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Hyde trying to get struggling Hays going in Orioles lineup

BALTIMORE — When having everyone healthy over the last few years, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde rarely had to think about his starting outfield.

Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and Anthony Santander were his guys, and that remained the case for the fourth straight Opening Day just 2 1/2 weeks ago.

Change over the course of 2024 may not have been difficult to anticipate, but the effects of a red-hot start from rookie Colton Cowser and the early struggles of Hays have already appeared in Hyde’s lineup construction. Though Hays, Mullins, and Santander were the starting outfield for the first four games of the new season as well as two games in Pittsburgh, that veteran trio hasn’t seen the field together since then with Cowser deservedly starting each of the last six games — four of them in left field.

With Hays entering Monday just 3-for-35 on the season, Hyde is trying to give the 2023 All-Star outfielder opportunities to get going at the plate, but it’s easier said than done when Cowser has been the club’s most productive player to this early point. Hays started the first two games of the Milwaukee series and broke a career-worst 0-for-26 slide with a single on Saturday, but the peripheral numbers and eyeball test haven’t suggested an imminent breakout for the 28-year-old, who batted .228 with a .667 on-base plus slugging percentage over the second half of last season.

“You never want to see a guy go through a slow start,” said Hyde prior to Monday’s series opener against Minnesota. “For me, that’s what it is for Austin a little bit. It’s just a little bit of a slow start after an interrupted spring training [with an illness]. I want to believe that he’s going to get it going. I’m going to try to find ways to try to get him going. It’s not easy because Colton’s done what he’s done so far, Ced’s one of the best center fielders in the game, and Santander’s been a 30-home run guy in right. I’m trying to find ways to get Austin going for us, and he’s still a huge part of this team.”

With Santander also in the midst of an 8-for-53 slide after a hitless series against the Brewers, Hyde gave him the night off and Hays the start in left field with Cowser moving over to right. And though it’s too early to be drawing definitive conclusions about playing time, it would serve Hays well to get going with the bat sooner than later, especially with the lefty-swinging Cowser even homering off a southpaw pitcher on Sunday.

His track record affords Hays some benefit of the doubt, but there’s also a reason why Cowser was the fifth overall pick in the 2021 draft and a mainstay in various top 100 prospect lists over the last few years. Ultimately, the Orioles are going to put their best players on the field on a nightly basis, and we could already be witnessing a sea change.

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“There are going to be four guys that aren’t going to play on a nightly basis,” said Hyde about the use of his bench. “You never want to bury somebody, and I’m very sensitive to that. I want to try to play as many people as I possibly can while trying to win major league baseball games. I want to keep everybody involved. … I’m just going to do the best I can to mix and match all year.”

Bradish starting in Bowie

Two months after general manager Mike Elias announced starting pitcher Kyle Bradish was dealing with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day, last year’s ace of the rotation is ready to begin a rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie on Tuesday.

That figures to serve as a significant litmus test for the health of his elbow as he’ll pitch in a less controlled — and more competitive — environment after completing a throwing progression and throwing bullpen sessions and live batting practice in recent weeks. On Sunday, Bradish told reporters his velocity has been normal and he’s feeling good.

“I think we’re hoping somewhere between two and three innings. In between 40 and 50 pitches would be ideal,” said Hyde about the plan for Bradish’s first rehab start with the Baysox. “We’ll kind of see how he feels after every inning, but that would be best-case scenario.”

Cowser named AL Player of the Week

To no surprise after he went 10-for-23 with four home runs, four doubles, 12 RBIs, three walks, and a 1.612 OPS, Cowser was named AL Player of the Week on Monday.

“He’s given us a huge spark. He had a heck of a week — just from the power, the speed, the ability to use the whole field,” Hyde said. “He’s played really good defense for us — played really good left field in Boston and played center field out here a couple nights ago. The ability to take a walk and understand the strike zone, I think that’s huge for him and huge for any major league hitter.

“It’s awesome to see him come on the scene early in the year this year and get some huge hits for us.”

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