When Jorge Mateo was with the San Diego Padres earlier in his career, he could not crack the starting lineup and get regular playing time. But he played in 150 games last season for the Orioles, and maybe all those reps are paying off now.
Mateo is off to a sizzling start at the plate and making a real difference for an Orioles team that already expected to see him play strong defense and steal bases. They knew they would get two of these elements, but now they are getting all three.
Mateo, who has missed the last couple of games with a hip injury, could return to the lineup today. He was in the original lineup yesterday but the wet field led to the Orioles making the precautionary move to sit him another day.
When center fielder Cedric Mullins watches Mateo play, the O’s leadoff man sees a player he can relate to.
“When I first saw him as a player and his skill set, what he is doing right now is what I always envisioned,” Mullins said recently. “For example, I think me and him are similar in that power-speed combination. He provides great defense on the field. Able to steal bases. Everything that I do at my peak, I think he can do as well. To be able to see it all come together with his hard work is great to see.”
Through 16 games, Mateo is hitting .362/.418/.638/1.056. His OPS last year was .646. Through Friday’s games he was two plate appearances short of qualifying for league leaders, or he would have ranked second in the American League in batting average, slugging and OPS.
The Orioles were the first team to give Mateo a chance to play every day. He is paying them back now.
“This was the land of opportunity for a few years and for him to come in and show the ability to do well in the big leagues, I think just the consistency of it was what he was missing. I think we are all proud of what he’s been doing and we can’t wait to see what his full season looks like,” said Mullins.
Mateo’s K rate has dropped from 27.6 percent to 15.8 this year. His rate of taking pitches has increased from 45.9 percent last year to 55.8 now. And he is hitting the ball so much harder, with his average exit velocity increasing from 86.8 mph to 92.2.
How did he get so much better at plate discipline?
“I think part of that goes into recognizing where your faults are,” said Mullins. “What might you be swinging at that is causing you to go out of the zone? What might you be taking that you should be doing damage with? Combine those two things and you help with your plate discipline. So, he recognized strengths and weaknesses and addressed them.”
And when he squares a ball up these days, it can fly.
“He’s a strong dude for sure and it’s showing. When he gets hold of one, it goes,” Mullins added.
O's keep rolling: The Orioles' 5-1 win over Detroit Saturday night, on the strength of another solid pitching night, gives the team a 13-7 record, five-game win streak and chance for a three-game series sweep this afternoon.
Right-hander Kyle Gibson, now 4-0 with a 3.60 ERA, allowed two hits and one run over 6 1/3 innings. The O's pitched a two-hitter Saturday with 15 strikeouts.
O's pitchers have allowed two runs the last four games, six in the last five and 16 in the last seven games. Their starting pitchers have allowed one run while throwing four straight quality starts. And dating back to the second inning last Sunday in Chicago, O's starters have allowed one run the last 30 innings with five walks to 35 strikeouts.
O's pitchers have allowed two runs in the past 44 innings.
Tides keep rolling: Triple-A Norfolk beat Rochester 9-2 Saturday in a game shortened to five innings by rain. Winning pitcher Drew Rom improved to 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA.
Outfielder Colton Cowser went 3-for-3 with two homers and three RBIs. All three of his hits were rocketed off the bat at over 107 mph, resulting in 10 total bases for the night. In his last 12 games, Cowser is batting .408 (20-for-49) with two doubles, one triple, three home runs and nine RBIs, and he now leads the International League with 21 runs scored. Josh Lester's second-inning solo homer, his seventh of the year, was hit 109.6 mph, landing in the party deck.
The Tides are now 14-5. That is the second-best record in the 20-team International League.