West Palm Beach, Fla. — One inning in early March won’t tell the story of an entire spring or earn rookie Rule 5 draft pick Michael Rucker a spot on the Orioles roster come Opening Day.
Yet Tuesday’s fifth inning, Rucker’s second of the day, might end up being one that sticks with manager Brandon Hyde come decision time.
Rucker had a 1-2-3 fourth inning before getting out of jam in the fifth, stranding runners on second and third base by striking out veteran big leaguer Asdrúbal Cabrera to give him five scoreless innings over three spring outings.
“You want to see him in situations that are realistic season-wise, now that we’re getting a little deeper,” Hyde said. “Love to see him go out and dominate an inning, but it also is important to see how he deals with adversity, some traffic on the bases--because he hasn’t had a ton. That was nice to see him wiggle his way out of that with really good stuff.”
Rucker, 25, said he’s been happy with how he’s progressed this spring and seeing how his pitches work against major league competition in increasingly difficult outings, with none bigger than facing the top of the Nationals lineup and getting out of it with no runs in.
“It was big," Rucker said. At least through the beginning of spring, kind of struggled so far a little bit against left-handed hitters. To get Cabrera on that back-foot slider, kind of with my back up against the wall a little bit, was big for me confidence-wise, for sure.”
Rucker, 25, was a Chicago Cubs farmhand until the Orioles made him one of two pitchers they selected in the December Rule 5 draft. The stipulations of that draft mean he and fellow pick Brandon Bailey must be on the Orioles’ active roster or else passed through waivers and returned to their former club, making for a complicated decision with short-term and long-term implications when the Orioles set their Opening Day roster.
But Rucker, whose strikeout numbers ticked up in his first year as a full-time reliever in the Cubs system last year, could add value to the Orioles however they expect to use him this year.
“Ruck has shown good stuff since he’s gotten here," Hyde said. "He looks pretty composed on the mound to me, a guy that has very little Triple-A time, in his first major league spring training. His stuff is really good. I just like the way he competes, and his fastball has got a lot of life to it and his breaking balls look really sharp. It’s fun to watch him. We’ll watch him the next few weeks.”
Blach out that last one
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Left-hander Ty Blach was called into starter’s duty Tuesday and cruised through two innings before a five-run third spoiled his day. Blach loaded the bases with one run in before two more scored on a drifting drive off the wall by Juan Soto that left fielder Ryan Mountcastle didn’t play the carom correctly on.
The five-run inning obscured the fact that the Orioles got three runs off Nationals ace Max Scherzer, with Chris Davis driving in a run on a sacrifice fly in the third and Pedro Severino and Mason Williams adding run-scoring hits in the fourth.
Quick work for Carroll
Before the game, Hyde had plenty of praise for right-hander Cody Carroll, who missed all of last year with a back injury but is back with his mid-90s fastball and pitching well in camp. Carroll had a quick sixth inning for his fourth scoreless appearance of the spring before Miguel Castro and Paul Fry each backed that up with scoreless innings of relief.
“Good stuff from our bullpen guys today,” Hyde said. “Love to see them working ahead.”
Mancini hangs back
While many members of the Orioles will stay on Florida’s east coast for Wednesday’s game in Jupiter against the Miami Marlins, Hyde said that the plan was always for some players to play Tuesday and drive back while those only scheduled to play Wednesday’s game will bus out in the morning before the game.
The only change to the initial plans, he said, was that outfielder Trey Mancini was being held back because of illness.
“He’s just not feeling great,” Hyde said. “The right thing to do is just leave him back there and not have him come on an overnight spring training trip, or go on a bus for three hours and three hours back. … Trey is the only one that’s not coming tomorrow.”