Just a few hours after welcoming back Austin Hays from the 10-day injured list on Tuesday, the Orioles lost Anthony Santander to a left ankle sprain expected to sideline him for at least two to four weeks.
The injury continues a rough start for a Baltimore outfield that was supposed to be the strength of the 2021 club. Other than the hot start from center fielder Cedric Mullins — who entered Wednesday with a .333 average and .882 on-base plus slugging percentage in 73 plate appearances — little has gone right for the group from health or statistical standpoints in the early stages of the season. Losing Santander, who was voted the club’s most valuable player in the abbreviated 2020, is the latest challenge for an Orioles offense that’s struggled out of the gate.
“We have more depth than we have had here with me in the last couple years, but injuries do happen and sprained ankles happen,” said Hyde about Santander and the outfield before Wednesday’s game in Miami. “Tony will be back. I was just really pleased with the results we got this morning because when I went out there, I was thinking the worst. Seeing him this morning and him feeling good about it only being a sprained ankle, it feels good for everybody. He’s a huge part of our team. Now, it’s time for other guys to get opportunity, pick up the slack, be a run producer for us. But I like the guys we’ll be putting in there in his spot.”
Injuries have been all too common in the 26-year-old’s career, but Santander was also off to a slow start with a .196 average, three extra-base hits, and a .551 OPS in his first 62 plate appearances. Though the sprained ankle figures to quiet any trade whispers that have lingered since the offseason, the Orioles will need others to get going with the bat in Santander’s place.
Entering his first full major league season with high expectations after an impressive 2020 debut, Ryan Mountcastle entered Wednesday batting just .177 with one home run, four doubles, 21 strikeouts, and a .490 OPS in his first 65 plate appearances. Meanwhile, the oft-injured Hays needs to show he can simply stay on the field after sustaining a hamstring strain during the opening series of the season in Boston. After beginning the season on the 10-day IL with a hamstring injury of his own sustained in early March, DJ Stewart has been the best of the corner outfield bunch with a .368 on-base percentage and .775 OPS in his first 38 plate appearances since being activated.
Rookie outfielder Ryan McKenna was recalled to take Santander’s place on the 26-man roster just a day after being optioned for the returning Hays, but an extended absence from Santander will likely spark discussion about the possibility of prospect Yusniel Diaz being promoted to the majors. The 24-year-old Cuban outfielder was the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade three years ago and is currently working at the club’s alternate training site in Bowie, but he hasn’t played professional games above the Double-A level because of the COVID-19 pandemic.