Santander thriving at the plate, in the field

April 9th, 2021

Questions regarding health followed the Orioles' right fielder into Opening Day, after Santander spent the final week of Spring Training on the back fields in Sarasota, Fla., nursing mild soreness on the oblique that ended his breakout 2020 season prematurely.

One week into the 2021 season, he’s all but answered them.

“I was able to take it day by day and take that week to recover,” Santander said Thursday, via team translator Ramón Alarcón. “I feel great now and I’m ready for the season and very excited.”

Santander has showed so on the field, playing without restriction and contributing regularly in the early going both at the plate and in the field. The best example came Wednesday, when Santander homered and showcased the defensive tools that made him a 2020 American League Gold Glove Award finalist in right field, completing a 9-2 double play to seal the Orioles’ 4-3 extra-inning win over the Yankees.

Santander’s throw clocked in at 90.9 mph, per Statcast, nabbing Gio Urshela at the plate with what would have been the tying run. The win snapped the O’s 12-game road losing streak at Yankee Stadium dating back to 2019, when Santander was just emerging as an everyday player.

“It felt awesome,” Santander said. “What a way to end the game! It was very exciting.”

Said O’s manager Brandon Hyde: “He made a play, like a football term -- in a big moment. He’s always been an accurate thrower and has a strong arm. He put the ball right on the money in the biggest spot in the game.”

Meanwhile, over in left

Throughout his 35-game debut down the stretch last season, seemed to earn as many positive reviews for his bat as he did for his glove. A converted infielder, Mountcastle rated as an average defender in left field in the small sample, considerable given the newness of the position and his reputation as a bat-first prospect. That bat didn’t disappoint either, and Mountcastle entered 2021 not only as the Orioles’ everyday cleanup hitter, but as their starter in left.

Mountcastle has proven this week that he is not yet a finished product. Misplaying a Gary Sanchez single Wednesday night, Mountcastle opened the door for the Yankees’ game-tying rally in the eighth that forced extras. He helped and hurt the Orioles in Thursday’s 7-3 loss to the Red Sox, hitting a two-run, game-tying homer in the first but also contributing to Boston’s decisive sixth-inning rally with several misplays in left.

At least two fairly routine balls fell for hits due to Mountcastle’s questionable routes, and a throwing error compounded the problem. Another play required a sensational diving catch by Cedric Mullins to salvage, while Mountcastle dove unsuccessfully behind him. Both balls that fell in front of Mountcastle led to important runs. 

The O’s are chalking it up to growing pains. Mountcastle is going to continue to get opportunities in left, especially with Austin Hays and DJ Stewart sidelined by injury, though Ryan McKenna offers a defensive upgrade off the bench late in games. Mountcastle will also be the designated hitter from time to time, with Hyde planning on rotating several players through that slot. 

“Ryan is going to make some mistakes in left field. He’s played there for a month,” Hyde said. “He did a nice job there last year and is continuing to grow and learn ballparks and understand how to play out there. He’s not a finished product by any means, and he’s going to make mistakes. But we’re going to live with them because we believe in the player.”