SARASOTA, Fla. — Jordan Westburg knew the moment might be coming, because he was tipped off about the possibility the night before. The Orioles rookie second baseman, stepping into a one-run game as a pinch hitter, lashed a double down the line for an insurance run against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It was an early September night, just Westburg’s 50th game in the major leagues. And it was one of the defining moments of his young career, a memory that quickly leaps to mind all these months later as he reflects on what worked — and what didn’t — in his first foray into baseball’s highest level.

What sticks out most, however, isn’t the result of the at-bat — although that was nice, too. Westburg’s mind fixates on the text message he received the night before, when the pressure of expectations — mainly self-imposed — began to consume his thoughts.

Westburg struck out three times in the first game of the series. He didn’t play in the second. He sat up late that night in the hotel, and then his phone buzzed. Tim Cossins, Baltimore’s major league field coordinator, wanted Westburg prepared: not for a start, but for a likely pinch-hitting situation in a big series.

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He told Westburg that the Orioles would need him.

“I’ll be ready,” Westburg replied.

The short text conversation refocused Westburg. Get away from the results, he told himself. Get away from the unhelpful focus on his batting average and the feeling that he personally lets Baltimore down if he doesn’t get on base, move a guy over or blast a home run.

That text — and the subsequent pinch-hit opportunity — helped Westburg understand the largest adjustment he needed to make in order to have a successful career doing what he loves: loosen his grip.

“It worked out, right? So it’s easy for me to tell that story,” Westburg said. “But similarly, if I didn’t come through, I need my mind to be like, ‘I was ready. I don’t care about the result. At least I was ready.’ That’s where I’m trying to be at this year.”

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Baltimore Orioles third baseman Jordan Westburg (11) narrowly makes it to first base safely during a Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park on February 25, 2024. The Orioles beat the Pirates, 2-0, during Sunday’s game. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Westburg is poised for an even larger role for Baltimore this season, potentially as an everyday third baseman. He got off to a roaring start in that pursuit by flashing the kind of power he didn’t frequently exhibit in his first stint with the Orioles.

On Monday, during a win against the Atlanta Braves, Westburg laced a line-drive homer to left field. In his next at-bat, Westburg’s home run was robbed by a leaping Jarred Kelenic, who batted the ball down (Westburg raced around the bases for a triple). Even his first swing, a line drive out to right field, showed Westburg’s intentions.

“We want to be consistent at those line-drive angles,” co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller said, “and when he’s at his best, he hits these screaming, low line drives that just end up at the wall before you know it.”

Westburg was at his best Monday, lashing line drives around the park. Earlier, inside the Orioles clubhouse at Ed Smith Stadium complex, the 25-year-old detailed his approach at the plate.

Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jordan Westburg (11) takes his at-bat during the team’s spring training practice at Ed Smith Stadium on Feb. 20, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“Consistency” and its synonyms were his favorite words, coming up again and again. To him, that means a focus on hitting line drives up the middle and the other way. When asked whether he let his lack of home runs in the majors alter his offseason training (three in the majors compared to 18 in Triple-A last year), Westburg ardently denies feeling any desire to flash more power at the expense of his bat-to-ball skills.

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He’s sure, and with good reason, that the power will show up in spurts if he focuses instead on his swing path and timing.

Wins, however, are his utmost desire. And if that means sacrificing his own personal accolades, he’s more than willing to jump aboard.

“I want to focus on not caring about the results as much as caring about my process and the progress I’m making,” Westburg said. “I’m a competitive guy, and I’m going to put the team first and foremost. So, if that means going 0-for-1 and moving the runner over, getting him from second to third, that’s the kind of hitter I want to be. And when I have my opportunity to drive in a run, when I have opportunities to maybe go for an extra-base hit or let the power show, I’ll do it. But first and foremost, I want to help this team win.”

That desire to win proved to be a double-edged sword last season. Westburg was called up in the midst of Baltimore’s push for an American League East championship, and there’s pressure that comes with those aspirations for even the most veteran of players.

Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jordan Westburg throws during the team’s spring training session at Ed Smith Stadium on February 23, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

But on his debut, Westburg didn’t let those mounting responsibilities cloud a joyous moment. He went out and played ball for a major league team, achieving a dream, and recorded five hits in his first three appearances. For the moment, the postseason was out of mind.

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“The only time I felt like I didn’t care was probably my first game up, when I figured, ‘You know what? I just got called up. I may as well do what got me here. I’m not really going to focus on what happens, I’m just going to enjoy the moment,’” Westburg said. “I felt free at the plate.”

And then Westburg began to think. And when Westburg began to think, he began to freeze. He still posted a .260 average in his 68 games, but he didn’t play as fluidly as he had in the minors because his head was overly transfixed on winning.

“It doesn’t let you play free, but it comes from good intentions,” Westburg said. “I just let them weigh me down too much, I think. I put too much pressure on myself. I cared too much about the result and got frustrated or down on myself. And then you’re just a shell of who you can be, because you’re just carrying this burden.”

This year, Westburg hopes to unsaddle himself from that additional weight. There will be at-bats in which hard-hit balls don’t find openings. There will be slumps and pressures and expectations to reach the postseason again.

Westburg, then, can only focus on the three words he sent Cossins late that night in September. He’ll be ready. That’s all he can ask of himself.

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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