By: Kyle J. Andrews
BALTIMORE – Orioles manager Brandon Hyde presided over Sunday morning’s pregame press conference with a look of excitement.
The 49-year old skipper held a smile before he uttered four last names – “(Adley) Rutschman, (Felix) Bautista, (Yennier) Cano” and he stopped with a pregnant pause before saying, “(Austin) Hays”. Baltimore is sending four players to the 2023 MLB All-Star Game on July 11 in Seattle.
It’s the first time that the Orioles are sending four players to the All-Star Game since 2016, when the team sent Brad Brach, Matt Wieters, Mark Trumbo, Zack Britton and Manny Machado. That Orioles team went 51-36 ahead of the All-Star break. This current crop of Orioles sit in second place in the American League East and hold a 48-34 record.
So, comes as no surprise to Hyde.
“To be recognized by their peers says everything about everyone recognizing them around the league for how good they’ve been this first half,” Hyde said.
Hays is someone who has seen the ups and downs of the Orioles. His first cup of coffee in Major League Baseball was a 20-game stint in 2017 and he didn’t reach the majors again until 2019 for 21 games. He found himself back in the saddle with a semi-consistent role in the COVID-shortened 2020, but played 33 games due to injuries.
The then-25-year old found his voice in the locker room and a constant spot as one of the starting outfielders in 2021 – putting together a .256/.308/.461 slash line with a .769 OPS in 131 games played. Just two years later, Hays has had the best season of his career to this point.
A portion of it is due to training himself on selecting better pitches with Baltimore’s coaching staff during the 2022 offseason.
“It’s definitely helped me,” Hays said. “As an offensive player and breaking down the swing, I’ve done a lot of work with Matt Borgschulte and Ryan Fuller. The day the season was over, just looking at, ‘What did I need to address’ and ‘How could I go about cleaning it up?’ They were with me every step of the way in the offseason.”
Hays wondered if he was doing the right things with his swing as well, using wearable technology to track his swing. It displayed his swing plane and showed its efficiency.
“We have some different designs with plate discipline and how you can track that,” Hays said. “Are you swinging at the right pitches in the right counts? That’s something that I’ve tried to tap into to just make sure that I can swing at pitches that I can do damage on and hit hard.”
Bautista and Cano’s stories are one of many similarities, but a few key differences in how they became household names with the Orioles. Both are imposing figures on the mound – Bautista standing at 6-foot-8 and Cano at 6-foot-5, each have devastating putaway pitches in the former’s splitter and the latter’s changeup and each hail from a Spanish-speaking majority Caribbean island, representing the Dominican Republic (Bautista) and Cuba (Cano).
One of their biggest commonalities is their positive and confident attitudes. Cano sat at the podium with his now-notable grin, looking toward team translator Brandon Quinones and the media with a readiness to answer questions.
The 29-year old has been a revelation this season, pitching to a 1.12 earned run average in 40.1 innings pitched while striking out 8.3 runners per nine innings and walking just 1.3 batters over the same span.
Cano was an extra piece in the deal to send former Orioles closer Jorge Lopez to the Minnesota Twins, having only pitched in 13.1 innings in the Majors prior to joining the Orioles. He pitched just 4.1 innings with Baltimore in 2022 and spent the beginning of the 2023 season in Norfolk.
With the birth of his and his wife, Arianny’s, son, Christopher, in March, Cano felt a new sense of purpose.
“I think since I was very young that’s something that I think I’ve always had,” Cano said Quinones. “Obviously, a lot of different life events have happened and I’ve been able to rebound a lot quicker than normal thanks to the way that I’ve always been. That’s definitely helped me a lot with my success here in my baseball career so far.”
Bautista enters every game to the whistle of Omar, a character from The Wife and Baltimore’s own hit television crime drama. The closer enters the game with the same brand of confidence – running to the mound and immediately getting to work.
It’s something that Bautista has continuously crafted throughout his tenure in professional baseball, originally signing with the Marlins as a 17-year old on Nov. 19, 2012 and eventually being released on Jan. 15, 2015. The future Orioles closer signed with the organization on Aug. 4, 2016 and was immediately assigned to the Dominican Summer League team.
He chiseled his way through the minor leagues and throughout constant changes within the organization. Dan Duquette came and went as the Orioles general manager, paving the way for Mike Elias. Brandon Hyde entered the fray as manager for Buck Showalter. The COVID-19 pandemic halted Bautista’s development in 2020, not allowing him to pitch until 2021 – where he was dominant in 46.2 innings in Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk with a 1.54 ERA.
Bautista took over for Lopez as the closer when he was traded in 2022, had a 2.19 ERA in 65.2 innings and struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings with 15 saves. He’s already eclipsed his save total from 2022 with 21 this season in 37.2 innings. All the while, Bautista has struck out 18.2 batters per nine innings.
Dominant, but unsatisfied.
“I definitely think about it from time to time,” Bautista said through Quinones about his journey. “But to tell you the truth, I just try to leave that behind and just focus on what’s present and continue to work hard on what’s here now.”
Rutschman is in a similar situation with his mindset.
Hyde believes that Rutschman should be an All-Star starter with the 25-year old backstop carrying a .268/.374/.475 slash line, 11 home runs, 35 runs batted in and .789 on-base plus slugging percentage through 79 games this season. Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim, who was a fourth-round 2013 MLB Draft selection by the Orioles, was voted in by the fans as an All-Star starter over Rutschman.
Rutschman – the first-overall selection by the Orioles in the 2019 MLB Draft – could be annoyed. He was practically anointed prior to the season as one of, if not the best, catcher in the MLB. Instead, Rutschman opted to take another approach when asked about not being voted in as the starter.
“I’m more focused on what we have going on here,” Rutschman said. “To be an All-Star is an unbelievable honor and I don’t think too much about it.”
Orioles claim victory over Twins
It also doesn’t hurt that the All-Star announcement came before a 2-1 victory on Sunday against the Minnesota Twins.
The Orioles struggled to put up runs in the first two games of their series with the Minnesota Twins.
Baltimore only managed one run in an 8-1 loss on Friday night, following it up with a 1-0 loss on Saturday. Sunday saw more of the same with Baltimore scoring two runs, but with a different outcome in the win column. Aaron Hicks had the game-tying single in the bottom of the eighth, followed by Jordan Westburg taking a 101 mile per hour fastball on the elbow with the bases loaded to plate a runner with two outs.
Bryan Baker took home the victory, pitching two innings of relief in the sixth and seventh innings. Baker had a strikeout and allowed no hits. Jhoan Duran was the losing pitcher for the Twins, going 0.2 innings, allowing three hits, two earned runs, while walking one batter and striking out another.