Admit it: you were starting to feel the teensiest, tiniest bit of concern about Adley Rutschman’s early-career hitting woes.
The consensus #1 prospect in baseball had been mired in an extended offensive funk since the Orioles summoned him to the big leagues May 21. That all changed this afternoon, when Rutschman exploded for a three-hit game — none of them cheapies — that may have served notice that things are starting to click. His sparkling efforts, combined with a huge home run from fellow rookie Tyler Nevin, helped the O’s turn the tables on the Royals for a 6-3, come-from-behind win at Kauffman Stadium.
Even on a first at-bat flyout, Rutschman set the tone for his offensive breakout. Batting right-handed against Royals lefty Daniel Lynch, Rutschman tattooed a scalding liner at 106 mph, unfortunately straight to center fielder Michael A. Taylor. That was the last time all day he would hit a ball that found a glove. In his next at-bat, Rutschman smoked a double into the gap in right-center, his second two-bagger of the series. He was left stranded, though, as Lynch blanked the Orioles for the first four innings.
Meanwhile, the Royals built an early lead against Orioles starter Tyler Wells, plating a first-inning run on a Salvador Perez RBI double. In the fourth, they tacked on two more, thanks to some shaky O’s defense. With one out and a runner aboard, Kyle Isbel lofted a pop-up that first baseman Ryan Mountcastle chased into foul territory, but whiffed while trying to make a reaching catch. It wasn’t charged as an error, but it was a play that could have been made. Instead, it extended Isbel’s at-bat long enough for him to rope an RBI triple and then score on an Emmanuel Rivera single. That gave the Royals a 3-0 advantage.
The way Lynch kept the Orioles in check through four, three runs seemed like it might be an insurmountable deficit. Even when the O’s finally broke onto the scoreboard in the fifth, they ran themselves out of a bigger rally. The bottom of the lineup set the table, on a Jorge Mateo walk and Richie Martin single, and Cedric Mullins ripped a base hit in front of Isbel in right. The speedy Mateo came into score, but on the throw to the plate, Mullins tried to advance to second. The Royals caught him in a rundown, at which point Martin broke off of third base and got caught in a rundown himself, eventually getting tagged for the second out. The O’s settled for the one run that inning.
No matter. They completed the comeback — and then some — with a glorious top of the sixth. Rutschman, of course, was right in the middle of it all. With one out and one on, he scorched a single to left field at 110 mph, the hardest hit ball of his major league career, as The Baltimore Sun’s Andy Kostka noted.
But it was another recent minor league call-up who got the biggest hit. Tyler Nevin, who will be seeing a lot of playing time at third base after Ramon Urias landed on the IL today, crushed a shot to center field that just kept carrying...and carrying...and sailed over the wall for an Earl Weaver Special. With one mighty swing, Nevin had given the Orioles a 5-4 lead. It was Nevin’s third career home run and, safe to say, his most important. Yeah, more playing time for him might not be the worst thing.
That was the end of the afternoon for Lynch, whose once-promising outing had turned sour in a hurry. He ended up getting outpitched by Wells, who threw a quality start, a feat no Orioles pitcher had accomplished in 10 games. (Wells himself was the last to do it on May 30, when he threw six shutout innings in Boston.) Pitching with a lead for the first time, Wells mowed down the Royals on seven pitches in the bottom of the sixth.
The Orioles added some insurance against the Kansas City bullpen, starting with a clutch, two-out RBI single by Austin Hays off Jose Cuas in the seventh. In the eighth, the Birds tallied another, sparked by — guess who? — Adley Rutschman. The switch-hitting catcher, batting left-handed for the first time this afternoon, jumped on a 98-mph fastball from Dylan Coleman and blistered it to right field for his third hit, and second double, of the game. Wow. Rutschman had four of the most locked-in at-bats I’ve seen from any player. He boosted his batting average nearly 50 points and his OPS nearly 100 in one game. Here he comes, y’all.
And hey — the guy can run a little bit, too. Later in the inning, Rutschman bolted from third base on a Coleman wild pitch, and while the toss to the pitcher covering the plate beat Adley by several steps, he was able to slide in underneath the tag. That made it a 6-3 game.
After Felix Bautista cruised through the seventh, Dillon Tate survived an extremely shaky eighth. Each of the first three hitters — Perez, MJ Melendez, and Hunter Dozier — smacked a single, the latter two coming when Tate was ahead 1-2 in the count. For whatever reason, Dillon just couldn’t finish hitters off. Taylor then made Orioles fans hold their breath by swatting a drive to deep left, but settled for a long sac fly when Ryan McKenna hauled it in near the warning track. The Royals still had the tying run aboard, but Tate got exactly what he needed with a grounder to short that Mateo turned into an inning-ending double play.
Ex-Royal Jorge Lopez enjoyed a comparatively drama-free ninth inning despite a one-out single. The second baseman Martin, playing his first MLB game of 2022, made a nice backhanded play up the middle to notch the final out of the game.
What a nice win for the Orioles. And nicer still: Adley Rutschman seems to have found his stroke.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Saturday, June 11?
Tyler Nevin (go-ahead three-run HR in sixth)
Adley Rutschman (first career three-hit game, two doubles)
Tyler Wells (Orioles’ first quality start in 10 games)