- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2022

BALTIMORE — The excitement generated over Adley Rutschman’s arrival with the Orioles could be seen and felt all around Camden Yards. In the gift shop, there were Rutschman-themed t-shirts for sale that riff on Old Bay packaging.

“Perfectly seasoned pro baseball prospect,” the shirt read. 

Televisions on the concourse advertised another Rutschman-themed T-shirt giveaway for Friday. Near the outfield, some fans dawned jerseys and shirseys (t-shirt jerseys) of the hyped catcher prospect. There was a reason for the buzz. 

Rutschman, after all, is the player that fans — and the team — had been waiting to see ever since the Orioles drafted the 24-year-old first overall in 2019.

“He just brings hope to the franchise,” said Chris Stein, a Baltimore resident who said he’s been following Rutschman ever since the 2018 College World Series. “We’ve been down for so many years, so hopefully we can get back to where we were.”

It has been two weeks since the Orioles called up Rutschman to the majors, and there remains a sense of intrigue when it comes to the man hailed as the sport’s next great star. Over the last five years, no team in professional sports has lost more games than the Orioles. But that pain and suffering for those invested could be worth it if Rutschman pans out as many expect. 

With Rutschman’s arrival, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said he’s starting to see a “light at the end of the tunnel” for Baltimore’s lengthy rebuild. This season, Baltimore is 22-30 entering Thursday’s series finale against the Seattle Mariners, good for the Orioles’ best winning percentage since 2017. 

That, of course, can’t be attributed to one rookie: Rutschman has only appeared in 10 games and is hitting .179. But the Orioles, Hyde said, are in a better position now with a restocked farm system, a much-improved bullpen and everyday position players who are starting to turn a corner because of their experience. It’s a setting that can help Rutschman properly develop.

“That’s something that we talk about: You want your top guys and your prospects to come into a good situation, Hyde said. “With a good vibe in the clubhouse and a good experience early. That was the right time for Adley (to be called up). We were playing good baseball and Adley’s just fitting right in.”

Hyde said he sees “a lot of similarities” between these Orioles and the 2014 Chicago Cubs. Hyde was a Cubs assistant under skipper Rick Renteria and that year, the Cubs showed promise late because of an influx of talent like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Hendricks — core pieces of Chicago’s 2016 World Series-winning team. 

The 2014 Cubs finished 73-89, a seven-win improvement over the previous year. Then in 2015, Chicago won 97 games. 

“The fans saw that second half that this is a pretty cool core group,” Hyde said of the 2014 season.

As much as excitement over what Baltimore’s future could be, there are also plenty of reminders of how far the team has to go in the present. Tuesday’s game featured a 10-0 loss to the Mariners on a sweltering night that only had 8,074 in attendance. Rutschman went 0-for-4 and couldn’t capitalize as he left five runners on base. He struck out three times. 

But perhaps this Orioles team is a bit different. Baltimore returned Wednesday with a decisive 9-2 win over Seattle, showing an ability to bounce back in a way it hasn’t in recent years. The Orioles demonstrated a similar resolve over the weekend in Boston. 

Rutschman didn’t appear in Wednesday’s win, though that was by design. The Orioles gave him a night off after starting four games in a row. 

Still, Hyde praised Rutschman’s willingness to go about his craft. Though Rutschman has been touted for his offensive ability — he hit .312 in Triple-A last year — the skipper raved about how Rutschman has done behind the plate. Hyde said Rutschman has been in constant communication with pitchers, the pitching staff and veteran catcher Robinson Chirinos. “It’s been really impressive,” Hyde said. 

In the Orioles’ clubhouse before Tuesday’s game, Rutschman sat at his locker with an iPad dialed up to study film. Now that he’s at the next level, Rutschman said he’s trying to adjust to the speed of the game and take advantage of the in-depth scouting reports that the big leagues have to offer. 

But Rutschman said he made sure to appreciate the moments of his first few weeks. Before his May 21 debut, the catcher turned behind home plate and marveled at the crowd. He soaked in the cheers of fans who noticed. Later that evening, he became the third Oriole to triple in his debut — joining Manny Machado and Matt Wieters.

The hit sent the crowd at Camden Yards into a frenzy.

“It’s just an unbelievable amount of support,” Rutschman said. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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