Adley Rutschman will have two home games on his major league resume before the Orioles hit the road again, his debut coming last night in front of an enthusiastic crowd that reacted to his every movement.
Rutschman will catch again Monday night in the Bronx after serving as designated hitter today. There was speculation that he might have his contract selected on the trip.
“It was tricky timing-wise,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said this morning while sitting in the dugout. “We wanted to get him up as soon as possible. I think we had hopes that he would break with the team in Sarasota. We had a very ill-timed injury. With it being on his throwing arm and him missing the entirety of spring training, it was not something we could rush. And so there was a very careful rehab process in Sarasota and then an equally careful workload and at-bat buildup in the lower minors, mid-minors, and then eventually Norfolk.
“Luckily, he seemed to hit the ground running from a hitting perspective, didn’t get a lot of indications that his timing was off from anything that he did at any of the three levels, and it was really just more about kind of building up the catching to ultimately checking the box of doing three days in a row, which is something that, if he had a normal spring training, (manager) Brandon Hyde is doing back-to-backs with the catchers, and Adley just missed all that. So, once that box was checked, we figured it was a live ball and then looking at the schedule, Yankee Stadium didn’t seem like a great option for a debut.
“It just seemed like he was ready and this weekend made the most sense. And now he will get the experience of going to play in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, which is cool for him, because that’s life in the AL East, then come back for a nice homestand around Memorial Day. So, I think the timing worked out as well as it could have given that we were constrained by his injury.”
Rutschman is Elias’ first draft pick to reach the majors, with the former Oregon State standout chosen one-one in 2019. But Elias isn’t harping on it.
“I don’t really think of it that way,” he said. “We’ve brought in players over the years here that we’ve acquired that have debuted. Kyle Bradish was a pretty major trade acquisition. I think that these guys in the 2019, 2020 drafts have been slowed by the outage in 2020. A little bit of a relief I think to start to get those 2019 draft players up here, and I think there’s many more on the way.
“Obviously, Adley leading the way is special just because I think what he represents for this organization as its second-ever No. 1 pick and leader that we think he is and the position he plays, and kind of the central figure he has been in the minor league system. When more of these guys come up, it’s nice to have him here first.”
Grayson Rodriguez may not be far behind.
Rodriguez, the Orioles’ first selection in 2018, is starting again today for Triple-A Norfolk and has registered a 2.65 ERA and 1.018 WHIP in eight outings. He’s struck out 57 batters in 37 1/3 innings, including 11 in 5 1/3 scoreless frames Tuesday night in Charlotte.
“I think that there are a number of factors that we’ve been monitoring with Grayson,” Elias said. “First of all, he came into camp, it was a condensed major league camp because of the lockout. He wasn’t locked out, but it wasn’t a camp where we could let him have the normal number of innings that he could have because we were just trying to put a team together so quickly. He was a little off-kilter when he came into camp. His outings weren’t great.
“We sent him back to the minor league side. We were working on some things with his delivery that we felt were a little different from his banner 2021 season. Wanted to get him back on track. But equally if not more importantly is, when he comes up here we want him to be able to go and pitch and help the team and not handcuff the team, and we’ve got to be super careful with the workload for this kid just because of who he is. But the calendars that we’ve had to work around since he’s been drafted with the whole COVID shortening, you guys have heard the explanation enough for what we’ve had to deal with on the pitching side with innings. We’re building him up.
“He’s getting close to a full buildup. We just want to see him keep going on the track that I feel like he’s been on. The last two or three outings have been markedly better in terms of stuff, location, delivery. I think his last outing was kind of vintage Grayson, which was exciting, and I’m watching each one of his starts very carefully and I know we are as an organization.”
The buildup is a blend of innings and pitches.
“If he breezes today, you may see him pitch into the sixth or deep into the sixth or beyond,” Elias said. “We’ve taken it kind of case-by-case. But we want him to be able to not get shut down after he’s called up, assuming we call him up and everything continues to go well. And we want him to be able to help the team.
“There’s a lot of pitchers on this team that we’re having to manage the innings because we’ve got an eye on the future because they’re young, and because they’re in this generation of guys that have had very strange calendars the last few years. Tyler Wells in particular. He had surgery, he then missed two full years because of surgery, and he’s Rule 5’d, he’s a closer for a major league team and now he’s a starter for the team. It’s just a lot. And we’re in a situation with everything that we do where we’re prioritizing things beyond the 2022 season for very good reason.
“Grayson’s one of the most important pitchers in baseball and we want to make sure that we’re handling that responsibly. But very, very encouraged with his last few starts. There’s things that he’s learning and experiencing in Triple-A and getting feedback on from the hitters that he hasn’t yet, and we’re watching each start very carefully.
