TORONTO -- For Ryan Mountcastle, the approach really hasn’t changed. But the results certainly have.
Mountcastle continued his power surge on Tuesday in a 6-5 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, connecting for a pair of doubles and a home run to lead the charge for the Orioles’ offense. Among his past 16 hits, a dozen have gone for extra bases, while his OPS is up nearly 70 points in the past two weeks.
So, what’s the big secret?
“I don’t know,” the first baseman said with a smile and a shrug. “I’m just hitting the ball pretty hard. It seems like I've been doing that a decent amount this year, and they're finally starting to fall, which is pretty good.”
Through the first month of the season, Mountcastle had a more than respectable 45 percent hard-hit rate and a .333 expected batting average, according to Baseball Savant. But his actual batting average (.247), among other stats, lagged behind expectation.
As he said, the ball is finally starting to find the grass.
Tuesday’s 3-for-5 showing was a great example of what’s been going right for the 25-year-old. He blazed a grounder past reigning AL Gold Glove-winning third baseman Matt Chapman in the first inning, breezing into second base for a double. Two innings later, Mountcastle sent a knee-high heater into the seats in right field for his 10th home run of the season.
The opposite-field power displayed on his home run highlighted a particular point of pride for Mountcastle: he’d worked on staying inside the baseball during pregame batting practice, and then put that work to good use when the opportunity arose.
“I mean, that’s so hard to do, to drive the ball where he did out of the ballpark,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “It's special pole-to-pole power. He doesn’t have to pull off anything.”
The home run put Baltimore on the board first, but the O’s would need more in a back-and-forth game. In the fifth, Mountcastle delivered with another opposite-field knock, flaring a ground-rule double down the right-field line.
With a 79-mph exit velocity, the two-bag bloop only carried a .110 expected batting average, per Baseball Savant. But considering Mountcastle’s hardest-hit of the night -- a 109.9-mph liner in his final at-bat -- landed in the center fielder’s mitt, maybe it all evened out.
“Man, he's swinging the bat great,” Hyde said. “Love the middle-of-the-field approach and just staying on the baseball well.”
Mountcastle made a crucial play with his glove in the eighth, leaping to snag a line drive off the bat of George Springer. With a runner sprinting on contact from second base, the Blue Jays were in position to score the tying run. Instead, Mountcastle ended the inning.
But Baltimore shortstop Jorge Mateo, may have upstaged Mountcastle with the game’s top defensive gem in the next frame. On a bouncing ball to short, Mateo -- first among Major League shortstops with 11 defensive runs saved this season -- lurched forward and made a barehanded play to nab Bo Bichette at first.
Of course, the drama baked into that moment wouldn’t have been possible if not for the preceding three hits, two RBIs and two runs scored from Mountcastle. He’s been a dangerous hitter all along, as he was last year when he led all big league rookies with 33 home runs. Now, he’s got the production to back up the promise.
One of the scariest elements to Mountcastle's profile is that he’s been steadily effective against all pitch types. According to Baseball Savant, he has a slugging percentage of .425 or better against fastballs, offspeed and breaking pitches.
But does he have a preference?
“I can’t give away my secrets,” Mountcastle said jokingly. “Not really anything in particular. Just anything over the middle of the plate, it's always a good pitch to hit. Whether it's curveball, slider, a fastball, whatever it is. Anything over the middle, I usually like to swing at it.”