Mountcastle unfazed by uncertainty of his role

Ryan Mountcastle stepped into the cage yesterday for batting practice and hit a ball into the second deck in left field. It meant nothing and everything.

The stats didn’t change. Mountcastle’s last official home run is May 24 in New York, about two weeks before dizziness and blurred vision forced him onto the injured list.

The diagnosis was vertigo, which he never experienced in the past. He spent about a month away from the majors and made his first start last night since June 8, after manager Brandon Hyde used him twice off the bench.

“I feel good,” Mountcastle said yesterday. “Those couple weeks were brutal. I wanted to be back with the team so bad, but it just kept flaring up and finally got it right. I was just happy to be back and feeling like my normal self.”

A sense of normal also eluded Mountcastle at the plate. He was mired in a 4-for-30 slump before going on the injured list and kept struggling in his rehab assignment with Triple-A Norfolk.

Mountcastle was 0-for-14 in his first four games before finally able to make contact again. He went 2-for-5 on June 28, collected four hits in five at-bats July 1 and belted a three-run homer the following night. He had hits in seven of his last eight games with the Tides.

“I remember the first week down there I was trying to battle through it, too, and the ball was blurry, I couldn’t see well, I was late on everything,” he said. “I’m like, ‘This is tough. Am I ever going to feel better?’ The last couple days there I felt like my normal self.”

The last four games with the Orioles, two each in San Francisco and Milwaukee, produced only two hits with seven strikeouts in 15 at-bats. The Orioles knew that Mountcastle needed to be shut down, that his issue wasn’t just a slump.

In his first game back Sunday afternoon in Minnesota, Mountcastle batted for Ryan O’Hearn and lined a run-scoring single into center field. He pinch-hit again Friday night against the Marlins and grounded into a first-pitch double play.

This time, Hyde kept Mountcastle in the game rather than lift him for a pinch-runner. A subtle move toward normal.

It was more aggressive last night when Mountcastle led off the second inning with a double into the left field corner, his first hit at Camden Yards since May 30 and first that turned on the sprinklers since May 27.

The ball was 113.1 mph off his bat. Just like in those healthy days.

Strikeouts in his next two trips left Mountcastle 1-for-3. Ryan O’Hearn pinch-hit for him in the seventh with two runners on base and popped up.

Mountcastle can’t really explain why he was stricken with vertigo, referring to his condition as “just one of those things that takes time.”

“You’ve just got to wait it out, and not much you can do,” he said. “Take a little anti-inflammatory medication something. I don’t know what I was taking, but I was taking some meds and finally it just kicked in and I was feeling better.”

So, that component of Mountcastle’s situation is resolved. But he isn’t the regular first baseman. O’Hearn began last night batting .312/.361/.532 with 10 doubles and seven home runs in 47 games. He’s registered 11 multi-hit games, two fewer than he totaled with the Royals from 2021-22. He’s reached base at least three times in six games, one fewer than his output from 2021-22. And he’s made 24 starts at first and batted cleanup in 20.

Anthony Santander started at first last night, with Mountcastle serving as the designated hitter. Ramón Urías has made his first seven career starts and 10 appearances at the position.

Is Hyde using Mountcastle in a platoon role or just easing him back into competition?

“I think he’s just doing whatever it takes to win,” Mountcastle said, “and whether that’s me coming off the bench to pinch-hit or me starting or whatever it is, I’m ready for it and hopefully take advantage of the opportunity.”

Hyde said his lineup decisions are going to be made on a nightly basis and with multiple factors influencing them.

“He’ll definitely be in there against left-handed pitching, and if he doesn’t start, he’ll be available off the bench versus left or versus right,” Hyde said.

“I’m sure he’ll get starts against right-handers, and we’ll see how the second half goes.”

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