Austin Hays batted leadoff for the first time in his professional career on Wednesday. That wouldn't end up being the only first of the day for the Orioles' No. 7 prospect.
Hays hit three solo shots for the first home run hat trick in team history, but Class A Advanced Frederick dropped an 11-7 decision to Potomac in the opening game of a doubleheader. It also was his first career multi-homer game.
"This was the first game of the year that I'd hit leadoff and I think the first time since my pro debut, so I wasn't looking to change anything with my approach whatsoever," Hays said. "It didn't change anything that I do mentally at the plate."
Hays -- who took over at the top of the Keys lineup following Stephen Wilkerson's promotion to Double-A Bowie -- wasted no time acquitting himself to the leadoff spot by taking left-hander Hector Silvestre deep to left field. He also opened the third inning with a blast to left-center that snapped a 1-1 tie, then completed the trifecta by hitting a shot to left with two outs and none on in the fourth to open up a 5-1 lead.
"I was feeling confident and very relaxed and trying to stay calm," Hays said. "It's creeping in the back of your mind each time, thinking about hitting another. I was just trying to not focus on that, get a good pitch to hit and put a quality swing on it."
2017 Minor League milestones
Keys starter Cody Sedlock -- the Orioles' second-ranked prospect -- gave three runs back in the bottom of the fourth before allowing a leadoff homer to Nationals top prospect Victor Robles in the fifth. The P-Nats rallied for seven runs grab an 11-7 lead.
"It's just the same as blowing a lead at any time, it wasn't really any different [because of my homers]," Hays said. "It always [stinks] when you have the momentum and a couple plays and pitches don't go your way and now the other team is in control."
Potomac didn't let Silvestre face Hays a fourth time, replacing him with Kyle Schepel to start the sixth. The right-hander got Hays to fly to left, and the Keys managed just one baserunner the rest of the way.
Hays' big day continued a strong full-season debut. He was hitting .329/.366/.565 before going 0-for-4 in the nightcap. The Jacksonville University product earned an offseason promotion from Class A Short Season Aberdeen, skipping Class A, after posting a .336/.386/.514 slash line with four homers in 38 games last summer.
"I was very excited to hear I was going to make that jump. That's what everybody's here to do, to move up to the next highest level until you reach the ultimate goal in the Majors," Hays said. "To hear that I was going to skip a level was very exciting for me, and I'm definitely not taking it for granted."
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound outfielder is tied with four others -- including teammate and Orioles No. 4 prospect Ryan Mountcastle -- for third in the Carolina League with eight homers, while his 53 hits are tied with Carolina's Jake Gatewood for third. In three more games than last year, Hays already has doubled his home run total while cutting his strikeout rate from 20.9 percent to 14.3 percent.
"I've always been the type of player that plays better when the competition around me is better," Hays said. "It heightens my game and allows me to compete that much harder, and that's something I've always thrived on. There are a lot of good hitters around me that I can learn from and good pitchers that are making me compete really hard at the plate, and it's bringing out the best in me."
Frederick also dropped Game 2 of the doubleheader, 7-4. Catcher Alex Murphy, who hit a two-run homer in the opener, blasted a solo shot in the nightcap. Mountcastle reached twice in each game and scored twice in the nightcap.
Nationals No. 28 prospect Edwin Lora delivered the big blow in the second game with a fourth-inning grand slam off Cristian Alvarado (2-5), who allowed five runs on six hits and three walks while striking out three over 3 1/3 innings.
Potomac's Wirkin Estevez (3-3) yielded one run on six hits and two walks over six frames, striking out three.