Mountcastle starting to find his groove

May 8th, 2021

For more than a month, the Orioles have searched for ways to get going, moving the rookie up and down the lineup and between two defensive positions and designated hitter duty with regularity. The goal has been to help Mountcastle swing his way out of his funk at the plate, but the results, thus far at least, have been mixed. But that might be beginning to change.

Mountcastle’s first three-hit game of the season was one of the few highlights of the Orioles’ soggy loss to the Red Sox on Friday night, when they suffered a 6-2 defeat at Camden Yards in their return to the field for the first time since John Means’ no-hitter Wednesday in Seattle. Crisp and clutch in support of Means’ historic feat, the O’s were sunk by their defense and lack of situational hitting behind an inefficient Matt Harvey, who fell victim to four unearned runs after sitting through a one-hour, 38-minute rain delay.

“We just didn’t play our best baseball tonight,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Tonight wasn’t our best night on the bases and defensively, and that cost us. We had a lot of baserunners, just didn’t get the big hit. We didn’t drive in a ton of runs tonight.”

Providing half the offense was Mountcastle, whose opposite-field solo home run off Hirokazu Sawamura in the sixth was his second of the season and his first in 23 games since the Orioles’ April 8 home opener. By the end of April, Mountcastle was hitting below the Mendoza Line, prompting speculation he might benefit from a stint at the team’s alternate training site in Bowie, Md., or at Triple-A Norfolk. His struggles, Hyde said at the time, were the kind the club preferred Mountcastle work through at the big league level.

Slowly but surely, Mountcastle seems to be doing that. He also singled twice Friday and has hit safely in 10 of 13 games. He is 7-for-22 in May.

“I like when Ryan hits the ball the other way, no doubt about that,” Hyde said. “He has so much power over there, he just needs to trust it. He is going to pull plenty of homers. When he has that middle-of-the-field approach, he’s really dangerous, and you saw that tonight.”

That became an uncommon sight in the early going, with Mountcastle posting higher pull rates and lower contact rates than during his 35-game big league cameo last season, when he hit .333 with an .878 OPS. If that changes, it won’t be long before Mountcastle rejoins the top of the Orioles’ order, which, when clicking, can be potent.

The O’s first run Friday provided another example, resulting from Cedric Mullins’ double, Austin Hays’ walk and Trey Mancini’s RBI single off winning pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. Hays finished with three hits and the walk, and he added a near homer-robbing catch at the left-center-field wall in the ninth.

Mullins’ breakout has been well-documented, and Mancini (hitting .310 in his past 14 games) continues to heat up after a sluggish start. Hays has thrived since moving into the No. 2 hole between them two weeks ago, posting an OPS north of .900 in that span. Adding a locked-in Mountcastle to that mix would be a boon to an offense that ranks near the bottom of the American League in runs, on-base percentage and hitting with runners in scoring position.