NORFOLK, Va. — Jackson Holliday knows all eyes will be on him when he steps to the plate against a left-handed pitcher, because that’s the main reason Orioles general manager Mike Elias gave when justifying the decision to send Holliday here.

Holliday doesn’t begrudge Elias’ judgment in that category, either. The 20-year-old knows he struggled in his few matchups against left-handed pitching during spring training. He faced some of baseball’s best southpaws, such as All-Star A.J. Minter, but isn’t making excuses. “Nine strikeouts in 14 at-bats is never good, no matter who you’re facing,” Holliday said.

He said that in the dugout at Harbor Park before Friday’s Triple-A opening day.

Holliday’s .311 average during spring training — and the way Holliday blew through the minors in 2023 — may have warranted a place in Baltimore for Thursday’s major league opening day. But Holliday has flushed any disappointment from his system. After all, he said, a 20-year-old playing in Triple-A is a feat unto itself.

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If anything, it’s just another motivating factor from which Holliday can pull.

It was all the more poetic for Holliday’s first plate appearance of the Triple-A season to come against left-hander Mason Montgomery — the Tampa Bay Rays’ top pitching prospect. Holliday dug in and made an immediate statement.

The ball leapt off his bat and cleared the right-center field fence with ease.

“I’ve gotta crush lefties,” Holliday said pregame. So he crushed a lefty.

“Felt pretty good to start the season with a homer,” Holliday said postgame, adding that he had “been thinking about hitting a homer all day. Just would be great to hit a homer in the first game.”

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Holliday is just one of several Orioles prospects who swallowed the disappointment of missing out on Baltimore’s opening day roster and instead shifted his focus to mashing for the Tides. Coby Mayo lashed a single at 111.3 mph. Heston Kjerstad notched two hits and two RBIs. Connor Norby recorded four knocks.

As baseball’s top prospect, however, there is always ample attention paid to the infielder whose father was a seven-time All-Star.

The decision to leave Holliday off the Orioles’ major league roster came as somewhat of a surprise because Elias said throughout the offseason that Holliday had a strong possibility of making it. It didn’t shock Holliday, though. He said he woke up the morning of the decision with a feeling he’d be back with the Tides.

When discussing that decision, Elias pointed to Holliday’s lack of appearances — or results — against high-level left-handed pitching. He also wanted Holliday to receive more repetitions at second base (Holliday was charged with a throwing error Friday).

“I played pretty well, but I knew I had been struggling vs. lefties,” Holliday said. “It was obvious for me to feel that, and that was one of the main reasons, right? I didn’t kill lefties.”

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As the spring progressed, Holliday settled in against southpaws. He clobbered a grand slam against Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Yusei Kikuchi. But Holliday has a limited sample against lefties in his time in the minors. He still hit .296 last year, but his on-base-plus-slugging percentage was about 200 percentage points lower than it was against righties.

Holliday also noticed how he didn’t start back-to-back games as the spring neared an end. That steeled him for the words he heard from management.

“Obviously, it’s a little disappointing, but I’m glad to be here,” Holliday said. “I’m excited to face that challenge and a little bit of adversity. It’s got a little bit of fire to make that team.”

That fire showed itself with a three-hit, four-RBI performance in his first game Friday.

Before Holliday arrived at Harbor Park for his season debut, his dad, Matt Holliday, sent him a text. He told his son to compete, to have fun and to “dominate them.”

Jackson Holliday knows, no matter what, he can accomplish the first two of those points. His first plate appearance offers reassurance that he can do all three.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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