Injuries limited him to 87 games in the minors this year, but as the big league season winds down, outfielder Austin Hays is playing well and enjoying his health. He started to feel about 100 percent late in the year and the Orioles are seeing what a healthy Hays can do.
Last night, he went 3-for-5, was on base four times, had two doubles, drove in a run, scored twice and ignited a bottom-of-the-ninth rally with a bunt single. Not to mention the abandon and talent he plays with while running in the gaps from his center field position.
In spring training, Hays suffered a dislocated left thumb trying to steal a base in a minor league game. That set him back and he didn’t take the field until mid-May. A few days before the Single-A All-Star break in June, he strained his right hamstring and missed a couple of weeks.
And while he hit .248 with an OPS of .763 on the farm this year, he is 9-for-27 (.333) for the Orioles with four doubles and three RBIs since he was added Sept. 7. Over his past six games, Hays is 6-for-14 (.429) with three doubles. He had his first career game with a pair of doubles last night.
“It’s nice to just to be able to play to my full ability,” Hays said this afternoon in the Baltimore clubhouse. “Not have to hide anything that’s bothering me or try to play through an injury. You feel good, physically and mentally, and you can go out on the field and play your game the way you’ve played your whole life.”
Hays plays aggressively and with daring out there and manager Brandon Hyde seems to love that.
“Definitely. He appreciates the way that I play and I think that’s the type of game he wants from the team - aggressive baserunning and aggressive on defense,” said Hays. “Laying out for balls in the outfield. I don’t have to force that. It’s how I play and comes natural to me and that is nice that it fits in with kind of a motto for our team.”
After the O’s final game, Hays will leave for Arizona and finish the season in the Arizona Fall League, getting in game action for about three or four weeks. Another chance to make up for some missed in-season reps.
Earlier today, the Orioles named Ryan Mountcastle of Triple-A Norfolk as the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year. Mountcastle, 22, was named the International League’s Most Valuable Player on Aug. 27, becoming the first Tides player to be named league MVP since Roberto Petagine in 1997. Over 127 games with Norfolk, Mountcastle batted .312/.344/.527 with 35 doubles, one triple, 25 home runs, 81 runs and 83 RBIs, earning him both mid-season and postseason All-Star honors.
Hays saw what Mountcastle did often this year while playing alongside him at Norfolk.
“Every level I’ve played with him, the guy can hit a fastball, he can hit breaking balls. He is a complete hitter,” Hays said. “He’s really fun to watch. What he did this year was unbelievable. And for a small amount of reps, he hasn’t had a whole lot of work in the outfield, but he looked good out there. He threw out a couple of runners. Seems like his arm played better in the outfield. I’m excited for him.”
Now Hays can envision a day when he and Mountcastle are in the same O’s lineup.
“Yeah, it would be exciting,” Hays said. “There are some guys that I’ve played with that people said we were prospects that would be here in the future. Me, (Anthony) Santander, DJ (Stewart) - we’re all here now. So looking forward to more guys coming up.”