The smile, chuckle and slight eye roll gave away Trey Mancini’s opinion on the subject, and he didn’t need to hear the rest of the question.
He knew what was coming and found the amusement in it.
Adley Rutschman began last night’s game on the bench, a break that manager Brandon Hyde planned in advance. Baseball’s top prospect is living up to the defensive hype with his skills and energy behind the plate and handling of pitchers, but he’s 7-for-39 with no home runs and 10 strikeouts in 10 games.
Three of those strikeouts occurred in Tuesday’s series opener against the Mariners, after his second career two-hit game the previous night. A botched ruling on a checked swing was responsible for the first strikeout.
Do the veterans in the clubhouse make sure that Rutschman isn’t stressing over the slow start, that he remains unaffected by it?
“I’m not worried. It’s a small sample size and such a non-story,” Mancini replied.
“Every time you come up here, you see it more and more now, even in the five years that I’ve been in the league from 2017 to now. I think the pitching’s even gotten that much better. Guys are going to ‘struggle’ at some point up here. You see it with all the rookies this year. There’s certainly growing pains that go on. After you get up here for a while, you learn how to be successful.
“Adley’s going to be just fine. He’s extremely talented, as we all know, he’s got a great head on his shoulders, and again, we’re talking about less than 40 at-bats here. I probably got off to a very similar start myself. He’s going to be fine.”
So, maybe it’s unreasonable to expect a player, no matter how good, to go on an immediate offensive tear and treat major league pitching as if it’s rookie-level ball.
Spencer Torkelson, the first-overall pick in the 2020 draft, began last night batting .206 with a .653 OPS for the Tigers. Bobby Witt Jr., chosen one spot below Rutschman in 2019, was batting .232/.275/.441 in 46 games with the Royals, though he began heating up in May.
“Just look at the young players around the game right now, and there are a lot of guys who aren’t putting up numbers that people thought because top prospect or whatever,” said manager Brandon Hyde.
“It’s a tough game, especially breaking into the big leagues right now. That’s an early sample size. Adley’s only got a handful of at-bats. He’s going to learn every game, he’s going to make some adjustments. I thought he swung the bat good in Boston.”
If Rutschman does require some veteran counseling, or just a little encouragement, teammates won’t hesitate to approach him. It’s a tight group.
“I think the guy that he works with the most is Robinson (Chirinos),” Hyde said. “Robinson has really experienced almost everything in this game, and to have somebody next to you at your locker … and I know they’re becoming more close as the days go on here. You see them talking all the time. That’s extremely helpful to him.”
* The first pitch from infielder Chris Owings in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game registered by the tracker as a 49 mph slider.
Chris Owings throws a slider?
“No, no,” he said yesterday. "More like a four-seam, gravity ball is what you could call it."
Owings is the emergency pitcher, a role he filled for one game with the Royals in 2019. He was one out away on Sunday from taking the mound in Boston.
Hyde approached Owings in the dugout Tuesday night and asked if he’d want to pitch. Zac Lowther covered 5 1/3 innings after replacing Bryan Baker. Marcos Diplán tossed 1 1/3 scoreless. But the Orioles were down nine runs and Hyde didn’t intend to burn another reliever.
“I said, ‘Sure, yeah,’” Owings said.
Owings’ pitching background ends in high school, “and I wasn’t a starter or anything,” he said.
“Luckily, our team had a lot of pitching. I just played short basically every day, and my senior year I was kind of closing a little bit and I ended up getting some tendinitis and shut it down basically. I really didn’t pitch a ton in high school.”
Owings’ professional pitching debut came in the Royals’ 16-1 loss to the Rangers on May 16, 2019. He allowed four runs and six hits in 1 2/3 innings. Hunter Pence and current teammate Rougned Odor hit long home runs.
“It’s tough, it really is,” he said. “You’re really just trying to guide the ball in there. That first outing I had, we were obviously getting blown out and I was falling behind 2-0, 3-1, and I was trying to guide it in there, and then I was having to throw BP fastballs at like 60, 70. Guys were teeing off.
“I ended up throwing like 50 pitches that outing because our bullpen was just shot.”
Owings changed his approach Tuesday, allowed a run on two doubles and lowered his ERA to 9.00.
“Just get it in there, lob it, and I was throwing strikes,” he said.
Owings also might be the emergency catcher – an assignment he’d really like to avoid.
“We have not talked about that,” he said with a laugh.
“I had two surgeries on my thumb last year, so we need to talk about that a little more.”
Owings pointed at Odor and said, “This might be our guy right here. He had the catching gear on in Boston. He went out and warmed up the pitcher. That was him out there.”
That might be enough to qualify him.
* Odor’s last three home runs have been three-run shots, which got me to wondering: What’s the club record for most consecutive home runs with at least two runners on base?
Leo Gomez, Fred Lynn and Boog Powell share it with four, according to STATS. Gomez in 1992, Lynn in 1987 and Powell in 1967.
The last player to hit three straight home runs with at least two runners on base is, and this is a shocker, Hanser Alberto in August 2019.
Dwight Smith Jr. and Jonathan Villar also did it that season.
We also have:
Matt Wieters in 2012
Aubrey Huff in 2007
Miguel Tejada in 2004
Jeff Conine in 2001
Dwight Evans in 1991
Sam Horn in 1990
Fred Lynn in 1986
Cal Ripken Jr. in 1985
Mike Young in 1985
Lynn in 1985
Ken Singleton in 1984
Eddie Murray in 1984
Gary Roenicke in 1982
Terry Crowley in 1981
Dan Graham in 1980
Lee May in 1975
Paul Blair in 1973
Powell in 1972
Jim Gentile in 1960