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With Hays on IL, Orioles officially recall Heston Kjerstad for Tuesday’s game in Anaheim

With outfielder Austin Hays having gone to the 10-day injured list with a strained calf a day earlier, the Orioles officially recalled outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad from Triple-A Norfolk ahead of Tuesday night’s game in Anaheim.

The second overall pick of the 2020 draft out of the University of Arkansas and a consensus top 50 prospect in baseball entering 2024, Kjerstad was set to bat eighth and play right field in the second contest of a three-game set with the Los Angeles Angels. The 25-year-old made his major league debut last September — going 7-for-30 with two home runs — and was even part of the AL Division Series roster last October, but he was optioned to Norfolk at the end of spring training. Kjerstad was off to a red-hot start for the Tides, batting .349 with 10 home runs, 30 RBIs, and a 1.176 on-base plus slugging percentage in 102 plate appearances.

In 436 Triple-A plate appearances dating back to last June, the lefty-swinging Kjerstad posted a .310 average with 20 homers, 23 doubles, five triples, 62 RBIs, and a .939 OPS, making it apparent that he’s ready for an extended look in the majors. However, it remains to be seen how much he’ll play in this latest stint as the struggling Hays had already lost his starting job to Colton Cowser, who leads Baltimore with a .364 batting average and 1.200 OPS. With Ryan Mountcastle currently dealing with a sore knee, manager Brandon Hyde shifted Ryan O’Hearn to first base and regular right fielder Anthony Santander to the designated hitter spot on Tuesday, creating a starting opportunity for Kjerstad in his return to the majors.

With right-hander Grayson Rodriguez starting Tuesday’s game, eight of the 10 starters were drafted by Baltimore while Santander was a former Rule 5 pick and O’Hearn was acquired from Kansas City for cash two winters ago.

The Orioles optioned catcher David Bañuelos to Norfolk to make room for Kjerstad on the 26-man roster. Off to a nightmare 5-for-45 start this season, Hays hurt his left calf in Kansas City on Saturday night, but Hyde told reporters in Anaheim that the 2023 All-Star outfielder isn’t expected to be sidelined for too long.

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