A look at Gunnar Henderson's big debut and the O's latest shutout

There can’t be many instances over the years where one organization has called up two prospects during a season and, at the time of the call, both were ranked as Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect. But after Adley Rutschman moved up earlier this season, Gunnar Henderson officially joined the Orioles roster on Wednesday in Cleveland.

That meant that the first three Mike Elias' Orioles draft picks from 2019 - Rutschman (taken No. 1 overall), Henderson (taken No. 42) and Kyle Stowers (No. 71) - were now all on the Baltimore roster.

And what a debut for Henderson in Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Guardians. He hit a 429-foot solo homer to right in the fourth inning and singled in the ninth. He went 2-for-4, driving the homer 107 mph off the bat and the single 101 mph. He even had two loud outs at 91 and 98 mph. So on the night, he produced four of the top 24 exit velocities in that game last night.

When this season began, Henderson told us in Double-A Bowie that he worked hard this spring to improve his plate discipline and swing decisions. He wanted to decrease his swings and misses and make more consistent and better contact on balls at the top of the strike zone. He improved on both counts and had a stunning start with the Baysox, walking more than he struck out. And while those massive numbers he put up at Bowie (1.025 OPS) were harder to produce at Triple-A, he still left the Tides with an .894 OPS.

During an interview in July, with Henderson headed to the All-Star Futures Game, O’s director of player development Matt Blood was asked if Gunnar’s plate discipline gains represented his biggest improvement this year.

“Yes, that and the ability to make contact on some pitches in some areas that he struggled with in the past,” Blood said then. “He has taken it very seriously, and this is something we emphasize throughout the minor leagues and something we train on every single day, and he’s taken it to heart. He’s worked very hard on learning to identify the right pitches to hit and right pitches to lay off. Nice to see it paying off in performance.

“And he has worked very hard on his swing and his swing path and how he enters the zone and making himself more able to square up more pitches and it’s showing in his contact rates. He has improved his entry into the zone which is giving him a better chance to get the barrel to more pitches. More different types of pitches too.”

And while Jorge Mateo has certainly played outstanding shortstop for the team, the club looks at Henderson and still sees someone who could stay at short in the future.

“Great athlete with instincts, range, arm strength and good hands. A premium defensive player,” said Blood.

He certainly was sure-handed at third base last night, showing off that arm that got a 60 scouting grade from Baseball America, where he is the No. 1 ranked prospect, and a 65 from MLBPipeline.com, where he is the No. 2-rated prospect.

And about that pitching: If the Orioles win tonight at Cleveland they will win back-to-back road series against first-place teams and would enjoy a 4-2 road trip. Pitching has certainly been huge at Houston and Cleveland as O's pitchers have allowed just nine runs in five games with two shutouts.

From 2019 through 2021, the O's staff threw a total of 11 shutouts over 384 games. This year, they now have 12 shutouts in 129 games. They have two shutouts the last five games and four in the last 31.

O's starting pitchers have a 1.91 ERA on this road trip and have allowed two earned runs or fewer eight times in the past nine games, recording a 2.05 ERA in that span. O's starting pitchers have a 2.43 ERA over the past 14 games.

Right-hander Jordan Lyles threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings on 96 pitches last night and has allowed one earned run over his past two starts. Lyles has an ERA of 2.72 over his last seven games.

The Orioles (68-61) completed August going 17-10. And when the Chicago Cubs beat Toronto last night, the O's moved to two games behind the Blue Jays for the third and final American League wild card spot. The O's and Toronto begin a huge four-game series on Monday at Camden Yards. 

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