Austin Hays' return from the injured list is going just fine.The fifth-ranked Orioles prospect homered, doubled twice, knocked in five runs and scored three times as Triple-A Norfolk outslugged Durham, 10-9, on Friday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Austin Hays' return from the injured list is going just fine.
The fifth-ranked Orioles prospect homered, doubled twice, knocked in five runs and scored three times as Triple-A Norfolk outslugged Durham, 10-9, on Friday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
After striking out swinging in the first inning, Hays doubled down the right-field line off righty Sam McWilliams to drive in Jesús Sucre and Jack Reinheimer in the third. A groundout in the fifth was followed in the seventh by a long solo homer to center, his ninth of the season and second with Norfolk.
"There were two strikes, so I was just trying to let the ball get deep," Hays said. "I took a breaking ball down the pitch before that. He [Vidal Nuño III] tried to elevate the fastball there and just didn't get it up enough."
Gameday box score
The 24-year-old outfielder collected another double in the eighth, again driving in Sucre and Reinheimer. The five RBIs were one short of the career high he posted when he homered twice for Class A Advanced Frederick on June 18, 2017.
Both doubles, Hays said, came on breaking balls, something he was looking for after McWilliams retired him in the first.
"I was trying to see the ball up in the zone so I wouldn't chase down again, like I did in the first at-bat," he said. "I was able to get a swing on them."
Hays made his Triple-A debut on June 8 but landed on the seven-day IL two weeks later. He played five games with Class A Short Season Aberdeen before rejoining the Tides on Thursday.
"It feels great to get back to Triple-A," he said. "I'm just trying to get into the swing of things, getting into a rhythm and routine. Tonight was a good start."
The road back hasn't taken as long for Hays this time, explaining that regaining his form took longer after a thumb injury in March.
"I don't think I took as many setbacks so, hopefully, it won't take me nearly as many at-bats to try and get in that midseason form and for everything to click in," he said. "To catch up to the fastball and recognizing the curveball, I feel like I'm a little closer to being at that point."
The 2016 third-round pick is batting .261 with nine homers, 11 doubles, 28 RBIs and 25 runs scored in 40 games across four levels this season. Hays appeared in 20 games in the big leagues in 2017, racking up 13 hits -- including a homer and three doubles -- and drove in eight runs in 60 at-bats.
That short time with the Orioles made Hays even hungrier to prove he belongs in the bigs.
"It was a lifelong dream to be able to make my debut, but just because I've had a cup of coffee in the big leagues doesn't make me a big leaguer," he said. "Getting to experience that lifestyle and just everything that comes along with it, it feels like it was a really long time already and it's only been two years."
Part of the process, Hays knows, is staying healthy. Baseball is a game of reps and missing time not only diminishes your chance to advance but the all-important timing and balance at the plate and in the field.
"I'm still right there where I was, not only to stay healthy but with the health comes your game and your experiences and learning -- from the lessons, from mistakes, from playing every day," he said. "That feeling of the flow of the game and the rhythm you get into -- the routines and the mind-set you have when you go up to the plate -- those are big things that can't be replaced. You learn through playing the game, so I have definitely lost a lot by dealing with what I have dealt with the last two years."
In the meantime, the Jacksonville University product enjoys seeing some of his teammates get their chance, and is always free to give some advice on life in the majors.
"I'm always happy to see guys that I have played with over the years get their opportunity," Hays said. "I played with [O's No. 15 prospect] DJ Stewart for two years and he got off to a really hot start this year and went up and got his opportunity before he suffered his injury. He's back here rehabbing right now and it's good to see him healthy and back on the field."
Jace Peterson chipped in two hits, including a double, and three RBIs for the Tides.
Jesús Sánchez, MLB.com's No. 33 overall prospect, smacked a solo homer in the fifth for his first Triple-A hit for Durham. Rays No. 14 prospectJoe McCarthy homered, doubled, walked twice and drove in a pair of runs, while 12th-ranked Nick Solak added a solo shot.
Brian Stultz is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianjstultz.