Hays: 'I need to continue to prove myself'

September 19th, 2020

As this 60-game sprint of the 2020 regular season races toward its final leg, glimpses of what the future could look like in Baltimore have been plain to see. For all the headlines garnered by , , and others, one young player who did the heavy lifting in that department last September has flown under the radar: . Perhaps Friday was an indication he will finish the season with a flourish.

The impact Hays can still bring was evident in Baltimore's 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, when the outfielder homered as part of his best game since returning from the injured list on Monday. Pulling a Tyler Glasnow changeup out on a line to left field in the fourth, Hays provided all the Orioles’ offense as they dropped a season-high eight games below .500 (22-30).

“It was nice to see him swing the bat like that,” O's manager Brandon Hyde said. “I know Austin wants to get going a little bit and swinging the bat better, so tonight was a good night for him.”

For the rest of the Orioles, it was a different story. By managing just four singles off Glasnow and four Rays relievers, they wasted a gritty six-inning outing from in what was the righty’s first quality start in more than two years. It was also the second time they’ve lost this year to Glasnow, who struck out 10 to lower his career ERA vs. Baltimore to 2.08 in six starts.

Tampa Bay pitching retired 18 of Baltimore's last 19 hitters; the O’s did not manage another hit after Hays lined a hard single off Oliver Drake in the sixth. Hays also drew a six-pitch walk against Glasnow in the third.

“I need to continue to prove myself,” Hays said. “I am a young player, so every at-bat and every single inning and every game is just another opportunity to show what I can do.”

Around this time a year ago, Hays burst onto the scene with a series of September homers and highlight-worthy catches in center field. He was a bright spot in a grueling rebuilding year, then the first of this wave of prospects to arrive in Baltimore. But it has been a disjointed 2020 for Hays, who began the year scuffling at the plate and then missed a month to a non-displaced rib fracture.

When Hays returned, he’d been pushed to left by ' re-emergence in center field, and managed just one extra-base hit in five games prior to Friday. He’s now hitting .227 with two homers and a .603 OPS through 25 games this season.

“Tonight, I felt the most comfortable at the plate [since coming back],” Hays said. “Going and missing a month, I basically went through a weeklong Spring Training, and I am still working out those kinks you usually have time to work on before the season starts. I feel like I am almost at that place now.”

What remains to be seen is how exactly Hays fits into the Orioles’ plans for 2021 and beyond. Whereas last September he was one of a few bright spots, the calculus has changed now with Mullins, and Mountcastle in the outfield mix and playing well. The organization’s top two offensive players, and , are also outfielders but are injured.

Hays’ ability to play all three outfield spots certainly helps; it’s something nobody else in that mix can say. Still, these final eight games feel important for him to leave a fresh impression heading into the offseason.

“Getting consistent at-bats is the most important part of it for me,” Hays said. “So far I like left field. As long as my name is on the lineup card, I’ll play wherever I need to play to be a part of this team.”