For all the feet added to the dimensions of the new left field wall at Camden Yards’ Oriole Park, it came down to a matter of inches on Sunday. The drive from first baseman Ryan Mountcastle hit the tippy top of the 13 feet high green padding.
And instead of being bounced out for a home run, the ball stayed in the yard for an RBI double.
Many balls lost to the new dimensions would be homers that resulted in outs or extra bag hits during two homestands. But never has it been so technically close – or as frustrating from a hitter’s point of view, that left Mountcastle shaking his head at second base instead of wearing a home run chain in the dugout.
“Another inch,” said manager Brandon Hyde.
The ball came off his bat at a speed of 104.6 mph at a launch angle of 23 degrees. Had it not hit the top of the fence it would have flown an estimated 407 feet. Mountcastle’s swing would have resulted in a homer in the 29 ballpark – the only exception being Camden Yards, with left field suddenly not favorable for batsmen.
With that double, the “mountain”, as Hyde referred to it last week, is claimed to have 11 homers. Eight of them have been for the Orioles, including two doubles, five flyouts and a sacrificial fly that would have been a Grand Slam. None of the visitors have climbed the wall, but Mountcastle and left fielder Austin Hays have each hit one – a rare occurrence at the newly-minted ballpark.
“It’s not ideal as a hitter, I’m not going to lie,” said first baseman Trey Mancini, who has twice experienced what extra wall distance can mean. “Especially this year with all the conditions, it’s been a really weird month. It’s been really weird. But you just have to keep going. There’s only so much you can do.”
However, homers are not hard to come by at Camden Yards. Teams average 0.90 homers per game this season, down from 1.22 last year and 1.39 in 2019. One of the biggest reasons may be the change in the ball. In response to the hike in home run rates, MLB announced that it planned to begin replacing the ball in 2021, citing an independent laboratory that found the new balls would fly 1 to 2 feet less than balls over 375 feet. . A recent report from Baseball Prospectus found that this season’s balls have more drag, and for the first time, all 30 clubs are using humidifiers in an effort to create stability. This has resulted in a sharp drop in scoring, as MLB teams averaged 4.0 runs per game in April, the lowest average for a month since 1981.
Before the season began, and before Baltimore players saw the new wall in person, the hitters enjoyed the challenge of the outdoors. The wall was moved back 30 feet and the wall was raised from 7 feet to 13 feet.
This was to counteract the homer-happy nature of Camden Yards, which has seen the most home runs of any ballpark since it opened in 1992. And between 2019 and 2021, 655 home runs went off the yard, a short left field fence smearing an inviting landing. The next closest park in that time frame was Yankee Stadium, which had 583 homers, 72 less than Camden Yards.
The sample size is just two homestands, but Camden Yards entered with 17 homers on Sunday allowed this season — and that included six long balls in Baltimore’s 5-3 win on Thursday between the Orioles and the Minnesota Twins. This equals for the fourth-lowest of any stadium entered on Sunday, although the more depth left fielders play, the more bloop hits have a chance to land.
For some people this change is welcome. Former Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy, who has allowed 65 career homers at Camden Yards, enjoyed a deep left-field view when he returned with the Twins last week. Still, that didn’t stop him from conceding nine runs in 3 2/3 innings.
“I think it’s something that needed to be done for a while, but they finally got it done, so that’s a good thing,” Bundy said. “It’s back there. They didn’t just move it a few feet, they moved it a good amount. Would have been nice [to have the new dimensions while he was an Oriole]But it is what it is.”
During batting practice, the Orioles sometimes contest to see which player can hit the ball the farthest. For pull-side nights, the results are eye-opening. Even in that controlled setting, the ball struggles to leave the yard in left field.
“It’s tough now,” said shortstop Jorge Mateo. “You hit it and it’s not going anywhere.”
Matteo said that encourages hitters to think about gap-to-gap power, finding lanes in the outfield for extra-base hits, rather than focusing on pull-side power. This has always been his approach, although the wall only adds to the need for it.
As Mateo thought about his two-to-be homers, where the new “mountain” in left field didn’t stand, he couldn’t hide his disappointment, nodding his head, saying, “Oh, my God.”
But Matteo quickly changed his tune. He knows there’s no going back to the old fence. So moaning on balls that have come down now doesn’t get anything done.
“Better hit it,” said Mateo. “It’s different. Every year is different. It has to hit better.”
What’s to come?
Rain interrupted the Orioles’ weekend series against the Kansas City Royals, setting up a Sunday doubleheader and a Monday matinee to end the three-game set. This would conclude a three-series homestand that included matchups with the Boston Red Sox and Twins.
After the first pitch on Monday at 12:05 p.m., Baltimore will fly to face the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, playing at the park that first opened in 2006. Then there’s a meeting with the Detroit Tigers and first baseman Spencer Torkelson, the first pick in the 2020 MLB Draft.
Torkelson reached the majors before catcher Adele Rutsman was first taken by the Orioles in the 2019 draft. But Ratschman could join Detroit soon after that road trip.
what was good
Starting the sixth inning on Thursday, when Hayes hit a line-drive single to center, the left fielder did nothing but hit base. He went on to make nine straight plate appearances starting with that single, including a home run over a left field fence and a 4-for-4 display in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader.
Hayes was the major bright spot for the Orioles during the past week, going 10-for-21. On Thursday, he showed his hand to the left when he threw Twins Max Kepler at the plate.
What was not?
The work that Anthony Bembaum and Robinson Chirinos do behind the plate is consistently appreciated by pitchers and Hyde, and for a catcher, it is the main priority. But aggressive production from Bemboom and Chirino over the past week has been almost non-existent.
After Sunday’s doubleheader, the Catchers ended the week 1-for-22, breaking a hitless streak for the pair at the end with a single from Chirinos in the nightcap.
If there is anything that has triggered Rutschmann’s arrival, it may be the lack of offensive firepower provided by the backstop.
on the farm
With the arrival of the Ratsmans at Triple-A Norfolk, the top two prospects in Baltimore’s farming system are working together again. Right-handers Grayson Rodriguez and Ratschman were a battery pair for the 13th time in their minor league careers, and when the two are together the results are exceptional.
In 13 starts, Rodriguez is 5-2 with a 2.30 ERA, making 15 earned runs in 58 2/3 innings. Rodriguez has dismissed 85 batsmen compared to 20 walks, and those 85 strikeouts made up 24.4% of Rodriguez’s career strikes (348).
Baltimore Sun reporter Nathan Ruiz contributed to this article.
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