Before the Orioles’ series opener against the Texas Rangers, manager Brandon Hyde said he’s not worried about Gunnar Henderson after his no-hit weekend against the Boston Red Sox.
After all, Henderson walked six times in the first three games, tied for the most in the American League during that span.
“The hits haven’t come yet, but they will,” Hyde said. “Try to get the first one. Once he gets the first one, he’ll be able to relax a bit. His at-bats have been good so far.”
Hyde’s prediction proved correct in several ways. Not only did Henderson, the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball, record multiple hits The Orioles’ 2-0 win on Mondaybut it was also the first hit — a second-inning single — that settled his nerves and led to his first home run of the season.
“It’s awesome to be able to get that first hit, especially in the big leagues,” Henderson said of his single to right field. “You just want to help the team win. To be able to help and succeed today was awesome.”
In Henderson’s next at-bat, he launched a 2-0 fastball from Rangers starter Jon Gray 408 yards over the left-center field fence at Globe Life Field. The 21-year-old outfielder fired two off-speed pitches outside the strike zone to move ahead and then jumped on the center heater.
“We got to a good number of hitters. I felt like we saw his fastball pretty well,” Henderson said. “I was able to get one over the plate and did some damage with it.”
The 106.6 mph exit velocity on the long ball marked Henderson’s strongest ball this season. Hyde said the deep hit was even more impressive considering it went to the opposite field.
“It was cool,” Hyde said of the crack of the bat on Henderson’s blast. “It was nice to see from him. Nice to see the single early. That just shows you how much power that guy has to be able to hit the ball from that side of the court with his left hand. This was the hit we needed.”
The run was the first of two the Orioles would score in the victory. Shortstop Jorge Mateo also homered — beating Henderson with a 433-foot shot into left field for his first home run of the season.
Henderson, who earned praise this offseason as the sport’s top prospect across the majors, is the betting favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year award. He maintained his rookie status after playing in 34 games last season and collected 116 at-bats after his call-up in late August.
After posting a career slash line of .276/.378/.488 in the minor leagues, Henderson hit .259 with four home runs and seven doubles with the Orioles still in contention.
Like Hyde, Henderson wasn’t concerned about his slow start with the bat against the Red Sox. Despite going 0-for-8 with four strikeouts, Henderson walked six times in three games — a testament to both his batting eye and his plate discipline.
However, the importance of those traits – impressive and rare for a player of Henderson’s age – are not just good for walks. They are correlated with power numbers because going into hitter-friendly numbers, like 2-0 when he homered on Monday, allows batters to set up for a fastball.
“I felt like I saw the ball really well, I got some good at-bats,” Henderson said. “I knew it was just a matter of time until I got some good shots to hit and put a barrel on one.”
Orioles at Rangers
Tuesday, 8:05 p.m
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM