ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. —
Having already added three strikeouts to an Orioles tenure that has been full of them, Orioles outfielder Keon Broxton watched from the bench as Pedro Severino pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning of a tie game with the go-ahead run in scoring position.
With the Tampa Bay Rays’ infield in, Severino hit a grounder to short, and Anthony Santander hustled home from third — having advanced on a wild pitch — to score the first of an eventual six runs in the top of the ninth of a 9-6 victory Wednesday night. Santander timed his jump to contact, something Broxton has provided in only half of his at-bats since becoming an Oriole.
His three strikeouts brought him to 46 in 93 at-bats since his Orioles debut May 24. Should he strike out in his next at-bat, Broxton will have put the ball in play as many times as he has not. He homered in his first game with the organization and in three of his first nine games. But overall, Broxton is hitting .194/.235/.312 in 30 games since the Orioles acquired him in a trade with the New York Mets, who designated him for assignment after he hit .143 without a home run in 34 games for them.
Asked to evaluate his Orioles tenure, Broxton said it has gone “not as well as I expected, for sure.”
“I can’t sit here and say it’s an A+, but I’m learning a lot as I’m moving forward, and these guys are on board so far,” Broxton said before Wednesday’s game. “I think I’ve played great defense, done a little bit of things here and there with the bat. But it’s been really inconsistent, so I’m just trying to find a way to get more consistent.”
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He’s right about his defense, ranking in the top 10 among major league outfielders in Statcast’s outs above average, actual catch percentage and catch percentage added, while being the only Orioles center fielder this year with a positive output in defensive runs saved.
Broxton’s glove, for which he was renowned before joining the Orioles, was manager Brandon Hyde’s first takeaway when asked about the 29-year-old’s time with the team.
“Keon’s come as advertised defensively,” Hyde said. “He’s done a great job in center field, swung the bat pretty well early when he got to us. I think he’s struggling a little bit offensively right now, and he hits tirelessly with our hitting guys. He shows, at times, there’s some ABs in there where he stays closed and uses the whole field. But obviously, he’s struggled a little bit, and we’re hoping to get him on track.”
That work with hitting coach Don Long and assistant hitting coach Howie Clark has been less mechanical and more mental. He has a .157 expected average — a Statcast metric based on quality of contact — on fastballs as an Oriole. In 2017, when he broke out with a 20-20 season with the Milwaukee Brewers, Broxton’s expected average on fastballs was .248.
“I’ve been really working hard on that and being more of a visual attacker, just trying to really work hitting well seeing, instead of worrying about too much with my swing,” Broxton said. “My swing is fine. It’s just a matter of trusting what I see.”
After Tuesday’s loss to the Rays, Hyde said all 25 players in the Orioles’ clubhouse are auditioning, and Broxton’s tryout to this point hasn’t been filled with many positives. But he said he’s seeing improvement from one at-bat to the next, even if nearly half of them are ending in strikeouts.
“That’s what we’ve noticed over the course of a couple weeks,” Broxton said. “My at-bat to at-bat is getting a lot better, and you can tell that I’m really simplifying what I’m going up there looking for, and I’m taking better pitches and I’m not just swinging at everything. It puts my mind at ease when I’m going up there with a plan and sticking to it. It’s getting better and better on a daily basis.”