Playing his first game of 2022, Rutschman went 1-for-2 with a walk, a double and a run scored, catching five innings in the IronBirds’ 10-2 win over the Jersey Shore BlueClaws at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium.
“I was glad to get a couple of hard-hit balls, just get in the box again and see some pitches,” Rutschman said. “It’s great to be out there. … When you’re just getting early ABs, it’s one of those things where you don’t really know what to expect.”
After lining out to left field in the first inning, Rutschman ripped a double to right field in the third, later scoring on Coby Mayo’s infield single. Rutschman drew a walk in the fifth before being replaced at the end of the inning.
“It was great seeing him first day out, seeing the ball really well,” Aberdeen manager Roberto Mercado said. “He took his walk and barreled a couple balls. Just the way he runs the bases and the way he plays the game is great for all our guys to see what it takes to get to the next level and continue to grow. It was fun to watch for those five innings.”
Rutschman entered the spring with a shot at making the Orioles’ Opening Day roster, but a right triceps strain in early March shut him down for the rest of the month. The catcher has been rehabbing at the club’s complex in Sarasota, but his arrival in Aberdeen marked the next step toward his eventual big league debut.
“The thing about an injury that’s so tough is just that you can’t do anything, especially at the start of the rehab,” Rutschman said. “It’s definitely tough seeing guys you know and love go out and play every day and you’re stuck not being able to, but you just have to stay in that mindset of: ‘Control the controllables and what happens, happens.’”
Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, slashed .285/.397/.502 with 23 home runs and 75 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A last season, continuing his impressive defensive work behind the plate.
Other top prospects — including Detroit’s Spencer Torkelson, Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. and Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez — opened the season with their respective Major League clubs, something Rutschman took notice of as he worked his way back from his injury.
“It was awesome to see those guys all up on Opening Day kind of doing their thing,” Rutschman said. “I try and keep up and talk to those guys as much as I can. I’m definitely excited for them, to see their careers. It’s been cool to see so many guys starting to push that envelope, open that door and go on to the next stage of their life.
“You’re excited for them more than anything. It’s just even more motivation to continue to push forward.”
“It’s one of the things we try not to really get too excited or think about the future too much, because I think we all try and stay present as much as we can,” Rutschman said. “If you’re just constantly looking at the big leagues, I think you kind of take for granted the time you have right now, especially to make the relationships with the guys on the team. I think that’s the biggest thing. But definitely, there is that aspect of, we look forward to be able to contribute to a team, try to win and win together.”
Tuesday marked Rutschman’s first trip back to Aberdeen since he played 20 games for the IronBirds in 2019, bringing a rush of memories back for the 24-year-old.
Rutschman’s performance that season in Aberdeen — he slashed .325/.413/.481 — gave Baltimore its first glimpse of the type of player he could be. But he believes his game has matured in the two-plus years since he called Ripken Stadium home.
“Aberdeen was the first spot I ever really played at. From just a mental and physical standpoint, there’s been a lot of strides,” Rutschman said. “You always think about what kind of headspace you were in at that time. I remember coming here and being interviewed in this dugout, kind of wide-eyed and not really knowing what was going on. I was just trying to fit in and make sure I was not stepping on any toes, just making sure I’m doing everything right. Now, I definitely have a little bit more confidence in what we’re doing and kind of how I want to approach my every day play.”