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Rookie Anthony Santander rewards Orioles' faith with first home run Sunday

The Orioles beat the Yankees, 8-7, in 12 innings despite a 5-0 deficit in the first inning. (Denise Sanders, Baltimore Sun video)

NEW YORK — As Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette walked toward the clubhouse after Sunday's 8-7, come-from-behind-win over the New York Yankees, he couldn't help but point out which contributors stood out to him in the victory.

"How about those Rule 5 picks?" he boasted.

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Reliever Pedro Araujo settled the game with five strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings. But for another Rule 5 player, Anthony Santander, Sunday was the culmination of a long road back from shoulder surgery and a symbol of developing trust from the organization.

Santander, 23, hit his first career major league home run on a 3-0 fastball in the seventh inning to put the Orioles ahead, 7-6, as part of a career day at the plate. Santander's three hits in six at-bats doubled his season total — and the fact that he's started six games in a row in right field despite a slow start at the plate says just as much about Santander as anything else.

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When the Orioles were discussing selecting him in the 2016 Rule 5 draft, some in the organization had him pegged as a DH-only bat. He lost 15 pounds this offseason and improved the rest of his game to the point that the Orioles have given him plenty of opportunities to tap into his power.

"I'm impressed with how he's defended, how he's thrown, how he's run the bases and what he did in the offseason," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said earlier in the weekend.

"[Executive vice president] Brady [Anderson] and I were talking [Thursday] night going home, Brady said he's been a real pleasure to work with since he got out there. I think it makes you realize how handicapped he was with some of the physical issues he had. Now you, can see in his face, this is the first time he's really felt good physically in a while for a young guy. Is he even 23 yet?"

He is, and as a 23-year-old, Santander represents a possible long-term piece for the Orioles. The team doesn't have a history of getting substantial contributions from its Rule 5 picks, but Santander never fit that mold anyway. In his age-21 season in the Cleveland Indians' organization, he raked at High-A Lynchburg but was left unprotected off the roster for the Rule 5 draft because he had offseason shoulder surgery. The Indians assumed no one would want to be hamstrung on their roster with an injured player.

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They thought wrong, and after an elbow issue also cropped up for Santander, the Orioles shut him down in spring training and gave him a long time to recover. He showed his power in a rehab assignment for Double-A Bowie but didn't distinguish himself much once he was called up to the Orioles for the stretch run.

Throughout the offseason, it was unclear whether the Orioles were even committed to keeping him the required 44 days to satisfy the Rule 5 roster stipulation carryover before they could send him to the minors.

With Colby Rasmus struggling then placed on the disabled list with a lingering hip issue and Mark Trumbo still on the mend from a quad strain, there will be chances for Santander to solidify his spot for even after the point when the Orioles can send him down.

He'll need to raise the quality of his contact, with Sunday's home run swing not frequently replicated so far this season. But defensively, he's been a credit, with FanGraphs data indicating he's made all 13 catches on balls in his zone and five outside of them. He's been worth one defensive run saved at this early point, though it's far too soon for credible defensive metric readings.

What matters for him, though, is that his defense is such that he was allowed to scuffle a bit before tapping into the power that has long been his calling card.

"Every time I receive the opportunity, I'm very thankful for that, to take advantage of the whole situation," Santander said through team interpreter Ramón Alarcón. "Hopefully, there are more opportunities for me, coming soon, that I can help the team."

As the Orioles packed for their train ride home Sunday, Santander stepped outside the clubhouse to meet the fan who caught the ball. The fan, Muneesh Jain, said he had been to all 30 major league parks and attended over 1,000 games, but had never caught a ball until Sunday. The crowd in Yankee Stadium let him have it for not throwing the ball back, but since he'd waited so long to get one, he decided to hang onto it. When he found out it was Santander's first, it was an easy call to give it back. He didn't know the half of it.

"I'm very thankful," Santander said. "Thanks to God, I was able to hit my first home run, but the most important thing, we were able to win the game."

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