Updating Austin Hays’ quest to come off the injured list

The progression that’s supposed to return Austin Hays to the Orioles put him in Fredericksburg, Va., yesterday for a secondary training site game against the Nationals. Not quite the majors, but four important at-bats in a more intense environment than simulated action.

Hays played seven innings in left field, and his most impressive swing drove a ball to the wall in right-center. The Orioles will check on him today and decide whether he starts in a four-inning intrasquad game in Bowie.

Hays-Swings-Black-Fenway-Sidebar.jpgThe camp is closed on Sunday, when Hays could be activated from the injured list in Arlington, Texas, leading into Monday’s off-day and a trip to Miami. More likely is a decision to keep him on the IL until Tuesday night’s series opener against the Marlins.

Just a hunch, but the Orioles seem more inclined - and wisely so - to be extremely cautious with Hays. Fly him to south Florida after giving him a day to recover from the weekend workload.

Again, just a hunch.

Ryan McKenna could be headed back to the secondary site with the Orioles keeping a three-man bench. His defense and speed are nice elements, but less needed with Hays on the active roster.

The Orioles should be pleased with McKenna’s brief audition. His feet are wet. His first major league hit was a triple, and he also singled. His screaming liner in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader was snared by a leaping J.P. Crawford.

Solid contact in a struggling lineup gets you noticed.

McKenna is a defensive replacement in left field. He can pinch-run. He’s going to be a nice extra outfielder when there’s room for him.

The 2021 season also is about filtering more prospects onto the major league roster. McKenna got his taste, and if he’s the corresponding move for Hays, he’s going to be back this summer.

There doesn’t seem to be an alternative with the need for a backup catcher and a utility player - whether Ramón Urías is on the bench or starting at second base instead of Rio Ruiz.

DJ Stewart is more likely to stick around because he’s ahead of McKenna and offers some pop, though it’s going to come more often from the bench than the lineup if Hays is the everyday left fielder.

You know the alignment. Hays in left, Cedric Mullins in center, Anthony Santander in right and Ryan Mountcastle as the designated hitter on most nights. But Stewart, who hit a long two-run homer last night, is going to push for playing time.

“It will be a matchup, rotation-type of thing,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I don’t think you can have enough good players on your roster. You can always find a way to get guys in the game. Guys need days off, guys need rest. The more good players you have, the better.”

Hyde mentioned again yesterday the need to keep Hays healthy. It’s been a challenge because of some freakish injuries, and a hamstring strain earlier this month in Boston while running out a double and later diving back into the bag.

(We haven’t talked to Hays and don’t know exactly when it happened.)

Perhaps the cold weather is at fault. No matter the temperature, Hyde must decide whether it’s smart to rest Hays more often than intended when the Orioles broke camp. Just as he wanted to do with Santander to reduce the risk of reinjuring the oblique.

There are enough outfielders on the roster to back off Hays. Pick your spots and insert Stewart or Mountcastle in left.

Or you just ride Hays hard in the warmer weather and see what happens, because he’s that good. There’s no debating how much the Orioles need his bat in the lineup.

“He adds a lot,” Hyde said. “He has speed, he has defense, he has the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, a guy that can really get on a fastball. Just got to try to keep him healthy and he’s going to be a contributor for us.”

Keegan Akin started yesterday in Fredericksburg and retired the last eight batters in an 8-7 win. He allowed two runs in three innings. Eric Hanhold struck out two batters in a scoreless inning and Fernando Abad picked up the save with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Mason McCoy hit a three-run homer and doubled. Ryan Ripken had a single and double. Stevie Wilkerson collected two hits and an RBI.

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