Ryan Mountcastle’s first three-plus weeks with the Orioles have been as promising as anyone at the club could have hoped for, and his contribution to the team’s blowout 14-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night was yet another reason why.
The rookie’s fifth home run of the season, a solo shot to straightaway center field, was another example of his power. But Mountcastle also had a pair of run-scoring singles to continue what’s been an auspicious stretch with runners in scoring position to begin his career.
Mountcastle singled on sliders in the first inning and fifth inning to improve to 8-for-18 (.444) when the Orioles have runners in scoring position.
Manager Brandon Hyde doesn’t see that as a fluke.
“For me, hitting with runners in scoring position is really about staying in the big part of the field,” Hyde said. "A lot of times guys are going to try to get you to chase out of the strike zone. He’s ready to hit on pitch one and really trying to stay in the middle. Even though he pulled that ball, he stayed on the ball, stayed on a breaking ball to hit a line drive to left field.
“I just like guys that have a middle-of-the-field approach because more times than not you’re going to see something spinning away from you in that type of situation and Ryan has done a really nice job — the homer to center on a breaking ball, the base hit to left on a slider. Just a really nice piece of hitting.”
Outside of José Iglesias, Mountcastle has been the team’s best hitter with runners in scoring position this year. Since Mountcastle came to the big leagues Aug. 21, he has driven in a team-high 18 runs.
With his nine walks, he’s proving that pitchers will often have to get him out by attacking the strike zone. Even if it’s not fastballs, Mountcastle has shown an ability to adjust to breaking balls and changeups since he was in his first full season at Low-A Delmarva, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s doing it now.
Still, the Orioles had plenty of players this season who were able to produce at the bottom of the lineup while the pressure was off. Mountcastle began his career batting sixth for the Orioles, but is now the regular cleanup hitter and is producing there as well.
The Orioles will be looking for individual markers of progress and future value over the last two weeks of the season.
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Having a possible middle-of-the-order threat who can come through in big spots, which is the kind of producer they’ve lacked in recent years, would be a big box to check for 2021 and beyond.