Adley Rutschman’s first day in the major leagues did not lead to an Orioles win. They lost 6-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays to fall to 2-4 on this homestand and 16-25 on the season.
But one game is not as important as what Rutschman's arrival represents. The rebuild no longer is inching forward but taking a big leap. With more prospects and more such leaps still to come. Between the Orioles and the top of the American League East is a big gap. But the hope across Birdland is that that gap is starting to close, and yesterday was the latest and maybe greatest step forward.
“Somebody that Mike (Elias) took 1/1 and we have high hopes for,” manager Brandon Hyde said before Rutschman’s Saturday night debut. “So much pressure put on him and there is so much anticipation that I want him to relax and play the game like he did in high school. I understand that is not realistic, but I want him to enjoy today with all the hoopla that is going into it. It’s a day he’ll never forget.
“I think the fans are going to embrace how he plays, how hard he plays. His personality. What kind of guy he is and he’s going to be a good player. Whether that is going to showcase tonight or this week, who knows? But he’s going to be a good player for a long time.”
And hopefully this arrival – the first of a few for top Baltimore prospects this year – means the organization will now be more consistently trending up. It may not be a straight line headed for the top, but the Orioles hope they are moving in the right direction now.
“It’s been a process, from the day we got here, with a lot of ups and downs,” added Hyde. “We’re still going through a lot of things, but it means a lot to have his first pick get here and you look at the lineup tonight there are a lot of talented, young guys in there, and the guy on the mound as well.
“Want to believe that we’re turning the corner and starting to play competitive AL East baseball and have the type of players that are going to be able to compete and win a division. … Doesn’t seem like we’re out of a game. The energy level in our dugout is fantastic. I think we’re a lot more talented than we’ve been in the past."
The Saturday night lineup featured five homegrown players among the first six batters, in Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, Trey Mancini, Ryan Mountcastle and Rutschman.
“It was fun to write the lineup out today," Hyde said. "It felt good to see so many young talented guys that we have hopes for. And they will be learning together at the major league level to be early on in their careers in there and to be more balanced too. A more balanced lineup. Fun to write that."
You debut just once, and yes, it lasts only one day. But the impact of this player on the team, town and more, has much longer and more significant impact. That is the fervent hope around Birdland.
Rutschman went 1-for-3 with a walk and tripled into the right-field corner in the last of the seventh.
Mancini talked before the game about the rebuilding taking a step forward now with Rutschman's arrival.
“It’s not something that happens overnight, obviously," he said. "But it’s not a thing where you can circle like, ‘Oh in this year, we are going to start competing.’ It’s something that just happens over time, and it starts by establishing the culture that we have here. And when you do that and do things the right way, sometimes you can compete a little earlier than you think. And we’re going to see more guys like Adley come up here over the next year or so. And that is really exciting, and for the fans, too. I know they have been waiting for this day for a long time."
Those two relievers were good: Logan Gillaspie and Nick Vespi were not well known to many O’s fans heading into this season. That changed this week.
Both had pretty amazing stories as they arrived in Birdland. Gillaspie came up through independent baseball and was released by Milwaukee on his way to the Orioles. Baltimore drafted Vespi in the 18th round in 2015, and he beat long odds to get here. And spent a long time chasing his dream.
And then they were gone from the roster, just like that, on Saturday.
But over three games this week they combined to throw 5 2/3 scoreless innings in big situations for the Orioles. Vespi threw two scoreless in extra innings Friday night, with the placed runner on base during every pitch he threw. Thanks to a throw to the plate from Austin Hays and his good pitching, he put up two zeros. He and Gillaspie both looked good. They both figure to be back, and maybe for a real long stretch next time.
“As you start getting better and more talent at the upper levels and more talent in the big leagues, the roster moves you make become harder and harder,” Hyde said Saturday. “Because you are losing guys you don’t want to lose sometimes, out of necessity. I’m just so impressed with how our young guys so far this year have come up here and competed at high level. That is what I’m so happy about.
“Gillaspie, we know his story. And then Vespi, who is a minor league grinder and gets an opportunity. He came in and helped us win major league games. You’ll see them back up here again at some point. Just the job that they have done was fantastic, and in a tough situation. They are competing in a tough division and tough league.“