Adley signaling breakout after career day

June 12th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- Slowly but surely, it seemed that was starting to awaken from his early-career slumber. Balls were being sprayed across the field with vociferous velocity, just often into defenders' gloves. There had been some time of toiling and self-reflection, but confidence nonetheless, that a breakout was coming.

And then Saturday afternoon came and went, and Rutschman left little to doubt.

The Orioles' rookie phenom compiled a list of feats in Saturday’s 6-4 come-from-behind win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, giving the club and fanbase alike a number of signs that he may be turning things around after many similar balls have fallen for naught:

• The first three-hit game of his career

• The first multi-extra-base hit game of his career

• Four hard-hit balls (95-plus mph exit velocity)

• Three of the six hardest-hit balls in K.C. on Saturday

• A 110 mph single that stands as the hardest-hit ball of his career

“Baseball is one of those games that you're going to hit balls right at people and then you're going to have balls that are hit hard that fall for hits,” Rutschman said. “You just got to continue to roll with the punches.”

It was the first scoresheet-stuffing performance of Rutschman’s career, as he paced the Orioles’ offense and crossed the plate twice -- one on a heads-up play in the eighth inning -- though he still is searching for his first RBI and homer. When those come, they will simply solidify the optimism that a breakout is beginning for the No. 1 overall prospect in the Majors.

“It was just a matter of time,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “And I'm sure it's a big relief for him to have a good game like he had today.”

“He's had a slow start, but no doubt in my mind he's going to get back to what we all know he can do,” added third baseman Tyler Nevin, whose three-run homer in the sixth was the game-deciding swing. “Tonight is basically what I've seen every single time I play with him.”

That kind of confidence is exactly what has lifted Rutschman through this early-career bind. Internally, though belief never wavered, there was the requirement of self-reflection. Struggle has seemingly escaped Rutschman across his baseball career, a quality of consistent excellence and production that made him the no-doubt first overall pick exactly three years and a week ago from Friday.

But three weeks in, and he has been required to look inward -- about his plate approach, his routine, the Majors and himself.

“Just kind of, 'What am I doing?’” Rutschman would ask himself. “‘What adjustments do I need to make at the plate? Am I getting sped up on my timing? Is it just kind of being in the big leagues that's speeding me up, or is it something in my swing?’

“Those are tough questions to answer,” he added. “You just continue to try and learn as you go.”

So call Saturday learning on the job, then. In several ways, such a performance perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise. By pure pedigree standards, at worst, the club believes the talent is there for Rutschman to be an everyday contributor. At best, he could be a face-of-the-franchise and cornerstone piece that shepherds Orioles pitching and leads the club offensively into its next phase of competitiveness.

But one further, there’s underlying evidence that Rutschman should have started to find results prior. Entering Saturday, he was hitting just .153 with a .220 slugging percentage, numbers that modestly improve under the lens of their expected values (xBA) at .222 and .323, respectively.

A double in Friday’s loss was a table-setter for the next day’s output. And a 106.2 mph lineout was a tease at three more times on base. Rutschman is now hitting .190 with a .286 slugging percentage.

“He hit four balls right on the screws. Just really impressed the way he swung the bat from both sides of the plate, line drives all over the park,” Hyde said. “Awesome day for him at the plate.”

Hyde’s trust has never ceased, preaching confidence that Rutschman’s true arrival is just a matter of time, especially given the delayed start he was off to with his right triceps strain in Spring Training. Rutschman says each day brings more comfort and “gets a little better as you go.” Teammates -- the few that have seen him struggle -- know his work ethic will make this early-career lag a laughable speed bump by playing days’ end.

And then in the visitors’ clubhouse after Saturday’s win, Nevin -- a teammate of Rutschman's for much of the past two seasons -- answered the question surrounding his slow start unasked by both the Orioles beat reporting corps, but felt in bits around the fanbase.

“So," Nevin laughed, “don't worry.”