BOSTON - Austin Hays grounded out in his first at-bat this afternoon, on the last day that he’s going to play baseball in 2019.
Hays no longer is headed to the Arizona Fall League and can return home, as the rest of his teammates are doing after the last out is recorded.
He’s hopping on the team charter, taking with him a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
“It’s nice to be able to close this season on a good note and just try to carry this momentum into spring training next year,” he said earlier today.
“I usually try to rest, but I make it about two days and get really bored and I’ll work out and start running and all that stuff. I put the glove down, the bat down, the ball, for a little bit and just hit the reset button.”
Hays had 71 plate appearances with the Orioles prior to today’s game against the Red Sox. Piled on top of his minor league work, he no longer needed to join the Surprise Saguaros.
Spring training will provide Hays with a chance to stay healthy and claim the center field job. He’d have to play his way off the team and out of the lineup.
He’s the overwhelming favorite five months before players report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
“I feel like I definitely have a good chance for the position going into spring training,” he said.
“I think it’s just the consistency of my at-bats. In ‘17 I had a stretch of games where I played really well and then it was like four or five games that I was just swinging at pitches all over the place. Just very immature at-bats. It seemed like I was just giving things away too easily. But this year it’s just from pitch to pitch the focus level has been a lot better and the concentration’s been better. And I’ve improved my center field defense a lot this season.
“Just being able to come up and show all of those things, see some success from all the things I’ve been working on, has been nice.”
More than nice if you check his stats and watch him play center field. Hays is selling himself short.
The former third-round pick was slashing .313/.380/.578 with five doubles, four home runs and 12 RBIs in 20 games before the unexpected promotion to the majors. He’s made a series of spectacular catches, whether at the fence, in the gaps or racing straight ahead. He also notched an assist in Toronto.
“I’m real happy with how September’s gone here,” he said. “It’s basically a complete reverse of how 2017 went. Just to be able to come up and just play the game the right way and have a lot of fun doing it has really been a good experience for me.”
Hays certainly has the physical tools and he’s become mentally stronger while overcoming numerous physical setbacks, including the sprained thumb late in spring training, and maintaining a positive outlook.
He’s had reasons to get down, unable to return to the majors last summer after a shoulder injury and ankle surgery, and returning to the injured list this year. But he’s kept grinding.
“I think that kind of gives you that much more confidence,” he said. “You’re like, ‘You know what? I’ve gone through those, I’ve been through this and I’m back, I’m still here, I’m still playing hard and I’m still feeling really good about this year, even though it started out pretty tough.’
“So I think it just gives you little bit more confidence in yourself, knowing you can overcome those things.”
Update II: Chandler Shepherd surrendered two runs, one earned, in the bottom of the third. Mookie Betts had an RBI single after Gorkys Hernández’s leadoff triple and Stevie Wilkerson’s error in right field allowed another run to score.
Update IV: Jonathan Villar’s two-out RBI single in the eighth tied the game 4-4.