Hayes plagued by 'frustrating' back issue all season

October 5th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- Following the Pirates’ penultimate game of the regular season, revealed that he has been dealing with a back issue for the entire year.

“For the most part, I’ve just been trying to find ways to really just get on the field, stay on the field,” Hayes said after the Pirates’ 8-7 loss to the Cardinals in 10 innings on Tuesday night at PNC Park. “It’s kind of been frustrating. Some days, I feel pretty terrible. I tried to do what I can to where I can be out on the field and things of that nature.”

Hayes went on the 10-day injured list on Aug. 16 (retroactive to Aug. 13) with a mid-muscle back strain that caused him to miss a handful of games. Hayes dealt with low back discomfort in late September as well, but he managed to avoid another trip to the injured list. But until Tuesday night, he had never publicly said that his back had been bothering him for the last several months.

Hayes said that his “first line of order” this offseason is to get healthy. He added that he has learned more about mobility over the course of the season. Come next Spring Training, Hayes believes he will be better equipped to manage his body and feel physically good on a day-to-day basis.

Director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said that the team will be "very involved" with Hayes during the offseason.

"It'll be a collaborative effort to make sure that he's as 100 percent as he can be coming into Spring Training," Tomczyk said.

Over the last couple of weeks in particular, Hayes has limited the amount of swings he has taken in order to be healthy enough to play. He noted instances where he has felt pinches or aches, but he has tried to go out and compete regardless.

"He expects to play every single day," Tomczyk said. "I know Ke' had a goal coming in that he wanted to play every single day. That's not even counting practice workload. He gets after it most days, and that's the balance. We're going to continue to help him. We're going to continue to collaborate on the best ways forward for Ke' to feel the best that he can."

“I’m not one to make excuses. It was unfortunate that I had to deal with it, but I tried to make the best of what I had each and every day, try to do the best that I could in my at-bats. I didn't always feel the greatest, but I tried to do what I could each and every day to feel the best that I could to go out there and compete,” Hayes said.

When the season first began, Hayes felt particularly “terrible,” which resulted in him making errors on routine plays. In May, the third baseman had three errors in a span of five games. Additionally, he committed errors on May 21 and May 22, the only time in his career that he has had defensive misplays in back-to-back games.

Hayes began feeling more normal as the season went along. He noted that he has also started wearing the PitchCom devices as well, which has helped him out in the field.

Along with the back, Hayes has also dealt with left shoulder discomfort and left knee discomfort. Even with these ailments, he has played 135 games, the second most on the team.

"I think one of the places that Ke' has really grown this year is in his prehab and recovery," said manager Derek Shelton. "Being a Major League player, the training room is not for just injuries. It's for prevention of injuries. The weight room, also. I think we've seen guys in the game today get really good at that before games and really good at recovery after games, and Ke' took a major step in that regard this year."

Even as Hayes has battled the back issues, he has still been one of the Bucs’ most productive players. Coming into play, he led Pittsburgh in both bWAR (4.2) and fWAR (3.0). On Monday, Hayes stole his 20th base of the season, becoming the first Pirate to achieve the feat since Starling Marte in 2019. There’s also his defensive excellence. Entering Tuesday, Hayes ranked in the 99th percentile in Outs Above Average and was tied with Brendan Rodgers for the most Defensive Runs Saved among all fielders (23).

“I think he’s continuing to develop,” Shelton said. “There’s some things offensively we’re still working on, but if you look at his defensive metrics, he’s the best third baseman in baseball.

“The fact that he got to 20 bags was important. It was important for me going into these last three games. It was important for [first base coach] Tarrik [Brock] because Tarrik spent a lot of time with him. And I think it was important for Ke’ because we’ve seen a guy become a pretty good basestealer. … I think there’s definitely room for growth, but we’re also talking about a guy who’s extremely valuable to us in terms of what he brings.”