Gunnar Henderson led off the third inning last night by barreling a cutter from Tampa Bay’s Zach Eflin and driving it into right-center field at 99.9 mph off the bat.
Manuel Margot raced to the gap, dived and missed it. Luke Raley tried to pick up the ball with his glove and failed on the first attempt as Henderson kept motoring.
The official scorer gave him a triple on the play, and he scored on Jorge Mateo’s ground ball to the right side.
Henderson also flied out and grounded out and is batting .179 with a .665 OPS in 31 games. He hasn’t gone on a tear, but the Orioles expect it to happen and are staying patient with the former No. 1 prospect in baseball.
“There’s been some encouraging stuff,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said yesterday in his first media session since the end of spring training.
“The walk totals (22), he’s hit for power in spots. The defense has been really good. It’s really early. We’ve seen what he did in the minors, we saw what he did last September. You look at what other people around the league are doing through April. It’s very early.
“He’s putting the work in, he’s grinding out at-bats. I think he’s going to snap out of this pretty soon. And with Ramón (Urías) going on the IL, we need him.”
Henderson is 3-for-21 in May. He has a triple, home run, five walks and seven strikeouts.
Manager Brandon Hyde called the triple “huge” for the young infielder, who’s going to get bulk starts at third base with Ramón Urías on the injured list.
“The guy’s really trying hard, grinding right now,” Hyde said. “For him to get some results with all the work he’s put in, that was enormous for us.”
* Elias has indicated in the past that the Orioles could be aggressive at the trade deadline if they remain in contention, which is expected to happen after winning 23 of their first 36 games and holding onto second place in the division. But what about seeking improvements with prospects remaining in Triple-A?
“I think most of that is going to come from guys who are here,” Elias said. “Most of this team is real young, most of this team is not in their prime, most of this team does not have a lot of major league experience. So, you look at a lot of those guys, odds are if they’re as talented as we think they are, they should get better with time. With our young group up here on the Orioles’ 26-man roster, I see a lot of these guys getting better as the year goes along, and that’s going to be a big boost. And that includes pitchers like Grayson (Rodriguez), or even guys in more of a sophomore kind of season like (Kyle) Bradish. So, I expect some improvement there.
“But it’s awfully nice having so much of our very good farm system in Triple-A, knowing that some of those guys are going to break through, too, and come back. Also, I’m looking forward to John Means coming back here in the second half, as well. I see more of an upward trend for this team because of all that growth and some of the talent that could be coming up off the IL or from Triple-A.”
* Colton Cowser led off again last night for Norfolk and went 2-for-3 with an RBI, two walks and two runs scored. He’s batting .313 with .978 OPS.
The 2021 first-round draft pick has played 58 games at the Triple-A level, including 27 last summer in his third and final stop in his affiliate climb.
There’s only one more level for him to go. Nothing higher than the majors.
“So far, very encouraging in terms of just the production, but in particular the strikeout/walk numbers have been good,” Elias said. “He really hasn’t spent that much time in Triple-A. We gave him a taste at the end of last year. We’re a month and change in. Everything that he’s doing is really encouraging. If he keeps this up, he’s going to put himself in a position to help this team. But I don’t think we’re at that moment in time yet where we can say that he’s graduated Triple-A. But we are constantly having internal discussions about all of those guys because they’re all performing.
“And we’ve got players in Double-A that are performing, too, that need to get to Triple-A. So, these are good problems to sort out of us, and I think as the season goes along we’re going to see more and more of these guys.”
* Heston Kjerstad, whose diagnosis of myocarditis after the Orioles made him the second-overall pick in 2020 caused a long delay to his professional debut, is batting .298 with four doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 14 RBIs and a 1.021 OPS at Bowie.
“It’s remarkable, what’s he’s doing with the outage that he had,” Elias said. “I think it was two years off, give or take, and that’s a long time to go without seeing pitching, but also, he was restricted from general physical activities for a long time. That can’t be underestimated, as well. He’s been one of the best hitters in Double-A so far and was equally good in major league spring training. I view it as a matter of repetitions in terms of, if he keeps doing this, how much longer before he needs a new challenge.”
* Adley Rutschman halted an 0-for-19 skid last night with a two-run homer onto Eutaw Street. The 111.1 mph blast was the hardest of his young career.
Rutschman also drew his 29th walk to lead the American League.
Elias said Rutschman is “arguably in the conversation to be the best catcher in baseball right now.”
“And catcher is one of those few positions where you’re impacting other players on the field, so that part of it is hard to quantify, but I think anybody that sits here and watches Orioles games on a nightly basis can sense the impact that he’s having, the value that he’s bringing. And he’s also somebody who’s 25. He’s getting better still. And I include him in that group that I continue to think we’re going to see their best days ahead,” Elias said.
“He is plus on both sides of the ball, and I don’t think there’s any way to look around the league right now and see what he’s done over the past calendar year and make the argument that he’s not a top five catcher or so in baseball right now. And I think as he continues to improve, he should be in the conversation for No. 1.”
* Hyde used Yennier Cano for five outs last night, removing him in the eighth after Raley singled. Félix Bautista earned his eighth save, but he also walked three batters in 1 1/3 and threw 29 pitches.
Bautista won’t be available tonight. Too many pitches.
“The last three innings didn’t quite go the way we drew it up,” Hyde said. “The leadoff walk (from Mike Baumann) in the seventh hurt, and with the top of the order there and Cano available … but I don’t like pitching him more than an inning. It’s just kind of the way the situation happened and how we were. But he got five enormous outs for us.
“I didn’t want him to go too long, honestly, after having a day off after pitching two innings (Sunday). Called down, and Félix wanted a four-out save, and gave it to him.”
* The Rays are starting Jalen Beeks tonight as the opener instead of Yonny Chirinos.
Beeks is trading places with Chirinos.
Beeks … Trading Places … Is this thing on?