Adley Rutschman is good.
It’s easy to forget the 25-year-old catcher was playing in his first major league Opening Day at Fenway Park on Thursday since he became the face of the Orioles’ lengthy rebuild nearly four years ago and made his debut last May 21. But Rutschman wasted no time in the 10-9 win over Boston reminding why he was voted team MVP and finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting last year.
In his first at-bat of the new season, Rutschman hammered the third pitch he saw from Red Sox starter Corey Kluber over the right-field wall for a 402-foot home run. He also singled four times, walked, and drove in four runs to become the first player since 1937 to go 5-for-5 or better with a homer on Opening Day and the first catcher with five hits in a season opener since at least 1900, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The only thing he didn’t do particularly well was run the bases as he was twice thrown out at second, creating a brief scare in a third-inning collision with Red Sox second baseman Christian Arroyo.
But Rutschman otherwise looked the part of a budding superstar and the undisputed leader of a Baltimore club entering a season with real expectations for the first time since Manny Machado and Adam Jones were starring on the field and Buck Showalter was roaming the dugout. As manager Brandon Hyde noted after Thursday’s win, the historic performance is “not going to be the only time you’re going to say that about Adley.”
After scuffling through his first 2 1/2 weeks in the majors with a .143 average over 62 plate appearances, the switch-hitting Rutschman thrived to the tune of a .278 average, an .868 on-base plus slugging percentage, 47 extra-base hits, and 61 walks over the final 408 plate appearances of his rookie season, most of that coming while playing the sport’s most physically demanding position at a high level. His 5.2 wins above replacement not only led the Orioles, but that matched even the best full season for Matt Wieters, the former Baltimore catcher and four-time All-Star to whom Rutschman is frequently compared.
Rutschman is already looking like a better player than Wieters was in his prime, which is more a compliment to the former than a knock on an accomplished major leaguer who simply didn’t live up to extraordinary hype.
Expectations for Rutschman were immense long before general manager Mike Elias selected him first overall out of Oregon State in 2019, but the star catcher continues rising to the occasion with Opening Day being the latest example.
One follows the logic of flipping normal left fielder Austin Hays and normal right fielder Anthony Santander because of the expansive right field at Fenway Park, but it was a surprisingly miserable day for the outfield defense.
Santander misplayed several balls in left field while Hays and center fielder Cedric Mullins also had difficulties, leading to Orioles pitchers paying the price multiple times. The defense went from bad to worse when slick-fielding shortstop Jorge Mateo made a throwing error on what should have been the game-ending double play, forcing struggling closer Felix Bautista to strike out Adam Duvall to preserve a one-run win after the Orioles had led by six entering the last of the eighth inning.
The pitching was far from great with the bullpen remaining a real early-season concern, but it wasn’t as bad as the box score indicated due to the defense. And while no one should overreact to a single game played in brutally cold conditions, Hyde may need to revisit his outfield plans at Fenway at the very least.
Walk, then run
The Orioles drew a whopping nine walks in Thursday’s win, one shy of their 2022 season high and a reflection of the kind of swing decisions the organization preaches.
They also matched their 2022 season high with five stolen bases as Mateo and Mullins swiped two apiece. Between the pitch clock and bigger bases being introduced this season, many anticipated more stole base attempts across baseball, but Mateo and Mullins finished first and second in the AL in steals last year, making it unsurprising that Baltimore would push the envelope against Red Sox catcher Reese McGuire and his unimpressive pop time to second base.
Time of game
If someone had told you prior to the introduction of the pitch clock that the Orioles and Red Sox would combine for 19 runs, 26 hits, 12 walks, 17 strikeouts, and three errors, you probably would have predicted a time of game closer to four hours than 3:10.
Only five of 15 Opening Day games exceeded three hours, and there were a total of just 14 pitch-clock violations on Thursday.
So far, so good with baseball’s new rules.
Come on, man
It takes a lot to squash the good vibes of a win on Opening Day, but Orioles chairman John Angelos succeeded in doing just that.
Fictional Cleveland Indians owner Rachel Phelps would be impressed.