Opening night starter: DL Hall moves up to Double-A and debuts tonight

Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez might be the Orioles’ highest-ranked pitching prospect. But left-hander DL Hall is not far behind.

And now armed with a fastball that touches 100 mph and what he believes is improved command, the 22-year-old Hall will make his Double-A debut tonight. He’s on the mound when the Bowie Baysox play at Altoona on opening night.

In the most current national rankings, Baseball America rates Rodriguez No. 18 on its top 100 list, with Hall No. 52. ranks Rodriguez, who will start tonight for high Single-A Aberdeen, at No. 22 and Hall at No. 60.

Thumbnail image for DL-Hall-Throws-Shorebirds-Orange-Sidebar.jpgHall will be caught tonight by the Orioles’ No. 1 prospect and a player ranked No. 2 in many national rankings in Adley Rutschman. These two have gotten to know each other well as Rutschman caught Hall both last year at the O’s alternate site and this spring at minor league camp in Florida.

“He is a stud pitcher,” Rutschman said of Hall. “I think we’ve seen that he always has the stuff. As he continues to refine himself mentally and physically, being able to understand himself better, you can just see the confidence that comes with that. So, I’m really excited to catch and work with him this year.

“As far as his stuff is concerned, his fastball is a very effective weapon that he is going to be able to use. And, that’s going to allow him to open up doors as far as his changeup, his slider and curve. He’s a four-pitch-mix guy who has got a lot of potential and a lot of upside. So, whatever is working for him on a given day and depending on what hitter we are facing, he’s going to be able to use all four of those pitches effectively.”

The 21st overall pick in the 2017 draft out of Valdosta (Ga.) High School, Hall pitched at then high Single-A Frederick in 2019. He went 4-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 19 games. Over 80 2/3 innings, Hall allowed 53 hits with 54 walks and got 116 strikeouts. He allowed a .189 average against and allowed 1.33 WHIP.

Buck Britton managed Hall when he recorded a 2.10 ERA and 1.166 WHIP at low Single-A Delmarva in 2018, and will be his manager this season at Bowie. He watched Hall throw an easy 95, 96 mph in Florida this spring, touching 100.

“This kid has really matured,” said Britton, who took Bowie to the Eastern League championship series in 2019. “That is the biggest thing that jumps off the page for me. And I’m not talking about being a young kid and growing up. Just, as a pitcher. It used to be, ‘Here is my fireball.’ Breaking ball was inconsistent, changeup was just being developed last time I saw him. This guy came into camp with a different mindset. And he looks - knock on wood here - this guy looks really good.

“I was really impressed with the kid that showed up at camp. Even from the alternate camp (last year). This guy came in with another gear and he looked fantastic in spring training. Really excited to see him pitch this year.”

Hall is very aware of an area on the stat sheet that lets him know there is still work to do. He averaged 6.0 walks per nine at Frederick and is at 5.1 over a three-year pro career on the O’s farm.

“Coming in after a lot of walks in the 2019 season at Frederick, this year I wanted to come in and focus on pounding the strike zone and not giving up free bases,” Hall said. “That was a big thing for me. It was really just more mental cues to help me to get to that, and trusting my stuff, and I feel like I made big strides with that. In spring training, I think I had three walks all of camp.

“I’ve made some minor tweaks, nothing too crazy, just some things to time everything up. Not really mechanical or changing anything, just working on getting everything timed up better. And getting that rhythm and flow more consistently. That was big to work on that and find a consistent rhythm.”

Britton saw improved control and command as well in Florida.

“That impressed me the most,” he said. “Not only the strikes he is throwing, but the quality of strikes he is throwing. Being able to throw his breaking ball at any time. A 3-2 breaking ball for a strike, first-pitch breaking ball for strikes. Changeup has come a long way and he’s had that really good fastball and is starting to understand, these hitters, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw, but location is important. He’s got upper 90s now and is commanding the ball well.”

Rutschman will catch a talented staff at Bowie, with eight pitchers getting starter-type innings over a five-day rotation. Some days there will be piggyback or tandem pitching for the Baysox.

Rutschman looks forward to catching Hall, and Hall looks forward to having Rutschman there for him behind the plate.

“I think that is a big relationship between a pitcher and a catcher that matters a lot,” said Hall. “He makes average pitchers look really good. That’s a huge thing to have somebody back there that makes you really comfortable on the mound and gives you confidence just with his body language and things like that. It’s been great getting to work with him and I’m excited to have him behind the plate for me this year.”

In the 2017 and 2018 drafts, Hall and Rodriguez became the first high school pitchers ever to be taken No. 1 in consecutive drafts by the Orioles. They are not on the same team yet, but a strong friendship has formed between these highly rated, talented pitchers.

