Former Orioles manager Johnny Oates always insisted on putting his best defensive outfielder in left at Camden Yards, which is why Brady Anderson did most of his early work in the corner, though the three-time All-Star is mostly identified as playing center in Baltimore.
There was the angle, and fans in the first row of seats who easily could reach out and interfere with fly balls or attempts to catch them. Oates wanted Anderson guarding that area.
The Orioles want Ryan Mountcastle, a player drafted as a shortstop and tried at third base and first base before moving to left field in 2019 at Triple-A Norfolk.
There are small requests and there are the kind that Mountcastle accepted.
Last night’s start in left in Game 2 was his 28th in the majors. He wasn’t overmatched after the Orioles recalled him in the third week of August, but he’s still new to the position. His competency in 2020 perhaps raising expectations to an unreasonable level this season.
Austin Hays strained his hamstring on April 5 and Mountcastle felt the pain from a couple of misplays, at Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards, after moving back to left from his initial role as designated hitter.
The lineup card mainly has shown Mountcastle as the DH, but he gets plenty of work in left before the gates open to fans. First base coach Anthony Sanders, also the outfield instructor, believes that a fourth position for Mountcastle can be the last.
“It’s been real positive since I came in last year,” Sanders said yesterday in a Zoom call. “A better athlete than I thought he was, a guy who can run a little bit more than I thought he could, and I like the improvements that he’s made all through the offseason and the work in spring training going into the season.
“It just sucks what happened the last couple days he’s been out there, a little setback. But again, the guy continues to work the right way and I think he’ll be fine. He just needs to get out there and keep building his confidence.”
And do it where Sanders insists is “the hardest position” to move a young player.
“I just think how the ball comes off the bat from most of the righties, those hard line drives, which are probably the toughest ones to read,” he said.
“A lot of times in right field, you get a lot of balls that fade away a little bit, and then obviously center field I feel is the easiest because you can see the whole field a little bit better. I think he’s made a good adjustment and I’m sure he’s going to be OK.
“I think just him getting more reps and more reads. This is not an easy place to play. The ball carries quite a bit. But his first step and stuff has been better. I just know the last couple days, he’s just been a little timid and slow to make a quick decision to fail. But before that, his first jumps, his routes, his angles that he takes, the ability to drop his head and get back to a spot has been a lot better. So it’s a work in progress every day.”
Mountcastle can’t be afraid to make a mistake or can’t let one get inside his head. Manager Brandon Hyde lowered him to sixth in the order for Game 1 with the rookie 7-for-38 and tied for the major league lead with 17 strikeouts. Pressure in the field might have carried to the plate.
Another strikeout closed out the second inning, but Mountcastle flied to the center field fence in his next at-bat and had a rope double and scored the tying run with two outs in the seventh.
“Two good ABs there,” Hyde said. “Really happy with that. Thought he swung the bat good his last couple of at-bats.”
Hitting sixth again in Game 2, Mountcastle doubled on a fly ball near the left field line in the second inning and poked a single into right field in the third that tied the score. A nice piece of hitting.
Ryan McKenna replaced Mountcastle in left field in the sixth inning. Mountcastle grounded out in his final at-bat and didn’t strike out in a game for the first time this season.
Sanders is checking on Mountcastle’s technique and his confidence.
“As coaches now, we’re not just an outfield coach or a baserunning coach. I mean, we’re father figures, we’re mentors. We have to be creative in ways we handle that,” Sanders said.
“I understand he’s a young kid, still a rookie, and he’s worried about what he’s doing at the plate right now and then it goes out to the defense, so there’s those conversations, trying to separate the two. But again just like any of these young kids, as soon as they have success, it makes my job a little bit easier. We have a lot of games to go and we’re going to find our spots.”
Sanders speaks in positive tones about his group of outfielders, including Cedric Mullins, promoted for a Gold Glove by Hyde last summer, and Hays, who is nearing a return with a few games scheduled for him at the secondary training site.
Anthony Santander was a Gold Glove finalist last season and developing into a leader following his Rule 5 status and long climb from Single-A ball.
“Santander sets a tone for the whole outfield group every day from all of our drills,” Sanders said. “He’s usually the first one to step up, and just the effort level that he puts in to the time that we have out there, he’s just a leader.
“The future’s bright in the outfielder, just a young group that some people are going to start hearing about soon.”
Thomas Eshelman started and allowed an unearned run and two hits in three innings, with no walks and three strikeouts. Eric Hanhold struck out five batters in two hitless innings. Fernando Abad and Isaac Mattson each tossed a perfect inning with two strikeouts.
The teams meet again Friday in Fredericksburg.