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Jonathan Villar surging toward Orioles’ first 20-20 season since Manny Machado’s in 2015

Baltimore Orioles' Jonathan Villar (2) is greeted near the dugout by Hanser Alberto (57) after hitting a two run home run off Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Mike Montgomery during the second inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, in Baltimore.
Baltimore Orioles' Jonathan Villar (2) is greeted near the dugout by Hanser Alberto (57) after hitting a two run home run off Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Mike Montgomery during the second inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, in Baltimore. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Orioles infielder Jonathan Villar had no idea earlier this month that he was in reach of a cycle until he made it to first base on the single that completed it, and first base coach Arnie Beyeler congratulated him. Villar is trying to use the same approach as he nears Baltimore’s first 20-20 season since 2015.

Since going hitless in 15 at-bats in the Orioles’ series loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks last month, Villar has been among the top hitters in baseball. In 29 games starting July 25, Villar has hit .372/.462/.681 with eight home runs and 11 steals, with Saturday’s solo shot bringing him to 19 homers and 28 steals.

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Four home runs in the first six games of this homestand lifted his season OPS above .800. They also left him one home run from being the first Oriole with 20 steals and homers since Manny Machado in 2015 and only the second since 1999.

“I don’t think about that,” Villar said. “If I put that in my mind, I’ll try to hit a homer all the time, and I’ll miss a lot. Like, 20-20, I don’t care for that. If I get it, that’s perfect. I try all the time to hit the ball, and if that does it, that’s happy for me and for everybody.

“If I think about it, I try to hit a home run all the time instead of hitting line drives. It’s like my cycle. I didn’t think about that. When I hit the last base hit and the coach told me congratulations, I didn’t know about it. When you put that in your mind, you try to hit too much, and you miss a lot.”

On July 25, Villar went 2-for-8 with a home run and three steals in the Orioles’ 16-inning victory over the Los Angeles Angels. He ranks second among players with 100 plate appearances since that date in weighted runs created plus at 194, with 100 being the league average.

Some of the past month is arguably luck. Among qualified players, Villar’s .478 average on balls in play entering Saturday is baseball’s third highest in that span. His .367 average is .083 points higher than his expected average, a Statcast metric based on quality of contact, and his weighted on-base average exceeds his expected wOBA by .095. Both differences rank among the 20 highest in baseball for hitters with at least 50 balls put in play in that span.

But Villar points to a clear change that began after he went 0-for-Arizona. Working with hitting coach Don Long and assistant hitting coach Howie Clark, Villar got his hands started sooner on his swing, while also working to keep them better aligned with his head throughout his swing.

“I’ve been more focused because in one month, we’re finished,” Villar said. “I come into the cage and I practice my routine and be focused more in the game.”

Manager Brandon Hyde has noticed that, too. Early in the season, he and the coaching staff stressed concentration with Villar, especially on defense. They’re beginning to see that emphasis take hold on both sides of the ball for a player who’s tied for the major league lead in games played.

Even when Villar led the majors in steals with 62 for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016, he hit 19 home runs, a career high he matched Saturday. Hyde said Villar could have closer to 40 steals this year if the Orioles weren’t trailing so often when he gets on base.

“Wow, he’s really playing good baseball offensively,” Hyde said. “He’s going to be a potential 20-20 guy. That’s not easy to do. He’s got so many tools. Love his tools. I think he’s been a little bit more consistent the second half.

“I just think his at-bats have been better. He’s done a nice job of grinding at-bats and getting barrel to the baseball and making pitchers work. One thing about Jonnie is he never takes a night off. He wants to play every night, so that’s a pleasure to have. He’s had a really, really good second half.”

Eades joins O’s

Right-hander Ryan Eades, promoted Saturday from Triple-A Norfolk, once shared LSU’s rotation with former Orioles first-round draft pick Kevin Gausman.

Now, Eades, 27, is trying to stick in the majors as a reliever. Last week, the Orioles claimed him off waivers from the Minnesota Twins, who took Eades in the second round in 2013. This year, Eades had two scoreless appearances with the Twins in his first taste of the majors but had a 5.51 ERA with Triple-A Rochester. Since joining the Orioles’ organization, Eades pitched two scoreless appearances for Triple-A Norfolk.

“I’m just happy to be here," Eades said. "Going to try to help the team in whatever way I can.”

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Around the horn

Trey Mancini was out of Saturday’s lineup for a regular day off. … Right-hander Shawn Armstrong said Friday’s move that put him on the 10-day injured list with a right forearm strain was precautionary. He said he had full range of motion Saturday and expects to come off when eligible. … Hyde said the decision to option Ty Blach was related to the Orioles’ days off Monday and Thursday, meaning they won’t need a fifth starter until rosters expand in September.

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