TORONTO — Austin Hays flipped his bat down in defiance.

It’s only June but already it’s been a long season for Hays. It started with illness in spring training that carried over into the season, costing him 10 pounds and a weeks worth of at-bats. Then came the calf strain that sidelined him for three weeks. And all the while, Hays was greatly underperforming, hitting .111 at the time of his injured list placement on April 20 as his spot was taken over by Colton Cowser.

But the sun has started to shine a bit brighter for Hays recently. He’s hitting .294 since returning from the injured list on May 13, including three multi-hit games.

This moment in Toronto, though, was the clearest sign that Hays was on the right track. He watched as the ball he just hit traveled 399 feet to left field for his first home run of the season, then ran around the bases with urgency.

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A few innings later, Hays did it again. This one, a solo shot, put the Orioles clearly ahead as they beat the Blue Jays 7-2 in the first of a four-game series. Hays was much calmer this time, just reacting with a simple chest bump as he crossed home.

The first one was out of the way. This one was just back to business for him.

“It feels really good,” Hays said. “I’ve been confident since I came off the IL, I’ve been swinging it really good. I swung it good through my rehab and it’s just starting to show up now.”

Hays — one of the four survivors of the rebuild — had the best season of his career last year, making the All-Star team while hitting .314 with nine home runs in the first half of the season. His performance trailed off in the second half, batting .238 after the break.

As he struggled to start this season, and Cowser solidified himself as a major leaguer, Hays saw his playing time diminish, oftentimes being used in more of a platoon role. But he used that time on the injured list to build back up to his weight prior to the illness and to get his body right. He now has five hits in his last three games as he aims to take back his daily spot in left field.

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“Before I hurt my calf, it was a rough 30 at-bats or so,” Hays said. “I started swinging the bat pretty good but then I got hurt so I had time to put my size and strength back on that I lost during spring training and I really started feeling like myself. Now I’m able to drive the ball like I was before I lost that weight, so I’m feeling good.”

Anthony Santander also homered in the Orioles’ win, his second in three games, and Ramón Urías added another one in the top of the ninth inning off reliever Ryan Burr. Connor Norby made his MLB debut, playing second base and going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman. He was replaced by Urías in the seventh inning.

“It’s the big leagues, there is never an easy landing spot,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He did fine, it was nice I’m sure to get his first start and his first at-bats out of the way. He’ll be back in there tomorrow. Cool to see him make his debut and it was nice for us to get a win.”

Grayson Rodriguez pitched 6 2/3 innings, his longest start of the season, while giving up just one run, a solo homer by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the fourth.

Rodriguez, who struck out 10 in six innings in his last start, said his goal on Monday was to be as efficient as possible. He excelled by getting ahead of hitters and using his four-seam fastball to get early contact, pitching what Hyde said was Rodriguez’s best start of the year.

“You don’t see him reaching back trying to throw 100 every pitch,” Hyde said. “It’s a lot of 95, 96 which is still firm. He’s got rise, he’s got carry. He’s able to do things once he gets ahead of hitters. A ton of at-bats that were three pitches or less and that’s going to be the key for any of these guys to go deep in the game.”

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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