Before Sunday, Adley Rutschman had never caught Cionel Pérez. The Orioles’ top prospect made a strong first impression.
At the end of innings, Rutschman has been known to meet pitchers near the foul line, offering kudos after a strong inning or needed support after a poor one. Sunday, after Pérez escaped from a two-on, no-out situation in the 10th inning to keep the game tied, Rutschman greeted him with a chest bump and excited yells. Pérez, a left-hander who has brought swagger to the mound in each of his outings for Baltimore, was just as fired up as Rutschman.
“I’ve never had that experience with any other catcher,” Pérez said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “Just having that energy, that excitement around that game was something I’ve never experienced before.”
Pérez said the game, an eventual victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in which Rutschman again celebrated with him after a scoreless top of the 11th then scored the winning run in the bottom half, was “one of the most emotional, exciting games of my entire career,” dating to his time as a teenager pitching in Cuba’s national league.
Rutschman played a large role in that. As he climbed the minors, there was wonder whether his greeting of pitchers would work with major leaguers. Tuesday against the New York Yankees, he met starter Bruce Zimmermann with a pat on the back after he gave up a home run to Jose Trevino in the third inning and a fist bump when Zimmermann struck him out to end the fifth. Thus far, reviews have been positive.
“He’s a great young player with a lot of potential, and seeing him with that energy was just great,” Pérez said of his outing with Rutschman. “He looked like a catcher with a lot of experience. He caught with a lot of confidence.”
He’s endeared himself to the Orioles’ clubhouse by also showing the opposite. With Rutschman’s arrival over the weekend, veteran catcher Robinson Chirinos has moved into a backup role, though he figures to still be behind the plate plenty as the Orioles manage Rutschman’s workload with time at designated hitter. Signed to a major league contract this offseason, Chirinos, 37, said he was aware this arrangement was coming. Described by manager Brandon Hyde as “an ultimate team guy,” he’s understanding of it.
Chirinos said what stands out about Rutschman is “just how humble he is,” saying he doesn’t act like a player who carries the status of being the top prospect in baseball.
“He’s wanting to get better, and he’s asking questions,” Chirinos said before Tuesday’s game. “He came to me today asking me how we attacked them in the past. He wants to learn, so that’s the only thing you ask for a young player in the league, be willing to listen to people that have been here, that have done it before, and he’s doing that.
“He makes this team better, so just trying to do the best I can to guide him and lead him and help him get better here.”
Rutschman is trying to do the same thing for the Orioles’ pitchers. Right-hander Kyle Bradish, who was on the mound for Rutschman’s debut Saturday, worked with him plenty at Orioles’ alternate site in 2020 and in both Double-A and Triple-A last season. He’s said he’s received those pumped-up Rutschman meetings like Pérez did, but he’s also had the catcher just come up to him with a joke after the inning.
“You know that he’s gonna be back there grinding, just like you are,” Bradish said.
Rutschman has brought that reputation up with him through the minors, just like the meetings near the foul line.
“He’s a leader on the field,” Hyde said before Rutschman’s debut. “He’s fully invested in the pitching, whoever’s on the mound. Like our other guys, it matters to him about putting a zero up every inning. He’s going to try to grind, get guys through innings, and he’s obviously got tools to where he’s big, strong, can block, receives well, throws well. So I think he’s also got the intangibles to be a winner behind the plate, and that’s something you can’t measure.”