Orioles activate outfielder DJ Stewart to rejoin struggling lineup

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BALTIMORE — With their offense struggling and having lost Austin Hays to a hamstring injury last weekend, the Orioles activated outfielder DJ Stewart from the injured list ahead of Saturday night’s game against Boston.

Stewart, 27, had been sidelined with a left hamstring strain since early March and completed his rehabilitation work at the alternate training site in Bowie over the first week of the season. His return became a greater point of interest with the Baltimore bats struggling and rookie Ryan Mountcastle having his difficulties in left field over the last few games.

(Outfielder DJ Stewart discusses his return from the 10-day injured list.)

Manager Brandon Hyde inserted Stewart in the fifth spot in the order and in left field for Saturday’s game against the Red Sox while Mountcastle was serving as the designated hitter. Entering Saturday with 91 strikeouts and an on-base percentage of .265 — both ranking last in the American League — the Orioles hope Stewart can provide a lift for an offense that hasn’t gotten much production beyond the contributions of center fielder Cedric Mullins and catcher Pedro Severino over the opening week of the season.

In parts of three major league seasons, Stewart has batted .224 with a .334 on-base percentage in 301 plate appearances and posted a career .358 OBP in the minors.

“He’s always been a high on-base guy, and it’s going to be nice to plug somebody in there,” Hyde said. “We’re having a tough time getting on base and working walks and getting in hitter’s counts. Hopefully, DJ can bring that in the middle part of our order.”

Stewart was off to a good start in the Grapefruit League with two home runs and four runs batted in his first eight at-bats before suffering the hamstring injury on March 5. The 2015 first-round pick from Florida State had a bizarre 2020 at the plate in which he started 0-for-14 with eight strikeouts and six walks before being optioned to the alternate site. The lefty-swinging outfielder returned to the majors in early September and batted .230 with seven homers and a .907 on-base plus slugging percentage over his final 90 plate appearances to finish with a solid .809 OPS despite an ugly .193 batting average for the abbreviated 2020 season.

Hoping to recapture his success from last September and the early spring, Stewart should have an opportunity for everyday at-bats while Hays remains on the 10-day IL. Stewart learned he was being summoned to Baltimore on Friday when the Orioles sent down utility infielder Pat Valaika, but he kept the news a secret from wife Brooke until they were driving to Camden Yards on Saturday.

“She thought she was dropping me off at the alternate site,” Stewart said. “She was like, ‘Hey, we’re going in the completely different direction. Where are we going?’ I was like, ‘We’re going to Baltimore.’ She’s like, ‘No way! We’re going to see fans and stuff?’ It was really, really cool just to see the excitement on her face.”

Hyde said Hays will be back “soon enough” and is “doing very well” in his recovery without providing a specific timetable for his return. The 25-year-old was scheduled to jog and take batting practice at the alternate site on Saturday, but he’ll complete a progression with his right hamstring to avoid any setbacks.