Outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second overall pick in the 2020 draft out of the University of Arkansas, has been cleared medically and will report Wednesday to the Orioles alternate training site in Bowie.
Kjerstad was held out of last year’s camp and fall instructional league while recovering from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can cause an abnormal rhythm and be a side effect of COVID-19.
The Orioles withheld Kjerstad from spring training and had him report directly to Bowie upon clearance. They will watch him work out and determine later where to begin his professional career.
Kjerstad batted .448 with a 1.304 OPS and six home runs in 2020 before baseball shut down due to the pandemic. The Orioles gave him a $5.2 million bonus, below the $7.79 million slot.
“I’m going to be an impact player for sure,” Kjerstad said after his selection. “I’ll bring a left-handed bat to the lineup that has power to all parts of the field - left, right and center. I also bring a good glove to the outfield, whether it’s left or right or wherever they put me. I’ll be a solid defender. And also, one of the things that really contributes to helping a team win, which is the most important thing, is my camaraderie that I’m able to develop with my teammates and the type of teammate I am. The type of teammate I am to them really will be a big part for me in the clubhouse.”
The Orioles finally were able to get him to Prince George’s Stadium. That’s the first big step.
The club has a four-man bench tonight in Miami that it couldn’t carry earlier because an extra reliever was viewed as a greater necessity.
The lack of a designated hitter in National League ballparks this season put outfielders Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle in reserve roles tonight, along with catcher Pedro Severino and utility player Ramón Urías.
Hays was activated from the injured list this afternoon for the series opener against the Marlins, but manager Brandon Hyde chose outfielders DJ Stewart, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander. He also gave Trey Mancini the start at first base.
The Marlins are sending right-hander Nick Neidert to the mound tonight, but left-hander Trevor Rogers closes out the series Wednesday afternoon. Hyde can replace the left-handed hitting Stewart with Hays or Mountcastle.
“You’ll see almost all of the right-handers in there tomorrow,” Hyde said today in his Zoom call. “Look at the splits, look at the starter. It’s a mix and match every day and the more depth, the better. In a National League type of game, you can see these guys who are on the bench come up in big spots and stay in the game, so it’s going to be fun.”
Hyde said it’s going to be “easy” to keep all of his outfielders busy and flush with at-bats.
“To have four guys that you want to play, it’s a good thing,” he said. “Guys need days off, there might be some matchups that I don’t want to play somebody on that night, I’d rather play the other three, that sort of thing. But they’ll all play. The DH being in the American League is very helpful. So all these guys are going to get a ton of playing time.”
Hays was 2-for-10 before straining his right hamstring while running out a double in Boston.
“I was feeling great, my body was feeling great and that day was actually warmer than the two prior games, so my body felt good. I was sweating, I felt like I had a good warmup, so I had no reason to believe anything like that was going to happen,” Hays said today. “It was one of those freak things, just kind of a strange play.
“I felt it grab on me. I knew that it wasn’t too extreme, that it was going to be pretty mild, because I experienced something similar in 2019 and I only missed about 10 days. So I knew it was hurt, but I also knew that it wasn’t like a bad pull.”
Talk about a bad break. Hays was sizzling in spring training, going 20-for-51 (.392) with four doubles, a triple, four home runs, 13 RBIs and a 1.192 OPS, and declaring that he was ready to play 162 games.
The injury happened in the third game of the first series.
Hays has been challenged to avoid physical breakdowns, many of them of a freakish nature, like the fractured rib last summer after being hit by a pitch.
“Most of them haven’t been soft tissue injuries like this past one,” Hays said. “A lot of the other ones, they were just kind of freak things and stuff I felt like I had no control over. But as far as the hamstring goes, I’m just going to try to do a really good job with my hydration, my stretching and just preventative measures from here on out. Maybe I’ve been lacking in some of those areas, so I’ll just continue to do what I can, just stay on top of that stuff and keep my soft tissue in good shape.
Hays worked out at the alternate training site in Bowie. He appeared in two intrasquad games and spent seven innings in left field for a matchup with the Nationals in Fredericksburg, Va. - going 0-for-3 with a walk and strikeout.
“They had actually just started playing games when I got to that part of my rehab,” he said.
“That was great to get some live at-bats against some pitchers that weren’t our own that I hadn’t seen before. But even before that, we had replicated what we could with the intrasquad and I was able to get like six live at-bats against some of our arms. So, as far as a rehab standpoint, it was pretty normal to what a regular season would have been. You play one or two games and maybe you get some live at-bats on some field somewhere. They’re doing a great job there. The vibes are good, so it was a good atmosphere.
“I feel great. I felt like I didn’t miss anything with some of my at-bats in the games I got to play in down there. I felt like I picked up right where I left off, so hopefully I can feel the same way here in this series. The boys looked like they just had a good series in Texas, so hopefully we can keep that momentum going and I can do whatever I can to help these guys win games.”
Left-hander Paul Fry had the opposite spring training, posting a 10.61 ERA, 1.93 WHIP and .359 average-against in 9 1/3 innings. He hasn’t been scored upon in seven consecutive appearances this month since the allowing a run and three hits to the Yankees in one-third of an inning on April 5.
“I would say just more consistency, more direction toward the plate,” Fry said. “I was working through some things in spring training where I had this hangnail that was kind of swollen up on my middle finger, so the ball was just rolling off a little differently. No excuse for the way spring training went, but there are some things that happened and you’ve got to battle through them.”
Ryan McKenna stays with the Orioles to finish up the road trip before reporting to the alternate training site. He was optioned to create room for Hays after going 2-for-10 with a triple and four runs scored.
“Just explained to Ryan, I thought he did a really nice job in kind of a short sprint in how I used him,” Hyde said. “Really trust his defense late. I thought he took some really good at-bats in the start that he had against Seattle. I like his baserunning, the possibilities of him being a good baserunner. I’ve been using him for late-game defense because I like that he’s a center fielder who can play all three spots.
“It’s just one of those things, it’s part of the game. I explained to Ryan why we’re doing it and to go down and put up some big numbers. Hopefully, the Triple-A season starts and he’s there to play well and to put pressure on everybody and show everybody that he’s a major league player.”
MLB.com’s Jim Callis first reported the Kjerstad news.