Ryan McKenna looks to make the most of his MLB opportunity

For 24-year-old outfielder Ryan McKenna, it has been a season spent riding the Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle and trying to learn and grow as a player wherever he is on a given night.

He’s now had six separate stints in the big leagues this year, and if Anthony Santander returns to the active roster soon, he could be on the move again.

But for however long he’s with the big club in this current stay, he’ll try to soak up knowledge and experience.

“You know, just gathering as much information and experience as possible,” he said recently during a pregame dugout interview. “I understand my role right now is trying to find playing time when I can and then try to make the most of it. Just happy to get opportunities to help the team win.”

McKenna made the most of his chance on Sunday in a walk-off win, scoring the winning run from third base, and the most of it last night, driving in the walk-off winner with a bases-loaded walk as the Orioles beat Miami 8-7 in the ninth.

McKenna-Slides-Into-Home-Black-Sidebar.jpgMcKenna has 13 walks in 96 plate appearances for the Orioles this year, but he added two big ones last night. He fell behind lefty Richard Bleier 0-2 as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning but walked, and then his speed may have forced a defensive mistake as he scored on an error. With the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, he worked the count to 3-2 and walked on the eighth pitch to end the game.

The Orioles had just two walk-off wins during their first 97 games this year but now have two in the last three games, and McKenna has been involved in both.

A fourth-round draft pick out of the high school ranks in 2015, McKenna has been an O’s top 30 prospect three times in the Baseball America rankings and was rated No. 25 this year.

While he has played 195 career games at the Double-A level, he has just 17 at Triple-A Norfolk this year under his belt, but the production has been good when he’s been on the farm. He’s hit .269/.367/.582 with six homers and 10 RBIs for the Tides while batting .183/.295/.256 in 51 games in the majors with 96 plate appearances.

Time on the farm, both last year at the alternate site at Double-A Bowie and a small sample this year with Norfolk, was very beneficial.

“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “I think playing every day and playing against really good competition, making the adjustments and putting them into practice, the ones I made at the alt site last year, and continuing to do that is a constant thing I try to do. I think it was really on display there (in the minors). They’ve got a great group there and it was good.”

He made some minor swing tweaks at the Bowie site in 2020.

“A couple of things mechanically, swing-wise, and I think hitting is, obviously, a lot mental,” McKenna said. “Trying to be strong with the cues that will help and not hurt me mentally. So just keeping that and repetition was the biggest thing for me. Every day you are learning something and trying to work on something.”

And as a young player, any chance to make a mark like he did Sunday or last night is very meaningful.

“Yeah, absolutely,” McKenna said. “Everyone works so hard here, but when you personally help the team win it means a lot. I try to be a good teammate first. We had a lot of guys come through there (on Sunday). (Austin) Hays, Pat (Valaika), (Ramón) Urías, (John) Means had a good day. All around it was good baseball, a fun day and glad I could contribute.”

McKenna has always been a player with some surprising pop. He hit his first big league homer Sunday. He said he is not trying to hit homers but they come about because he did his job and put a good swing on the ball.

“For me, I just want a consistent bat path and, you know, making sure I’m clean to the ball, and everything else will take care of itself,” he said. “Whether it’s a double, single, homer, the consistency to the ball will be what will play best for me.”

So the resilient Orioles won again last night after a listless kind of loss on Tuesday. They do bounce back well as a team.

“Just picking each other up, man,” McKenna said. “Not trying to get too hard on ourself. This is a difficult sport. Experience-wise, we are probably on the low end of most teams, I would say. I would say failure makes guys stronger. Learning from those experiences will make us successful.”

The Orioles completed a 4-1 homestand and are now 7-4 since the All-Star break with Wednesday’s win. Now it is on to Detroit for a four-game series that starts tonight. O’s lefty Alexander Wells (1-0, 4.35 ERA) will pitch against right-hander Casey Mize (5-5, 3.63 ERA), who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, in tonight’s series opener.

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