Rutschman goes extra mile, drives in three

May 7th, 2021
Joy Absalon/

Opposing pitchers were able to keep down ... for all of two games.

MLB Pipeline's second overall prospect hit his first home run of the season, doubled and collected three RBIs to lead Double-A Bowie past Altoona, 8-4, Thursday night. Rutschman had gone 1-for-9 with five strikeouts through his first two games before breaking out against the Curve.

For the Portland, Ore. native, at-bats was all he needed to get back into the groove.

"I started feeling better in the box towards the end of [Wednesday's game]," Rutschman said. "I think just being able to get those first few at-bats under my belt was the key. Baseball is a very tough sport and very process oriented so sometimes it takes a few things to click into place. Being able to relax and stay comfortable in the box is a huge positive."

The 23-year-old began the season by whiffing in four of his first six plate appearances, but he did collect his first Double-A hit and RBI Wednesday. Rutschman added to his lists of firsts on Thursday, connecting on an opposite-field homer to left-center in the opening frame for his first long ball of 2021. He flied out to left in the third, walked in the fifth before coming through in the clutch again in the seventh. Malquin Canelo opened the inning with a single and Orioles No. 12 prospect Terrin Vavra worked a four-pitch walk. Rutschman fell behind in the count, 1-2, but proceeded to smack a double to left which scored both runners for a 5-0 lead. Rutschman came up with runners on base again in the ninth but struck out swinging.

"Tonight in that first at-bat, I got a really good pitch to handle and I was able to capitalize and do some damage," Rutschman said. "It was a nice feeling to contribute and get that first one out of the way."

Just the seventh catcher to be taken with the first overall selection in the 56-year history of the MLB Draft, Rutschman has had little regular-season action since turning pro in 2019. The switch-hitting backstop homered in his first game and amassed 130 at-bats across three Minor League levels in his debut season. Overall, Rutschman batted .254/.351/.423 with 13 extra-base hits and 26 RBIs in 37 games.

Rutschman got a taste of life as a big leaguer during Spring Training in 2020 and spent the summer at the club's alternate training site. He again took part in Grapefruit League play in March, going 6-for-26 with two RBIs in 10 games.

"There is nothing quite like real-game adrenaline and real-game situations," Rutschman said. "It's tough to mimic that at the alternate site or even Spring Training. There's something about getting into a real season in the games that truly count. Everything matters now and it's nice to be back."

Like everyone else, Rutschman was forced to adjust to life in a pandemic-stricken world. While competing in Minor League games wasn't an option last year, he feels he made the best of an unprecedented situation.

"I think I utilized my time during quarantine and during the offseason to the best of my ability. I feel I got stronger mentally and then heading over to the alternate training site I was able to see a higher level of pitching on a consistent basis. Seeing that and being able to talk with some of those guys who have the experience and knowledge was really beneficial for me."

Vavra reached base three times, driving home a run with a ground-rule double in the ninth. Coupled with a walk and a hit-by-pitch, the 23-year-old has reached safely seven times through three games.

Kevin Smith was strong on the mound in his first start as a member of the Orioles. Obtained in a trade last season with the Mets that sent Miguel Castro to Queens, the No. 18 Orioles prospect struck out five and scattered five hits and a walk over 4 2/3 innings.