“We don’t want to send guys back down just because of overuse, so we’re trying to stretch this out carefully for that reason.”
DL Hall, the Orioles’ first pick in 2017, stands behind Rodriguez in the line to the major league staff. He’s made only three Triple-A starts and allowed seven runs with 14 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings.
The velocity is elite, with Hall sitting 97-99 mph in his last start and topping out at 100 mph.
“He’s got stuff that I think Triple-A is going to be speaking to him about, meaning the hitters there,” Elias said. “You saw the line last time, some walks. His stuff is unbelievable, he’s been healthy, he looks great, he’s throwing harder than ever, but he’s doing it with ease and efficiency. He’s just such an athlete with the way that his body works, and I think that his velocity is coming to him very easily to him, which is great. But he’s had interruptions to the season the last couple years. He’s still learning how to pitch.
“He’s now in the Triple-A level, where you’re facing veteran ex-major leaguers and guys in their 30’s, guys that know how to take pitches and lay off stuff, and this is going to be very beneficial for him. I just think we want to see him cover his innings, meaning not fire so many bullets that we’re having to take him out in the third inning, and get to the point where he’s built out. Obviously, we’re going to have to manage that workload quite a bit, too, with him throwing 40 innings last year and then having a stress fracture in his elbow. But he looks excellent.
“I think that the mixture of good and bad that we’ve seen in his performance so far at Norfolk is exactly what I would have expected, and I think that he’s ahead of schedule and expectations in terms of where he came into the year, and this is all good stuff, healthy stuff, that we’re seeing from him.”
Norfolk outfielder Yusniel Diaz has made a second stop on the injured list with a strained hamstring. He’s played in only 14 games, batting .327/.424/.510.
A strong spring training and rumblings of a potentially swift call-up are ruined again. He just can’t stay healthy, which is why he’s the only player among five acquired from the Dodgers in the 2018 Manny Machado trade who hasn’t reached the majors.
“It stinks for him,” Elias said. “He looked good in Triple-A, too. That was very disappointing news the other day. I don’t know what to say other than it stinks. It’s tough news. Once you have those, sometimes they can be more susceptible to recurrence. He’s a twitch, explosive guy and this stuff happens, but it’s really putting a hamper on his ability to get on a roll and make himself relevant for the major league team.
“I’m not ruling anything out but this is a big setback time-wise and we’ll just keep working with him and get him back out there, and hopefully in the second half he can get up here, because his time is overdue and we like him. It’s just been really tough with the injuries the last couple years, and he was off to a great start. We’ll just keep supporting him and our medical staff will get him healed up and get him back out there. But nothing anybody did or he did.”
Meanwhile, outfielder Austin Hays is getting a day off, with Anthony Santander playing left.
“We’re going to be rotating these guys,” said manager Brandon Hyde.
Santander has cleared the wall with a home run. Now he gets to play defense close to it.
The Orioles pushed back the wall about 30 feet and raised it six, in case anyone on the planet missed the news.
“We made the move for a reason and that reason is Orioles pitchers, and I think it’s a great thing for our pitching staff,” Elias said. “And like I said, the pitching difficulties that this organization has experienced over a 30-year period because of the dimensions and maybe the weather-based factors that have caused this ballpark to play so home run friendly… we’re not in a position to remodel the entire park, we wanted to reduce the number of home runs, particularly to left field, that would not be home runs anywhere else, and the options that were available to us in a smaller renovation like that were what we see, which was to move the left field wall back.
“It has been and will continue to be excellent for our young pitchers. I think not having the fear to throw the ball over the plate is something we can’t quantify. I think that our inability as a franchise for 30 years to kind of successfully sign pitchers on one-year deals, that’s a huge problem. It’s very hard to win that way. You need to be able to bring in pitchers on short-term contracts and have them want to be there, and I think it’s going to be a big thing for us going forward.
I think it was a big move for our franchise and if our Orioles pitchers feel a boost from it, then that’s why we did it.”
Jordan Lyles, Bruce Zimmermann and Wells are starting against the Yankees in the series that begins Monday. The usual order.
The Orioles won’t have a taxi squad because of the close proximity. Easier to get a player to the Bronx. But they might carry one in Boston, especially with Saturday’s day-night doubleheader.
Teams can’t carry more than 13 pitchers after May 29. The Orioles are going series-by-series in the meantime.
“Things happen so fast,” Hyde said. “We just played a road trip where we had one or two guys available on the bench for six days in a row. The next things you know, we’re full. Things happen so quickly up here.”