He only put on the batting glove because he had to.
He never uses them. But now he had sutures in his left hand, and he just needed something to protect himself from the “gnarly” cuts.
Orioles outfielder Austin Hays is old school. Normally he holds the bat with his bare hands, rubbing the clay on the ground between his palms to give him some sort of grip. But the injuries on his left hand his from when he was stepped on with a cleat while sliding headfirst into first base in a May 12 game against the St. Louis Cardinals forced, well, his hand his.
Glove or not, everything seems to be working right now for Hays at the plate.
Hays’ return from that hand injury marked the first time he’d worn a batting glove since he was 10 years old. And with that glove on, he’s put together the longest active hitting streak in the American League at 13 games. Seattle’s Ty France — the previous AL leader — was one of the few standing in the opposite dugout who didn’t contribute Thursday night, going 0-for-5 to end his 13-game hitting streak in the Mariners’ 7-6 victory over the Orioles in 10 innings.
“He’s getting consistent at-bats,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said of Hays after the game. “Seeing a guy in his third or fourth year making adjustments and swinging the bat extremely well. He’s playing really good baseball right now.”
Hays’ first hit Thursday to keep the streak going? A jammed, dribbling ground ball up the middle at a scorching 66.5 mph, exactly the kind of good bounce that seems to follow him right now. And exactly the kind of hand-stinging contact that hurt the most early on.
Mostly, the injury’s healed now; Hays’ first-inning single didn’t hurt like it would have a week ago. What’s left is still a large but mostly healed cut on the back of his hand. The glove keeps it from getting worse.
It had been over 15 years since Hays last used two batting gloves, let alone just one. Yet since he’s put it on, his hitting streak followed.
“It was multiple cuts on the hand, and he’s a really tough kid, to be able to just put a glove on and say, ‘I can play through,’ it shows you the toughness he has and the will to play,” Hyde said. “And he wants to play.”
To play, Hays puts a pad on his left pinky and wraps it with tape. The batting glove then goes over all of it as another layer of protection.
Hays, though, has no superstition. He said it’s just sticking to what he was already working before the injury. The three games he missed did n’t alter his rhythm. He was already hitting .291 on May 13, the day he got stepped on.
“I just continue to pick up where I left off, especially against right-handed pitchers,” Hays said before Thursday’s game. “Keeping their offspeed stuff in the zone and being ready to hit from the first pitch of the at-bat. Not letting them get away with throwing balls over the heart of the plate.”
Hays batted .303 between May 1 and June 1 with 30 hits in 27 games. In those 27 games, the rebuilding Orioles (22-31) had a winning record, going 15-12. During this 13-game streak, Hays is batting .340.
With a second RBI single in the third inning Thursday, Hays’ season batting average jumped back above .300 for the second time this season. He went 2-for-5 on the night with a run and two RBIs.
The 13-game hitting streak is the longest of the season for Hays and just a few behind his career-long streak of 17 from Aug. 24 to Sept. 11 last season.
But Hays’ one-gloved look isn’t going to last. A hitting streak isn’t going to change that. He said the moment he feels ready to bat barehanded again, he will. He’s made progress in the past three weeks, but that time hasn’t come yet.
And while he’s getting used to the glove, he still doesn’t like it.
“At the end of the day, batting glove or no batting glove, I’m the same guy,” Hays said.