O's pregame notes on Hays at leadoff, trying to get Santander going and more

KANSAS CITY – As the Orioles face the Kansas City Royals tonight to start a three-game series, left fielder Austin Hays is batting leadoff again versus a left-hander.

This will be the ninth time Hays will bat leadoff, and he is batting there for the sixth time in the last 10 games. Former Tampa Bay lefty Ryan Yarbrough (0-3, 6.35 ERA) starts for the Royals. 

Hays' numbers batting leadoff show a .313 batting average and .858 OPS at 10-for-32. They are close to his overall numbers for the year at .312/.900.

“Kind of early in the year and we had trouble with left-handed starters last year. Trying to give us a spark in that way. Tried (Ramón) Urías there in Boston, that didn’t go very well. Think he’s been swinging the bat really well against left-handed pitching, so just rolling with it,” manager Brandon Hyde said of Hays batting No. 1.

He said when he puts a hitter in a spot in the lineup that is different (such as Hays batting at the top), he doesn’t want that hitter to change anything, such as take more pitches or have a different hitting approach.

“I do not (want them to change),” Hyde said. “Hays is certain kind of hitter and I just want him to be himself. He can drive the baseball. He can drive it out in any park, and when he is swinging at strikes, he’s really dangerous. At times he gets himself out early, you see him chasing some pitches out of the zone. But he can do some damage.”

One Orioles hitter the O’s would like to see get his bat going this series is right fielder Anthony Santander. He is batting .213/.280/.362/.642 with an OPS+ of 78, which is 22 percent below league average. His OPS+ last year was 118, or 18 percent over league average. He just one homer his last 12 games.

“His focus is getting healthy, honestly,” Hyde said of Santander. “And being able to feel good at the plate. Like a lot of these guys right now, about a month in, you start to have these nicks and nacks with your body and are a bit bruised up and that is very, very normal.

“But he’s working, no doubt. He’s not off to the start he wants and I think he’s a little frustrated by it. He’s huge for us, a big middle-of-the-order bat for us. He is doing everything he can to get it going.”

Be ready no matter the opponent: The Orioles have crafted a 19-9 record by winning some of those games against so called “second division” opponents. Of the club’s last 19 games, 16 have been versus clubs with current losing records, and the Orioles went 13-3 in those games.

They took care of business and will take no opponents for granted. And there is a very good reason for that, said Hays.

“Think when you have lost so many games the past few years, and a large portion of this team was a part of that, you are not going to take any day or any game for granted. Especially when you know now you have a chance to win every game when you show up to the field. You are not going to be complacent with that. You really do want to win every game, give it everything you have and be completely prepared. Because, we’ve gone through it for a couple of years.

“The other part of it is we do have a lot of young players that are really hungry too. Hungry to just not only win games but to prove themselves at the big league level. So, I think a combination of those things - young, hungry guys and having guys that went through the tough days and knowing we have a chance to win - now just feeds into it. It lights a fire under you, for sure.”

Hyde said sometimes there is no pressure on the team with the poor record when they play a club winning as much as the Orioles have thus far in 2023.

“Last year (at times) and years before, there was no pressure to lose. We were just trying to compete and give guys opportunities. When you are facing young players, they are going to lay it out there and compete and we expect that from everyone we face," he said. 

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