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Orioles prospect Colton Cowser ready to contribute for Baltimore after ‘reset’ in Triple-A | NOTES

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Grayson Rodriguez’s first stint in the major leagues didn’t go well. Adley Rutschman struggled for his first month as a big leaguer. Gunnar Henderson started his first full MLB season slowly.

Orioles prospect Colton Cowser is hoping he’s able to bounce back the way his friends did.

“It definitely gives you confidence,” Cowser said about his predecessors’ success after their early stumbles.

Cowser, who was recalled Friday as rosters expanded from 26 to 28 players, made his MLB debut July 5, and while the 23-year-old had a couple big moments, he largely struggled at the plate. In 77 plate appearances across 26 games, Cowser slashed .115/.286/.148 for a .433 OPS. By the end of his stint, he rarely played, totaling just 10 at-bats in the Orioles’ 12 games in August before he was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.

“I don’t think I necessarily did anything wrong. I think that I was trying to do too much, I guess I would say, putting a little bit of pressure on myself,” Cowser said. “I don’t think that was the right thing to do. I think going back down there and just playing the game kind of gave me a better idea of what I needed to do up here.”

Cowser, an outfielder ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the sport by Baseball America, said his two weeks back in Norfolk served as a “reset” for him mentally. He went 12-for-49 with eight walks and two home runs in 13 games with the Tides.

“I’d say just the approach to the game,” he said regarding what he learned about himself in August. “I think going from the big league level down to Triple-A, it was eye-opening to see the differences when it came to the games, I guess you could say. I think it was good to go back down there and really see the difference on how I played down there to how I played up here when it came to mentally approaching the game.”

The 2021 No. 5 overall pick is Baltimore’s second-best prospect behind Jackson Holliday and is having more success in Triple-A this season than almost every prospect who came before him under general manager Mike Elias’ regime. In 315 plate appearances with Norfolk this season, Cowser is slashing an eye-popping .314/.440/.524 — good for a .963 OPS.

Manager Brandon Hyde said Cowser, who can play all three spots in the outfield, was the choice to recall Friday because he wanted more outfield depth.

“It’s really about getting his confidence back,” Hyde said about what he wanted Cowser to work on when he was down in the minors. “It was kind of a tough couple weeks up here. He didn’t get everyday playing time but also I wanted him to go get everyday at-bats and he did that for a couple weeks.”

It’s unclear what role Cowser will play. As a left-handed hitter, he likely won’t be deployed against southpaws, but against right-handed starters, such as Friday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, it’s hard to find a spot for the prospect with Austin Hays in left field, Cedric Mullins in center and Anthony Santander or Ryan O’Hearn in right field. But Cowser, who said joining the American League’s best team for the stretch run is “exciting,” will be ready “whenever my name’s called upon.”

“I’m just doing whatever I can to help this win,” he said.

Hicks close to returning

It’s possible Cowser’s second stint in the big leagues could be short if the Orioles choose to option him instead of outfielder Ryan McKenna when Aaron Hicks (lower back strain) returns from the 10-day injured list.

Hicks took batting practice and ran sprints on the field before Friday’s game. He said he is ready to return whenever the team wants to activate him, adding he doesn’t need a minor league rehabilitation assignment before rejoining the Orioles.

“I feel ready to go, but in the end, it’s not my decision. It’s a lot more stuff going on in the back that I don’t know,” Hicks said. “Now it’s just waiting until I get the opportunity.”

Hicks hit .261 with a .795 OPS after signing with Baltimore in late May after being released by the New York Yankees. But his current stint on the IL is his third since late July.

Hyde said the team is managing his workload and seeing how he recovers in the coming days.

“Whenever we feel he’s ready, that’s when we’ll activate him,” Hyde said.

Means takes another step

John Means delivered the best start of his rehab assignment Thursday in Triple-A. The left-hander allowed one hit and two walks in five scoreless innings with six strikeouts. Recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction, Means continued building up his workload, throwing 86 pitches after tossing 72 in his previous start.

Means, the Orioles’ best starter during the rebuild until he tore his ulnar collateral ligament last April, generated 13 whiffs on 44 swings, including six on his changeup. He averaged 91.2 mph on his fastball — 1.6 mph off his average fastball in 2021.

“Really encouraged by his outing last night,” Hyde said. “Another guy that we’re just kind of monitoring. … Hopefully he can impact us in September at some point.”

The Orioles will have to make a decision with Means next week, either adding him to their bullpen or having him start games. Means’ rehab assignment cannot extend past Sept. 8.

Around the horn

  • In addition to Cowser, right-handed reliever Joey Krehbiel was also recalled Friday. Krehbiel, a main fixture in the Orioles’ bullpen last year, pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings during his first stint in the big leagues last month. “I’m really encouraged by how Joey’s throwing the ball in Triple-A,” Hyde said. “He threw well for us when he came up for a couple brief moments this year.”
  • First baseman Ryan Mountcastle was scratched from Friday’s lineup because he is sick, the team said. Ramón Urías entered the lineup to play third base, Jordan Westburg shifted from third to DH and Ryan O’Hearn went from DH to first.

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