Adley Rutschman is building a small collection, with the Orioles’ prized rookie catcher managing to get a hold of each of his first three major league home run balls without needing to trade any memorabilia with a fan to get them back.
After all, none of them traveled quite far enough to remain in the stands. He partly wished that had been the case for his first home run at Camden Yards, one that squeezed beyond the ballpark’s right field wall to spark the Orioles’ fifth straight victory, 4-1 over the Los Angeles Angeles.
“Would I have liked it to go off the Warehouse? Probably,” Rutschman said. “But I’ll take a home run.”
Rutschman and the Orioles (40-44) continued their ascent Thursday, with the club reaching that win total in 42 fewer games than it did in 2021. They are 24-20 since promoting Rutschman, the game’s top prospect before he graduated from that status last week, and have won at least five games in a row for the first time since 2020.
“This team comes out to compete every single day,” Rutschman said. “Guys go and do their work and they work on getting better. I think that in itself speaks volumes.”
Rutschman’s first three home runs all came on the road amid a dynamic 10-game stretch. The first, in Toronto, landed in a space between the outfield wall and the bleachers, allowing bullpen catcher Ben Carhart to track it down. His first stateside blast came in Chicago, where it briefly entered the stands before ricocheting into Baltimore’s bullpen. Last week, in a return to the major league ballpark he grew up closest to, he went deep in Seattle in front of hundreds of family and friends, with the ball narrowly clearing the right field wall. Thursday’s blast was similar, with Rutschman sending a Chase Silseth fastball in the second inning just above the out-of-town scoreboard that makes up the majority of Camden Yards’ right field wall for the first run of the night.
“Huge hit,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Guys were pumped for him. It was a great swing and I’m sure it felt good, first time in front of the home fans.
“First of many to come.”
It was one of three balls Rutschman put in play at 100 mph or harder, one of them a potential second home run lost to Camden Yards’ new left field wall. It marked his third game with at least three balls hit at that velocity, already the most among Orioles despite the fact his debut was delayed until late May because of a right tricep strain suffered in spring training.
Since his arrival, the Orioles have been a far more competitive and complete team. An inning after Rutschman’s home run, Ryan Mountcastle laced an RBI double at 110 mph in his first game back in the lineup after a sinus infection. The Orioles doubled their lead in the fifth when Jorge Mateo singled with two outs, stole second, then advanced to third and eventually home on singles from Cedric Mullins and Trey Mancini before Mullins scored on Mountcastle’s sacrifice fly.
Mullins also made an impact defensively in center field, with a diving catch to his right and a leaping catch to his left.
“Our team comes to the ballpark feeling like we’re going to win,” Hyde said. “And that’s a different feeling, I’m sure, than what’s been in the clubhouse the last few years.”
Rutschman’s work behind the plate has earned as much praise as his talents at it, and that continued Thursday as he and veteran right-hander Jordan Lyles carried a shutout into the seventh inning. The outing marked the 15th time in 20 games the Orioles’ starter has allowed one earned run or fewer, with Rutschman catching 10 of those.
Lyles needed 100 pitches to get through six innings, with the last of those freezing Luis Rengifo for strike three on a front-hip sinker. Lyles said that pitch call was completely Rutschman’s, with the 31-year-old trusting his 24-year-old backstop’s decision in their fourth outing together.
“I wasn’t even thinking about it, but he put it down, and I was like, ‘Let’s get it. Let’s go after it,’” Lyles said. “That was on him. He’s learning. He’s learning me. I’m learning him, just like every other pitcher in here. Everyone’s got to build that relationship, and he has a good eye and a good idea of what he wants to do back there.”
Lyles goes deep, but Angels don’t
Just as the Orioles’ decision to leave Camden Yards’ right field dimensions alone benefited Rutschman, the choice to move back left field helped the pitching staff Thursday.
Dealing with early-inning traffic, Lyles needed 100 pitches to get through his first six innings, but those frames came without any Los Angeles runs partially because of Camden Yards’ deeper left field wall. In the fifth, Angels superstars Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani hit consecutive flyouts that likely would have been home runs with the ballpark’s previous dimensions, though Rutschman lost a long ball, too, to close the inning’s bottom half.
Priding himself on pitching deep into games as the veteran of the staff, Lyles returned for the seventh, having already joined John Means and Andrew Cashner as the Orioles’ only starters during Hyde’s tenure to complete six innings in four straight starts. Hyde said their conversation between innings was “brief,” with the Orioles’ bullpen taxed coming off a sweep of the Texas Rangers in which two games went an extra inning and one run decided all three.
“I was trying to squeeze another quick three outs out and help the boys out a little bit more,” Lyles said.
A leadoff double ended the right-hander’s night, and that runner eventually scored after Lylers exited to a standing ovation from an announced crowd of 13,088. In seven starts at Camden Yards, he has a 2.72 ERA and no home runs allowed, compared with a 5.89 ERA and 12 homers surrendered on the road.
“Jordan was awesome,” Hyde said. “He struggled early with command. He was behind a lot of hitters. But he continued to still put up zeros, and he got better about the fourth and the fifth inning. It wasn’t his sharpest night, but amazing what you can do when you know how to pitch, and he made big pitches in big spots.”
In explaining the changes to left field, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said he felt the alterations would help the team attract free-agent pitchers. Lyles has said he was aware of the plans when he agreed to the largest contract the Orioles have given out under Elias but that the new wall didn’t play a role in that decision. Still, the early returns bode well for the potential to bring more arms to Baltimore. A revamped Orioles pitching staff has allowed 30 home runs through 39 home games, a fifth of the 155 last year’s group surrendered in an 81-game slate at Camden Yards.
It might simply be that the Orioles’ pitchers are just better than they have been in recent years.
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“Good teams have really good bullpens, and we have a lot of good stuff out there,” Lyles said. “Our starting staff, we’re young, but the rest of the guys, they might be a little clueless to how good they might be. I’m here to let them lean on me each and every opportunity that they want to.”
Around the horn
>> Right-hander Kyle Bradish (right shoulder inflammation) will make a rehab start with Double-A Bowie on Saturday.
>> Low-A Delmarva right-hander Carter Baumler, the organization’s No. 20 prospect according to Baseball America, was placed on the injured list after his third straight missed start. He recently had right shoulder inflammation.
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
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