“It’s been really good. Me and him, we’re at each other’s throats every day,” Hall said with a laugh. “It’s a good time, all in fun and getting each other better. He might go out and throw really well or I might and we’ll always have something to say to each other to kind of bring each other back down to earth. Just to kind of talk some crap sometimes. But it’s all in good fun and it’s been good to develop a relationship with him. To bounce things off each other to help each other out.”

Said Britton of the Hall-Rodriguez relationship: “They are the best thing to happen to both of them. For DL to have Grayson and Grayson to have DL. They really feed off each other. Especially in spring, they would match up in sim games. Those were days, if I were a hitter, I would have a tight hamstring and ask for a day off.”

When Hall takes the mound at Altoona tonight for his Eastern League debut, he will also be pitching in a game with fans in the stands for the first time since the 2019 season.

“I think it’s huge,” he said. “There is nothing like that game-time adrenaline. It’s unmatched. We talked about it in spring training, about how in the offseason when you are getting ready for camp, you try to build your arm up and get ready for games. But you just can’t match the intensity of a real, true game with fans in the stands. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to feel crazy since we haven’t done it in so long. But in a good way it’s going to help us and push us to do better.”

Farm notes: The others to pitch and get starter innings for Bowie are Gray Fenter, Kyle Bradish, Cody Sedlock, Kevin Smith, Cameron Bishop, Brenan Hanifee and Ofelky Peralta. Fenter will pitch after Hall tonight. Britton said that if he had a save situation tonight he’d likely give the ball to Nick Vespi.

The projected starters for Bowie show JC Escarra at first base with Terrin Vavra at second, Cadyn Grenier at short and Patrick Dorrian at third. Vavra will move around some and also play some in center and left field. Also in the Bowie infield are Alexis Torres, Willy Yahn and Malquin Canelo.

Jaylen Ferguson is expected to get most of the early starts in center with Zach Jarrett and Robert Neustrom playing corner outfield. Ferguson is an interesting guy to watch with some plus tools who is skipping a level here, having last played at Single-A Delmarva in 2019.

Right-hander Conner Greene is set to start tonight for Triple-A Norfolk at Jacksonville. Lefty Josh Rogers and righty Spenser Watkins will follow in the rotation through the first three games. That is all we know for now.

Tyler Nevin is expected to start at first base tonight for the Tides, with Jahmai Jones at second, Richie Martin at short and Rylan Bannon at third. Brett Cumberland will catch.

In the outfield, Seth Mejias-Brean is expected to be in left with Stevie Wilkerson in center and Yusniel Diaz in right. Chris Shaw or Mason McCoy will serve as the DH.

Remember several of Norfolk’s players are with the O’s in Seattle as part of the taxi squad. They include pitchers Zac Lowther and Thomas Eshelman, catcher Austin Wynns and outfielder Ryan McKenna.

Orioles win in Seattle: The Orioles offense took a while to percolate last night but a five-run eighth at Seattle produced another road win, 5-3 over the Mariners.

The Orioles are 14-15, have won four of five and nine of 16 games. They are 10-5 on the road and 3-1 on this current trip.

Cedric Mullins hit his fifth homer, a two-run shot in that inning, to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead. And Freddy Galvis later hit another two-run shot.

Mullins is now batting .333 with a .942 OPS. The homer came off lefty Anthony Misiewicz, and Mullins is batting .395/.446/.605 with two homers and an OPS of 1.051 off southpaws.

“He has come a long way in two years in every aspect,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s playing like he’s got a lot of experience in the major leagues. He’s playing like an experienced veteran and showing leadership defensively, he is more vocal in the dugout, he’s just got more emotion. And he’s obviously really comfortable now and he knows he’s a good major league player. It is just awesome to see the confidence continue to grow with him.”

Added Mullins on that topic: “It’s big. I know confidence is a big part of this game and, you know, I’ve had trouble with it in the past. But it’s good to finally come to terms with the kind of player that I am, and it’s showing on the field.”

The game also featured the best start of the year by right-hander Dean Kremer. In a no-decision he allowed two hits and one run over six innings. He went heavy with his four-seam fastball, using it 65 percent, to give the Orioles their eighth quality start.

“I hope it boosts his confidence,” Hyde said. “For me, that was the most aggressive I’ve seen him pitch since his opening start against the Yankees last year. Where there was presence on the mound, there was great tempo, poise, the whole package for me, from an aggressiveness standpoint. He attacked their hitters and he made them beat him. Because he was in the strike zone. It was a huge step forward and hopefully he can build off this.”

Mullins’ fifth homer represents a career-high for him and his 38 hits lead the majors.

For more on the win, check out the game story from early this morning.

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