Rutschmas, St. Adlentine’s Day, call it whatever you want. Tonight, the Orioles offense was flatter than a three-day-old Natty Boh, but nothing was taking away from the most awaited Orioles debut in recent memory. Jogging onto the field for the first time, Adley Rutschman took a deep breath, looked up into the stands, did a slow 360° turn, and put on his catcher’s mask.
It started like a dream—well, kind of. Two straight batters, two straight K’s for Kyle Bradish and his battery mate. It would have been three straight K’s, but home plate umpire Andy Fletcher legitimately stole a called strike 3, and Ji-Man Choi walked. At that point, MASN’s Jim Palmer and Kevin Brown observed that Fletcher is graded as one of the most inconsistent umpires in baseball. (Apparently, he’s bad enough that another blown strike call in the seventh inning prompted Palmer to exclaim, “C’mon, Andy!”)
This time, Fletcher’s umpiring really made a difference, and not in a nice way. Facing a fourth batter, Randy Arozarena, a Bradish first-pitch slider just hung there and the dreadful (I mean it as a compliment) Arozarena blasted it 405 feet to put the Rays up 2-0. Two runs that didn’t need to happen.
Things briefly slowed down for Bradish. In the second inning, the most excitement was when a pop foul sent Adley over to the visitors’ dugout, and Rays manager Kevin Cash, a former catcher himself, protectively stuck out his arms to make sure Rutschman didn’t topple down the stairs. It was a nice moment.
As the game went on, more of the Bradish arsenal started to show up: the curveball and the changeup, both looking sharp. But in the fourth, Bradish was bitten again—and again by Arozarena, who launched a fastball 429 feet up and over The Wall.
The sixth spelled more danger for Bradish. Kiermaier and Yandy Díaz hit back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners, both hits coming off middle-middle fastballs. Choi, facing Bradish for the third time, plated the Rays’ fourth run with a sac fly. Díaz, justifiably disrespecting Cedric Mullins’ arm, tagged and took third on a wild pitch.
Out came Bradish, and in came Mike Baumann, fresh up from Triple-A, and ready to throw some strikes! A groundout plated a fifth Tampa run counted to Bradish, though it was really nobody’s fault. Later, in the eighth, Baumann would allow a sixth Rays run on a flag court homer by Kevin Kiermaier off a rather obvious first-pitch fastball, in my opinion. But Baumann pitched a competent 3.1 innings overall to let a tired O’s bullpen off the hook.
All in all, Bradish’s outing was a mixed bag. He had some trouble with command tonight, throwing just 57 strikes out of 91 pitches. He allowed just five hits in five innings, but the Rays figured out a way to make them all hurt. Still, Jim Palmer, dead wrong as he is about mangoes (don’t ask me, broadcaster banter), correctly opined: “I’d love to have about half a dozen guys with Bradish’s arm. He’ll figure out how to pitch.”
Unfortunately, against Tampa’s Jeffrey Springs, Orioles hitters couldn’t figure out much of anything: they scratched out just one hit against him in 5.2 innings, whiffed 16 times in 38 swings, and managed just two balls with exit velocities of 98 mph or better. A lefty without much velocity but plenty of control and deceptiveness, Springs pounded the zone and drew weak swings all game.
The only time the O’s made things interesting against Springs was in the second inning … and maybe even that was just a hyped-up Camden Yards making everything feel like it was playoff baseball. Trey Mancini, owner of a 15-game on-base streak and .385 average in May, reached on a dinky infield single (now we have to call these the “Trey Mancini Special”). Mountcastle, in his first game back in ten, flew out noisily before, booming through the stadium…
“Now hitting for the Baltimore Orioles, and making his major league debut, No. 35, Adleeeeey Rutschman.”
Rutschman got a huge standing O from Orioles faithful before getting down to business in his first career MLB at-bat. Unfortunately, Jeffrey Springs didn’t give a damn about the significance of the moment, feeding Rutschman a trio of dastardly changeups, one for a strike, one Rutschman just fouled off, the next one for a swinging strikeout. It’s okay, it’s okay!
The O’s have had some heroic comebacks in them lately, but on this night, a 6-0 hole in the eighth inning felt like too much.
Well, there was one more thing.
Rutschman already looked better his second time facing Springs, working a fifth-inning walk. Then, in the seventh inning, against last night’s goat (note: not G.O.A.T) Ralph Garza, Adley tripled. It was genuinely an awesome at-bat. He fouled off three balls on some great rips, showing that the plate discipline comes as advertised, then brought down the bat head and drilled a changeup into the right-field corner. While Brett Phillips fumbled with the ball, Rutschman bounded around the bases and took third. Act like you’ve been there before and all, but this time, not even Adley could resist breaking out a grin.
Right after that, proud mom Carol Rutschman showed up on air with a chain of her own and received a hug from O’s GM Mike Elias. “Your son is making me look pretty smart right now,” is how I imagine that exchange went.
In the eighth inning, the O’s plated their first and only run, also against last night’s goat (not G.O.A.T.) Ralph Garza. Hays, Santander, and Mancini all singled.
All in all, it was a nice night of firsts for Adley: first K, yes, but also first MLB game caught, first BB, first extra-base hit. MASN’s Kevin Brown couldn’t resist noting, either, that both Manny Machado and Matt Wieters’ first big league hits were triples, too. What does it all mean?
I don’t know. But for Adley Rutschman, it was a really strong debut. Can’t wait to see more.