More on players adapting to changes, Hyde on Hays and Davis

The 2020 schedule is official, with the Orioles on the road for their first two series prior to the July 29 home opener against the Marlins.

More weirdness in an unprecedented season.

Never before has Major League Baseball held opening day at such a late date, with two games on July 23 and the rest July 24.

The Orioles haven’t opened in Boston since 1966. And the Marlins as their first opponent at Camden Yards?

If you seek normalcy, set the alarm clock for 2021 and say a few prayers.

Players are trying to adapt to the multitude of changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The separation at the ballpark, the adjusted workouts and roster sizes, new rules, a schedule with only 60 games and regional travel, the empty seats.

“It’s just going to be a season like no other and I don’t think we even have any idea what it’s going to look like,” said pitcher John Means.

“I don’t think any team really has an idea of what it’s going to look like once games start. But we feel like we’re in it, we feel like we have a chance. I mean, we probably have the least amount of service time of any team, but I think that kind of plays to our advantage because everybody’s really excited to be here and we can create that energy that other teams might need the fans for that.”

Players are trying to avoid distractions that can’t be locked outside a gate. Taking the usual rounds of batting practice, throwing on the side and to hitters, fielding ground balls and shagging flies, performing baserunning drills while under strict orders to leave the proper space between each other.

Get the work done and don’t become too preoccupied with the baseball ramifications of the pandemic.

“The great thing about baseball is that it’s a very big field and the positions are very spread out, so me being in the outfield, there’s not too many guys around me, so I don’t feel like I really need to focus on it all that much,” said Austin Hays.

“As far as when I’m hitting in the cage, we’re making sure that we’re all wearing masks and staying apart from each other. Following the six-foot protocol when we’re in the locker room or by our lockers, showers, everywhere throughout the stadium.

“Even after a couple days here, it’s just kind of second nature now to follow the protocols. But that is the good thing about playing the outfield is I’m not too close to anybody.”

Like everyone else who’s returning to the team, Hays has noticed the huge void with Trey Mancini missing in camp. Players are supporting him by wearing their #F16HT T-shirts during workouts.

“It’s very strange,” Hays said. “I came along after Trey, so I’ve never been part of an Orioles lockerroom that didn’t have him in it. He was somebody that I really looked up to. As a young guy, that was the guy I’d always go to to ask questions, especially defensive questions in the outfield and things of that nature. So to not have him around, he was our leader. It’s very strange and I’m just hoping that he continues to see the good progress that he has so far and maybe we can see him at the end of the year if the protocols and everything have been going good enough.”

Hays-Runs-Orange-ST-sidebar.jpgHays is trying to become an established major leaguer, with center field pretty much handed to him in 2020. He might be asked to hit in the middle of the order and attempt to account for some of the run production lost with Mancini at home.

“If I just continue to play the game that I’ve played ever since I’ve been drafted,” Hays said. “I was drafted for a reason by this organization, they believe in me and I believe in myself. I’m very confident in my abilities and if I just continue to work hard and continue to progress and just stick with it and keep my nose to the grindstone, I have a lot of confidence that I can continue to prove myself at this level.”

Manager Brandon Hyde is aware of the line between getting the most out of Hays, one of the top position prospects in the organization, and not asking too much of him under these extreme circumstances.

“I just want Austin Hays to be Austin Hays,” Hyde said. “What he did in September last year, I would just love to see him continue that and continue to take the at-bats that he did in September, continue to play the defense that he does. He was doing that in spring training. I want him to be himself and play the game the way he knows how to. And as you get older and you get more at-bats under your belt and more innings defensively, you’re going to improve.

“But he’s an exciting player. I love the way he plays the game. I just want to see him go out there and play and have fun.”

Chris Davis seems to be enjoying his days in camp, providing a few animated moments and, according to Hyde, launching baseballs beyond the flag court in right field in batting practice sessions. The more muscular version of Davis was 7-for-15 with three home runs, nine RBIs, nine walks and only three strikeouts before the shutdown in March.

“I definitely saw an added confidence and I don’t know if the added weight contributed to that, but there was definitely a different look in his eyes,” Hyde said. “He came in with a strong intent to have a good year. I know he put some really good work in in the offseason, not only with the swing but also in the weight room and he’s kept that weight on throughout these last few months.

“I was telling him this morning the ball just sounds different off his bat. He’s hitting balls onto Eutaw Street in BP. It’s pretty impressive. I don’t know if the weight’s added to his confidence, but he’s definitely walking around differently. He’s really taking a great leadership role in our clubhouse. He’s talking to players constantly.

“We don’t have a lot of veteran leadership and he recognizes that. He’s done a really nice job organizing team meetings, organizing team chats, all that kind of stuff. Really getting the word out there, getting the message out there - the right message and a positive message. So I’ve been impressed. His confidence for me is a huge key and he’s carrying it right now.”

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