Orioles’ Adley Rutschman puts on switch-hitting show in Home Run Derby but falls in opening round

Biden Harris

When Randy Rutschman got a call from his son asking to throw to him in the Home Run Derby, he felt it was a sign of Adley Rutschman’s competitive intentions in the event.

“He could have chosen 100 other people that’d probably do a better job than me,” Randy said. “But that told me it was more about the experience.”

It was one that father, son, and those watching at home and at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park — an announced 46,952 — won’t soon forget. The Orioles’ second-year catcher lost in the opening round to top seed Luis Robert Jr. of the Chicago White Sox but highlighted the matchup with a showcase of his switch-hitting prowess.

After the 25-year-old hit 21 home runs from the left side in his first three minutes, he shared a big hug with Randy. Then, when he stepped into the right-handed batter’s box for the bonus 30 seconds, the real show began.

Seven of Rutschman’s eight swings from the right side resulted in the ball clearing the fence, though the last was ruled to have come after the buzzer, leaving him with 27 in the round — the third-most of the opening matchups and more than eventual champion Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit in any of his three rounds. But Robert matched that total in his three minutes, and by also hitting two balls over 440 feet, he earned a bonus minute. He did not need it, hitting one more home run to eliminate the father-son duo.

Rutschman had shined at this ballpark before. At 8 years old, he won a local Pitch, Hit & Run competition at what was then Safeco Field, a name he has trouble not referring to the ballpark as. Before the 2016 draft, he participated in a workout for the Mariners, who drafted the Sherwood, Oregon, native in the 40th round before he decided to head to Oregon State. While there, he established himself as a future star, homering to deep right field at this stadium during a tournament.

He hit another blast in his first major league game here, coming amid a debut season in which the 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick finished as the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year. All along the way, father threw batting practice to son, a pastime that reached its zenith three hours north of their home.

For so long, the eyes of the sport have been upon Adley Rutschman. They were at their widest Monday night.

“I don’t know how he handles it so well,” Randy said during batting practice before the event.

Rutschman’s first two swings off his father — wearing a matching “Rutschman 35″ Orioles uniform and donning a catcher’s mitt on his left hand — both produced a 430-foot home run. When he took his one allotted timeout with 1 minute, 29 seconds left, Rutschman had gone deep nine times, with his longest of 445 feet putting him halfway toward the necessary two home runs of at least 440 feet to earn 30 seconds of bonus time.

The Orioles’ other three All-Stars approached him, with Félix Bautista softly wiping Rutschman’s face with a towel, Baltimore’s closer helping Rutschman finish the job in the same way the catcher has so often done for him. The reprieve and a bit of hydration — sadly, not delivered via the team’s “homer hose” funnel — seemed to ignite Rutschman. Wearing a black headband, he launched 12 more home runs, though each came short of 440 feet, and made his way emphatically into his father’s arms.

“To be able to do it with my dad, it’s awesome,” Rutschman, who was not made available to Baltimore media after the event, said when it was announced he would participate. “The answer for me has always been him. We knew.”

It’s worth wondering what another half-minute might have done for Rutschman, given the ease with which he flicked balls out to left field after deciding to bat right-handed. Only time could stop him.

It’s been that way since he was a boy.

“Growing up, what I learned is ‘one more’ means anywhere between 50 and 100 more,” Randy Rutschman said. “That’s one thing you learn throwing BP to him. ‘One more,’ add 50 to 100 more.”

Perhaps those will come in a future derby. Randy hoped his performance would prove worthy of another chance to pitch if his son ever made the field again. After Adley impressed from both sides of the plate Monday, it’s hard to imagine him not.

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