DETROIT — Ryan Mountcastle might find it funny if it didn’t happen so regularly, when a ball off his bat looked destined to find the grass — or the outfield seats — and yet nestles into the glove of an opposing fielder.
The Orioles first baseman even followed the advice of his manager Brandon Hyde, ahead of the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers.
“He needs to hit the ball a little softer, in front,” Hyde joked, and when Mountcastle did it in the first inning, lifting a flair into shallow right field at just 76.9 mph, Tigers outfielder Matt Vierling used a full-extension dive to rob a hit.
“He’s got bad aim, too,” Hyde continued. “Got terrible aim when he hits the ball, and that’s something we need to work on in the cage.”
At a certain point, the unluckiness of Mountcastle becomes unexplainable, but he received a much-needed respite later in Saturday’s 7-4 loss to the Tigers.
On Thursday, before Friday’s rainout forced a split doubleheader at Comerica Park, Mountcastle had a home run robbed. His soft liner in the first inning Saturday exacerbated his misfortune.
But Mountcastle could breathe a sigh of relief when his liner in the sixth inning scooted over shortstop Zack Short’s head, and again when his dribbler found a gap through the infield. The second base knock — his sixth multi-hit game — set up Baltimore’s momentary comeback in the eighth, with shortstop Jorge Mateo clobbering a three-run homer later in the frame.
Still, it feels as though Mountcastle’s hardest hit balls don’t find those gaps, leaving him befuddled at what else he’s supposed to do. Entering Saturday, Mountcastle held an expected slugging percentage of .613 — a mark that sits in the top 4% of the majors. His expected batting average was .304. His actual batting average sat at .224 before the two hits Saturday, and his slugging percentage was down at .430.
Both are well below the marks Mountcastle feels he could be — and likely should be — performing at, if a few more balls fell his way.
“He still has bad aim,” Hyde said postgame. “He’s still hitting the ball at people a little too much.”
The issues in Saturday’s first game weren’t down to Mountcastle’s bad luck, even if it cropped up again. The poor start from right-hander Dean Kremer, who allowed career-high 11 hits, put the Orioles in a hole early. Then left-hander DL Hall, providing length out of the bullpen as the team’s 27th man, gave up two more runs, including a homer to Short in the eighth.
Kremer’s start was more in line with the rest of his season. Barring a stellar 6 2/3 innings against a hapless Washington Nationals lineup, Kremer has allowed at least four runs in each of his other five starts. In his last two appearances, Kremer has conceded 18 hits and nine runs in 10 2/3 frames.
“So far it’s been frustrating,” Kremer said. “My stuff is continuously getting better, command of it, also, slowly getting better. But just got to find a way to miss more barrels.”
The silver lining, perhaps, was that Kremer completed five innings. He allowed three runs in a shaky first inning and one each in the second and third before he settled down to provide a semblance of length for Hall to take over.
Using only two pitchers, even in a loss, enabled Baltimore to save most of its arms for the second game Saturday, with right-hander Grayson Rodriguez starting. Hall struck out seven of the batters he faced but also allowed five hits and two runs. His velocity reached 95.6 mph, and after a back injury to begin spring training, Hall said he finally started lifting again this week.
That could lead to a boost for Hall’s velocity upon his return to Triple-A Norfolk.
“As you can see, 92, especially down the middle, doesn’t play,” Hall said, referencing the pitch Short hit out of the yard. “Getting that back, I think, is going to be huge for me and a big step in the right direction.”