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Early returns for Orioles rookie Ryan Mountcastle showing work on plate approach has paid off

Orioles rookie Ryan Mountcastle’s weekend full of walks at Camden Yards, with two in his big league debut Friday and another Sunday, showed that, if nothing else, he knows what the Orioles want to see from him.

The quality of his at-bats Tuesday night against Tyler Glasnow, the Rays starting pitcher who otherwise tore up the Orioles in a 4-2 victory by Tampa Bay, were a sign such gains might continue.

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Mountcastle drew another walk and had the Orioles’ only hit with a runner in scoring position all game with a fourth-inning single, showing both the new part of his game and the one the Orioles have seen on the farm for years.

Before the loss Tuesday, manager Brandon Hyde said it wouldn’t be the raw walk totals as much as the takes that put Mountcastle in a good position to hit that he’d be focused on.

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“It’s about correct swing decisions and being able to not chase pitches out of the zone to get yourself in better counts a lot of times. Young hitters are so aggressive early in the count that they put themselves in disadvantage counts, which is impossible to hit here in the big leagues.

“I think that Ryan has done a nice job of zoning in early in the count, getting stuff that he can drive and not chasing the elevated fastball or the slider down below. It’s not as much the walks as it is getting in good counts to hit, where he can do damage in good counts. That’s what he’s done a nice job of so far.”

Mountcastle wasn’t even tempted to swing on a five-pitch walk in the second inning. When he singled in the fourth, he swung through a first-pitch curveball that was a little outside the zone, but hit the ball to the opposite field after recognizing the same spin when the next pitch caught a little more of the plate.

His third at-bat featured two called-strike fastballs in the middle part of the plate and a swinging third strike on another breaking ball just off the outside edge, the kind of pitch even the most patient hitter might have to offer at. He was frustrated by swinging through three fastballs in his ninth-inning at-bat for his second strikeout of the game.

He’s struck out five times and walked four times in 16 plate appearances, and his swing decisions will probably be encouraging to the Orioles.

According to MLB’s Statcast data from BaseballSavant.com, Mountcastle has seen 62 pitches this year, and while he’s swung at a high rate of pitches in the zone (22 of 26 pitches), he’s swung at just 14 of 36 pitches outside the strike zone. At 27.8%, his chase rate is a shade below the league average of 28.2%.

Mountcastle’s two doubles Sunday showed some of the extra-base power that carried him to the big leagues, but more will be expected on that front. And though it’s still early, these next few weeks of regular at-bats could be a better indicator of what’s to come for him than anything he’s done in the past.

The past few years have featured several late-season cameos from important Orioles hitters, some of which have gone better than others.

No recent example went better than Trey Mancini’s call-up in September 2016, when he hit home runs in his first three starts and set himself up to be a significant part of the 2017 team.

Mancini ultimately shared an outfield spot late in 2017 with Austin Hays, who was in his first full professional season but tore through High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie and was in the majors in early September.

Hays struggled in that first taste of the big leagues, striking out 16 times in 63 plate appearances and batting .217. Injuries and uneven performances meant that he wouldn’t be back in the majors until last September.

The Orioles’ big debut in 2018 came from Cedric Mullins, who was summoned that August to take over as the everyday center fielder from stalwart Adam Jones. Mullins started strongly but fell off, though he was still given the Opening Day center field job in 2019. He didn’t last through April, though, and was sent down after struggling badly.

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Hays and Mullins still have plenty of opportunity to show they’re more capable of playing at a high level, and Hays certainly did that when he returned in 2019. For them, just like for Mountcastle, the development continues at the major league level.

Any indicator, though, that the work that the team is asking for is paying off for Mountcastle is a sign of good things on the horizon.

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