With his hood pulled over his head, Ryan Mountcastle stood in the visitors’ clubhouse at Great American Ball Park, searching for the answers he’s been trying to find this month.
The Orioles first baseman had Saturday off, in part because he was “beaten up,” as manager Brandon Hyde said, but also because he got a chance to bounce back at the end of a month in which he hit .191. with a .528 OPS. At this point in the season, those “bumps and bruises” start to build up, but so do the downs, and Mountcastle is dealing with both.
At this point, with two hits in his last 31 at-bats, Mountcastle is “pulling every trick out of the book” in the batting cage or in the movie theater to find a solution. He strikes based on feelings, and “it’s not very good right now.”
“But I’m trying to find him,” added Mountcastle.
As the Orioles’ offense has struggled of late, Mountcastle is the biggest figure that has gone quiet. Between May 30 and July 3, the 25-year-old had 15 doubles, nine homers and 21 runs with a 1.036 OPS. In June, his extra-base hits put him in the upper echelon of baseball hitters.
But over the months, his swing habits also changed. His chase rate in June was 35.5%, according to Statcast. In July, it rose to 48.8%, meaning it made almost half of the pitches delivered outside the zone. That led to 22 strikeouts in 22 games this month and just one homer.
On top of those misses, his average exit velocity dropped from 96 mph in June to 88.2 mph in July — about league average but nowhere near the 90-plus velocities often required for extra bases hit.
“There’s just not enough pitches that he has to be barreling up, and then he’s hitting a little bit too much,” one-time hitting coach Ryan Fuller said. “Being a little too aggressive, especially early in the count. By swinging at pitches outside the zone, pitchers are starting to realize he’s going to get up there and be very aggressive. They’ll bite a little, swing the ball, and you’re in the hole.”
On Saturday, Mountcastle wanted to balance the two approaches. In a sense, he needed a “mental vacation,” a respite from the pressure at the plate. But he also planned to study Fuller’s video and try to find some discrepancies with his results.
They review that film daily, and Fuller wants Mountcastle to slow down at the plate and become more selective.
“When you’re going through a tough time, you want to get out of it as quickly as possible, and that sometimes makes you pursue things that you wouldn’t normally pursue when you’re doing well,” Fuller said. “It’s human nature, you start to push and you want it to be over as quickly as possible, which sometimes makes things worse.”
That’s where Mountcastle finds himself now, though he finds solace in helping the Orioles in other ways. His performance at first base didn’t diminish during his slump at the plate, and he drove in a run on a sacrifice fly Friday to extend Baltimore’s lead in the eventual 6-2 victory.
Still, he’s “not happy with the way I’m performing.”
But with a smile, Mountcastle noted that baseball is a tough sport and batting is the hardest part. He’s been here before, and he thinks he’ll be here again. He wants to maximize the time between them as much as possible.
“You just have to get through it,” Mountcastle said. “Life goes on.”