For a fortnight, there we were — watching Jackson Holliday, 20, play for the Orioles alongside fellow former top prospects Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, hitting behind Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg, and rounding out what had the makings of a dream lineup for a young team that’s only getting better.

It wasn’t going well for Holliday, though, and general manger Mike Elias said Friday that when the Orioles brass determined that waiting to address those struggles wouldn’t have any real benefit, they optioned Holliday back to Triple-A Norfolk. It’s the latest decision in a fraught month for the Orioles and Holliday, and Elias’ own comments back that up.

“Ultimately, do I like the way that this has gone in April?” Elias said. “No, and I feel responsible for that.”

That part is right. It’s up to him, and the extent he talked through how it has played out in his media session Friday suggests nothing was incredibly straightforward in all this. Coming out of spring training, he said, “it was hard for me to know exactly where he was based on the evidence that I was working with,” alluding to the fact that Holliday had held his own in Triple-A a year earlier and looked “pretty good” in spring training.

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It was, in his words, a “pretty borderline” call to start Holliday in Norfolk. It felt more obvious as the Orioles offense was scuffling that they add him to the roster when they did. This call is probably a borderline one, too. He allowed that it’s “definitely not easy on anyone involved,” and said it’s a “very unique case.” He was asked whether Holliday would have been sent down for platoon-related reasons had the results been better and said it was “very possible.”

One phrase summed it up nicely: “None of this is ideal,” Elias said.

We call the Orioles a data-driven organization for a reason, but it’s more that the data informs their decisions and they believe their edge is how they interpret and apply the information — objective and subjective — available to them.

Strip away all the roster considerations, all the specters and ghosts that hovered around the Orioles’ decisions with Holliday, and I always came back to one thought. The majors were where we’d learn whether Holliday was ready. The Orioles have never publicly communicated a belief that growth or development can occur in environments where players are comfortable. Their position has always been the opposite: Players need to be challenged, and challenging them at earlier ages has the potential to be exponentially beneficial.

Minor league baseball has proven easy for Holliday. All four levels of it, all before he turned 20. I believed, and still do, that the sooner he got to Baltimore, the sooner we’d know where he was as a player right now. He was clearly not challenged in his 10 games in Triple-A before he was called up, but as we know, that was relatively meaningless. The majors gave Holliday “very specific, very intense feedback,” Elias said. The Orioles saw lefty starters back on the probable opponent chart and decided he’d be better off working things out playing daily in Norfolk.

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Holliday struggled with major league velocity, as well as pitchers’ ability to locate high-quality pitches at the edges of the strike zone. In Norfolk, he’ll address the first part by trying to shorten up his stride and loading patterns to allow him to get into his swing more quickly. Instead of having to gear up for fastballs and thus being exposed to pitches on the outer half or that have different shapes, he’ll be ready for it all.

It probably won’t take long, even though the game portion of his workday will not provide the challenges he faced in the majors. Early last year in Delmarva — and, yes, let’s remember Holliday started in Low-A last year — Holliday determined that he should be exhibiting more pull power on an off day and decided to make the adjustments immediately. Before long, he was pulling line drives on pitches he felt he should have been before. He can do this really quickly. Elias expects as much and, ultimately, that will be what makes this decision the right one.

He said recently that, in close decisions, he’ll “tend to err on the side of the one that’s more easily correctable.” That’s how he described the addition of Holliday so quickly into the season. This reversal of that reversal was probably a really difficult one.

And yet, as difficult as all these calls on Holliday have been, this was probably the easiest. Why? Because Holliday is going to get better in Norfolk, just as he would have gotten better here, and Holliday will be back helping the Orioles win games before long. It might not be in a fortnight, but once it arrives, it’ll be forever.

Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland.

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