For as long as DL Hall can remember, he has taken the mound with a skip over the foul line. It’s so second nature now that the left-hander doesn’t think about it. Besides, he had plenty on his mind when he exited the dugout at Tropicana Field on Saturday afternoon to make his major league debut.
There he was, skipping over that white line. That routine won’t change, even as Hall’s surroundings shift dramatically. When he warmed up in the bullpen near left field, the Orioles pitching staff gathered around to observe, then gave the 23-year-old fist bumps on his way to the dugout. When he took the field and promptly threw five straight balls, there was nowhere else to look. When he returned in the second inning and struck out the side, it was just as captivating.
The attention wasn’t for the success he found; Hall left after 3 2/3 innings, having allowed five runs in an eventual 8-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Instead, it was for all he represented, another piece of this rebuild to finally reach the majors.
That stint was short-lived, however. Manager Brandon Hyde announced after the game that Hall will be optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk to develop as a reliever before potentially returning to the club in September. So Saturday turned into a cameo, a chance for Hall to see the majors and for the majors to see him. Perhaps next time Hall returns, it will be for good.
“We did it for numerous reasons, but one was to get him here and get him acclimated to what it’s like here,” Hyde said. “Now he goes down, understands what he needs to work on. Change your role a little bit to end the season. It wasn’t the results that he wanted, but any time you get that first experience out of the way, it’s a positive.”
Well before first pitch, Hall stood in the dugout next to rookie catcher Adley Rutschman, one of his closest friends in the organization, and soaked in the empty stadium. Rutschman looked forward to that moment, seeing the look on Hall’s face when the No. 4 prospect in Baltimore’s pipeline gazed at a big league park ahead of his debut.
Those two — catcher and starting pitcher — are expected to play a key role in the turnaround the Orioles (59-54) envision. Rutschman is already doing so, proving himself as an American League Rookie of the Year candidate. Others will follow, including shortstop Gunnar Henderson, the highest-ranked prospect in the sport according to Baseball America.
Perhaps more will arrive to help the Orioles before the season is over, as Baltimore finds itself a half-game back of the third wild-card spot to the Rays (59-53). The Orioles are within reach of the postseason, and even if Saturday didn’t show it, there’s a belief that having Hall in the mix will serve as a boost. Now, it will have to be as part of a surprisingly dominant bullpen.
“He showed flashes of what he’s going to be, which was that second inning when he had electric stuff,” Hyde said. “It’s a lot for a young pitcher to debut. I just think he was a little bit overamped there early.”
Hall might’ve arrived in the majors sooner if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending stress reaction in his elbow last year, shutting him down after 31 2/3 innings at Double-A Bowie. Hall’s progression has been slow-going, as he remained in Florida for extended spring training this season before appearing with High-A Aberdeen, Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.
In 70 innings for Norfolk, he struck out 114 batters. But he also averaged 5.7 walks per nine innings, as command issues remain his biggest hurdle.
“I woke up this morning, it kind of all hit me at once,” Hall said. “And coming to the field, it kind of all continued to build those first couple batters. I told a few guys, ‘Man, I couldn’t even feel my body.’ It was crazy.”
The control issues cropped up early Saturday. Hall walked the first batter he faced and allowed a run in the first inning before he returned for the second showing the elite swing-and-miss stuff he possesses. For his first strikeout, first baseman Christian Bethancourt swung through a 95.9 mph fastball. Then outfielder Jose Siri was caught looking at a changeup before Hall reared back for a 97.2 mph four-seamer that evaded outfielder Roman Quinn’s bat.
By that point, Hall had a lead to work with. The Orioles plated two runs in the second off All-Star left-hander Shane McLanahan on singles from Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos. But that lead evaporated in the third, as Hall allowed three runs after he walked the leadoff man and gave up two doubles and a single.
Hall didn’t complete the fourth, with a sacrifice fly scoring the fifth and final run against him. Hall smacked the ball into his plain brown mitt — not the usual bright teal glove he had with the Tides — before handing the ball to Hyde.
As Hall made his way off the field, he didn’t skip over the foul line. He stepped over it instead, hardly breaking stride, as he adjusted his cap at the end of his first major league appearance. There were highs. There were lows. But he arrived, nonetheless.
“This is something I’ve dreamt of since I was 4 years old,” Hall said. “Didn’t go the way you quite picture it, but still a blessing to get to call yourself a big leaguer and get to experience that. It was unbelievable.”
After home plate umpire Andy Fletcher granted a late timeout call to Chirinos in the eighth inning, Rays right-hander Pete Fairbanks took exception. He struck out Chirinos with the next pitch, then directed words toward home plate. Whether they were meant for Chirinos or Fletcher, it was unclear.
Chirinos heard them, though, and turned back toward Fairbanks. When he took several steps toward the reliever, the benches cleared, and Chirinos, outfielders Brett Phillips and Anthony Santander and shortstop Jorge Mateo all had to be restrained.
“He’s wild,” Chirinos said of Fairbanks. “Everybody know in the league. I called a timeout. Andy called it late. It was not my fault. I guess he thought it was my fault I called that timeout late. We lost the game.”
The feud simmered down relatively quickly, however, and there were no ejections.
In the midst of a playoff race, tempers can flare. And with Tampa Bay and Baltimore battling for a wild-card spot, it’s hardly surprising.
Around the horn
>> Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez was at Tropicana Field to support Hall, his longtime minor league teammate. Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect in baseball, will throw off the mound Monday as he continues his recovery from a Grade 2 right lat muscle strain. It’ll be the third time in the past week he’s thrown off the mound.
>> Right-hander Spenser Watkins, who was in line to start Saturday for Baltimore, instead moved to the bullpen and pitched three innings. Watkins, who Hyde said should return to the rotation by the middle of next week, allowed three runs on six hits.
>> Right-hander Tyler Wells threw long toss on the field before the game. It was another positive step for the starting pitcher after he suffered an oblique strain late last month.
Sunday, 1:40 p.m.
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