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Gary Kendall 'Really Impressed' With Orioles During Big-League Coaching Stint

October 10, 2019
There is usually a little bit of a "get to know you" phase whenever a baseball player or coach is called up to the major leagues.

Oftentimes, major-league teams are populated by players who worked their way through other teams' systems. Until a few years ago, that was the case with the Baltimore Orioles, according to Triple-A Norfolk manager Gary Kendall. 

But that didn't happen this time when Kendall was called up to the major leagues for about two weeks after the conclusion of the Tides' season. Instead, the roster was filled with players who were previously on his team in Norfolk.

"You felt the need to introduce yourself," Kendall said on The Ross Grimsley Show Oct. 1. "But now that our camps are united [in Sarasota, Fla.] and we're getting a lot of guys coming up through our system, you have a little history with them. So you feel a little more comfortable around them."

Kendall joined the Orioles' staff for the early part of September, and he got a taste of what it was like to be on a major-league ballclub. In addition to seeing the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the best teams in baseball this year, he also got the chance to be around the staff and see some of the players he had on his rosters in recent years. Prior to managing the Tides, Kendall managed Double-A Bowie from 2011-2018.

It's no secret the Orioles are in a rebuilding phase, but according to Kendall, that didn't dampen the players' spirits.

"I was really impressed," Kendall said of the demeanor in the locker room. "The communication, the work that was being done by the coaching staff ... there was a lot of work. They were doing it as if they were in first place and fighting a team off that was in second. It was very focused."

One of the players Kendall saw in September was center fielder Austin Hays, whom Kendall managed at Norfolk and Bowie. Hays played 20 games for the Orioles in September 2017 before returning to the minor leagues the following year. 

But Kendall said he saw some improvement from Hays, 24, when he was with the Orioles last month. The Daytona Beach, Fla., native hit .309/.373/.574 in 75 plate appearances in September.

"I think he's more acclimated," Kendall said. "He was more prepared mentally." 

Kendall thinks left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin, meanwhile, is "going to blossom" in the major leagues. Akin, 24, had a 4.73 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 112.1 innings with Norfolk this year.

"He's got a good feel for his pitches," Kendall said. "And I think it's only going to improve with more usage."

Kendall sees a lot of similarities between Akin and lefty John Means, another player on the Orioles' roster Kendall managed in the minor leagues.

"John was a fastball, curveball, changeup [pitcher]," Kendall said. "He's a guy that located a lot better than he did in the minor leagues. And when I look at Keegan, he's a similar guy. And I think he has a lot of pitchability."

Kendall said Orioles general manager Mike Elias visited the Tides during the season and talked to several players about where they stand with the organization and how they can improve moving forward. 

"He talked to them about what the organization wants them to do," Kendall said. "I think what that did was ... open their eyes a little bit. I think that was something they were fortunate enough to hear."

For more from Kendall, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox