Rodriguez hitless until sixth, Rutschman sets career high with six RBIs in 9-2 win (updated)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Grayson Rodriguez hopped into the driver’s seat today and took his turn cruising the dome. Adley Rutschman rode shotgun.

After watching teammate Kyle Bradish retire 18 batters in a row yesterday, Rodriguez disposed of the first 15 Rays and didn’t allow a hit until Yandy Díaz lined a two-out, full-count single into right-center field in the sixth.

Rodriguez threw a career-high 107 pitches in 5 2/3 innings, the last 10 to Brandon Lowe, who dumped a broken-bat RBI single into right field. He walked off the mound, head bowed, to a standing ovation from another huge turnout of Orioles fanatics.  

Rutschman brought them to their feet again. He called a good game and took over it.

Anthony Santander homered again leading off the top of the fourth inning, Rutschman put the game out of reach with a grand slam in the eighth, and the Orioles moved closer to a series sweep with a 9-2 victory over the Rays before an announced crowd of 20,386 at Tropicana Field.

Cedric Mullins produced his first multi-hit game since May 23, and the Orioles climbed 20 games above .500 at 42-22. They also crept within two of the first-place Yankees, who play the Dodgers tonight.

Rutschman finished with a career-high six RBIs. Phil Maton, who allowed three runs in one-third of an inning yesterday, loaded the bases on Jordan Westburg’s leadoff triple and walks to Ramón Urías and Gunnar Henderson. Rutschman fell behind 0-2, fouled off two pitches and launched a curveball into the right field seats for his second career slam.

The day concluded with Rutschman batting .306 with eight doubles, 13 home runs, 49 RBIs and an .834 OPS. He’s 4-for-6 with two home runs and 11 RBIs with the bases loaded.

He’s also entered the early discussion for Most Valuable Player.

Rutschman began the day batting .392/.421/.510 with 27 RBIs with runners in scoring position, and he had three more hits this afternoon.

"I think Adley's one of the first guys you want up in any situation, just the at-bats he takes, " said manager Brandon Hyde. "He can really hit. You're always happy when he's up at the plate."

Dillon Tate inherited runners on the corners in the sixth and Randy Arozarena singled with the count full to reduce the Orioles’ lead to 3-2. Rodriguez was charged with two runs and two hits, with one walk and six strikeouts.

Tate walked Josh Lowe to load the bases before striking out Jonny DeLuca.

"Wish I could have pitched deeper in that game," Rodriguez said. "Started off pretty good, didn't finish it near the way I wanted to. Wanted to keep the bullpen out of it for a little bit longer.

"I was obviously kind of cruising through the first part of the game. Lost the zone a little bit there in the sixth. Still searching for it there at the end. I think that's what led to the baserunners. But yeah, next time definitely going to try to be in the zone a little bit better at the end of the outing."

Rodriguez struck out the last two batters in the fourth to leave his pitch count at 62. He ended the fifth by fanning Richie Palacios on a changeup, his 75th pitch of the game.

Taylor Walls drew a five-pitch walk to open the sixth, ruining any thoughts of the first perfect game in franchise history. José Caballero lined to Henderson for the second out, the first hint that the Rays might actually be able to make solid contact. Rodriguez lost command, and back-to-back singles by Díaz and Brandon Lowe forced his exit.

Rodriguez’s previous high in pitches was 101, an amount he reached twice. Lowe made him blow past it.

"Was just in total, complete command for almost six innings," Hyde said. "Just the maturation process and him developing as a major league starter, you're really starting to see it. And his understanding how important fastball command is. Last two starts have been unbelievable."

"I thought he was attacking the zone really well, was using all his pitches effectively in zone and really good two-strike pitches, as well," Rutschman said. "I think just in that sixth inning, a little bit of unluckiness there. Obviously, the Rays are a phenomenal team. They're good hitters. And I thought Grayson did a great job."

The inherited runner scoring left Rodriguez’s ERA at 3.27. Corbin Burnes began today ranked fifth in the American League and eighth in the majors at 2.26. Bradish lowered his ERA yesterday to 2.62 with six scoreless innings.

The Orioles ranked third in the majors with a 3.21 ERA and 3.11 rotation ERA.

"They've done a great job," Rutschman said. "Just the confidence the guys have this year, you can see it in their presence on the mound, and I think that's something that's cool to see from our end because guys are throwing with confidence and they know that their stuff plays in the big leagues. It makes my job a lot easier and a lot more fun."

Bradish provided a road map for Rodriguez with Saturday's domination.

"We're able to look at video from his outing," Rodriguez said. "Throwing today, he faced them yesterday, the lineup would be a little similar. You kind of see some things that he exploits and it's something this rotation does very well is building off one another."

