After two stints already on the injured list, totaling 28 games missed, Orioles outfielder Austin Hays returned to the active roster today. He’s in the lineup tonight in left field, batting fifth in the series opener versus Tampa Bay.
This time he hopes to remain active and healthy for the rest of the 2021 season. He has been on the IL with both left- and right-hamstring strains this year.
“I think the strength and performance staff has done a good job of giving me an outline of what the rest of the season is going to look like,” he said this afternoon in a Zoom interview. “And some things I can do on a daily basis to combat the injuries that I’ve had to so far. Kind of reset my body to the healthy standpoint I am at right now and try to maintain that for the rest of the season.”
Over 32 games, Hays has been productive when he’s been out on the field. He’s batting .252/.319/.455 with six doubles, two triples, five homers and 15 RBIs. His .774 OPS produces an OPS plus of 113, 13 percent above league average. He had a .787 OPS his previous 10 games when he went back onto the injured list May 26.
Hays will again face the challenge of restarting his season. He went 1-for-8 with a homer and three strikeouts in two rehab games with Triple-A Norfolk.
“My body is feeling really good right now,” he said. “That’s just a testament to how good our training staff and our strength and performance staff is here. Getting me through the injury and getting me back healthy and getting me in playing shape in such a short amount of time. As far as the throwing, the running and hitting standpoint, I feel great. Now it’s just a matter of getting my timing and pitch selection back when I go into the games. But I felt pretty good in the short amount of at-bats that I got down in Triple-A. So, yeah, I’m ready to get rolling again and pick up right where I left off.”
Hays’ second IL stint came with the Orioles approaching the midpoint of the 14-game losing streak.
“I’m really proud of those guys the way they handled everything,” he said. “Once June started, they were able to flip the script and they look like a completely different ball team ever since, and I’m excited to come back and join them and continue the momentum that they’ve built. It was tough to sit at home and, obviously because of the Covid protocols, I couldn’t be out there with my team.”
In addition to helping the club’s offense, Hays has been a plus on defense too.
Hays has played 27 games in left field (25 starts), six in right field (five starts), and three in center (two starts). According to baseball-reference.com, his 0.7 dWAR leads the team.
Now he wants to prove he can stay on the field, and he has to battle to stay upbeat and overcome the constant injury issues.
“Yeah, obviously, there is kind of a couple-day period every time I go through it, where you have the, ‘Woe is me’ feeling,” Hays said. “Why does this keep happening to me? That’s when I really lean on my family and my wife to really keep my head on straight and just start focusing on the next thing. Which is the start of the rehab and getting through it, getting back healthy and having a positive mindset. Not losing my confidence that I can perform at a high level when I am on the field.
“Feel like I always do show up for this team anytime I am on the field, even if I’m 100 percent or dealing with nagging stuff. If I can be out there, I’m out there. So yeah, it’s very frustrating. But I usually only take a couple of days to register what is going on, and then it’s a full head of steam again, getting to where I’m back in the lineup and on the field.”
While baseball can be filled with nicknames, Hays revealed one today we haven’t heard often before for Cedric Mullins, who is now batting .323 and has a nine-game hitting streak.
“It’s what I’ve watched him do his whole career,” he said. “Watched him do it at Double-A for a couple years. Had an unbelievable season at Low A that he skipped High A when he did so well the second half. He’s always been able to hit for power. It’s like people are surprised that he’s hitting home runs. But he’s always been a little bit of a thumper. That’s why we call him “parking lot Ced,” because he can hit some balls to the parking lot. He’s always been a guy that can steal 30 bags. Fun seeing him do what I knew that he always could here in the big leagues. Showing everybody what he’s always done.”
Hays said that nickname among the players has been around for a while.
“I want to say in 2017 in Double-A, there was a ball he hit at home that just went over everything. It just disappeared pull side. I don’t know who said it, but that’s just where it kind of started.”