When Jordan Lyles’ free agency began pointing toward Baltimore, he started hearing insights about his potential new manager from connections they shared in the game. His initial impressions of Brandon Hyde had been “hard-nosed” and “a little rough around the edges,” gained from a distance last year as the veteran right-hander watched highlights of Hyde having a swear-filled spat with Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Robbie Ray.
The eventual American League Cy Young Award winner, Ray seemingly believed the Orioles, who homered twice off him in early September while mired in a season that reached 110 losses, were stealing signs, and Hyde took exception to the accusation that gamesmanship was the only way his team could have success against a pitcher of Ray’s caliber. That back-and-forth, which Hyde quickly apologized for, was the byproduct of something Lyles has learned is central to the Orioles’ manager: He cares about his players.
“He’s all about the player,” Lyles said. “I haven’t heard one negative thing about him.”
A year later, Ray is a member of the Seattle Mariners, and Hyde’s Orioles are chasing Ray’s former team, his current one and the Tampa Bay Rays for a wild-card playoff spot in what could be the major leagues’ most remarkable turnaround since the turn of the 20th century. Even if the Orioles do not secure a postseason berth, Lyles and many of his teammates believe what the club has achieved under Hyde’s guidance makes him the logical, if not only, choice to be the American League Manager of the Year.
“I’d kind of be surprised if he didn’t win it,” center fielder Cedric Mullins said. “Just one of those things where he’s had to manage tough teams in the past. For the turnaround to be as quick as it has been this year for us, that definitely makes him deserving of that, for sure.
“We’ve kind of shocked the world a little bit.”
Inheriting a team that lost 115 games in 2018, Hyde suffered at least 108 losses in his first two full seasons as the rebuilding organization handed him rosters built with meager payrolls and fringe major leaguers. The only reprieve was the shortened 2020 season, in which Baltimore was in playoff contention until late in the year but still finished with one of the majors’ five worst records.
This year was expected to be more of the same, with a payroll still among the league’s lowest. Instead, after sweeping a two-game series with regional rival Washington, Baltimore is 75-67, four games behind the Rays for the AL’s third wild-card spot. Since 1900, only one team has won more games the season after a campaign with at least 110 losses. The Orioles have 20 games left to catch the 2005 Arizona Diamondbacks’ 77 victories.
“I think he should be the front-runner for American League Manager of the Year, for sure,” Lyles said. “Especially what was expected or thought of from people outside the clubhouse about this team.”
Added reliever Dillon Tate, who has played under Hyde longer than any active Orioles pitcher: “In terms of how people have viewed this organization and this team for the last few years, there isn’t anybody that’s more deserving for that award than Hyder.”
Hyde said patience and positivity are the most important traits a manager can have amid a rebuild, and his players said he’s continually displayed both. In discussing the club’s improved performance, Hyde has often directed his joy toward his players, knowing how much the success means to them after many troubled seasons.
“We’ve come a long way in a few years in a short amount of time,” Hyde said. “I don’t think people really understand how hard that is. ... If you look around, we don’t have guys making much money compared to the rest of the league. We have guys playing hard and playing to win, and they’re exciting to watch.”
Both Lyles and right-hander Tyler Wells praised how Hyde has handled pitchers’ workloads, giving players the best chance to succeed by ensuring they’re well rested. Wells said Hyde is consistently in communication with pitching coaches and training staff about his workload as he comes off two lost seasons, another spent as a reliever and now an oblique injury.
“He’s paid such attention to the small details,” Wells said. “His dedication to that communication and that attention to detail has really shown up in these games and put us in the position that we’re in right now.”
Among Hyde’s most significant duties this season has been welcoming many of the organization’s top prospects to the majors and helping them handle the expectations associated with that status. No player arrived facing more pressure than Adley Rutschman, the catcher whose selection with the first overall draft pick during Hyde’s first season supplied a central building block in Baltimore’s rebuild.
During Rutschman’s early days as a major leaguer, Hyde continually expressed how he just wanted the game’s No. 1 prospect to be himself and not try to be any more than that. That’s an example of the “feel” Rutschman said Hyde has repeatedly displayed as his manager, consistently knowing what players need in the moment. Rutschman said Hyde is “as deserving as he can be” for AL Manager of the Year.
“I got nothing but positive things to say about him,” Rutschman said. “He just does a great job with the guys, the interactions, managing the game and having that feel, how to talk to guys. He has a good feel for the clubhouse and the guys in it. You can tell he knows what he’s doing. Everyone has a ton of respect for him and what he does.”
That includes the players who endured that losing with Hyde. Many holdovers from past seasons noted that Hyde is largely managing the team the same way he has in the past, but the availability of better players has helped him display his capabilities in the role.
“He’s got a lot of pieces in that bullpen to maneuver with now, and you can see night in and night out, the guys come through in any situation they put them in,” outfielder Austin Hays said. “We’ve got a lot of depth on this team on the bench. You can see how he’s maneuvering the lineups just to put guys in the right spots and in the right situations, and it’s working out.
“I think it just shows you that he’s built to be on a team that has depth and has pitching and can change the lineup in a lot of different ways.”
His personality, meanwhile, remains the same.
“One of the best things about Hyder is that he’s consistent,” Wells said. “He’s a consistent person. We’re always having fun. He’s in the mix of it and he’s always sitting there joking with guys, talking with guys. Very, very personable, but he’s also a leader. He’ll tell you what he needs to tell you, given certain circumstances. When times get tough, like what we’ve been through the last few years, he’s been the same guy as what he has been this year.”
Lyles said Hyde has routinely asked the team’s handful of veterans for a pulse of the clubhouse and is always open to their input. What he’s seen from Hyde daily lines up far more with what he heard during free agency than in last season’s highlight with Ray.
“He just wants it to be a tight-knit group where everyone believes in one another and just you can be open to come to him at any time, baseball wise or personal life stuff,” Lyles said. “He’s very comfortable to be around.
“With how young this clubhouse is, it can be intimidating for player versus manager, especially a rookie or young guy, second-, third-year guy, but he’s thrown that out the door.”
Perhaps Hyde’s most important impact this season was guiding the Orioles through a trade deadline that saw them lose two significant contributors in first baseman/designated hitter Trey Mancini, the club’s longest-tenured player, and All-Star closer Jorge López as the organization’s forward-thinking process continued even with the team unexpectedly contending. Hays said that in a team meeting that followed those trades, Hyde told the players that his nightly focus was to win games in the present and he expected the same of them. The Orioles have gone 24-16 since trading Mancini on Aug. 1.
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“He’s done a tremendous job just trying to keep us together and keep us focused on one goal, which is winning games,” Mullins said.
Other candidates for the award, voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America, are Seattle’s Scott Servais, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash and Houston’s Dusty Baker. But each is leading a team that won at least 90 games last year and entered this season expected to do so again. They may well lead their team to the playoffs while Baltimore comes up short, but that the Orioles are in this position at all is, to Hyde’s players, a tribute to him.
“Given what everyone thought this year was going to be for us and considering it another ‘rebuilding’ year,” Wells said, “I would most certainly say that he’s done a hell of a job.”
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