In the official box score, Adley Rutschman finished without a hit Thursday and Friday for the Orioles, dropping his batting average to .149 after two weeks in the major leagues. But to manager Brandon Hyde, that official box score doesn’t tell the full story — and paying too much attention to it distracts from the process.
The line drive Rutschman hit in the bottom of the 10th inning Thursday? It found a glove after being launched into the shift on the right side, a ball with a .960 expected batting average that turned into an out. The line drive down the left field line Friday night against Cleveland Guardians right-hander Shane Bieber? Another out, yet another positive takeaway for Hyde.
“Those two balls fall, he’s not struggling, according to the box score,” Hyde said.
Both those knocks didn’t help raise Rutschman’s average. Nor did they take some of the weight off the shoulders of the top prospect in baseball who’s learning how to compete at the major league level.
It’s not an easy transition, no matter how highly touted the prospect might be.
“That’s why I was downplaying it so much when he got here, or at least was trying to,” Hyde said. “Because I know how hard it’s gonna be and how difficult it is, and he’s just going to kind of have to get over this early stage of being a major league player. It’s not easy.
“It’s such a small sample right now. You can’t worry about the results,” Hyde continued. “It’s a tough level to break into. And he’s gonna be just fine. We just need to be patient and stay positive and support him.”
When Rutschman joined the Orioles on May 21, Hyde tried to temper expectations — both publicly to fans and privately to the top overall pick in the 2019 draft. He told Rutschman to relax — or try to — and pretend this was just another high school baseball game. It wasn’t, of course, as Rutschman and Hyde both knew.
The spotlight has been fixated on Rutschman well before his debut, but it has hardly left him since. On Friday, before Bieber took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning, Rutschman and his teammates wore T-shirts welcoming the catcher to the big leagues. He’s the main attraction for many hoping to see the Orioles return to playoff contention, even as he scuffles to begin his career.
Rutschman opened his account with a triple. Since his debut, he’s hit one double and five singles while striking out 13 times in 11 games. He looks as if he’s pressing at the plate, Hyde said, and glancing up at the scoreboard to see his sub-.200 average won’t help.
“When I’m watching him swing the bat right now, I’m watching a guy that’s really trying,” Hyde said. “Instead of letting the game come to him a little bit. Trying to get the big hit.”
Hyde watched Rutschman’s batting practice session Friday, though, and came away encouraged. The swings were “the best I’ve seen” so far from Rutschman, who sat out Saturday afternoon’s game against Cleveland. And when Hyde walked into the clubhouse earlier this week, he noticed veteran catcher Robinson Chirinos and Rutschman studying together for an hour.
Learning each pitcher is a process, too. Right-hander Jordan Lyles shook off Rutschman plenty of times during his start Thursday, but that’s hardly unusual for the first time a battery is working together. After suffering a right tricep injury as major league spring training began, Rutschman missed out on time to learn the intricacies of the big league staff.
“He has a lot to learn with what I want to do personally, alongside everyone else in this clubhouse,” Lyles said. “It’s a work in progress. But he was great back there. I love how he frames pitches at the top of the zone.”
The season is long. Rutschman’s career won’t be defined by the first 241 pitches he’s seen as a major league player across 53 plate appearances. The early production from other recent top prospects to begin their careers this season didn’t jump off the page, either.
Detroit Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson hit .206 in his first 12 games. Seattle Mariners center fielder Julio Rodríguez hit .136 in that time frame. Kansas City Royals infielder Bobby Witt Jr. hit .159.
Rutschman isn’t alone. And like those players, the potential will likely shine through before long.
“He’s got 400 more at-bats to go this season,” Hyde said. “He’s talented enough that the numbers are going to be there at the end of the year.”