Orioles restart: Adley Rutschman’s first 162 games on Baltimore roster show impact of star receiver

Kyle Gibson acknowledges that Adley Rutschman hasn’t gotten over the praise he heard about the Orioles’ young receiver during his free agency this winter.

Doing so might have been impossible.

“The reputation that I heard is hard to beat because only good things have been said about him,” the veteran right-hander said, “but I would say he has lived up to all of those expectations for who he is as a person. first and foremost.

“You always go through ebbs and flows on the field, but he’s the same guy all the time.”

That stability and consistency have paid off for Baltimore. On Sunday, the Orioles played their 162nd game, the length of a typical regular season, since promoting Rutschman, the first overall pick in the 2019 draft and then baseball’s No. 1 prospect, to the majors last year. They’ve gone 93-69 in those games.

In the 162 games before Rutschman’s promotion, Baltimore was 51-111. The Orioles won 93 total games during the shortened 2020 season, the 2021 campaign and the first 40 games of 2022 before Rutschman arrived.

“It seems to have helped,” said Mike Elias, who used his first draft pick as Baltimore’s executive vice president and general manager on Rutschman. “He’s arguably in the conversation to be the best catcher in baseball right now, and catcher is one of those few positions where you’re impacting other players on the field, so some of it is hard to quantify, but I think anyone who sits here and watches Orioles games every night can feel the impact he’s having and the value he’s bringing.

“He is also someone who is 25 years old. He is still improving”.

That alone is tempting. Including each of Baltimore’s first 40 games in this year’s 26-14 beginning, Rutschman has appeared in all but nine of those 162 contests. In them he has hit .262/.376/.447, leading the American League in walks this year. Since Rutschman made his debut on May 21 of last year, FanGraphs’ version of wins over replacement has only six position players entering Sunday as MVPs. Neither of them is a catcher, though two more experienced backups, Atlanta’s Sean Murphy and Philadelphia’s JT Realmuto, also rank in the top 10 for the period.

“I don’t think there’s any way to look around the league right now and see what he’s done over the last calendar year and make the case that he’s not one of the top five catchers in baseball right now,” Elias said. “I think as he continues to improve, he should be in the conversation for No. 1.”

The Orioles’ 93 wins under Rutschman are tied for sixth in any team’s last 162 games, but he alone didn’t transform the Orioles, with improvements across the roster in that time. But to Elias’s point, perhaps no player has a greater influence on those around him than a catcher. James McCann, acquired in a trade this offseason to be Rutschman’s backup, said behavior like Rutschman’s “radiates” through the clubhouse.

Baltimore entered the majors Sunday 12th in OPS since Rutschman arrived, compared with 22nd in 162 previous games, while the pitching staff ERA with Rutschman on the roster has fallen from a 5.74 ERA, the worst in the league. to 4.04, ranking 16th. Noting the steps forward other players have taken, outfielder Kyle Stowers, another 2019 recruit, said it’s “definitely not a coincidence” that the Orioles have improved as much as they have since They added Rutschman.

“He brings so much to the field and makes the team so much better, and I think it’s a combination of that and some of the guys coming together at the same time,” Stowers said. “Obviously, he’s been the face of the rebuild and he’s earned it. He is a winning player.

“He’s also just as competitive as anyone I’ve ever met, so I think he wants to win, and that brings him out of the guys around him.”

Outfielders Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins and first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, players who suffered the many losses that preceded Rutschman, said his skills on base and his work with pitchers have had an impact on both sides of the ball, and each also highlights their day. -Consistency up to date. Both Mountcastle and Stowers praised his humility.

“You would never know that he is who he is,” Mountcastle said.

Right-hander Tyler Wells, who teamed up with Rutschman to pitch seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball on Saturday, called him “definitely the heart” of the pitching staff. Wells noted how the fanbase’s excitement around Rutschman was funneled into the clubhouse, which could help fuel the improved game.

