PORT CHARLOTTE, FLA. — Orioles outfielder Austin Hays returned to Grapefruit League action Wednesday after over a week on the sidelines dealing with a shoulder injury, an absence that manager Buck Showalter said won't preclude him from competing to make the Opening Day roster.
The more pressing bit of business, however, was getting him through his four at-bats as designated hitter healthy in a 7-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. Showalter said that was accomplished.
"Today, he had a good day," Showalter said. "Yesterday [in a simulated game], I thought for the first day back, he was a little stiff.
Orioles beat reporter Jon Meoli discusses the statements made by those competing for starting rotation and outfield spots in the team’s 7-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
"He's done a lot of work this offseason, and I think some of it is just trying to get all his flexibility back. But today, he had a good day. That was encouraging. Hopefully he's in there in the near future."
Before Wednesday, when Hays went 1-for-4 with an RBI single, a pair of strikeouts and a warning-track lineout, he hadn't played since Feb. 27. His shoulder soreness meant he's served only as the designated hitter so far, and after Hays got a cortisone injection last Thursday and threw for the first time Tuesday, Showalter sees a path to getting him back into the outfield.
Hays' defensive abilities in right field could factor into where he starts the season. As it stands, the organization’s top prospect is engaged in a crowded right-field competition that includes Colby Rasmus, Anthony Santander, Alex Presley, Joey Rickard and now Danny Valencia.
Santander, who had a two-run single Wednesday, is batting .333 this spring and turning heads inside and outside the organization, regardless of his Rule 5 roster requirement carryover from last year.
Valencia, a masher against left-handers who was signed to a minor league deal a week ago, drove in three runs with a pair of doubles Wednesday and has five extra-base hits this spring.
"He certainly has a track record of doing things — and he's more than just a guy against left-handers — but he gives you some options around the infield and the outfield," Showalter said of Valencia. "He's a veteran, proven hitter."
Hays' week-plus away and lack of defensive repetitions don’t put him at too much of a disadvantage, Showalter said.