xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

How Orioles rookie Ryan Mountcastle is pulling himself out of his early-season slump: ‘I’m starting to feel a little better’

Facing New York Yankees starter Corey Kluber for the third time Tuesday, Ryan Mountcastle had an at-bat that showed Orioles hitting coach Don Long that the rookie had what it takes to pull himself out of his early-season slump.

Mountcastle swung through a low-and-away curveball on the first pitch of the at-bat after doing his traditional leg kick, Long said, and “immediately recognized that.” He recognized what was wrong, ditched the leg kick, and eventually hit the same pitch with two strikes for a single.

Advertisement

“He did that on his own, in the box during the course of the game, rather than just letting the whole at-bat get away from him in the moment,” Long said. “He was able to go, ‘OK, I need to do this right now to be able to have success in this at-bat.’ When I see something like that, I start to see a maturity in what he’s doing. Being able to adjust within the at-bat is a really good sign for him.”

If it feels like a lone hit in a long season being cause for encouragement is a bit thin, such an at-bat shows not only how little success Mountcastle has found in the batter’s box this season, but also the thin margin between success and failure for a 24-year-old who has hit at every level of his minor league career since he was drafted in 2015.

Advertisement
Advertisement

“I’m starting to feel a little better,” Mountcastle said. “Obviously it’s not the start I wanted to have this year but you know, I’m taking it day by day and keep working hard and keeping my head up.”

Mountcastle entered the week batting .167 with a .472 OPS, but with a second-inning single Saturday, he has hits in six straight games including his third multi-hit game Friday and is up to .202 with a .517 OPS.

It’s not coming on the kind of hard line drives that the former first-round pick made feel common as he was coming up the minor league chain. However, after hitting some balls hard on a hitless road trip preceding the team’s most recent homestand, Mountcastle believes there’s value in just seeing balls drop into the outfield for hits at this point.

“It’s good,” Mountcastle said. “I think last road trip I had some really good at-bats, and I don’t even think I had a hit last road trip. But I was hitting balls hard and it was tough to watch, but I kept my head up and I think things will definitely start to fall and I’ll start barreling some balls up soon. I’ve just got to stay positive.”

Advertisement

Even though this isn’t his first taste of the majors, having hit .333 with an .878 OPS and five home runs in 35 games last season, it’s certainly his first taste of difficulty this year. The other instances of such struggles in his career are few and far between. His first month of full-season ball at Low-A Delmarva at age 19, Mountcastle hit .161 with a .515 OPS as he adjusted to professional baseball. He ended the year batting .287 with a .745 OPS. Upon his promotion to Double-A Bowie in July 2017, he hit .222 with a .605 OPS in 36 games. The next year, he hit .297 with an .806 OPS there.

The stakes were never as high as they are in the big leagues, and Long acknowledges how difficult it can be to be in Mountcastle’s position.

“I’ve had guys over the year who the first time they struggled was at the major league level for a prolonged period of time, and that is the toughest place to go through that for the first time, no doubt about it,” Long said. “You’re asking yourself to make adjustments against the best pitching there is, and from my standpoint, having been in development for many, many years, you almost hope you challenge a prospect-type guy and he does have a period of struggle coming up so they learn how to deal with it and they learn that they’re going to be OK.”

Said Mountcastle: “All these pitchers up here know what they’re doing and they’re really good. When you’re going through a tough spell, it almost seems like these guys just know what you’re thinking at all times. But just going up there and being relaxed and not thinking about too much is what’s been helping me so far.”

Long said even the best hitters require adjustments at some point, and that’s where Mountcastle is now. Long said the work they’re doing is mostly involving Mountcastle’s pre-pitch setup “in terms of his rhythm and timing and really being able to hit and trying to simplify what he does,” which he believes will allow Mountcastle to swing at better pitches and hit the balls he does swing at hard.

“It’s a matter of working on the right things every day and not just doing the same thing every day and hoping for something better, but actually working for something better, and working on rhythm and timing and being on time and simplifying the process to be ready to hit,” Long said. “And by doing those two things, you’re going to be in a better position on time. You’ll make better decisions. You’re going to square more balls up. You’re not going to dig yourself out of it in one game, but if you focus on doing that every day and doing the right kind of work and being committed to it every day, over the course of a long season, the results will show. I completely believe that he’s on that path right now, and that’s the direction he’s heading.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement