Gary Kendall has gotten used to a juggling act at Triple-A Norfolk. The Tides’ manager has dealt with the almost constant transition with his roster as players shift from the minor league team to Baltimore and back again.
“It was like that in 2019 and then we had the alt-site,” Kendall said. “Any which way we can help. I understand the job. That is what this is about, preparing guys and having guys ready when they’re called upon to get to the big leagues to provide either short-term or long-term help.”
The Tides have had 12 players make their major league debut with the Orioles this season. It’s a call that Kendall values because of what it means for players to finally earn that promotion to the big leagues.
“You hope that you can do it in person,” Kendall said. “Sometimes, when they’re on the West Coast, it’s a phone call that will ring at three in the morning. Sometimes, I can’t do it personally. For some, it’s very exciting. We bring the staff in. Some guys have had quite different journeys to get here to Triple-A and so it’s an exciting time.”
The Orioles’ top prospect, Adley Rutschman, recently earned his promotion to Norfolk and has made an immediate impact. He already has three multi-hit performances with Norfolk in five games, going 8-for-21 (.381) with two doubles and five RBIs.
“I got a chance to see him at the alternate site,” Kendall said. “He just has an unbelievable toolset, regardless of whether he’s a catcher or plays a little first base. He brings a lot to the table, He has a very efficient bat where hits the ball to all fields with power. He runs very well for a catcher. He can throw and he can defend.
“He’s made a really big impact in our lineup. Guys like him, and he’s a very likable guy. He’s very humble. We’re fortunate to have him.”
Second baseman Jahmai Jones could be a late-season callup to the Orioles. Jones was acquired by the Orioles from Los Angeles in exchange for right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb on February 2, 2021.
Jones had an oblique injury earlier this season at Norfolk but isfully healthy and one of the team’s most productive hitters. He is batting .257 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 64 games and has played mostly at second base and eight games in left field.
“His defense is coming along,” Kendall said. “There were some things that were identified in spring training with [Orioles third base coach] Tony Mansolino and he gave us some things we needed to get with Jahmai on — starting and turning double plays and lateral movement to the baseball. He’s done a lot better and he’s made strides. He’s providing a lot of different things for us offensively.”
Rylan Bannon is another player who’s making a late case for a September callup. With a pair of homers Friday night, Bannon has hit five home runs in three games and has nine on the season. Still, he’s hitting just .165.
Bannon is making a case for Triple-A East Player of the Week, hitting .625 (5-for-8) with five home runs, six RBIs and five walks (.769 OBP).
Bannon also had an oblique injury earlier this season and has struggled with plate discipline. He worked with hitting coach Tim Gibbons and is more confident, seeing the ball better and getting pitches to hit, Kendall said.
He also shortened his swing and is being more direct to the ball.
“Gigantic week,” Kendall said. “Rylan was outstanding at the alt-site. He didn’t get out of the gate really well. He had that injury where he missed about a month. When he got back to us, he was really trying to do so much with the remaining time we have during the season.
“You’re not going to get a finer worker and a guy who really goes out there and plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. He made some adjustments with Tim and he’s really taken off. He’s doing things to help this ballclub.”
Outfielder Yusniel Diaz is hitting just .175. The Orioles acquired Diaz — and Bannon, pitchers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop, and infielder Breyvic Valera — from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Manny Machado in July 2018.
Diaz faced lofty expectations and has struggled with injuries. Kendall is trying to get him back on track.
“We have to get him on the field, that’s the biggest thing,” Kendall said. “We have to get him into a routine where he’s not hampered by anything — like leg injuries or turf toe. We need to get him repetitions. He needs to see a lot of games to make up for some things. He swings the bat better. He’s putting the ball in play. He has sharper contact and even his outs are more productive.
“We’ll just keep trying to go at it with him. He’s a corner outfielder. He plays occasionally in center field. He’s doing OK out there. We just have to keep working.”
Pinto on the rise: In just his second start with Delmarva on August 3rd, Jean Pinto threw six shutout innings, striking out six, to earn the Low-A East League Pitcher of the Week award. Pinto retired the final 15 batters he faced to become the first Shorebirds pitcher to win a weekly award.
Playoff picture: The top two teams in the Double-A Northeast League by winning percentage, regardless of division, will compete in a best-of-five playoff series beginning September 21st, two days after the regular season ends. With 32 games remaining, Bowie is tied with Portland for the second playoff spot. The Akron RubberDucks lead the league with a .629 winning percentage.