As Ben McDonald watched his nephew make his major league debut for his former team, he couldn’t help but get nervous for him.
“I got sweaty palms right now,” the Orioles broadcaster said on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network as Mac Sceroler faced the New York Yankees.
Sceroler likely shared that perspiration problem, but he didn’t show it on the mound, twirling 2 ⅔ hitless innings in his first professional appearance above High-A. It began in an even more nerve-wracking situation: facing Yankees slugger Aaron Judge with the bases loaded.
Sceroler, one of Baltimore’s two Rule 5 picks, threw Judge seven straight fastballs, the last of which came with a full count to freeze Judge for a strikeout. After Aaron Hicks fouled out to second baseman Ramón Urías, Sceroler waited on the field to give Urías a fist bump, having stranded three Yankees.
“I could finally breathe,” Sceroler said.
He retired the next five Yankees in order before issuing a pair of walks in the eighth. But he recovered to strike out Mike Tauchman, the fourth strikeout of his debut, to end his outing and prevent manager Brandon Hyde from having to use another pitcher.
Although he relied on his fastball to strike out Judge, Sceroler’s split-change was the star of the night. Of the 13 he threw, the Yankees swung at seven, missing all of them. He kept the pitch below the zone while also elevating his fastball effectively.
“Hats off to him making his debut, punching out Judge, getting out of that inning, then throwing two great innings after that,” Hyde said. “That’s something he’ll never forget.
“He showed a lot tonight by being able to get through that.”
The Orioles elected to carry both of their Rule 5 picks in Sceroler and Tyler Wells on their opening day roster despite them having a combined six appearances above Double-A in their previous organizations. Both impressed late in spring, and in a season three times the length of the previous one, any arms that can provide length are going to be valuable.
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Despite the steep leap in levels, Sceroler said he tried to treat Monday’s outing as any other, an approach he found success with once he adopted it in spring training.
“I think just once you get on the mound, everything becomes a lot more familiar to you,” he said. “Then you tend to block out, like, ‘Where am I at? Who’s in the box? What’s the situation?’ and then it all gets back to just competing and throwing strikes.”
Four games into 2021, the Orioles have had three major league debuts, one fewer than they did in all 60 games of 2020. Wells pitched a scoreless inning Sunday to close out a victory, and outfielder Ryan McKenna made his first major league appearance after getting promoted Monday.
Given that the Rule 5 picks had to earn their way onto the opening day roster or be returning to their original organizations, Hyde has been particularly pleased with how they’ve performed.
“When a guy’s making their debut or going to a stadium for the first time, both those guys, Fenway this last series where Wells makes his debut and Sceroler tonight in Yankee Stadium, it’s a really special feeling,” Hyde said. “I’m sure their hearts are beating super fast. Neither of these guys have pitched above Double-A, so to go into Fenway and Yankee Stadium — spring training is one thing, but the [regular] season in Major League Baseball is a completely different animal. I’ve been impressed with both those guys, the way they’ve come in and thrown strikes.”
Sceroler did just that under challenging circumstances Monday.
“To be put in a situation like that, that’s what every person wants to be put in, just to prove themselves, that I can be here in tough situations, that I can pitch and get the job done,” Sceroler said. “It was definitely comforting for me. Being put in that situation and succeeding lets the bricks off your shoulders, knowing that I can compete here, my stuff is good enough to play here.”