There were no major overhauls last offseason and no need to reinvent a swing that had brought Adley Rutschman to the heights he’s reached early in his career. The Orioles catcher knew his results against left-handed pitching during his otherwise standout rookie season were an anomaly.
In every other season of Rutschman’s life, from his earliest switch-hitting days in high school to a national championship at Oregon State to the top prospect status he achieved with Baltimore, his right-handed swing has been natural.
It has been dangerous, too, when left-handed pitchers step onto the mound.
So Rutschman avoided change for change’s sake, and the dedication to his long-time approach paid off during his second season with the Orioles. It was on display again Wednesday night in Baltimore’s win against the Washington Nationals, when Rutschman faced left-hander Patrick Corbin and raked again from the right side of the plate.
“I feel like I probably looked at it differently than other people did,” Rutschman said of his 2022 statistics. “I always believed I could do it. Last year, I didn’t feel quite right right-handed. But I feel pretty good now and was able to make some good adjustments, and I think it’s shown pretty decently this year.”
It showed more than decently Wednesday.
Rutschman blasted a two-run home run off Corbin and followed with an RBI single. The two knocks brought Rutschman’s 2023 average against southpaws to .301 with an 0.893 on-base-plus-slugging percentage — a vast improvement on his 2022 numbers, when Rutschman hit .174 with a .552 OPS against lefties.
The displays this year reinforce Rutschman’s belief in himself, they strengthen the importance of his everyday presence in the lineup, and they bolster Baltimore’s batting order against left-handers.
The last point, especially, breeds confidence for a team that has improved overall against southpaws compared to last season. And in the postseason — with a No. 1 seed attainable as early as Thursday should the Orioles clinch the American League East — Baltimore will surely face more left-handers in high-leverage spots.
Last season, the Orioles’ .224 batting average against left-handers ranked 26th in the majors, and their .663 OPS was 24th. This year’s average rose to .260 entering Wednesday (10th in baseball) with a .766 OPS — with Rutschman a catalyst for the improvement.
“He just maybe got off to a little bit of a rough start in his big league career from the right side,” manager Brandon Hyde said, “but he’s a good hitter from both sides.”
Another benefit for Orioles hitters is the addition of Rubén Francisca, a left-handed batting practice pitcher whose main contribution is preparing Baltimore’s batters for the southpaws they’re about to face. Rutschman isn’t alone in his improvement against lefties. Cedric Mullins, Gunnar Henderson and Ryan Mountcastle have all seen rises.
Part of the reason Rutschman struggled against lefties last season could be down to the right triceps injury he suffered during spring training. The ailment delayed his major league debut until May and impacted his right-handed swing throughout the campaign.
“I think that’s probably a little bit of a factor, just kind of extending that right arm and feeling really comfortable getting in tight and working through the opposite field and staying on the ball a long time,” Rutschman said. “So I think a little bit.”
Now healthy, Rutschman has sprayed the ball the opposite way against left-handers almost five times more frequently in 2023 than he did in 2022.
The results, then, have followed.
Rutschman never doubted this would be possible. But, with another big night at the plate against a left-handed pitcher, he proved to any who did doubt that last year’s issues as a righty are a thing of the past.