It was easy to shrug off as a trivial excuse. Adley Rutschman appeared ready for the major leagues, and the Orioles certainly had room for him, but the organization kept him at Norfolk for a second week. As fans clamored for a promotion, Mike Elias explained that Baltimore needed to see that he could handle the physical workload that comes with being a big league catcher.
Elias said they wanted to see Rutschman catch three consecutive games prior to promoting him. It made sense that the front office wanted to protect their top prospect, but was it really necessary?
Rutschman started at catcher in his major league debut and played all nine innings behind the dish. The Orioles attempted to ease his transition by penciling him into the DH spot on Sunday, but needed Rutschman to catch the final two innings after Austin Hays pinch hit for Robinson Chirinos.
That’s life in the big leagues. The Orioles can do their best to manage Rutschman’s workload, but it cannot be perfectly scheduled. It’s encouraging that Baltimore felt comfortable sending Rutschman behind the plate for a few innings in a day game after a night game, but they really did not have a choice.
Rutschman started as the designated hitter again on Monday, but Brandon Hyde said he would catch the final two games in New York. The Orioles want to keep Rutschman in the lineup, but a few turns at DH have already revealed a bit of a roster crunch.
Ryan Mountcastle returned from the injured list the same day Rutschman made his debut. Mountcastle slotted in as the DH, Trey Mancini played first, and the Orioles sent out their usual trio to the outfield.
Hyde balanced Rutschman’s first turn at DH by placing Mountcastle at first, Trey Mancini in right field, Anthony Santander in left, and Austin Hays on the bench. Monday’s game saw Santander get the day off with Mancini and Hays joining Cedric Mullins in the outfield.
Tyler Nevin started at third base in Rutschman’s debut but was optioned to Norfolk in an effort to recall fresh bullpen arms after the marathon day against Tampa Bay. Nevin will likely get a majority of his playing time at third base if/when he returns.
I’m not looking to paint this in a negative light. The Orioles want Adley Rutschman’s bat in the lineup as often as possible because he is talented hitter. The club is fortunate to have a surplus of quality players on the roster and it’s always nice to provide a guy the occasional off day.
Rutschman’s promotion and Mountcastle’s return place extra emphasis on Mancini’s ability to play right field. It was easy to roll your eyes at Mancini manning the outfield grass early in the season, but the club wants his .303 average in the lineup as often as possible. Santander leads the team in home runs, walks and RBIs. It makes sense that the switch hitter also leads the team in games played. Hyde wants him in the lineup.
There will be plenty of time to talk any potential trades this summer, but the Orioles will make this work in the short term. It’s easy to understand the club’s desire to play Rutschman right now, but it will be interesting to monitor how often he is bumped from the lineup for a day of rest moving forward.
Nevin appears to be the true odd man out here with the rest of the gang splitting the occasional day off. Mancini led the team with 46 hits entering last night’s game with Mullins, Hays, Santander and Mountcastle following in that order.
Times are good in Birdland right now and depth is always an appreciable thing to have. The club now has two major-league caliber catchers with Rutschman and Chirinos and fewer holes in the lineup card. Hyde now has even more ability to ride any hot hands and provide rest whenever necessary.