Vil­lar says he doesn’t have 20-20 vi­sion, but he’s close

In­fielder near­ing that num­ber in home runs, steals for this sea­son

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - ORIOLES - By Nathan Ruiz

Ori­oles in­fielder Jonathan Vil­lar had no idea ear­lier this month that he was in reach of a cy­cle un­til he made it to first base on the sin­gle that com­pleted it, and first base coach Arnie Beyeler con­grat­u­lated him. Vil­lar is try­ing to use the same ap­proach as he nears Bal­ti­more’s first 20-20 sea­son (20 home runs, 20 steals) since 2015.

Since go­ing hit­less in 15 at-bats in the Ori­oles’ se­ries loss to the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs last month, Vil­lar has been among the top hit­ters in base­ball. In 29 games start­ing July 25, Vil­lar has hit .372/.462/.681 with eight home runs and 11 steals, with Satur­day’s solo shot bring­ing him to 19 homers and 28 steals.

Four home runs in the first six games of this home­s­tand lifted his sea­son OPS above .800. They also left him one home run from be­ing the first Ori­ole with 20 steals and homers since Manny Machado in 2015 and only the sec­ond since 1999.

“I don’t think about that,” Vil­lar said. “If I put that in my mind, I’ll try to hit a homer all the time, and I’ll miss a lot. Like, 20-20, I don’t care for that. If I get it, that’s per­fect. I try all the time to hit the ball, and if that does it, that’s happy for me and for ev­ery­body.

“If I think about it, I try to hit a home run all the time in­stead of hit­ting line drives. It’s like my cy­cle. I didn’t think about that. When I hit the last base hit and the coach told me con­grat­u­la­tions, I didn’t know about it. When you put that in your mind, you try to hit too much, and you miss a lot.”

On July 25, Vil­lar went 2-for-8 with a home run and three steals in the Ori­oles’ 16-in­ning vic­tory over the Los An­ge­les An­gels. He ranks sec­ond among play­ers with 100 plate ap­pear­ances since that date in weighted runs cre­ated plus at 194, with 100 be­ing the league av­er­age.

Some of the past month is ar­guably luck. Among qual­i­fied play­ers, Vil­lar’s .478 av­er­age on balls in play en­ter­ing Satur­day is base­ball’s third high­est in that span. His .367 av­er­age is .083 points higher than his ex­pected av­er­age, a Stat­cast met­ric based on qual­ity of con­tact, and his weighted on-base av­er­age ex­ceeds his ex­pected wOBA by .095. Both dif­fer­ences rank among the 20 high­est in base­ball for hit­ters with at least 50 balls put in play in that span.

But Vil­lar points to a clear change that be­gan af­ter he went 0-for-Ari­zona. Work­ing with hit­ting coach Don Long and as­sis­tant hit­ting coach Howie Clark, Vil­lar got his hands started sooner on his swing, while also work­ing to keep them bet­ter aligned with his head through­out his swing.

“I’ve been more fo­cused be­cause in one month, we’re fin­ished,” Vil­lar said. “I come into the cage and I prac­tice my rou­tine and be fo­cused more in the game.”

Man­ager Bran­don Hyde has no­ticed that, too. Early in the sea­son, he and the coach­ing staff stressed con­cen­tra­tion with Vil­lar, es­pe­cially on de­fense. They’re be­gin­ning to see that em­pha­sis take hold on both sides of the ball for a player who’s tied for the ma­jor league lead in games played.

Even when Vil­lar led the majors in steals with 62 for the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers in 2016, he hit 19 home runs, a ca­reer high he matched Satur­day. Hyde said Vil­lar could have closer to 40 steals this year if the Ori­oles weren’t trail­ing so of­ten when he gets on base.

“Wow, he’s re­ally play­ing good base­ball of­fen­sively,” Hyde said. “He’s go­ing to be a po­ten­tial 20-20 guy. That’s not easy to do. He’s got so many tools. Love his tools. I think he’s been a lit­tle bit more con­sis­tent the sec­ond half.

“I just think his at-bats have been bet­ter. He’s done a nice job of grind­ing at-bats and get­ting bar­rel to the base­ball and mak­ing pitch­ers work. One thing about Jon­nie is he never takes a night off. He wants to play ev­ery night, so that’s a plea­sure to have. He’s had a re­ally, re­ally good sec­ond half.”

Eades joins O’s

Right-han­der Ryan Eades, pro­moted Satur­day from Triple-A Norfolk, once shared LSU’s ro­ta­tion with former Ori­oles first-round draft pick Kevin Gaus­man.

Now, Eades, 27, is try­ing to stick in the majors as a re­liever. Last week, the Ori­oles claimed him off waivers from the Min­nesota Twins, who took Eades in the sec­ond round in 2013. This year, Eades had two score­less ap­pear­ances with the Twins in his first taste of the majors but had a 5.51 ERA with Triple-A Rochester. Since join­ing the Ori­oles’ or­ga­ni­za­tion, Eades pitched two score­less ap­pear­ances for Triple-A Norfolk.

“I’m just happy to be here,” Eades said. “Go­ing to try to help the team in what­ever way I can.”

Around the horn

Trey Mancini was out of Satur­day’s lineup for a reg­u­lar day off. … Right-han­der Shawn Arm­strong said Fri­day’s move that put him on the 10-day in­jured list with a right fore­arm strain was pre­cau­tion­ary. He said he had full range of mo­tion Satur­day and ex­pects to come off when el­i­gi­ble. … Hyde said the de­ci­sion to op­tion Ty Blach was re­lated to the Ori­oles’ days off Mon­day and Thurs­day, mean­ing they won’t need a fifth starter un­til ros­ters ex­pand in Septem­ber.

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