what is going on in the moment and try to have a positive impact.”
He is surely doing that for the Orioles, after getting a start last night and going 1-for-3 with a run and sac bunt in the victory over the Rays.
And, he said, the cheering on the bench comes easily for him.
“It’s about having a desire to see everyone play their best," McKenna said. "I think that comes out in all of us and it feels good to contribute in any way possible. I just really care about everyone in this clubhouse, I think that’s a big part too.”
O's back to .500 and another winning month: Last night's 5-1 over Tampa Bay was noteworthy on a few fronts for the Orioles. They moved back to .500 at 48-48.
And the Orioles improved to 13-6 in July with the win, clinching another winning month. After they went 14-12 in June, that is two winning months in a row for the club for the first time since May and June of 2016.
After going 1-18 versus the Rays last year, the Orioles are 6-7 and 5-2 at home versus Tampa Bay. The O's are 5-5 their past 10 games versus Tampa Bay after going 3-27 in the previous 30.
And the 2022 Orioles have already exceeded the wins total of the 2018 club. The 2018 Orioles were 47-115. The 2022 Orioles are 48-48