Even all these months later, Ryan Mountcastle can’t do anything to erase what happened in April. The Orioles’ rookie slugger is, however, entering his fourth month of showing those struggles aren’t going to be easily replicated going forward.
Mountcastle homered for the 19th time to tie for the team lead and drove in two runs in Wednesday night’s 10-3 loss to the New York Yankees, continuing another of the hot stretches Mountcastle has used to pull himself back to the production he and the Orioles envisioned after his strong debut last summer.
The 24-year-old first baseman is batting .297 with a .924 OPS and five home runs since the All-Star break, bringing him to a .262 average and a .782 OPS overall.
“Just being stubborn with my approach towards the middle of the field,” Mountcastle said. “That’s how I’ve been the last couple weeks, and I think it’s been working pretty well. Just slowing the game down, slowing my at-bats down, taking my time, trying to be relaxed in the box.”
There was rightfully some alarm when Mountcastle ended April batting .198 with a .515 OPS and just two home runs, but since then he’s been the Orioles’ best everyday hitter outside of All-Star center fielder Cedric Mullins. He entered Wednesday batting .283 with an .862 OPS and 17 home runs since May 1.
“I just think he continues to improve, and he’s showing he’s got a ton of power and he can drive the ball out to any part of the ballpark,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s improving defensively, just becoming a little bit of a smarter player and he’s just getting more experience up here. When Ryan stays on the ball and swings at strikes, he does some damage. That’s a really nice swing on the ball he hit out to right-center today.”
Defensively, that improvement has come at first base, where Mountcastle grades out well in a small sample in public analytics after a challenging start to the season in left field. It’s been over a month since he started in left field, and the difficulties he experienced there early in the season certainly had something to do with his overall performance.
He’s walking slightly more since the beginning of May, entering Wednesday with a 6.4% walk rate from May 1 on after walking just 4.2% of the time in April.
Wednesday was Mountcastle’s 100th game of the season, and 75th since he started turning thing around May 1. Double what he’s done since then to essentially make a full season, and Mountcastle would have 34 home runs and an OPS in the top 15 in the American League.
Manifesting such a performance that way is just as impossible as erasing his April. Mountcastle knows what he’s meant to be doing as a first base/designated hitter, though, and he’s surely doing it of late.
“We’re happy with his improvement,” Hyde said.