BALTIMORE—On the night after Orioles general manager Mike Elias sat among fans who couldn’t stop applauding top prospect Adley Rutschman and congratulated Rutschman’s family after his first major league game, he was back at Camden Yards on Sunday morning, talking about Rutschman’s promotion and what might come next in the team’s rebuild.
Elias called Rutschman’s promotion “tricky timing-wise. We wanted to get him up as soon as possible. We had hopes that he’d break with the team in Sarasota. He had a very ill-timed injury [strained right triceps muscle] with it being on his throwing arm and him missing the entirety of spring training. It was not something we could rush. There was a very careful rehab process in Sarasota, and an equally careful workload and at-bat buildup in the minors.
“Luckily, he hit the ground running from a hitting perspective, didn’t get a lot of indications that his timing was off … It was really about building up the catching, ultimately checking the boxes of doing three days in a row.”
Rutschman went 1-for-3 with a walk in his debut. His one hit was a triple, and he was smooth behind the plate. He’ll be the designated hitter, batting fifth, in Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Looking at the schedule, Yankee Stadium didn’t seem like a great option for a debut,” Elias said. “It seemed like he was ready and this weekend made the most sense, and now he’ll get the experience of playing in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, which is cool for him because that’s life in the AL East, and then he’ll come back for a nice homestand around Memorial Day. I think the timing worked out as well as it could have given that we were constrained by his injury.”
Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, 22, is starting for Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday, and it’s natural to wonder when he’ll follow Rutschman to Baltimore.
“He’s throwing today in Norfolk, so we’ll keep an eye on that,” Elias said. “I think that there are a number of factors that we’re monitoring with Grayson. First of all, it was a condensed major league camp because of the lockout. He wasn’t locked out, but it wasn’t a camp where we could let him have maybe the normal number of innings they he could have because we were trying to put a team together so quickly.
“He was a little off kilter when he came into camp. His outings weren’t great. We sent him back to the minor league side. We were working on things with his delivery that we felt were a little different from his banner 2021 season. We wanted to get him back on track, but equally, in fact if not more important, is when he comes up here we want him to be able to go and pitch and help the team and not handcuff the team.
“We’ve got to be super careful with the workload for this kid just because who he is, but the calendars that we’ve had to work around since he’s been drafted with the whole Covid-shortening … We’re building him up. I think he was at 87 pitches last outing. He’s getting close to a full build-up … The last two or three outings have been markedly better in terms of stuff, location, delivery. I think his last outing was kind of vintage Grayson, which was exciting. I’m watching each one of his starts very carefully, and I know we are as an organization.”
Since his promotion to Norfolk, No. 2 pitching prospect DL Hall, 23, has been inconsistent. Elias said he’s not surprised.
“You saw the line last time, some walks,” Elias said. “His stuff is unbelievable. He’s been healthy. He looks great. He’s throwing harder than ever. He’s doing it with ease and efficiency. He’s just such an athlete with the way his body works, and I think that his velocity is coming to him very easily, which is great.
“He’s still learning how to pitch. He’s now in the Triple-A level, where you’re facing veteran ex-major leaguers and guys in their 30s, guys that know how to take pitches and lay off stuff, and this is going to be very beneficial for him. I just think we want to see him cover his innings, meaning not fire so many bullets that we’re having to take him out in the third inning, and get to the point where he’s built out.
“Obviously, we’re going to have to manage that workload quite a bit, too … He looks excellent. I think that a mixture of good and bad at Norfolk is exactly what I would have expected, and I think he’s ahead of schedule and expectations in terms of where he came into the year, and this is all good stuff, healthy stuff that we’re seeing from him.”
Elias said that Heston Kjerstad, the team’s top draft pick in 2020 who has yet to play professionally because of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, and a hamstring injury, is progressing. Kjerstad, 23, will be in extended spring training games in Sarasota next week and through the end of the month. If that goes well, he’ll move to the Florida Complex League.
“Our goal is to get him to Delmarva this summer. I don’t know when that’s going to happen,” Elias said. “He’s doing well with the hamstring and the other stuff that he’s been through.”
Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, 25, whose stock has dropped because of injuries and lack of production, has returned to the minor league injury list after reinjuring his right hamstring.
“It stinks for him,” Elias said. “He looked good at Triple-A, too. That was very disappointing news the other day. I don’t know what to say other than it stinks. Once you have those, sometimes you’re more susceptible to recurrence, and he’s a twitchy, explosive guy, and this stuff happens, but it’s really putting a damper on his ability to get on a roll and make himself relevant for the major league team.
“I’m not ruling anything out, but this is a big setback timewise. We’ll just working with him, and get him back out there, and hopefully in the second half, he can get up here because his time is overdue and we like him. It’s just been really tough the last couple of year with the injuries, and he was off to a really good start. We’ll keep supporting him, and our medical staff will get him healed up, and get him back out here.”
Infielder Terrin Vavra, who was a candidate for a promotion from Norfolk before injuring a hamstring, is still rehabbing, and he’ll need a minor league rehab assignment before rejoining the Tides.