Based on his accomplished amateur and minor league career, it figured that when Adley Rutschman started hitting, he would do so in bunches. The evidence appears to be building.
Baseball’s top prospect slapped a game-winning single into center field to snap a scoreless tie in the seventh inning of the Orioles’ 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night. Rutschman’s first go-ahead hit provided his first RBI at Camden Yards, and he also caught a combined shutout from right-hander Dean Kremer and three relievers.
“Adley’s a special player,” Kremer said, “and once his bat catches fire, he’s probably one of the most fun to watch.”
After going 20 games into his major league career without an RBI, Rutschman has now driven in runs in three straight games. He’s also reached base in eight contests in a row, going 10-for-29 (.345) in that span after two hits Friday.
“It was just a matter of time,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “And he’s doing a great job behind the plate. The at-bats are improving every game. He Got a huge hit for us. He Stayed inside of baseball and hit a line drive to center. Two line drives tonight. It was nice to see.”
His looping single into center was the Orioles’ first hit in six at-bats with a runner in scoring position, coming against reliever Calvin Faucher after Rays right-hander Shane Baz, a fellow top prospect, held Baltimore (29-37) scoreless through six innings. But Kremer matched him, putting together his first scoreless outing among his 20 major league starts.
Rutschman was behind the plate as Kremer lowered his ERA to 2.35 through three starts after coming off the injured list following a left oblique strain suffered while warming up to face the Rays during the first series of the season. Kremer allowed a pair of hits in his final frame, but both were erased on the bases, with Rutschman nabbing an attempted base-stealer at second before right fielder Anthony Santander threw out Ji-Man Choi at second trying to extend his single.
“A guy like Dean, who’s so analytical and such a hard worker, just to see the strides he’s made, the way he goes about his business, the things he does before the game before he ever steps on the mound, it’s cool to see and just a fun day to catch him out there,” Rutschman said.
After Félix Bautista struck out the side in the seventh, Ryan Mountcastle, who entered play tied for the American League lead in extra-base hits for the month, doubled into the right-angled corner of Camden Yards’ new left field wall. He considered heading for third, but he managed to score from second on Rutschman’s single.
Bautista returned to record the first out of the eighth before ceding to Cionel Pérez, who allowed consecutive singles ahead of a strikeout. Hyde then brought in closer Jorge López, who recorded the final four outs, all via strikeout, for his fifth multi-inning save. López, who struggled in Baltimore’s rotation for much of 2021, is now tied for the major league in saves of four or more outs. In the past 15 years, only Mychal Givens, with six in 2019, has recorded more in a season among Orioles pitchers.
After López’s final 98 mph sinker blew past Brett Phillips, Rutschman twice pumped his fist before skipping out to the mound to celebrate the victory.
“Just a special moment,” Rutschman said. “That’s the reason you play baseball.”
Added Hyde: “When you play with emotion, I think it’s a good thing. Play with attitude, play with emotion. It’s something we’ve been missing here a little bit the last few years.”
Akin, Santander rejoin team
With the team returning from Toronto — where players not vaccinated against the coronavirus are barred from playing — the Orioles activated Santander and left-handed reliever Keegan Akin from the restricted list and returned substitute players Kyle Stowers and Rico Garcia to Triple-A.
Santander was back in the Orioles’ lineup hitting third, while Akin was available out of the bullpen, where he entered Friday having posted a 2.61 ERA in 16 multi-inning outings. Before the game, Hyde was asked whether, given their significant roles on the team, he’s had conversations with them about their vaccine situations.
“I’ve talked to them, and it’s their choice,” Hyde said. “And I leave it up to them. They’re grown men. They’re going to make their own decisions, and I can give them my opinion, but people can make their own decisions. I can try to persuade or give them my thoughts on it, but it’s ultimately up to them.”
Stowers, the Orioles’ No. 9 prospect according to Baseball America, went 1-for-7 with an RBI double in his first major league stint.
“Just a great experience for him,” Hyde said. “He got two starts, and he faced [Alek] Manoah and [José] Berrios, welcome to the big leagues. But cool for him to experience that and then go back down and understand what the starting pitching looks like up here because it’s just different than Triple-A, it’s just different than the minor leagues. The starter you face is different, then the bullpen arms that come at you, you can’t replicate it.
“For him to be able to experience that, I think it’s an invaluable part of development.”
Around the horn
>> Outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz, on the Triple-A injured list since early May after the recurrence of a right hamstring strain suffered in mid-April, started a rehab assignment in the Florida Complex League.
>> Reliever Joey Krehbiel (right shoulder inflammation) “should be” healthy enough to be activated from the 15-day injured list when first eligible Saturday, Hyde said.
>> Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Justin Ramsey has temporarily joined the Orioles, allowing him to get a taste of the major league environment and work with several pitchers he’s been around since joining the organization in 2019. “It’s really beneficial for him to see what it looks like up here firsthand,” Hyde said. “Just to have the big league perspective in person is way different than it is on TV. I think it’s really beneficial for him, beneficial for guys that have had him, also.”
>> The Orioles, currently carrying 14 pitchers on their 26-man roster, have to reduce to 13 and add a position player before Tuesday’s series opener against the Washington Nationals. Hyde said the Orioles have started having conversations about that move but will wait to make anything official until closer to that point.
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