Hays and Mountcastle making spring statements (O’s win 11-4)

BRADENTON, Fla. - Austin Hays didn’t have a seat on the team bus this morning, his workout schedule keeping him back in Sarasota while the Orioles made the 20-minute trek to play the Pirates.

Ryan Mountcastle peeled away from his friend and handled first base and cleanup duties at LECOM Park.

They both cleaned up yesterday at Ed Smith Stadium. Hays doubled twice and had two RBIs, made two diving catches and was on the front end of an 8-4-2 putout. Mountcastle doubled twice, hit a long home run, drove in three runs and scored three.

Left on his own this afternoon, Mountcastle stepped to the plate in the first inning and doubled to right-center field to plate Hanser Alberto with the game’s first run.

Alberto held up, unsure whether the ball would be caught, and Rio Ruiz almost passed him. Otherwise, Mountcastle might have gotten two RBIs.

Ruiz came home on Trevor Williams’ wild pitch. He’d get there eventually.

Mountcastle singled into center field in the fourth inning for his seventh hit in 15 at-bats this spring.

The Orioles drafted Mountcastle with the 36th overall pick in 2015 and they chose Hays in the third round the following year. No one in the organization has to wear the burden of being the “face of the rebuild,” but if there’s a Mount Rushmore, the images of Hays and Mountcastle should be chiseled into it.

Hays-Runs-Orange-ST-sidebar.jpgThey’ve envisioned their climb up the ladder and into regular roles on the team. Shedding top prospect status for everyday jobs in the majors.

“We said that when we were younger,” Hays said. “Me and Mountcastle have played together for three years now and it seems like we always tend to put those good games together somehow. We feed off each other or something. But it’s nice to see when a lot of the young guys are playing well.

“Like yesterday’s game, I think everybody had two hits that was in the lineup. So just to get to see that and kind of see where the future is going is good.”

The fans need the same perspective as 100-loss seasons are linked.

“We want them to be excited about the season,” Hays said, “and what’s coming in seasons moving forward.”

Hays is expected back in the lineup Saturday against the Marlins in Sarasota. He raised the bar to the extreme on Thursday, his defense separating him from Mountcastle and most others in the organization.

“Those definitely are the fun games when you get a bunch of opportunities like that,” he said. “You get a chance to get an assist. (Pat) Valaika put that throw on the money to the plate, so I ended up getting an assist out of the relay. We just did cuts and relays the day before, so it’s always nice when it shows up in the game. And I got a couple chances to dive for some balls. It was just a really fun game all around.”

The dives in right-center and shallow center to rob the same player caused an entire organization to hold its collective breath. Manager Brandon Hyde might have waited until the final out to exhale.

Keeping Hays healthy is one of the primary missions in camp. But he won’t tap the brakes.

“That’s just how I play,” he said. “If I have a chance to dive for a ball in the outfield and help my pitcher out on the mound, that’s what I’m going to do. That’s just how I play, that’s how I was raised, and I think that’s the only way to play the game.”

Hays is more relaxed this spring knowing that the Orioles are taking him north - as long as he’s fine physically. Mountcastle, however, is going to be optioned to Triple-A Norfolk prior to the close of camp, with his debut put on hold.

“It just gives you a little bit more confidence knowing if I can do what I did last year, which I know I’m capable of doing because I’ve shown up in spring training and played well before, that I’ll be on the team,” Hays said. “So it’s nice to know that.”

Hays has been hitting atop the order, which is his preferred spot in the lineup.

“You get more at-bats,” he said, smiling, “so I’m always down for more at-bats.”

So is Mountcastle, though he’s going to be slotted lower.

Mountcastle had a nice scoop of a Richie Martin throw in the dirt to retire John Ryan Murphy in the third inning. He fielded an Adam Frazier grounder in the first inning, spun and got the force at second base.

The Orioles gave Rule 5 pick Brandon Bailey a 4-0 lead in the second inning on Alberto’s two-run single following the double steal executed by Martin and Andrew Velazquez. Martin and Velazquez had RBI singles in the third, and the latter stole his second base while attempting to win a utility job.

Bailey walked two batters in the first inning and retired the side in order in the second. He threw 22 pitches in the first, reducing the chances that he’d get into the third.

“I think (the second) was good just to get my confidence back a little bit,” Bailey said. “Long inning there in the first inning by their starting pitcher I think kind of took me a second to find my groove, but got back in there, started pounding the zone and kind of just working ahead of the hitters instead of falling behind.”

Bailey was making his first start after a two-inning relief appearance. The Orioles are determining whether they can carry him this season, whether it’s in their rotation or bullpen.

“I try not to think about the Rule 5 thing as much,” he said. “I’m trying to go into it with the mindset I’m just like everybody else. I’ve got to earn my spot on this team, and I think if I just continue trying to focus on my work ethic and getting all my work in and competing just like everybody else that the rest will take care of itself. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit unusual for sure. But being the new guy it’s always tough just trying to get to know everybody, kind of get a feel for how everything works in this organization compared to where I was at.”

Bailey is most accustomed to starting and prefers to have a set routine.

“But it’s cool,” he said. “It’s truly an honor to be able to take the ball in any big league baseball game. I just want to continue trying to compete for one of those spots and I understand that there’s a lot of competition, but just continue to try to string together good outings and put up some zeros.”

David Hess stranded two runners in the third after a walk and single and his fastball topped out at 96 mph on the stadium gun.

Minor league pitcher Brian Gonzalez replaced Hess in the fourth after a double and two walks loaded the bases with one out, and Murphy hit a grand slam to reduce the lead to 6-4.

Velazquez singled in the fifth inning, stole his third base of the day, moved up on a wild pitch and scored on Dwight Smith Jr.’s tapper in front of the mound.

Update: The Orioles loaded the bases in the sixth and Martin cleared them with a triple for a 10-4 lead. He’s a home run short of the cycle.

Update II: The Orioles defeated the Pirates 11-4 for their third win in a row. They’re 4-4.

“Richie swung the bat really well,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I thought we did a bunch of really good things, especially early in the game. I thought we ran the bases great again. A bunch of really good dirtball reads, some stolen bases. I just thought we played a pretty clean game.”

Yusniel Diaz went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts in his spring debut and will return to the lineup Saturday versus the Marlins in Sarasota.

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