O's Cody Asche on facing Valdez, Rutschman batting leadoff and more

HOUSTON – As the Orioles look to salvage one game in their three-game series at Houston and avoid being swept today, they face a tough lefty in Houston’s Framber Valdez (5-5, 3.91 ERA).

He finished 11th for the American League Cy Young Award in 2020, was fifth in 2022 and ninth last year.

In these past two years he has gone 29-17 with a 3.13 ERA over 399 1/3 innings. But in those two years, as he has had high Cy Young vote finishes, he faced the Orioles once each season and they fared well against him. In the two games, they scored 13 runs off Valdez (10 earned) in a combined 12 1/3 innings.

In an interview with local media today, O’s offensive strategy coach Cody Asche talked about the challenge of facing Valdez today and how the O’s batters might approach it.

“I think a lot of our guys will kind of lean on their experiences last year," he said. " I thought we had really good at-bats last year at Camden. And I think even two years ago, we kind of ended that quality-starts streak against him.

“Hopefully, it’s more of the same. We control the strike zone, we get pitches over the middle and hit them hard. That is kind of the process we go through every day and I think that’s the strength of our team.”

Asche has a good memory. On Sept. 25, 2022, Valdez allowed seven runs (four earned) and 11 hits over 5 1/3 innings against the Orioles. That day they ended his major league single-season record streak of quality starts at 25 in a row. Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander homered.

Last year in Baltimore on Aug. 8, Valdez fell behind 5-0 in the second inning to the Orioles and allowed six runs over seven innings. Ryan Mountcastle hit a two-run homer in the first and Adley Rutschman added a two-run shot in the second.

Mountcastle is 3-for-8 with a homer against the lefty, Santander is also 3-for-8 while Jorge Mateo is 3-for-7 and Rutschman is 3-for-6 off Valdez.

Rutschman is batting leadoff today. It’s the first time this year he’s been atop the order. But he batted first in 41 games and for 190 plate appearances last year.

In those games in the No. 1 spot, Rutschman batted .270/.363/.399/.762 with four homers and 24 RBIs. He walked 23 times and fanned 21 in the leadoff spot in 2023.

“I think it’s probably just trying to get our best hitters the most at-bats,” Asche said today about Rutschman hitting first. “I think we’ve kind of run with this construction lately against left-handed pitching. Gunnar (Henderson) is in the four hole. You know, Adley, Mounty, Tony, they crush lefties. Get them the most at-bats. That is probably the thinking there."

The Orioles lead the majors with 124 home runs and are one of three clubs with more than 100 homers this season, along with the Yankees (115) and Dodgers (108). The Orioles have homered in 21 consecutive games, the longest streak in the big leagues this season and the longest such streak in team history, ahead of a 20-gamer from July 17 to Aug. 9, 1998. The major league record is 31 straight games with a home run by the 2019 Yankees, and the last team with a home run streak of at least 21 games was the Braves, who had a 28-game streak from June 10 to July 15, 2023.

"We are pretty lucky to have a front-row seat in the dugout," Asche said of the O's current homer streak. "I'm pretty partial, but I think we have the deepest lineup in the major leagues. Like today we have Cedric on the bench. He's a really good guy, a power threat. The other day we had (Colton) Cowser on the bench, huge power threat as a rookie. Up and down our lineup there is a guy that can jump you at any point in time.

"It's not like, though, we sat down in spring training and said, 'Hey boys, let's hit a bunch of homers this year.' It's a process-oriented approach that has lent itself to hitting home runs," Asche said. "Having a Gunnar Henderson up also makes this easier. And then you've got Tony Santander in his favorite month, and that's fun too." 

Coming soon I'll have more from today's interview with Asche about the O's offense this season. 

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