The sore hamstring that forced Austin Hays onto the injured list again also has removed a plus defender from left field.
There are going to be days and nights, as one would expect, when it shows more than the others.
Ryan Mountcastle served as the designated hitter in the three-game series in Boston, but he’s back in left, where he made 23 starts last summer. He’s still learning the position, his fourth as a professional, and the growing pains have been a little sharper this week.
There was the Gary Sánchez line drive Wednesday night with two outs in the eighth inning that nicked Mountcastle’s glove for a long single. Gio Urshela followed with a game-tying double.
Mountcastle couldn’t run down Christian Vázquez’s shallow fly ball yesterday in the sixth inning, the final batter for Matt Harvey. The speedier Hays or Ryan McKenna, who replaced him on the roster, might have made the catch.
The rookie also stayed back on Franchy Cordero’s liner in the sixth, as if choosing to play it safe, that gave Boston a 4-3 lead, and he was charged with a throwing error that moved the runner to second base. A difficult sequence.
An inning earlier, Cedric Mullins made a lunging catch in left-center to rob Kiké Hernández while Mountcastle dived for the ball behind him. An unusual site with two players airborne.
A dangerous one, too.
Manager Brandon Hyde was asked earlier in the day about the play in New York.
“I thought the ball came off hot, it’s windy, it hooked,” he replied. “I think it was a lack of experience, honestly, and I think we all have to remember that Ryan has not played much outfield. He did a nice job for the 30-plus games he was out there last year, he was a convert from last year, but it’s still going to be a new position. He’s going to make mistakes in the outfield. We’re OK with that. We’re going to be patient with him.
“He works his rear end off prior to games, he worked his rear end off at spring training. I wanted to put him back out there in the outfield (yesterday) because I want him to feel that we have confidence. I know that Fredi (González) talked to him on the plane. I mentioned something to him. ‘Keep your head up, this won’t be the last mistake you make in the outfield. It was not an easy play anyway. Just continue to do what you’re doing.’ He’s going to be fine.”
Mountcastle hit his first home run in front of Camden Yards fans yesterday to tie the game 2-2 in the first inning. He took a disputed third strike to strand two runners in the eighth.
The Orioles don’t worry about his bat, trusting him in the cleanup spot. They could return Mountcastle to the DH role and put McKenna in left, but the kid won’t truly learn the position if he isn’t playing it.
An expressed reason why the Orioles waited to promote Mountcastle last summer was because they wanted him in the field rather than turning him into a young DH. His development with the glove was characterized as a priority.
Trey Mancini is a terrific and convenient source for Mountcastle, also having gone through the switch from first base to the outfield. They’ve talked about it.
Another plus to having Mancini back in the clubhouse.
“It’s a really hard transition,” Mancini said. “I think between last year and this year, Ryan’s done such a good job. He’s like me, we’ve never really played outfield before and we kind of had to out there. It’s a learning curve out there. You have to have certain balls hit to you. The one that Gary Sánchez hit to him (Wednesday), I had that same ball hit to me from him and did the same thing. It’s really hard. But you get to know guys the more you play them and sometimes how the ball comes off your bat, so everything’s a learning experience and there’s no doubt ...
“I’ve seen him play out there a lot and in spring training I was so impressed how he played out there and there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be great out there.”
Mancini was blocked at first base by Chris Davis, which led to his switch. Mancini is blocking Mountcastle now that he’s gone back to first.
The Orioles aren’t moving Mountcastle to a fifth position. He’ll keep working in left - the effort is never lacking - and grow more comfortable. The trick is to not lose aggression out of fear of failure.
There are too many team-wide failed at-bats in the first week.
The Orioles struck out 14 times yesterday, giving them at least 13 in the last five games, which is a major league record.
The 91 strikeouts lead the majors. The 16 walks were tied for the third fewest.
The opposing pitchers haven’t been pushovers, of course. You take your chances with Nathan Eovaldi, Gerrit Cole, Eduardo Rodriguez and the power arms coming out of the bullpens. But there’s only so much hat-tipping that can be tolerated.
The Orioles are batting .219/.265/.324, their .589 OPS the fourth-lowest in baseball. They have five hits or fewer in three of the past four games. But they’re 4-3 and tied with the Red Sox for first place, if anyone is checking the standings this early or at all during a rebuild.