On his thigh was a bruise, a deep blue color with yellow around the edges, far larger than the size of the baseball that plunked him. He displayed it periodically in the clubhouse, lifting the base of his shorts to offer a full view of the pounding a player endures over 162 games.

And that was only what was visible on his skin.

What Adley Rutschman takes most pride in is everyday availability for the Orioles — to take the bumps and bruises in stride, undeterred. Perhaps that, more so than the defensive acumen and offensive firepower, makes him an especially rare player. The days of catchers squatting behind the plate for 130 or 140 games a season are gone, replaced by tandems that allow for rest and recovery at one of baseball’s most physically and mentally demanding positions.

But here’s Rutschman, playing just about every day, either as a catcher or designated hitter. The durability that takes — with days off behind the plate often still leading to four or more plate appearances — is a feat.

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“Knock on wood,” Rutschman said when it was pointed out he hasn’t landed on the injured list since making his major league debut in May 2022. He intends to keep it that way.

To do so, Rutschman has formulated a routine that has as much to do with his .318 batting average as anything else. Consistency is so often a buzzword that players fall back on when searching for an answer, but to Rutschman, it’s the drumbeat of his life. His nutrition, his sleep schedule, his workouts and his plate appearances — they’re regimented, tried and true, set at a pace Rutschman knows works for him.

As a result, Rutschman is Baltimore’s heartbeat, the steady presence who might fly under the radar because of how consistent he has become.

“I think he’s a special player, and I think you’ll look up in 10 or 15 years and he’ll be in the same conversation as Buster Posey and Joe Mauer and them,” said catcher James McCann, whose own defensive prowess makes it easier to have Rutschman serve as a designated hitter more frequently.

“They’re finding ways to make sure he’s not catching every single day so he can be in the lineup every single day,” McCann continued. “It’s a special player when you have to design his workload to make sure he’s in the lineup for 162 games. You don’t want to miss that offense. It’s one of those things where, day in and day out, this team is so talented that different guys are going to get their praises sung at different times. But I think in the long haul you’re going to look back and he’s going to be in the conversation of an elite few.”

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His performances have backed up the company McCann mentioned. Rutschman blasted homers in consecutive games, including his first as a left-handed hitter this year in Sunday’s loss to the Oakland Athletics. His 35 hits are the most of any Oriole.

“He hasn’t flown under the radar for me,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game from both sides of the plate.”

Rutschman has developed his routine throughout his life, tweaking it as circumstances change. This offseason, with the addition of an Orioles nutritionist, Rutschman found a new level of detail for his meals — such as 8 ounces of chicken thighs with rice and a vegetable for dinner some nights.

“I think he’s a special player, and I think you’ll look up in 10 or 15 years and he’ll be in the same conversation as Buster Posey and Joe Mauer and them.”

Orioles catcher James McCann

But the largest change came when he made the jump from Oregon State, where he won a national championship, to the minor leagues once he was selected with the first overall pick in 2019. With the Beavers, he primarily played Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. That allowed him to undergo heavy lifting sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays, with plenty of recovery time between them and games.

“In college, I probably thought I was losing so much strength during the season,” Rutschman said. “But now you’re like, now I really have to be on top of it because we’re playing six, seven days a week. That changed a lot in the minor leagues, just trying to find a routine.”

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His first season, playing 37 games in rookie ball and for Low-A Aberdeen and High-A Delmarva, proved the steepest challenge.

“Just so uncomfortable with the schedule and where you’re playing and not really knowing anyone on the team, trying to make friends all at the same time,” Rutschman said. Those games went so slowly, he said, “because you’re just stressed out.”

Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman (35) connects with a pitch during game three of a series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Camden Yards on April 14, 2024. The Orioles beat the Brewers, 6-4, to avoid getting swept in the series.
Rutschman leads the team with 35 hits. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

In a sense, while the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season for the coronavirus pandemic slowed the development of Rutschman and other prospects, it helped in other areas. Rutschman spent it at the alternate training site in Bowie. He became friends with the brood of prospects around his age and learned more about how to navigate a season.

The tactics were in place, then, when Rutschman returned for a strong 2021 minor league season. He carried many of them over to the majors upon his arrival two years ago. One of the most notable adjustments from college to professional ball was learning when to lift.

Now, once Rutschman leaves the field after a game, he doesn’t always immediately shower. On select, preplanned days, Rutschman’s first stop will be the weight room. On a day game with a night game the next day, Rutschman knows he can get a lift in. Same with a day off the next day, either from the team as a whole or from him catching.

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Doing it after a game rather than in the morning prior to the next one is intentional.

“It’s just maximum amount of recovery time the next day,” Rutschman said, noting last week that he could go harder in the weight room Wednesday because of the day off scheduled Thursday.

“If I’m catching on a Sunday day game and I’m catching the Monday night game and I’m lifting that day, it’s going to be lighter, because I obviously have to be ready for the next day, so I’m not terribly sore,” Rutschman said. “The intensity changes with what you know is coming up.”

He does all this behind the scenes, ensuring Hyde can write Rutschman into the lineup card almost every day. The home runs and walk-off hits often draw the attention, but Rutschman’s routine is the instigator that allows for that success.

Being available daily, after all, is part of what makes Rutschman a franchise-changing catcher.

“I definitely take a lot of pride in it, trying to make sure I’m consistent on the aspects of my life that I can control,” Rutschman said. “Obviously, there are injuries that just happen, but I feel like if I’m consistent in the areas I can be consistent in, then I feel like I’m also good mentally, and that’s also big. I feel like I’m doing what I can for the team and being available.”

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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