Ryan McKenna’s impact on a win, plus getting the draft picks going

He flashed some power, some speed and he flashed some defense in the outfield. He can fly on the bases.

Cedric Mullins, right?

Well, yes, but this time we are talking about his teammate, Ryan McKenna, who made a major impact on the Orioles’ 5-4 walk-off win over the Washington Nationals on Sunday afternoon.

McKenna scampered home from third base with the winning run in the last of the ninth and who else would you have wanted 90 feet away from winning the game than the fastest player on the team? And per Statcast, it is McKenna who is that. In sprint speed, feet per second, he covers 29.0 to lead the Orioles, just ahead of Mullins at 28.7 and Ryan Mountcastle at 28.1. McKenna’s sprint speed number ranks in the 94th percentile in the majors or the top 6 percent of all that run the bases.

But he began yesterday hitless his last 11 at-bats with a .167 batting average. While he has batted .269/.367/.582 (18-for-67) with nine extra-base hits (six homers, three doubles) in 17 games for Triple-A Norfolk this season, he was just 13-for-78 with two extra-base hits (a double and a triple) in 49 games for the Orioles.

But he was a difference-maker yesterday.

It has been an interesting few days for McKenna. Before Tuesday’s game at Tampa Bay, he was optioned to the minors, a tough decision for manager Brandon Hyde, who talked rather glowingly about McKenna that day. We didn’t know it then, but the next day McKenna would quickly rejoin the roster when Anthony Santander went on the COVID injured list. He had never even physically left the team, and just that fast, he was back on the roster.

“Love the way Ryan McKenna was playing,” Hyde said when the Orioles sent McKenna out Tuesday. “Hopefully, we’ll see him back up here soon because he’s really helped us in a lot of ways. The offensive numbers might not stand out, but I think he’s been taking really good at-bats in inconsistent playing time. Love the defense that he gives us, the baserunning he showed in Kansas City, the speed he has on the bases. He’s becoming a good baseball player. ... I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen since he’s been here. I love the competitiveness in his at-bats. He’s gotten some big hits for us and the defense is really good.”

McKenna-Slides-Into-Home-Black-Sidebar.jpgThose words rang true on the field Sunday. McKenna’s first major league homer came on a 3-2 pitch in the fourth yesterday to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead. Then he later batted in the ninth with the club down 4-3 and after Michael Franco was hit by a pitch. McKenna lined a single to right-center and Franco would make it to third. A few batters later, McKenna would dive home safely with the winning run to complete the weekend sweep.

McKenna became the third O’s player to hit his first career home run in his 50th career game, joining pitcher Gene Brabender (1986) and infielder Glenn Gulliver (1982). He became the 11th Oriole to a hit home run in his 50th career game, and others include Cal Ripken Jr. (1982) and Boog Powell (1962).

The kid was keeping good company on Sunday as the Orioles improved to 6-3 since the All-Star break.

After signing, draft picks get ready to play: Now that the Orioles have signed 20 of their 21 selections from the 2021 First-Year Player Draft, the organization will look to get those players on the field in games in what is left of the minor league season. Just about every player can be expected to play a game or maybe several games in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League (the former Gulf Coast League) before moving to join low Single-A Delmarva.

That includes the O’s top two picks in Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser and East Carolina infielder Connor Norby. Both signed recently and were in Baltimore on Friday for a round of interviews and to take in the O’s game versus the Nationals. Before too long, we should expect to see their names in a pro boxscore.

After Sunday’s game, during my postgame “Extra Innings” radio show on 105.7 The Fan, O’s director of player development Matt Blood joined me to discuss getting the draft picks - including Cowser and Norby - started on their pro careers.

“Yeah, a couple of great kids,” Blood said during the radio interview. “Have spent a lot of time with both of them. Really excited about what they bring on and off the field. I think they are fantastic fits for us makeup-wise. They’ll go down to Florida and they need to build up and remember what game speed is like.

“I am hoping they’ll start to see some game action in 10-ish days. But, you know, it’s hard to put a number on things because you don’t know what will happen in how their bodies are going to feel and what could change on a day-to-day basis.”

The first pro season for the draft picks will just continue the process of the players getting to know their new coaches and teammates and vice versa.

“We’re excited about these guys and just about all of them are down in Florida at our spring training facility,” said Blood, speaking of all the draft picks. “They will go through sort of an intake process, (we’ll) get a feel for where they are physically, how much playing they have done recently and what kind of work they’ve been doing.

“So our medical and strength and conditioning staff will do some work with them there and we’ll start to ease them out onto the field and really onboard and educate them into our processes, our values, and kind of see where they are baseball-wise. Then we’ll get them out onto teams.

“The FCL will be a great place for them to get some live at-bats and get their legs underneath them. Get a feel for the speed of the game again, they haven’t played in a while. And they’ll all get games down there before we send them up to Delmarva.”

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