Hays returns from injured list just in time

April 21st, 2021

The O’s activated from the 10-day injured list prior to Tuesday’s 7-5 series-opening win over the Marlins not knowing he’d soon be thrust into a larger role. Turns out, Hays got healthy at just the right time.

Baltimore had its outfield depth tested immediately upon Hays’ return, when Anthony Santander suffered a left ankle sprain in the first inning at loanDepot park. Hays made an immediate impact, singling, scoring and making a run-saving play in right field in Santander’s place. Even if the injury doesn’t sideline Santander for significant time, Hays profiles as the O’s starter at the position in his absence.

“I’ve seen it too many times: When you think you have more than you need, all of a sudden, things happen,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “That’s why depth and your Minor League system are so important. One day you feel like, 'How am I going to play everybody?’ And the next day you’re short on the bench.”

It is an unwelcome solution to what appeared to be a good problem for the Orioles, after Hays’ return gave them four everyday type outfielders for two corner spots. Hays can play both corners plus center field, and figured to cycle through each, plus designated hitter, as a way for Hyde to find playing time for him, DJ Stewart, Ryan Mountcastle and Santander.That logjam no longer exists, at least in the short-term, though the O’s are likely to recall Ryan McKenna to provide additional depth should Santander require an injured list stint.

McKenna was optioned to the alternate training site Tuesday morning to clear space for Hays, who had been sidelined since April 5 due to a right hamstring strain. Hays played in two intrasquad games at the alternate site and one scrimmage game against the Nationals before being activated. McKenna remained on the taxi squad as of Tuesday evening.

“All these guys are going to get a ton of playing time,” Hyde said before the game. “I think it’s going to be easy. To have four guys you want to play is a good thing.”

Hours later, Hyde reflected on the irony of that thinking.

“That’s why I’m day to day with decisions,” Hyde said. "There are so many things that can happen on a day-to-day basis in baseball. Hopefully you have a ton of depth and everybody stays healthy. But unfortunately that’s not how things work sometimes.”

For Hays, the challenge will be a familiar one: staying healthy. Hampered by injuries for most of his career, Hays overcame shoulder, knee, ankle and hip issues in the Minors and was limited by a fractured rib last season. All told, he’s hit .269 with nine homers and a .735 OPS in 77 games over parts of four big league seasons.

“I’m going to try to do a really great job with my hydration and stretching from here on out,” Hays said. “I am going to continue to do what I can to stay on top of that stuff and keep my soft tissue in good shape.”

Fry guy says ...
The Orioles have seen several pitchers develop higher velocity at the big league level in recent years, from John Means to Dillon Tate, Bruce Zimmermann and others. The latest example is .

Everything is ticking up this season so far for Fry, who shook off a shaky spring to post a 1.23 ERA over his first nine regular season outings. The lefty set-up man’s fastball reached 95.6 mph in each of his last two appearances, including Tuesday’s win in Miami. That’s about 5 mph more than Fry’s fastball averaged as recently as two years ago. Overall, he’s been a huge part of an Orioles ‘pen that improved mightily in 2020 and ranked eighth in MLB in ERA as of Tuesday’s final out.

“Paul Fry, his last couple outings, has been dominating,” Hyde said.

Paul Fry avg. fastball velocity, per Statcast:
2019: 90.7 mph
'20: 92.8 mph
'21: 93 mph

Avg. slider velocity:
'19: 83.9 mph
'20: 84.8 mph
'21: 85.4 mph

“It’s literally about me directing toward the plate, and spin efficiency,” Fry said. "I’ve always been pretty strong in the weight room, and it's finally translating on the mound.”

The result is a slightly revamped pitch mix for Fry, who lives and dies by his fastball and slider. His fastball usage is up from 53.2% from 19-20 to 63.7% this season, while his slider usage cut from 35.3 to 45.7%, per Statcast.

The results once the ball leaves Fry’s hand have also been excellent so far. Fry entered play Tuesday ranked in the 89th percentile among MLB relievers in advanced metrics expected ERA, expected weighted on-base average and expected slugging, as well as in the 84th percentile in barrel percentage. Fry is yet to allow a home run and has struck out 10 across 7 1/3 innings overall.

Pepsi partnership
On Tuesday the Orioles announced a three-year partnership with Pepsi Stronger Together, PepsiCo’s national series of grassroots initiatives, to empower the next generation of baseball and softball players in the city of Baltimore. Through a series of strategic programs, the O’s and Pepsi Stronger Together will aim to give Baltimore youth the opportunity to play on improved fields, receive access to proper new and gently-used equipment and learn valuable life skills through the games of baseball and softball.