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Orioles place rookie outfielder Austin Hays on injured list with broken rib

The Orioles thought Austin Hays’ strong September cameo last year would be a jumping-off point for his first full year in the majors in 2020. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case for the rookie center fielder.

Already facing a slow start to the shortened campaign, Hays was placed on the 10-day injured list Saturday with a non-displaced broken rib, meaning the bone is cracked but remains in the proper place. Manager Brandon Hyde said the team’s hope is that Hays will be able to return in the minimum number of days, though he added the injury is “very unfortunate.”

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“Our medical people are pretty confident that this is just gonna be a 10-day trip,” Hyde said. “He’s just a little tender in that area.”

Hyde said the injury stemmed from a 96 mph fastball from Miami’s Jorge Guzman that hit Hays in the ribs Aug. 6. Although initial X-rays came back negative, Hays seemed to aggravate the injury with a couple of plays in center field during the Orioles’ series in Philadelphia earlier this week. He felt more soreness after Friday night’s loss, one in which he went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored, and subsequent X-rays showed what Hyde called a “little small fracture.”

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Hays was batting .203/.273/.246 while playing in all 19 of the Orioles’ games through Friday. He was batting .282 in the past 11 games, seven of those coming after he was plunked, but only one of his 14 hits this season had gone for extra bases.

He had 10 extra-base hits in 68 at-bats last September, slashing 309/.373/.574 and playing sterling defense to seemingly lay claim to the Orioles’ center field job with a month that originally wasn’t going to be spent in the majors.

Hays was the first player taken by any team in the 2016 draft to reach the majors with a blistering 2017 season split between High-A Frederick and Double-A, but after struggling in September with Baltimore, he battled injuries to his right ankle, left thumb and right hamstring over the next two years, with the broken rib now added to his list of ailments.

The Orioles had him ticketed for the Arizona Fall League last year to make up for the lost time with extra at-bats, but a change to the league’s rules regarding players on teams’ 40-man rosters prompted Baltimore to promote Hays. His September showcase led to this year’s eventual selection as the Orioles’ Opening Day center fielder.

The player who preceded him with that title, Cedric Mullins, was promoted from the Orioles’ alternate training site in Bowie on Saturday in a corresponding move, with recently claimed right-hander Jorge López clearing COVID-19 protocols and being added to the active roster, as well. The Orioles will make another roster move to Sunday to add left-hander John Means, who was away from the team following of the death of his father, back onto the roster to start their series finale with Washington.

Mullins made the club’s Opening Day roster as a reserve this season, but was sent to Bowie after a 1-for-13 start. He has three hits in his previous 53 major-league at-bats. Hyde said it will be “a daily decision” whether Mullins or Andrew Velazquez will man center in Hays’ absence. Velazquez, who has played short and left for the Orioles, batted ninth as the center fielder in Saturday’s lineup.

“I’m gonna split it up depending on the matchup,” Hyde said. “Both guys switch-hit. I think you’ll see both of those guys get quite a bit of playing time.”

López, a 27-year-old former second-round pick, was claimed on waivers from the Kansas City Royals on Sunday and was subsequently put on the injured list as a procedural move as he underwent COVID-19 screening following the team change. He has a career 5.97 in 60 appearances, 27 of them starts, and gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning in his only appearance thus far of 2020.

“I haven’t had a lot of success,” López said. “I know that. But the talent is there. I’m at the point right now where I have to focus on the process of executing every pitch. When I’m really good and I feel really good, a lot of things can happen.”

Hyde agreed, praising López’s pitch repertoire in saying the right-hander will begin in a long-relief role but could pitch his way into starts down the line.

“I’m really excited to add him,” Hyde said. “I think this is a guy that’s got starting stuff. He’s got a really good fastball. I love the frame. Love the delivery. He’s got a mid-90s fastball with movement. I like the breaking ball. I’m really excited about adding him.”

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