Orioles infielder Jorge Mateo has faith in his swing after difficult May

Mateo hit .333 in April but just .128 in May. He feels he’s been hitting the ball hard and had bad luck.

Published 6/3/2023 8:26 a.m. EDT, Updated 6/3/2023 10:12 a.m. EDT

Jorge Mateo #3 of the Baltimore Orioles hits an infield single that scored a run against the San Francisco Giants in the second inning on June 02, 2023 in San Francisco, California.

SAN FRANCISCO — With the way things have gone for Jorge Mateo of late, the Orioles shortstop won’t mind the way he drove in a run in the second inning of Friday night’s win against the Giants. It was basically a swinging bunt, trickling down the third-base line, and it worked.

Mateo, after all, will take them any way they come.

Mateo had a great first month; he had a poor second month. But there are still four months to play, four months to find a semblance of consistency. That’s the challenge ahead. Mateo may not reach the heights of April again, but he can’t afford to plummet to the lows of May, either.

There must be an in-between, a way for his dynamic glove and baserunning to complement what he does at the plate.

“I think you can say it’s just the way baseball goes sometimes,” Mateo said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “Feel good. Still a long season to go. Just got to keep working hard and hopefully the results come with that.”

Mateo got off to one of the best starts of any player in baseball. In April, he hit .333 with a 1.044 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He cranked five doubles and six homers in that month.

The eye-popping numbers of April came with a major change to Mateo’s mechanics. He ditched the leg kick he used last season for a smaller toe tap, and he quieted his upper-body movements to ensure his timing improved. He began with his hands already loaded back, so all he needed to do was stride forward with his toe tap and make hard contact.

In that first month, Mateo averaged an exit velocity of 90.8 mph, according to Statcast — four full miles per hour faster than he averaged in 2022.

But then the calendar shifted to May, and with it came a different reality.

Mateo hit .128 in May with a .316 OPS. He smacked two doubles — his only extra-base hits of the month — and his average exit velocity reduced to 87.3 mph. As he struggled, Mateo’s hands occasionally crept back into bad habits. He added an extra movement at times, drawing his hands back in a deeper load before swinging, and the tiniest adjustment threw off his timing.

“I think things are still going pretty well, and if people are paying attention, a lot of the balls I hit are just right at guys,” Mateo said. “Unfortunately, that’s the way things go sometimes. They’re on the field. Just a lot of hard-hit balls going right at guys.”

Sign Up for Alerts
Get notified of need-to-know
info from The Banner

Mateo’s assessment is accurate, even though his average exit velocity last month declined. He ran into ill luck in May. Mateo hit 14 balls that month over 100 mph, and only two of them were hits — the other 12 included two double plays.

To quantify as a hard-hit ball, it must leave a player’s bat at 95 mph or faster. Mateo did that 21 times in May, and only three of them wound up as hits. That’s an almost unbelievable rate of outs despite Mateo making quality contact.

“That’s exactly what we’re looking for — hard-hit contact, hard-hit balls,” Mateo said. “If it’s right at a guy, if they catch it, nothing I can do about that. But if I’m hitting the ball hard, I’m hitting the ball well, then I know the results should come after that.”

For as great as the results were in April, they didn’t appear in May, even when the ball leaped from Mateo’s bat at a high velocity. He said, if the Orioles weren’t finding ways to win, the slump might have gone to his head.

Instead, with the wins stacking, Mateo is taking solace in the fact he’s still hitting the ball hard. And he’ll take the lucky breaks when they come, such as Friday’s RBI single that left his bat at just 65.3 mph.

For all the hard hits that have been caught, Mateo was due.