Santander has hit five home runs in nine games this month and is second on the club with 14. He lined a splitter from Zack Littell to right-center field at 106 mph.

The Orioles pushed their home run total to 102, the most in the majors. Ryan O’Hearn flied to the fence in right field leading off the sixth, inches away from becoming the sixth Orioles player with a double-digit total.

“These guys have incredible pop the whole way through,” co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller said earlier in the day, rattling off names like Santander, Rutschman, Henderson and O’Hearn. “And it’s one of those things where more time in the league, how pitchers are attacking them, especially in-division opponents, we’ve got a really good sample to look at. Their approaches have been so good and it’s not something that we’re focusing on trying to hit home runs every time, but it’s definitely a byproduct of their preparation and really good approaches going into the game.”

The Orioles led 1-0 in the third after Henderson doubled with one out and scored on Rutschman’s soft single into right-center – only 72.4 mph off the bat. Jordan Westburg doubled with two outs in the sixth and scored on Colton Cowser’s first major league triple for a 3-0 lead.

Mullins snapped an 0-for-25 streak with a leadoff single in the fifth, his second hit in 33 at-bats. He swiped his 13th base and was stranded, but he tripled off Garrett Cleavinger to lead off the seventh and scored following singles by Henderson and Rutschman.

"That was big," Hyde said of Mullins' performance. "To get that first one on two strikes ... I feel like he's buried 0-2 almost every single count. And then off the lefty, a huge hit at the time getting a triple on that. Great to see him have some good at-bats today."

"I feel like some of the adjustments I made came in today," Mullins said. "I've had some good swings and it just didn't fall. It was nice to see hit some grass, hit some dirt.

"It's been tough, but being that it's a long season, it's a matter of getting your mind right. Once you feel like your mechanics are in sync for the most part, it is a matter of getting the mental down and trying not to put too much on yourself."

Henderson came home on Ryan Mountcastle’s groundout to increase the lead to 5-2, a resounding response to the Rays’ rally.

Westburg led off the eighth with the third triple of the day, tying the club record, and his second in two games. He came close to being stranded, but Rutschman painted a huge exclamation point on the win.

The bullpen wasn’t charged with a run in 3 1/3 innings and has allowed only two in the last 32. Cionel Pérez retired the side in order in the seventh.

The Orioles have won eight of their last 11 games, nine of 13 and 13 of 17.

"We're playing just really solid baseball," Hyde said. "We're getting good starting pitching, our bullpen's been incredible, especially on this trip, and we've played good defense almost the entire year. We're pretty balanced offensively. It's an all-around good team right now."

"I'm really proud of our team just from the standpoint of our guys show up every single day and they're ready to go," Rutschman said. "Our guys don't take at-bats off, they don't take days off. Even a day like today, early game, our guys show up and are ready to go. Everyone's attitude and their effort levels the entire year have been extremely impressive."

* Hyde said Jorge Mateo wouldn't be reinstated from the concussion injured list on Monday. Maybe by Tuesday.

Kyle Stowers (wrist) and Austin Hays (ribs) were sore today. Hyde is hoping they're available on Monday.

Hays might have started today if he felt better.

* Rutschman caught Rodriguez for the 10th time in 11 starts. Rutschman has been in the lineup for the first three games of the series, which likely pairs Burnes with James McCann in Monday night’s finale.

McCann has caught Burnes in four consecutive starts and six of 13. Burnes has registered a 2.34 ERA with Rutschman behind the plate and a 2.17 ERA with McCann, so not much difference in results.

Burnes is working on a streak of eight quality starts in a row. Jim Palmer holds the club record with 12 in 1975, followed by Jack Harshman (1958) and Steve Barber (1965) with 11, per STATS. Robin Roberts and Jeremy Guthrie registered 10 in a row in 1962 and 2007, respectively.

A ninth for Burnes would tie him with Milt Pappas (four times), Hoyt Wilhelm, Jim Hardin, Dave McNally and Erik Bedard.

* Julio Teheran made his Triple-A Norfolk debut today and allowed seven runs and nine hits in four innings. He walked four batters, struck out four and surrendered a pair of home runs.

Billy Cook hit a two-run homer in the first inning. Jackson Holliday had a left-on-left, two-run double in the second and Daniel Johnson added a two-run single. Cook and Johnson both had three hits.

Dylan Beavers hit his eighth home run with Double-A Bowie and Silas Ardoin hit his second. Seth Johnson tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings with two hits, four walks and four strikeouts.

Mullins makes most of his latest opportunity
O's game blog: Rodriguez faces the Rays at The Tro...

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