SARASOTA, Fla. — Ryan O’Hearn didn’t dwell on any of it this winter — neither the breakthrough success that saw him secure a large role with the Orioles nor the $3.5 million contract he earned because of it.

He walked into Marr Strength, a gym in Southlake, Texas, just as he has for the past eight years. He arrived shortly after dawn, just as always, ready to work for the next several hours. And, when he talked with Chad Marr, his strength trainer, the conversation quickly flowed to what came next.

“I think he worked harder, if that’s even possible.”

Chad Marr, Ryan O’Hearn’s strength trainer

After about five minutes, O’Hearn was done with reminiscing about his .289 average, his 60 RBIs and his part in Baltimore’s American League East title. He wanted to get back to work.

“I think you take the confidence from it,” O’Hearn said, “but other than that, you forget it.”

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So went O’Hearn’s winter.

The 30-year-old first baseman and corner outfielder approached a new season knowing where he stood within the organization — an unfamiliar feeling. He knows that, come opening day in Baltimore, he will be running down the orange carpet through center field, a member of the Orioles.

But to rest on that knowledge would be to part with everything that put him in this position. So O’Hearn pushed the success aside and targeted 2024 in a bid to maintain, if not exceed, what he accomplished before.

“He doesn’t act any different, man. He’s the same guy. That’s one of the things about him that I like: He’s consistent,” Marr said. “He enjoyed the last year, but he wasn’t banking on it. He was still busting his ass, just as much as he ever has. In fact, interestingly enough — and this is how you know the great ones — I think he worked harder, if that’s even possible.”

There are few areas of his game O’Hearn can nitpick, because he did so much well. In his most concentrated playing time as a major leaguer, O’Hearn coupled steady defense at first with ample power. He launched 14 homers and 22 doubles, and his OPS+ (an advanced metric that measures a player’s offensive success, with 100 being league average) was 122.

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However, O’Hearn’s focus did narrow on his walks — particularly how he walked only 15 times across 368 plate appearances. At 4.1%, that was O’Hearn’s lowest walk rate in his career. Even though his 22.3% strikeout rate was also a career low, O’Hearn hopes to improve his plate discipline in certain situations.

“It really comes down to 3-2 counts for me. Full counts. How can I improve in full counts?” O’Hearn said. “Because my swing decisions up to full counts were really good, and then once I got to full counts, I was just, like, swinging at everything, and that’s not good for anybody.”

Ryan O’Hearn’s OPS+ last season was 122, meaning he was 22% above league average as a hitter. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

The number jumped right to O’Hearn’s head: “I swung 88% of the time in a 3-2 count last year. That’s like, astronomical,” he said. “I think league average is probably around 70%. 88% of the time is too much, because they aren’t strikes 88% of the time.”

Part of the free-swing attitude from O’Hearn in full counts comes from a fear of striking out looking. As a less established player, he said, a strikeout looking may have kept him out of the lineup the next few games. He’s felt guaranteed a roster spot only once before in his career.

In 2019, as a member of the Kansas City Royals, O’Hearn figured he would make the opening day roster and did. Still, this spring training feels different from then, largely because “2019, I think I thought I had it figured out. And obviously I didn’t.”

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O’Hearn hit .195 that season and struggled to find everyday playing time with the Royals over the next three seasons before landing with the Orioles. Now that he is a regular — manager Brandon Hyde expects him to get “a ton” of plate appearances while playing first, outfield and acting as the designated hitter — O’Hearn has more wiggle room.

“I think I have to be OK with that [striking out looking] every now and then, and in the long run, it’s going to benefit,” O’Hearn said. “I’ll walk more; I’ll strike out less; I’ll put less weak contact in full counts.”

That plan has been a centerpiece of O’Hearn’s offseason outlook. Rather than resting on the standout season he just put together, O’Hearn turned the page to what he can improve. Having known O’Hearn for almost a decade, Marr wasn’t surprised O’Hearn took that path this winter.

At this point in their relationship, Marr doesn’t need to oversee everything O’Hearn does in the gym. To a certain point, O’Hearn knows which drills to run and how many repetitions to perform. He even has his own key to the facility, in case a late-night workout feels right.

O’Hearn doesn’t always know when to stop, though.

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“There’s an old saying here, and it goes like this: I’d much rather have a horse that I have to pull reins on than a horse I’ve gotta kick,” Marr said. “And if anything, with Ryan, I’ve got to pull the reins. I mean, all the damn time. That’s all I do with him is pull the reins.”

Once opening day arrives, though, the Orioles will let O’Hearn go unbridled. Except when it comes to full counts — it’s there O’Hearn could pull back himself, showing more plate discipline when he otherwise would swing away.

More roster configuration

Jorge Mateo will make the opening day roster as a utility player, Hyde said Thursday. He made it because of his ability to play multiple positions — second, shortstop, third and outfield — in addition to his elite speed.

He also hit well this spring, going 12-for-35 for a .343 average with two home runs.

“He offers us flexibility,” Hyde said. “That’s why we played him a lot in the outfield during spring training, to help with our versatility.”

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Hyde also said the starting rotation is set: Corbin Burnes, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin. Hyde added that there’s a chance more than 26 players come north to Baltimore at the end of spring training as they continue to deliberate roster decisions ahead of March 28′s opening day.

Baltimore Banner reporter Danielle Allentuck contributed to this article.

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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