The Orioles’ offensive motto this season, according to rookie outfielder Austin Hays, is to have one another’s backs.
Through the first three games of their series with the Miami Marlins, the Orioles’ lineup has been united only in struggling to score. After being shut out in the series opener Tuesday in what was Miami’s first game in nine days after a spate of positive coronavirus tests, the Orioles waited to put a run on the board until the sixth inning of the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, in which both games played lasted only seven innings.
The Marlins were without their top three starters and all but four members of their original bullpen because of the positive tests, but a pitching staff pieced together with call-ups from their alternate site, waiver claims, trade acquisitions and the players who avoided the virus managed to keep the Orioles scoreless through the first 21 innings of the series, leading to three victories.
“I don’t know if we’re trying too hard or we’re — I’m not sure what it is, to be honest with you,” Hyde said. “It’s one of those little funks that we’ve gone through.
“I can’t really put my finger on it. We’re not driving the baseball. I think guys are trying to do too much and maybe carrying too big of a load instead of just trying to get the next guy up, try to win every pitch.”
The Orioles have been without their hottest hitter, third baseman Rio Ruiz, as he deals with a shoulder issue. Shortstop José Iglesias, battling a sore left quad, was back in the lineup for both games of the doubleheader, but he didn’t take the field and filled Baltimore’s designated hitter slot.
“They’re a big part of our club and a big part of our defense on the left side,” Hyde said. “Rio’s been on such a good start offensively. He’s been a run producer for us, and then Iggy not being healthy for a few days, nice to get him back out there today, but yeah, that’s a loss. Hopefully, both those guys will be healthy soon and you’ll see them out there regularly.”
Iglesias said he was pain-free throughout the doubleheader, meaning he soon will be able to return to shortstop. In the meantime, that position has mostly been manned by Andrew Velazquez, one of several Orioles slumping offensively early in the season.
Velazquez, Chris Davis and Cedric Mullins have one hit each in a combined 48 at-bats. Hyde noted between games that Davis’ timing has seemed to be off since he returned from a sinus issue that caused him to miss two games.
With the Orioles needing to trim their roster to 28 players by Thursday, they optioned outfielder DJ Stewart, hitless in his 14 at-bats, to their Bowie alternate site after the doubleheader, clearing at least one struggling bat from their roster.
Hays, who starred in a September cameo, is scuffling as well, hitting .158 with no extra-base hits, but he has three of the Orioles’ 10 hits in the series and drove in their only run with a grounder that ricocheted off two Marlins infielders.
“That’s kind of our team motto this year, to have each other’s back and to continue to pick each other up,” Hays said after Tuesday’s loss. “Just continue to spray really productive and good at-bats all across the board. If you can continue to do that, continue to get guys on base, put pressure on the defense and make the pitcher work, we can continue to produce runs.”
Hays said “continue” because before this series, the Orioles had scored at least five runs in four straight games and six of their past seven, sweeping a Tampa Bay Rays team that deployed well-regarded starters Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. But they’ve been shut down by Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernández and the Marlins’ rebuilt bullpen.
“I think our offense will come around,” Hyde said. “I don’t think we’re going to be going one run in three games continuously. We have proven that we can score runs and that we have swung the bat against really good pitchers. This series, for whatever reason, we’re not driving the baseball, we’re not grinding out at-bats like the way that we did against the teams that we’ve played before. We just need to get back to that mentality.”
Missing Ruiz, who leads the Orioles in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage, and dealing with a limited Iglesias certainly is doing them no favors. Ruiz, Iglesias, Hanser Alberto and Renato Núñez are the only Orioles with at least 10 at-bats who have posted an OPS higher than .800.
Their most major league-ready position player prospect, Ryan Mountcastle, is training at the team’s secondary site in Bowie. Last year’s International League MVP is still waiting for a call-up that likely already would’ve come had the schedule gone off as planned in March.
Meanwhile, the Orioles are one loss away from getting swept in four games by a team whose roster is made up of players who spent the last week on other rosters or quarantining in a hotel.
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“They’ve come out with energy, and we haven’t scored any runs, so it looks like we’re not playing with a ton of energy,” Hyde said. “When you don’t have base runners, when you don’t have traffic for yourself, it can feel a little dead at times, and that’s not how we’ve been playing up until this series, so hopefully, we can get back to that.”