ST. PETERSBURG -- A hop, skip and jump over the third-base foul line, as tradition, is what kick-started DL Hall’s afternoon. And a fiery punch into his glove is what ended it.
Like much of his career, Hall’s winding path to his Major League debut and Saturday’s 8-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field came with a roller coaster of emotions: six strikeouts, but three walks, five runs on as many hits, but two hit softly into the soft portion of a defensive alignment. But most important: he arrived, five long years after his drafting.
“This is something that I have dreamt of since I was four years old,” said No. 4 prospect Hall. “Didn't go the way you quite picture it, but it's still a blessing to be able to call yourself a big leaguer and get to experience that.”
And then Hall was handed another emotional swing. The Orioles are optioning him to Triple-A Norfolk to convert him to a reliever for the stretch run, manager Brandon Hyde said, making Saturday more a taste than a firm entrance.
This late-season transition, the O’s hope, will allow them the opportunity to more closely monitor Hall’s innings, this being the first time in three years he’s pitching a full season. Coming up to St. Petersburg on Saturday, they equally hope, will have given him the manual for what needs to be refined when he likely rejoins the team for the final postseason push.
“They have a plan, and I trust in it,” Hall said. “I'm gonna go down and work on what I need to work on and hopefully come back and prove that I belong here. … You see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hall, who’s made just four relief appearances in his career, will have to learn how to prepare as a reliever does, aspects like pitching on back-to-back days. The Orioles' intention is for him to return to a starting role in Spring Training, but this is how they feel he can best impact the team this season.
“Now he goes down, understands what he needs to work on,” Hyde said. “It wasn't the results that he wanted, but any time you get that first experience out of the way it's a positive.”
The Orioles still believe mightily in Hall’s arm, and they got reminders why on Saturday.
Hall showcased the highs of striking out the side on 12 pitches in the second, collecting his first career punchout in tow, and the unbridled joy of being with the big league team during a postseason chase, though Saturday’s loss ceded the third Wild Card spot to the Rays.
“I told a few guys,” Hall recalled, “I was like, 'Man, I couldn't even feel my body, really.’”
That rush was met by trying first, third and fourth frames, five balls to open his career, then five runs and three walks on his ledger. And the feeling he could have done more.
That last platitude is what has carried the former first-round Draft pick throughout his career -- and what will have him confident Saturday, as important as it was, was simply a stepping stone.
“He showed flashes of what he's going to be, which in that second inning he had electric stuff,” Hyde said. “It's a lot for a young pitcher to make their debut. I just think he was a little bit over-amped there early. … But he's going to be a really good pitcher. We're excited for him going forward.”
As much as the Orioles want Hall to contribute in 2022, they want to take the reins fully off in ’23 and beyond. Their reasons for concern date back to ’19, when his year was cut short by a left lat strain, when his ’20 was washed away by the pandemic, and, most recently, when his ’21 was held to 31 2/3 frames due to a left elbow stress reaction.
Saturday, for myriad reasons, invited an enhanced eye, the pitching staff positioned behind Hall to watch him warm up during his bullpen, elevated cheers when he walked out of the dugout for the first time, and close friend and fellow top pitching prospect, Grayson Rodriguez, up the road from his rehab in Sarasota, Fla., to watch the show.
After Hall’s final pitch saw the fifth run score off him, eliciting the smack into his glove, he walked off the mound to an even more appreciative applause from the smattering of Orioles fans behind the visiting dugout. They, like him, have waited five long years to see his debut. They, like him, feel the best is still to come.