“A lot of the anticipation and hearing people talk about him, ‘We’re ready for him to get there’ … I think that buzz brought the energy back to Birdland,” Wells said. “I think it energized us as players because anytime we have fans pack the stands, it’s a special, special place to play at Camden Yards.

“Every time Adley came out, I think he brought a lot of that with him, and whether it was a direct correlation or an indirect correlation, we started to play better. Obviously, we’re extremely lucky to have not just a great receiver, but a great person, and I think he’s definitely a leader, and he will be for a long time.”

Despite his late arrival last season, largely as a result of a strained right triceps suffered in spring training, Rutschman earned a full year of major league service time by finishing second in balloting. American League Rookie of the Year, which means he is scheduled to become a free player. agent after the 2027 season. Elias declined to go into detail about potential extensions for any player — the Orioles have awarded only one guaranteed multi-year contract in his four and a half years at the helm of baseball operations — but said the The front office is “working on ways to keep our organization healthy at all times, and that absolutely includes looking to increase the contracts of the young players that we have.”

Given his impact, Rutschman would appear to be the most worthy of that group, though his major league career has not been without its troubles. He started slowly last year before taking off in June with the Orioles, and last week, he endured a 19-at-bat hitless streak.

He finished it with two runs home run on the hardest ball of his fledgling career.

“It’s not like he ever goes crazy and loses his focus at the plate or loses who he is as a person, and as a youngster, I feel like that’s really hard to do,” Gibson said. “It’s really hard to expect a lot of yourself, expect a lot of yourself from other people, and go through a time where you feel like you’re not really delivering. To continue to be the same guy and to continue to show up every day and not have to wear that on your sleeve and have it not affect who you are was really impressive.

“I think it further demonstrates how he’s capable of being the guy this organization needs him to be.”

What is to come?

A four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels kicks off with an exciting pitching matchup, as Orioles rookie Grayson Rodriguez, the best pitching prospect in baseball, takes on two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani. In Ohtani’s only start at Camden Yards, he allowed four runs in five innings in the game that ended the 2021 Orioles’ 19-game losing streak.

After that series, the Orioles head north to take on the Toronto Blue Jays for the first time this season. As with the rest of the teams in the AL East, Baltimore appears to be competing with the Blue Jays for playoff position all season.

What was good?

Gibson’s five-inning, four-run outing Sunday in which the seven hits he allowed were singles was basically a runaway for the worst outing the Orioles received in their rotation in three series against clubs that entered those matchups leading their divisions in the Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Gibson’s performance was the first time in those nine games that a Baltimore starter had allowed more than three runs and only the second time one of them had allowed more than two. In all three series, the Orioles’ rotation was five innings in each start and they posted a collective ERA of 2.26.

“Our rotation seems to be leveling off and improving,” Elias said Tuesday. The next three days, Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells didn’t allow an earned run in 19 combined innings.

What was not?

With a home run on the last day of April, Jorge Mateo finished the month hitting .347 with a 1.062 OPS, but May has been far less kind to the Baltimore shortstop. After a week in which he went 1-for-18, Mateo is hitting .105 with just one extra-base hit this month, striking out 12 times while walking once. He went from missing just 20.7% of his swings against fastballs through April, a percentage that ranked in the middle of the league for players who took 50 or more swings, to 35.5% in May (16th highest, minimum 25 swings). Mateo’s smell rate in sliders, including sweepers it went from 18% to 40%, according to Baseball Savant.

In the farm

Asked about number 3 Prospect Colton Cowser on Tuesday, Elias said: “I don’t think we’re at that point yet where we can say he’s graduated from Triple-A.” Cowser then hit .500/.613/.864 during the week with Norfolk, improving his overall batting line to .336/.477/.567 this season. Perhaps most notably, the 23-year-old outfielder was terrific from left to left, raising his OPS against lefties from .747 to 1.077 over the course of the past week alone.

Infielder Jordan Westburg, Baltimore’s No. 5 prospect, also continued to triumph for the Tides, hitting three home runs in the week that gave him six in his last 11 games. The organization’s 2022 minor league player of the year, Westburg is hitting .321 with a 1,021 OP.

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