BALTIMORE -- Another night, another Austin Hays moment.
The Orioles’ rookie center fielder is making a habit of stealing the spotlight, and he did so again in their 7-6 loss to the Mariners on Saturday night at Camden Yards. In his season debut on Sept. 7, it was with a trio of impressive defensive plays. On Thursday, it was with maybe the catch of the year. On Saturday, it was his bat.
The result? Hays’ biggest hit in the big leagues yet -- a game-tying, two-run homer that locked the Orioles and Mariners in a stalemate that Seattle eventually won in the 13th. Five innings after Hays’ eighth-inning shot off Sam Tuivailala, Mariners speeder Mallex Smith manufactured the deciding run by reaching on Tanner Scott’s error, stealing his 45th base and scoring from second on Tim Lopes’ infield single.
“He’s just exciting to watch. I just like watching him play,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said of Hays. “I like the way he's playing center field. He really takes command out there. Communicates well, wants the ball and calls people off. Then you see the bat speed on the elevated fastball he got to, drove a 3-iron out of the park to left-center. He’s come out here and really played well.”
For Hays, his second homer of the year was the latest effort in his claim to put a stamp on the club’s 2020 starting center-field job. What it did for the Orioles on Saturday was revive them a half inning after their one-run lead turned into a two-run deficit under Mychal Givens' watch, after the embattled reliever coughed up a three-run homer to Seattle shortstop J.P. Crawford.
“It meant a lot to get called back up here and it definitely means a lot to me to just get the opportunity to play every day,” said Hays, the club’s No. 6 prospect. “And I’m just trying to put my best self out there every day.”
The Orioles had jumped ahead in the fifth on Hanser Alberto's RBI single. They also tallied runs off Mariners starter Justus Sheffield with RBI hits in the second inning from Stevie Wilkerson and Richie Martin. Branden Kline and Paul Fry then held the line in relief of starter Asher Wojciechowski before Givens entered in the eighth. Shawn Armstrong and Dillon Tate combined to log 4 1/3 scoreless frames as well.
“I thought, for the most part, our bullpen did a nice job,” Hyde said. “We did a lot of good things out of the ‘pen.”
The Orioles have made no secret about the fact that they’re spending September in hyper-evaluation mode, using the season’s final weeks to glean impressions from those that they’ll target for roles in 2020 and beyond. That dynamic applies to those up and down the roster, from depth pieces to prospects like Hays to the few who qualify as veterans.
Factoring into that latter category is Givens, whose uneven '19 figures to make for an uncertain offseason. The Orioles will certainly explore Givens’ trade market, but given how he's struggled in high-leverage situations, his market is unclear. No matter what happens over the season’s final eight days, Givens will head into winter due for a raise in arbitration while heading toward career worsts in ERA, FIP and homers allowed. His blown save Saturday was his eighth in 19 chances, tied for the most among American League relievers.
“This team has had more tough losses than I think I’ve ever witnessed in a season,” Hyde said. “I think we’re due to win some of these games and it just doesn’t happen.”