This, that and the other

Ryan O’Hearn had to think about it. Frozen for a brief moment while working through the riddle in his head.

The only at-bat this season against a left-hander?

“Did I get an at-bat against a lefty,” he asked.

We weren’t off to a promising start, but it suddenly came to him. One detail at a time until he had the full answer.

“Pittsburgh, sinker guy, in extra innings,” he said, reciting details as if playing Clue and choosing Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick.

“It was the guy from the Rays, (Josh) Fleming. Yeah.”

There was no bonus round, parting gift or home version of the game, but Hearns earned praise for his memory.

O’Hearn grounded out to end the top of the 11th inning on April 6 at PNC Park, and Oneil Cruz hit a walk-off single against Jonathan Heasley.

Manager Brandon Hyde is using O’Hearn in sort of a platoon role, moving him from first base to right field to designated hitter rather than alternating with a right-handed hitter at one position. O’Hearn homered in three straight games before yesterday, when he went 0-for-2 and was removed for Austin Hays with lefty Steven Okert on the mound. Hays was 3-for-39, and he flied out on the first pitch.

The finalist for Comeback Player of the Year in 2023 doesn’t get everyday at-bats, with only 26 against southpaws last season. The idea obviously is appealing to him.

“Of course, of course,” he said.

When it’s mentioned that O’Hearn’s numbers against left-handers aren’t strong, with a career .171/.244/.297 line and five home runs in 194 plate appearances, O’Hearn says, “My career numbers overall aren’t great. Not just against lefties.”

Last year’s success clearly hasn’t gone to his head.

“They’ve ticked up in the last year,” he said. “Of course, I’d love to hit lefties. It’s not my job to decide, you know? If an opportunity presents itself … and it will this year. There will be times when I get to hit a lefty. It’s going to be a bullpen guy, for sure, but that’s fine. I’ll be ready whenever.”

O’Hearn knows that he’s better equipped to try after the Orioles traded for him last January.

“Yes, 100 percent yes,” he said.

“I think I just have a much better understanding of my swing and how to cover different parts of the zone. I think I could absolutely gameplan for a lefty and have success.”

What’s happening with O’Hearn and others also is a product of the improved depth on the club. Yesterday’s bench, for example, contained backup catcher James McCann, 2023 All-Star and Gold Glove finalist Hays, 2022 Gold Glove winner Ramón Urías and 2022 Fielding Bible Award winner and American League stolen base leader Jorge Mateo.

“You’ve got a few guys who play pretty much every day and then you’ve got some guys who do the line change, and it’s working,” O’Hearn said. “When you have 13 talented hitters, 13 position players that probably can all start on a lot of teams in the league, that’s kind of what happens.”

* Jackson Holliday was hitless and struck out twice yesterday in three at-bats, teasing the crowd by flying to the right field warning track in the third inning. It sounded and looked like it had a chance. I immediately flipped screens to prepare my “first major league home run” post.

The Royals are starting two right-handers in the weekend series in Kansas City, which could give Holliday, who’s 1-for-25 with 14 strikeouts, at least two games at second base. He might sit Saturday against left-hander Cole Ragans.

Holliday has spent many of his major league at-bats trying to battle back from two-strike counts, going 0-for-11 with 10 strikeouts. Does he need to become more aggressive early?

It isn’t that simple.

“Not really, no,” Hyde said.

“For me, I want him to be ready from the first pitch on to swing at a strike, but if it’s not something he can drive, I want him to take it. One of his strengths coming through the minor leagues is his ability to take a walk and his ability to get in hitter’s counts, and when I see him kind of getting deeper in the count, I think there’s a lot of chase there and he’s trying to do a little bit too much to put the ball in play. And that’s just a young player’s approach of really trying to get a hit. I want him honestly to stop trying to get a hit and just try to take a good at-bat.”

Hyde said the best at-bat from Holliday wasn’t the one on Sunday that produced his only major league hit, a single on a ball pulled through the right side in the seventh inning.

“It was the out to left field a couple days ago,” Hyde said. “He worked the count to 3-2 and put the ball hard in play the other way. I think there’s more in there. I just think he needs to get a little bit more comfortable. It’s not easy.”

* The Orioles are hoping that catcher David Bañuelos can clear waivers and stay in the organization, maintaining depth at the Triple-A level with Maverick Handley and Michael Pérez.

Bañuelos made his major league debut Tuesday night as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. He flied to right field after receiving a nice ovation from fans who understood and appreciated the significance of the at-bat.

It finally arrived after seven minor league seasons.

“I’m not going to lie, yes, I did hear it,” he said. “Honestly, one of the coolest moments of my life, for sure. It’s one of those things you work hard your entire life and you dream of as a kid. Hearing the whole crowd cheer for you as you take your first AB in the big leagues, it’s awesome.”

Bañuelos was in the right place at the right time.

Pérez was the taxi squad catcher on the opening homestand before Bañuelos replaced him. The Orioles put Tyler Wells on the injured list and had a player on site – a convenient third catcher with McCann and Adley Rutschman in the lineup.

It also allowed Bañuelos to become the first Orioles player to wear 91, for the numbers freaks out there. Jesús Aguilar (99 in 2022) was the only other one to sport a number in the 90s.

* Left-hander Cionel Pérez is scheduled to advance his throwing progression to live batting practice early next week in Sarasota.

Losing Pérez to an oblique strain during his first appearance also cost the Orioles one of their best athletes on the pitching staff.

“Go watch Cionel Pérez shag during batting practice,” Hyde said. “Cionel Pérez could play center field in the big leagues. I’m convinced of that if he had a couple weeks.”

Hyde also put Dean Kremer on the short list of top pitching athletes.

“Would I use them to pinch-run? Ninety-nine percent probably would be ‘no,’” he said.

“I’ve seen it before, I’ve done it before, but you prefer not to.”

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