After Austin Wynns caught every one of Alex Cobb’s 100-pitch complete game Saturday in Cleveland, the Orioles’ rookie catcher might as well not have worn shoes as he left Progressive Field and went into the Cleveland night. He was practically floating.
In a lost year for the franchise, the mere presence of the 27-year-old Wynns has been an aspect of the season that both the club’s minor league newcomers and veterans alike can enjoy. His joy Saturday in his teammate’s success showed exactly why.
“I’ve been with him for the past two years, and he’s been the exact same way,” fellow rookie David Hess said. “He cares so much about all the guys on the mound. He wants not just the team to do well, but he takes it as a personal responsibility to do everything he can to call a good game, make every play that he needs to make out there, and he does a good job. To have an outing like yesterday with Cobby and the success that came with that, I know that’s very uplifting for him, and I think that’s something for a team, too, that goes a long way.”
That part of Wynns’ success should come as no surprise. After being signed out of Fresno State in 2013, Wynns has carried a reputation as a good game-caller and defensive backstop throughout his time in the Orioles’ system. That he’s hit .281 with three home runs in 57 major league at-bats has been a bonus for an Orioles team whose catchers are batting a combined .237 this year.
But Wynns is also standing out among these Orioles rookies in that his progress has been tangible this year. He’s done that with a win-the-day mentality. On days he’s in the lineup, he’s focused on keeping the excitement of being a major leaguer from unheralded roots while slowing the game down and finding a way for him and his staff to let their abilities show.
“Just think about it: you play this game for how long?” Wynns said. “Your mind is the only thing that speeds it up. So just not getting comfortable, but just getting a sense of the plan and preparation up here at this level and how you can make it easier. It’s basically slowing it down. That’s the key up here.”
Manager Buck Showalter said Wynns is “growing” on that front.
“You let the game slow down a little bit, knowing that certain things play up here if you’re just consistent with it,” Showalter said.
Yet Wynns has found that, in his part-time role, the days off are just as important — and aren’t really days off at all.
Saturday was proof of that. Earlier this season, he and Cobb had trouble getting on the same page as a battery, and Wynns, who catches starters’ bullpen sessions every day when he’s not in the lineup, started giving particular attention to Cobb’s sessions. The progress has been quick.
“It feels really good to have that with Wynns behind the plate,” Cobb said Saturday. “A young guy, just coming up, he’s grown so much since he first got up here. He’s learned me as a pitcher and what I like to do, and he’s helped me navigate through lineups and starting to get a lot more confidence back there in his pitch calling, and trusting his eyes too. I told him after the game, that’s his.”
Cobb and the rest of the major league staff seem to only just be learning what countless others in the Orioles system have come to know over the years. Reliever Paul Fry said every time pitchers in the minors would talk catchers, Wynns would inevitably come up. When Fry went to Double-A Bowie last year, the connection was quick.
“Immediately, we clicked,” Fry said. “When I was on the mound, he knew what I was thinking. He picks up on guys’ paths. He studies the game. He takes the time. He’s not being lazy. He watches film. He’s just one of those guys.”
Wynns sees that as his job, and he’s managed to hone in on the monotony of those daily responsibilities without sacrificing the energy and excitement for the game that got him here.
“Everyone’s role is different at this level, but it’s about doing it every day and being the same person, not changing,” Wynns said. “Being the same person. ... We all come here to do our job at this level, and what is your job? Your job is to come out, do you duty, play your position, have quality at-bats and be a good teammate and win the day. The goal is to win. I know we haven’t been winning much, but we’re still trying to go out there and play our butt off. That’s what’s going to make us stay up here.”