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Emerging depth provides Baltimore options to replace Mountcastle and rest Rutschman

The emergence of Ryan O’Hearn, Josh Lester and Aaron Hicks provides Baltimore several options to replace an injured Ryan Mountcastle and rest Adley Rutschman

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles are back at it again with the third catcher. Baltimore selected Mark Kolozsvary’s contract yesterday and placed Ryan Mountcastle on the 10-day injured list. The Orioles originally claimed Kolozsvary from the Reds last October.

Losing Mountcastle stings, but recent additions will allow the Orioles to navigate the injury while providing some extra rest for their franchise player. Kolozsvary fits the mold of a third catcher that can provide depth in a pinch, but the relevant depth already exists on Baltimore’s roster.

The Orioles have been extremely hesitant to rest Adley Rutschman. The sophomore has started 15 games as the designated hitter, but the young backstop routinely starts behind the plate. Baltimore’s tendency for close games has often turned a scheduled day off into a late-inning appearance for the future All Star.

The Orioles are better with Rutschman in the lineup—there’s no question about that—but there’s a responsibility to prevent the team’s franchise player from breaking down. For context, JT Realmuto has never played in more than 145 games with 130 starts at catcher. Willson Contreras made a career-high 138 appearances in 2018 with 123 starts behind the plate.

Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde must constantly weigh the cost of resting Rutschman with the loss of production on the field. Fortunately, the emergence of Ryan O’Hearn, Josh Lester and even Aaron Hicks have added more players capable of producing as the DH.

The drop off shrinks when guys like O’Hearn and Lester produce. Gunnar Henderson has exploded over the last 10 days and can still DH when Jorge Mateo, Ramón Urías and Adam Frazier take the field. Anthony Santander provides power from both sides when serving as the designated hitter, and a hot-hitting Hicks could still require at bats when Mullins returns.

Kolozsvary probably will not last long, but his presence will allow the Birds to pinch run for Rutschman late in games or use him as a pinch hitter. James McCann will still serve as the primary backup catcher, but his days as the DH—a Camden Chat favorite—should be over.

Rutschman received the day off Sunday with McCann behind the plate and both Lester and O’Hearn in the lineup. The Birds easily defeated the Royals, and Rutschman received an unheard of two day vacation. A well-rested Rutschman rewarded the Orioles with a pair of doubles last night against the Blue Jays.

The Orioles stockpiled first baseman in spring training and the move has already paid dividends. The loss of Mountcastle only heightens the benefit.

O’Hearn launched his fifth home run last night. Henderson continued his absolute tear with a grand slam, and Santander hit multiple balls hard.

Santander has only appeared at first base four times this year. The Mountcastle injury could lead to more time at the position, but Baltimore should provide Lester more opportunities to produce. O’Hearn’s ability to play the outfield could lead to more games with both Lester and O’Hearn playing the field.

Mark Kolozsvary’s arrival feels like a footnote, but the Orioles elected to carry a third catcher instead of summoning Joey Ortiz, Terrin Vavra, or Jordan Westburg. The third catcher has historically allowed the Orioles to utilize McCann and Rutschman in the same lineup without the risk of losing the DH, but the added options could lower the temptation.

Kolozsvary replaced Rutschman behind the plate last night with the game essentially secured.

Mike Elias has earned praise for his ability to identify talent with the draft and the waiver wire. Recent success from O’Hearn and Hicks have only bolstered a reputation built on guys like Urías and Mateo. The Orioles appear destined for a dog fight in the American League East, and they could certainly use a well-rested group come October.