When the Orioles signed José Iglesias to a free-agent contract this winter, they did so to stabilize their middle-infield defense and bring a veteran presence to a young, rebuilding club.
They had no idea he’d rake like this.
And yet here the O’s are, more than a fifth of the way through this truncated 60-game season, and Iglesias is their best hitter. He’s more than that, actually … he’s been one of the American League’s best hitters in the early going. The torrid start continued on Friday, when Iglesias matched a career high of four hits in the Orioles’ 11-0 rout of the Nationals at Nationals Park.
Now fully healthy again after pushing through a bout with left quad soreness, Iglesias is hitting .455 with 15 hits. He entered play on Friday a career .274 hitter with a .690 OPS across parts of nine big league seasons.
“He’s off to a great start and its great to see,” said skipper Brandon Hyde, who managed Iglesias way back in the 2009 Arizona Fall League. “If you would’ve seen him then until now, it makes you feel great. He is so mature and such a smart player, and he knows pitchers and how to take at-bats.”
His contributions against the Nats came as part of a team-wide breakout, with the Orioles rapping a season-high 19 hits and 11 runs off Aníbal Sánchez and four Washington relievers. That was more than enough to support Tommy Milone, who tossed six shutout innings against his former team to notch his first win in an Orioles uniform. Every Orioles starter but one recorded at least one hit, and Renato Núñez blew the game open with a three-run homer in the sixth as Baltimore snapped a four-game losing skid.
The win was the largest shutout by a team coming off a 100-loss season against a defending World Series champion in MLB history, per STATS. And it came on the heels of a four-game sweep at the hands of the Marlins, who were forced to revamp their roster earlier this week due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
"Nothing surprises me with these guys,” Hyde said. “We've had some bad losses, and we just had a tough series where we lost some games we should have won. For these guys to show up and have good at-bats right away, that doesn't surprise me about them because I've seen them do it so many times."
For weeks now, Iglesias, Núñez and Hanser Alberto -- the last of whom had two doubles and an RBI on Friday -- have paced a Baltimore offense that’s produced in fits and starts. Núñez’s 413-foot homer off Nats reliever Ryne Harper was his third in two days and fifth overall -- good enough for second place in the AL behind the Yankees’ Aaron Judge by final out on Friday. Iglesias has simply been on fire since Opening Day,
His latest effort played out like this: He doubled home a run in the first, singled in his next two at-bats off Sánchez, then added a single off Harper in the sixth and a sac fly off Wander Suero in the seventh. His seven doubles by Friday's last out were tied with Boston's J.D. Martinez for the AL lead.
“It’s been incredible to watch him,” Milone said. “We came into the league at similar times, and I remember him back in the day as a great defensive player. He works really hard on his hitting. And you’re seeing it -- he’s hitting the ball all over the place.”
This spring, Iglesias spoke at length about the influence Joey Votto had on him during the 2019 season with Cincinnati. Iglesias posted career highs in several offensive categories last season with the Reds, hitting .288 with 11 homers and 59 RBIs. This year, he said Votto and he have a standing bet to see who will compile more hits in the 60-game season.
As of Friday night? Iglesias had 15. Votto, the six-time All-Star and former MVP? He had nine.
“I think the bat, for me, has been a process over the past several years,” Iglesias said. “I feel comfortable. I can help this team in so many ways, and the bat is one of them.”