Adley Rutschman provided a nice distraction yesterday for the Orioles. He also supplied the humor.
Asked if he had any nice purchases in mind after receiving a record $8.1 million signing bonus, Rutschman smiled and said, “I don’t really know. I’m pretty comfortable with my Honda Civic.”
A question about his physical condition was handled in three words and with another grin: “I feel great.”
If you want him to expand on it, find a comfortable seat and keep waiting.
Rutschman made a terrific impression on the Orioles yesterday. Multiple players talked to me about his maturity and how he seems like a genuinely nice guy. Respectful but not overwhelmed by the major league scene.
He also takes one heck of a batting practice. Rutschman launched baseballs as if he’d spent his entire professional life at Camden Yards. He one-hopped the warehouse with one of his swings.
“I’d just like say thank you to the entire Baltimore Orioles staff for their hospitality the last couple of days and for providing my family and me with a great experience,” Rutschman said during his press conference. “It’s truly a beautiful city and I’m very excited to be here.
“It’s been a long journey to get here and to live out this dream and have the opportunity that I have today. I had the opportunity yesterday to walk around the stadium and meet some of the fans. It’s a special thing here and it’s a special history. Just to be a part of that and the building process that is going on right now, I’m truly humbled to be a part of that.”
“We are in a phase right now where we’re looking for building blocks,” said executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, “and I think that by signing Adley Rutschman we found a very big piece.”
Players were interested in meeting him, but they’re focused on the current season more than what could transpire down the road. And it’s going to be a while, with Rutschman reporting to the Gulf Coast League and later short-season Single-A Aberdeen.
“I think our guys are more concerned with themselves, to be honest with you, and their careers and trying to do well personally and be part of a good culture and try to win the game tonight,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I don’t think they’re looking behind ... Somebody that’s just drafted, it’s not like it’s right behind them. It’s a ways. So I think that they’re more focused on their own career at this point.”
Rutschman was drafted as a catcher but he’s going to play some first base and serve as a designated hitter while easing into his professional career.
“He’s definitely going to catch,” Elias said. “He’s not going to catch every single day of the week. Nobody does in minor league baseball. I think one consideration with him is we feel his defense is fairly polished, so we don’t know that he needs to log a ton of development innings in the catching position. The at-bats are probably going to be more important for his minor league development. But certainly we want to keep him catching and get him some experience catching in pro ball and pitchers that he hasn’t worked with, pro pitchers, pitchers from Latin America. There is a lot that goes into that.
“In terms of the exact amount, especially this summer, I don’t know right this second. He will catch some, but it will probably be more of a part-time thing this summer. I think we’ll use lineup spots however we can, so if it’s DH or first base, he’s done that in college, too, on days that he’s not catching, so that won’t be anything abnormal for him. I do think we’ll see him at a number of positions.”
How will Rutschman handle the pressure? He comes from a major program and has played in the College World Series. He’s conducted tons of interviews and has been hounded by scouts and other talent evaluators. He had to produce this season knowing that most mocks placed him atop the draft class.
“It’s basically about sticking to your process,” he said, “and trying to be the best baseball player that you can be.”
The Orioles will introduce Alabama prep shortstop Gunnar Henderson, their second round pick, later this morning.
Thirty-one of their 41 selections are under contract. Third-rounder Zach Watson, the outfielder from LSU, has eluded them.
Meanwhile, the Orioles haven’t been able to win a series in their last 18 tries and will go for the split this afternoon.
Hyde is trying to fill out his rotation while waiting for left-hander John Means to come off the injured list, a move that’s expected this weekend. He used Jimmy Yacabonis as the opener again last night. Gabriel Ynoa has allowed 13 runs in his last two starts over 7 2/3 innings.
Poor health and ineffectiveness among the pitchers are conspiring to keep Hyde awake nights.
“Yeah, a little bit of all of that,” Hyde said. “We’re having a tough time getting through games. We’re obviously short in our rotation and have had to do a bunch of bullpen days recently. It hasn’t been easy. Playing some pretty good clubs, and to go in with a mix-and-match rotation is never easy, so it’s kind of where we are right now.”
Yacabonis gave the Orioles 2 2/3 innings last night with five runs and five hits allowed in an 8-3 loss to the Padres.
“I feel good, physically,” he said. “I didn’t run out of gas at all. I felt good. I’ve got to get them the next time.”
Manny Machado made a triumphant return to Camden Yards with a home run and RBI single. He was greeted with a standing ovation before his first at-bat.
“It was awesome,” Machado said. “I came back and, like always, the fans did not disappoint. It was good to come back home.
“I didn’t know what to expect. They go above and beyond. It was truly something special that I’ll never forget. It was just amazing. The fans gave me a standing O. It tells you everything about the fan base here.”
Yacabonis stayed off the rubber and let the moment unfold.
“It was cool,” he said. “I was in the minor leagues when he was here, when they had the good runs with the good teams, and he had all his accomplishments and stuff. It was cool.
“I saw it up on the board, so I just took a step off the mound, so I just gave it some time to play out.”