Adley Rutschman‘s highly anticipated Triple-A debut arrived on Tuesday. It was worth the wait.
Baseball’s top overall prospect went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI, and his work behind the plate helped lead his team to a one-hit shutout as Norfolk beat Memphis, 4-0.
Rutschman arrived in Norfolk as a result of the second in-season promotion of his career and first since he went from then-short season Aberdeen to Low-A Delmarva during his Draft year.
“It was a lot different than 2019,” he said of this promotion. “In 2019, I knew no one in Low-A. You’re just meeting new people every day. It’s like attending a new school, and it’s definitely uncomfortable. Here, seeing some of the guys who I’ve seen in Spring Training and also guys who were in [Double-A] Bowie before who have moved up, it was a lot of hugs and ‘Nice to see you. Congrats.’ Just a lot of love coming from guys. I felt right at home.”
Batting second for the Tides, Rutschman grounded out to short in his first at-bat against Redbirds starter and baseball’s No. 25 overall prospect Matthew Liberatore. Following a flyout to right in the third, Rutschman came through against Liberatore in the sixth with an RBI single to left field.
Facing Memphis reliever Kodi Whitley two innings later, Baltimore’s top prospect laced a double to right for his first extra-base hit in Triple-A. Rutschman scored one man later on No. 16 O’s prospect Jahmai Jones‘ single to center. The backstop felt ready in his first Triple-A action.
“I’ve seen guys go up and down throughout this year, so you have a little better idea of how it works and a little more comfortability,” Rutschman said. “It’s nice knowing the guys at this level and having friends coming into the team. It just feels like you’re back at home and nothing really changes a whole lot.”
On the defensive side of his debut, Rutschman worked with a trio of Norfolk pitchers to silence Memphis. Making a big league rehab start for the Tides, Bruce Zimmermann spun five hitless innings with two walks and a strikeout. He gave way to Kyle Bradish who struck out the side in order in the sixth and worked around a leadoff walk in the seventh before yielding the Redbirds’ only hit of the game on a two-out single to center by Alec Burleson in the eighth.
“It’s nice having Adley behind the plate,” Bradish said after his first relief appearance of the season. “He’s a really good catcher, good guy. I’ve thrown to him quite a few times, so it just seems like when I throw to him, we’re on the same page.”
Bradish threw 31 strikes in his 44 pitches and fanned five against one walk. Rutschman was impressed with the righty’s progress. The two played together in the Cape Cod League in college before linking up as Orioles teammates at the alternate training site last year along with Spring Training and Double-A this season.
“It’s been 10, 12 weeks now since I’ve caught him last, and it’s cool to be able to go back out there and just go right back to where we were and pick back up and see where he’s at and the strides he’s made, what’s different now with his mentality, how he likes to work,” Rutschman said. “It was a lot of fun catching him again, same with Bruce.”
“He’s a big guy, so he’s a big target to throw to,” he said. “He receives really well, and he’s smart. He played very high Division-I baseball, won a national championship and has been in Double-A. He caught me a little bit this year, so just being familiar with that as well as his skills defensively, he’s just a good catcher to throw to.
“We’ve been through it a little bit. Just knowing that he’s going to be the future catcher of the Orioles for a while and hopefully I’ll be up there throwing to him. Building that kind of relationship from pitcher to catcher is nice down at this level.”
Felix Bautista finished off Norfolk’s gem by striking out the side in the ninth around a leadoff walk to Kramer Robertson and a two-out hit-by-pitch of baseball’s No. 26 overall prospect Nolan Gorman. Tides pitchers combined to face five batters over the minimum.
“To go through a night like tonight where they had a lot of success, were able to move the ball around well, it’s a very cool feeling,” the catcher said. “I’m extremely proud of those guys for the way they performed tonight. Even without [my] hits, it’s a successful night and a fun thing to be a part of. I couldn’t have drawn it up any better.”
Liberatore took the loss for Memphis despite allowing just three runs on seven hits in seven innings. The left-hander struck out seven and didn’t issue a walk in his longest start since he went eight frames against Jacksonville on June 30.