Tackling more Orioles topics after they left the road

The Orioles began a seven-game homestand last night by shutting down offensively after the third inning and losing to the Guardians 3-2.

They always seem to leave a trail of questions as they move through the season, and yesterday was no exception. Some can be resolved quickly and others are going to linger.

Here are three:

What’s happening with Dean Kremer?

In a perfect baseball world, Kremer would be in the Orioles rotation later this week and helping to steady a ship that hasn’t sunk but is veering off course.

The Orioles desperately need Kremer after losing Kyle Bradish, John Means and Tyler Wells to season-ending elbow surgeries. Corbin Burnes and Grayson Rodriguez are a formidable one-two punch and Cole Irvin has a 3.33 ERA in 12 starts (and a 5.06 ERA in two relief appearances). But Cade Povich is a rookie with only four major league starts and Albert Suárez has surrendered eight runs and 16 hits with eight walks in his last two starts over 8 2/3 innings, and his 1.61 ERA has risen to 2.70.

Kremer has made two starts with Triple-A Norfolk on his injury rehab assignment, which would be plenty except that he lasted only two-thirds of an inning Saturday and threw only 39 pitches.

“That’s not ideal,” manager Brandon Hyde told the assembled media in Houston.

No, it is not.

The triceps strain is in the past, but the Orioles in the present need to stretch out Kremer before he can hop back into their rotation. He’s getting at least one more start on his assignment, and that’s unfortunate with the World Series champion Rangers in town for a four-game set that begins Thursday.

You know that Kremer would like another shot at the Rangers after his Game 3 start in the Division Series. He’d like to face any major league opponent. And the Orioles really need him to do it.

“I’m going to assume that we’re going to give him another rehab start,” Hyde said yesterday.

Not ideal but necessary.

What’s happening with Heston Kjerstad?

Kjerstad started in left field last night and went 2-for-4 for his second career multi-hit game. The first two pitches from Tanner Bibee resulted in a double and single, and he flied out in the eighth to conclude a thrilling 13-pitch at-bat. But the Guardians are starting left-hander Logan Allen tonight and Kjerstad could get bumped for right-handed hitting Austin Hays.

If not, maybe we can read something into it.

A big reason why Kjerstad was optioned on May 13 was due to his inactivity. He appeared in only seven games and the Orioles wanted him playing every day again. It was only happening with Norfolk.

The rest of the Orioles’ outfield hasn’t changed since Kjerstad’s previous stint. Hays, Colton Cowser, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander battle for at-bats. Ryan O’Hearn has played right and left, and he usually serves as the designated hitter against right-handers if Ryan Mountcastle is starting at first base.

A change last night put Mountcastle on the bench and Adley Rutschman in the DH role. We could get a repeat tonight with James McCann in the lineup against Allen.

Where does all of this leave Kjerstad?

Fighting for at-bats again.

He could receive more than in his previous recall, especially with the limited off-days, but it won’t replicate Norfolk. The Orioles didn’t need Nick Maton as an extra infielder. Kyle Stowers wasn’t down for the minimum 10 days required before returning. Kjerstad still has nothing left to prove at Triple-A.

“Unreal bat,” said Gunnar Henderson. “Some of the best just pure hitting I’ve seen and some of the furthest balls I’ve seen hit in BP.”

The Orioles would like to plug him into the lineup most days in 2025, which could happen with the crowd expected to thin a bit. And if he hasn’t become a trade chip in a big move.

Cowser cooled after he was chosen the American League’s Rookie of the Month, and maybe he gets more rest days with Kjerstad here. He wasn’t in last night’s lineup, perhaps in part because Cedric Mullins has heated up.

What’s happening with Hays?

Or, is this the new normal?

Illnesses and injuries led to a lack of early production at the plate, and Hays was on the bench again last night.

Hays is batting .381/.447/.714 this month with five doubles and three home runs in 47 plate appearances. He’s slashing .333/.380/.569 (24-for-72) since returning from the injured list on May 13.

“Hays has been an everyday player for six years and right now not getting everyday at-bats,” Hyde said. “Last year at this time we were talking about him starting the All-Star Game, and right now he’s not getting everyday at-bats.”

That can’t be easy for Hays, who’s eligible for arbitration again this winter before reaching free agency. He’s had to be dragged out of the lineup after getting drilled in the ribs and making crash landings in the outfield. He’s one of those guys who plays like his hair is on fire.

It’s understandable if Hays is smoldering on the bench, but he’s a pro and continues to stay ready when his name is called.

Let’s assume that it happens tonight.

Hays is 16-for-46 (.348) against lefties and 13-for-71 (.183) against right-handers. He isn’t used to a platoon role and isn’t ready to get stuck in one, which also includes defensive replacement duties. But this is his baseball world at the moment.

Gotta live with it and in it.

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