The routine nature of a walk increases in visibility and importance when it involves the Orioles, who went through another stretch where a free pass seemed too costly.
Their batters didn’t walk in the first two games of the Braves series and totaled one over four nights. Ryan Mountcastle ran the count full in the first inning yesterday and laid off 94 mph sinker out of the strike zone - dropping his bat, trotting to first base and achieving something that shouldn’t be celebrated.
Austin Wynns walked in the third inning and Jorge Mateo drew his first with the Orioles and fourth in the majors in 180 plate appearances in the fourth inning. Mateo has struck out 17 times with the Orioles and 38 with the Padres.
Cedric Mullins walked with two outs in the seventh to keep alive a rally that died on a strikeout, and the Orioles lost their 18th game in a row. But at least they were more patient about it.
They began the day ranked second-to-last in the majors with 326 walks, 10 more than the Royals. The Orioles hadn’t walked in their last 78 plate appearances until Mountcastle reached yesterday.
The approach at the plate compared to the opposition has been cited multiple times by manager Brandon Hyde this season. It isn’t done in flattering terms.
“It’s extremely challenging,” he said. “It’s tough to get rallies going, it’s tough to keep the line moving, it’s tough to string three or four hits together in the big leagues. When we get good, we’re going to have guys who give professional at-bats and guys who are able to give the kind of at-bat that Ozzie Albies gave late in (Saturday’s) game. The kind of at-bat that Ryan Mountcastle ... even though it was a homer, that was an unbelievable at-bat in the first inning.
“We just need more of that up and down through the order. I’m not talking about homer after a great at-bat, but being able to wear a pitcher down, being able to spoil pitches, being able to control the strike zone. We’re not going to be a good team until we have a lineup that’s able to do that. And the good teams have that. So, it’s about being able to control the strike zone offensively.”
After watching his club go 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position yesterday and strand eight in a 3-1 loss, Hyde said, “We’re just not putting enough good at-bats together, major league at-bats.”
There are exceptions.
Mountcastle was known for his power and lack of plate discipline as he rose through the minors. Not enough walks and no real chance at a promotion until he drew more of them and cut down on the strikeouts.
There was marked improvement last summer after Mountcastle joined the team in August and some backtracking earlier this season. He’s now providing some of the better at-bats on the club, including Saturday night, when saw eight pitches from Drew Smyly and fouled off four to keep battling.
Smyly threw two curveballs, two fastballs, two curves and two more fastballs - the last becoming Mountcastle’s 21st home run of the season.
The rookie entered yesterday with a 1.086 OPS during the 17-game losing streak. His 13-game hitting streak ended, but he’s reached base in 14 straight.
“This year we have some bright spots and that’s one of them,” Hyde said
“Mounty’s got a ton of ability. He’s always hit through the minor leagues, put up power numbers, and then the big leagues is different. In the big leagues, you have to be able to manage the strike zone, be able to get into hitters’ counts. Guys are going to pitch you differently, pitchers are going to make adjustments up here. The adjustments Ryan’s made up here, I’m really impressed with, and he’s come a long way since April. I think he’s just going to continue to get better offensively and defensively.”
Mountcastle slashed .396/.412/.792 (19-for-48) with four doubles, five home runs, 10 RBIs and eight runs scored during this hitting streak, which was the longest active in the majors and tied with Craig Worthington (1989) for the seventh-longest by a rookie in club history.
Trey Mancini holds the club record with 17 in a row in 2017. Brian Roberts (2000), Eddie Murray (1977) and Rich Coggins (1973) hit in 15 straight. Curt Blefary (1965) and Sam Bowens (1964) had 14-game streaks.
Mountcastle’s 17 RBIs since the All-Star break lead the Orioles. His 21 home runs are tied with Jim Gentile (1960) for the seventh-most by a rookie in club history, trailing Cal Ripken Jr. (28 in 1982), Eddie Murray (27 in 1977), Mancini (24 in 2017), Blefary (22 in 1965), Bowens (22 in 1964) and Ron Hansen (22 in 1960).
Going into yesterday, Mountcastle ranked second among American League rookies in home runs, RBIs (65) and slugging percentage (.484), tied for second in extra-base hits (42) and OPS (.792) and third in hits (102), doubles (20) and total bases (187).
A bright spot, indeed.
* Triple-A Norfolk’s Rylan Bannon hit his 13th home run yesterday and ninth in the last nine games. He moved up to third in the Tides order. He’s also soaring up the list of possible call-ups in September.
The average remains below .200, but what the heck. Third base isn’t set for 2022 and he’s on the 40-man roster.
There doesn’t seem to be a downside to giving him some starts and sending him back down or sucking it up if he’s completely overmatched.
Outfielder Yusniel Diaz wasn’t in yesterday’s lineup. He’s 6-for-25 with a double, two RBIs and eight strikeouts since rejoining Norfolk from Double-A Bowie and is slashing .183/.244/.275.
Not to beat a dead horse, but another Diaz injury this summer and his issues at the plate rank among the biggest disappointments in 2022. The Orioles thought he’d be in their outfield.
“We’re really just trying to simplify it, just hone in his move,” said Tides hitting coach Tim Gibbons. “At times, I think his move can get big trying to do too much, so really just letting the game come to him. He doesn’t need to go out there and feel any pressure to produce or feel any pressure to try to hit home runs. When he’s in the mindset of, ‘This pitcher has to come to me and then that’s when my damage will come,’ that’s when we’ll be in good shape.
“He’s put together some good at-bats. He had a double the other day. So I think he’s been simplifying things and kind of just quieting down his move and not trying to do too much up there. I think he’ll be just fine. I know he’s had some injuries he’s dealt with this year, so just trying to hone it all in and really simply it is when I think he’ll be at his best.”
Tough day for pitching prospect Kyle Bradish, who allowed five runs and five hits with two walks in two-thirds of an inning to raise his ERA to 5.06.
* The Orioles and Red Sox will play in the 2022 MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. The Orioles will be the home team.
The game will air exclusively on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” at 7 p.m.
Players on both teams will attend Little League World Series games earlier in the day.
“We are thrilled to have been selected to participate in the Little League Classic next year,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said in a statement. “Our players and staff were very much looking forward to spending time with the next generation of players and fans at the 2020 event prior to its cancellation, so to have the opportunity to compete against the Red Sox next season at Historic Bowman Field while supporting the Commissioner’s efforts to grow the game is a tremendous honor for our club.”