Austin Hays doesn’t want to say the first two weeks of the regular season were like spring training to him.

He knows those games mattered. But he entered the season cold at the plate after dealing with a stomach virus that saw him lose 10 pounds. He was absent from spring training for four days, then spent the next few days trying to rehydrate and feed himself. It took him nearly a week to return to just hitting again and, after getting hit in the shoulder during his first spring training game back, a full two weeks just to start to feel like himself again.

Hays got sick again in Pittsburgh during the first weekend of April. He’s just now back to the weight and strength he had before the illnesses, he said, and finally feeling healthy enough to contribute.

“Those couple of weeks I wasn’t playing when I needed to be dialing it in and getting ready for the season,” he said. “That’s the point of spring training where you’re playing nine innings, back-to-back games. I just had to rest at that point. I wasn’t playing at all. I do have to be honest with myself and understand that I didn’t play for a couple of weeks, there might be some adjustments you need to make. It’s just unfortunate, but it is what is.”

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It’s shown in his performance: Hays is 3-for-39 to start the season. He’s not worried, though. He’s been through other slumps before, ones where he couldn’t point toward something like an illness as the culprit. The team is giving him a chance to get it right, even as Colton Cowser has started inching in on his territory. Cowser, who can play all three outfield spots, is hitting .405 with four home runs.

“I’m going to be OK, everything is going to be all right,” Hays said. “The world is not falling. This team is still really good and I’m coming to the field every day to help the team win. I know things are going to turn around for me, and we’re going to look back at the end of the season and this might be the best season I’ve had in my career. That’s how this game goes.”

He’s already identified a hitting fix. He went back through old video, looking at times when things went better, such as the first half of last year when he hit .314 and qualified him for his first All-Star game. Hays discovered that he was hitting balls down off the barrel and getting jammed, causing him to make weak contact that led to easy ground balls. He made an adjustment to hit with more of an angle, so the ball doesn’t get jammed and he can spray the ball centerfield to right-centerfield.

It hasn’t led to immediate hits, but the signs are there that he’s made progress. He’s had four batted balls with an exit velocity of more than 100 mph since making the adjustments prior to the Red Sox series, including a ball that went 104.8 mph to left-center on Monday night against the Twins and landed right in the glove of the defender.

“It’s back to some of the things we’ve done in the past,” Hays said. “The ball is not falling but the process is there, the results aren’t quite there but the contact is hard again.”

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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