Henry Urrutia’s first major league at-bat came with the bases loaded in the first inning Saturday night in the Orioles’ 7-4 win over the Rangers. As the 26-year-old Cuban defector stepped up to the plate for the first time in a big league game, he had the chance to be an immediate hero.
Urrutia struck out on five pitches, swinging and missing on two change-ups to end the at-bat, but quickly had an opportunity for redemption.
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In the third inning, Urrutia had the bases loaded again. Texas brought in left-handed Joseph Ortiz to face the left-handed hitting Urrutia, and this time he pulled a 0-1 slider just past Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland and into right field for his first major league hit, an RBI single that was part of a four-run inning for the Orioles.
“I was really anxious in the first at-bat, but in the second at-bat I just tried to put the ball in play and make good contact,” Urrutia said in Spanish through Orioles minor league coach Ramon Sambo. “It was really emotional for me and I’m happy to be here and it’s a dream come true. … After the first at-bat the pressure went off, I felt better and I felt confident there. There’s a little more pressure because there’s more people, but it felt good.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter liked the way Urrutia -- who played in just 67 minor league games before his call up -- handled the spotlight.
“Henry is a bit different,” Showalter said. “He’s a guy who has played in a lot of big venues and crowds in world [games]. This is a part of the process and this is what his goal was, so I’m proud of him to get to this point. I think he handles himself well. He didn’t look overly nervous. I think you’ll see him get better and I think it was a good start for him.”
Urrutia kept the ball from his first hit. The experience was one Urrutia, who fled Cuba with hopes of making the majors, will never forget.
“I was happy for him,” Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez said. “Everybody was cheering for him. He got his first baseball and I was there last year and I know what it feels like to get that baseball after he got that hit in the second at-bat. He stayed within himself and did what he had to do and didn’t try to do too much. He’s going to help us out. We’re happy to have him.”
Before the game, center fielder Adam Jones said he told Urrutia to be aggressive at the plate.
“He went up there and swung the bat,” Jones said. “That’s the makeup of this team, we go up there and hack. I told him before the game during BP, ‘hey, if you are going to play with us, you are in group two, you are in my group. Me and [Nick] Markakis swing the bat. Obviously we try to have a little bit of control, but we go up there hacking. And I’m happy he got the monkey off his back. I know his friends, family is proud. Now hopefully he can just fit in on this team and drive in runs when we need him.”
Out of the 13 pitches he saw on the night, Urrutia (1-for-4) saw just two fastballs as the Rangers tested him with change-ups and sliders. He made solid contact in his third at-bat, lining out to shortstop on a slider. He grounded out to first on a change-up in his last at-bat.
Urrutia hit .365/.427/.531 between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, was 11-for-28 (.393) with runners on base in Triple-A and batted an impressive .353 (6-for-17) against left-handed pitching in Norfolk.
“It’s been kind of his track record,” Showalter said. “If you look at his Double-A and Triple-A numbers and go back as far as Cuba, he’s handled himself well against left-handed pitchers. It’s unsual that we have [left-handed] guys like Chris [Davis] and Nicky [Markakis] and Nate [McLouth] now who we feel good against left-handed pitching.”