Baltimore Orioles

Healthy Austin Hays once again using September to showcase potential with Orioles

For two years, Austin Hays’ major league career featured only a disappointing September cameo. Since, he’s used that month to more than make up for it.

Hays’ 10th-inning walk-off single to complete Thursday night’s 3-2 comeback victory over the New York Yankees continued his trend of sparkling finishes that show off his all-around skill set. He came into the game batting .328/.376/.626 — a 1.002 OPS — over the past three Septembers. Including his first major league home run in September 2017, 14 of his career 29 homers have come in the season’s final full month.


Hays, 26, credits his success at this time of year to finally feeling healthy. He surged to the majors in 2017 but largely struggled that final month, then spent most of the next two years battling various injuries. The Orioles initially decided not to give him a September call-up in 2019, planning to send him to the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost at-bats. Instead, a rule change regarding players on the 40-man roster prompted Baltimore to promote Hays, and he thrived, robbing and hitting home runs as their primary center fielder and seemingly locking up the position heading into 2020.

He opened that shortened season as the Orioles’ leadoff man and center fielder, but his offensive woes sent him to the bottom third of the order before a broken rib landed him on the injured list midway through August. Upon his return, Hays moved to left amid the early stages of Cedric Mullins’ breakout, then posted a .988 OPS over two weeks of September games.


He’s been even better this September, entering Thursday with an OPS almost 100 points higher. When the month began, he had recently been in a platoon role, out of the lineup against right-handed starters; he ended August batting .212/.264/.350 facing same-handed pitchers. He also had two stints on the injured list this year, suffering strains in each hamstring that lingered into his play even when active.

But he’s been in the lineup for all but one game in September, often in the middle of the order, and has taken only one game fully off since mid-June.

“Unfortunately, I’ve gotten hurt in the middle of the season or early in the year, and then when I come back from the injuries, it takes me a little bit to get going,” Hays said. “The last two years, September has been the time where I’ve come back and my body starts to feel good and I start to feel healthy, and at the same time, I’ve also been playing every day now opposed to when I was having more issues of not really playing every day because we’re trying to rest. I think just the combination of feeling better and also being on the field on a consistent basis, just those two things together the last couple of years in September has allowed me to put up some numbers.”

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This season, he’s done so especially against the right-handed pitchers he struggled with for most of the year. Entering September with a .614 OPS against righties, he entered Thursday with that figure at 1.464 this month while still having a similar amount of success off left-handers.

His 20 home runs in 2021 have been split evenly between the two. Wednesday, he hit one off Yankees left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr., who otherwise cruised with 11 strikeouts in 6 ⅓ innings, then another off right-handed setup man Chad Green to give the Orioles the lead in the eighth. It was first time Green had allowed a home run against Baltimore since Manny Machado took him deep in July of 2018 — a span of 20 outings.

The Orioles' Austin Hays shouts toward his dugout as he runs toward first base after hitting a two-run home run off New York Yankees relief pitcher Chad Green in the eighth inning Wednesday in Baltimore.

It was Hays’ second multi-homer game in five days, with the other pair also divided between a right-hander and left-hander.

“I think health has been a huge part of it,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s piling up the at-bats now, he’s getting more experience kind of playing through the dog days of August and September, facing really good teams, really good pitchers and able to make adjustments because of that. You saw the bat speed last night and to be able to get on two fastballs the way he did.

“Chad Green has had our number here for three years and for Austin to hit a two-run homer like that, he’s just got so many tools. It’s just about keeping him on the field, getting the innings defensively and getting as many at-bats as possible.”


Hyde added that he’s felt Hays’ at-bats have been better since the beginning of August, before which he felt it was frequent for Hays to “get himself out early in the count.” Amid a 17-game hitting streak that began Aug. 24, Hays said he felt his luck was beginning to change. In September, he’s hitting more groundballs and flyballs and fewer line drives, but he’s also barreling more balls up than he has in any previous month of his major league career, according to Statcast.

“He will expand early, maybe guess at times pitch-wise instead of kind of letting the at-bat happen,” Hyde said. “Knowing when to be aggressive early an account, knowing how to battle with two strikes, knowing how to understand what the pitcher is trying to do to him, the situation that the at-bat calls for, I think he’s learning all those things and I’ve seen a big difference the last month and a half, and because of that, he’s getting results.”