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Friday Bird Droppings: It’s Austin Hays’ world and we’re just living in it

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The O’s right fielder collected three extra-base hits and two outfield assists yesterday to continue his sensational spring. Someone’s ready for the season to start.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Good morning, Camden Chatters.

Step aside, Mike Trout. Austin Hays is your 2021 AL MVP. You heard it here first.

We’re just six days away from real baseball, and if the 25-year-old O’s outfielder could bottle his spring training performance and carry it to Baltimore with him, he’d be in for a spectacular season indeed.

Hays was already red-hot at the plate entering yesterday’s game. But last night’s exhibition outing against the Pirates, the second and final spring game aired by MASN, was Hays’ most outstanding yet. At the plate, Hays was a one-man wrecking crew, smacking three extra-base hits — including a go-ahead three-run homer in the fourth — and falling just a single shy of the cycle. He’s now 18-for-44 in Grapefruit League play, a .409 batting average that leads all qualified MLB hitters. His OPS of 1.197 ranks fifth.

Yet arguably Hays’ most impressive performance came in the field — specifically, with his powerful right arm. He threw out not one but two Pirates baserunners attempting to score, providing the margin of difference in a 10-9 Orioles victory. The first came during a first-inning Pirates rally when Hays cut down Erik Gonzalez on a single to right field.

The second play, two innings later, was an absolute stunner. Hays, after catching a fly in medium-deep right field, unleashed one of the most eye-popping throws you’ll ever see, a bulls-eye of a cannon that nabbed the runner — who I thought would score easily on the play — with plenty of room to spare.

It’s plays like that that get me giddy about the season Hays could have in store. Yes, his offensive numbers could be a bit of a mirage, with his stats inflated by facing minor league-caliber pitchers or hurlers who are still shaking off the rust. But you can’t fake excellent defense. With Hays in an outfield corner alongside Cedric Mullins in center — as has been a common defensive arrangement this spring — the Birds could have one of their best defensive outfields in years.

And at the plate, while Hays probably won’t be sniffing a 1.197 OPS in the regular season, he still has plenty of offensive upside, as his sizzling spring can attest. If he can stay healthy, there’s reason to think Hays could have a breakout 2021 season in store.

Links

Hays has a big night, but Akin struggles (O’s win, 10-9) - Steve Melewski
The news wasn’t all good for the Orioles last night. Keegan Akin had another dud of a performance to raise his spring ERA to 10.00. The conventional wisdom is that he’s already assured of a rotation spot, but he sure isn’t making anyone feel very good about that.

With spot on Orioles roster assured, Matt Harvey doesn’t want to recapture his old form. He wants to be better. - Baltimore Sun
You have to admire the Dark Knight’s willingness to adapt and try new things instead of hoping he can regain the natural talent that once made him a star. I’m skeptical that he’ll be able to have much success at this point in his career, but it would be a great story if he can.

Wade LeBlanc requests, and receives, his release from Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com
In other rotation candidate news, we apparently won’t be seeing a return engagement in Baltimore for Wade LeBlanc this season. Although considering Akin’s performance, the O’s might want to keep LeBlanc’s phone number handy.

Bruce Zimmermann eyeing spot on Orioles roster - Orioles.com
And since we’re talking about the rotation, we can’t forget Zimmermann, who has outpitched nearly all the other candidates this spring. Starter or reliever, he deserves a spot on the Opening Day roster, and I’d say that even if he weren’t a Maryland native.

Orioles birthdays and history

Is today your birthday? Happy birthday! You have four O’s birthday buddies, none of whom played more than 22 games with the club. They include righty Mickey Weston (who turns 60), outfielders Jarvis Brown (54) and Jesus Tavarez (50), and lefty Dan Morogiello (66). Morogiello pitched just one year in the majors but made it a good one, working long relief for the 1983 Orioles and getting a World Series ring for his trouble.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a very special birthday: my grandmother turns 108 years young today. Happy birthday, Grandma! Here’s to another 108.

The Orioles haven’t done much of note on this day in history (unless you count their 1982 acquisitions of Joe Nolan and Glenn Gulliver as notable). But in an alternate, COVID-free universe, we’d be commemorating the one-year anniversary of Opening Day 2020, when the O’s were scheduled to host the Yankees for their earliest ever start to a regular season. Alas — it didn’t happen, and Camden Yards sat alone and empty that day, aside from a few passersby (like my parents).

Fortunately, we’ll get a do-over on the home opener festivities in just under two weeks, knock on wood. Even with a limited crowd, it’ll be cause for celebration.