MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Having taken in the first three games of the Baltimore Orioles season, what stood out the most here, other than Ryan McKenna’s iron glove, were the rules changes that have gone into effect this season.

With the pitch clock and the pickoff limits, the games move at a far crisper pace, and it’s just so evident, though the new hurry-up mandate didn’t prevent the first two games of the Orioles-Red Sox series from going over three hours. The third one was in just over two-and-a-half, despite the O’s bullpen being unable to secure shutdown innings.

As promised, it appears we’re going to have more stolen bases this season than in recent seasons, as the Orioles themselves, rarely known as a running team, set a Major League record by stealing five bases in each of the first two games. And they are far from being the only team in the big leagues to take advantage of the rules to keep running.

So, in one weekend, have we gone from too few stolen bases to too many? Slow down. For while the trend is up from recent years, we still have a way to go before steals will be as common and ho-hum as home runs were at the height of the steroids era.

When MLB surveyed fans while designing the rules changes, the stolen base was identified as something fans missed. As teams placed a greater emphasis on the value of outs, though, the risk of running into outs decreased, as did the rate of attempts.

Now, with the bigger bases and the pickoff limits associated with the pitch timer, we saw noticeably more attempts through the first weekend.

We’ll see more steals this season, but will this pace continue until the defenses begin to catch up and adjust? That’s also likely. Keep in mind, a generation of pitchers has not had to pay much attention to the running game; but now they do. Yet, with the pickoff limits, it’s going to be an adjustment for everybody on the fly.

Also keep in mind, as it pertains to faster games: While there should be more action, more action takes more time. The Phillies, for instance, lost a game to the Rangers, 16-3, with Texas putting up a nine-run inning. Philadelphia catcher J.T. Realmuto said that particular inning was like nothing he had experienced before as he felt he and his pitchers were under siege because there is no time available now to slow down the game.

That, of course, is the point of the pitch clock; but in baseball, sometimes it’s necessary to slow the pace of the game for obvious reasons. But so much for the pastoral splendor, eh?

All in all, the new rules seem to play very well and seem to be a good thing. Fans seem to like it, at least for now. As with anything new, though, there will be a period of adjustment before things settle to where the pace of the action is the natural thing. That’s when we’ll really find out.

Still, baseball is a game that will humble even the greatest player. Ask Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, who became the first catcher in big league history to go 5-for-5 on Opening Day, and then extended that to 6-for-6 with a single during his first at-bat of the second game. Sunday, during his third game, Rutschman struck out the first three times he came to the plate and finished the game hitless in five at-bats.

McKenna, the Orioles leftfielder, was certainly humbled on Saturday when his dropped one-handed flyball attempt (Coach Cavanaugh was not pleased) with two out in the ninth prevented the Orioles from beginning the season 2-0, because O’s closer Felix Bautista promptly served up a 100 mile-per-hour straight fastball at the knees that Boston’s Adam Duvall sent over the Green Monster to give the Red Sox the walk-off win. MASN analyst Jim Palmer said Duvall hit a 1-iron.

As unthinkable as McKenna’s drop was, the Orioles’ overall defense through the first games has left a lot to be desired – in the outfield, particularly, but also in the infield. On top of that, their baserunning, despite the 10 steals out of the gate, has been lousy, as Anthony Santander ran the club out of a potentially big inning on Saturday afternoon.

If that’s not enough, their bullpen is lost and has to find a way to stop the bleeding until Dillon Tate and Mychal Givens can get healthy, and for even worse measure, the offense has not produced with runners in scoring position, having gone a combined 1-for-10 in the first two games.

But, as the great Annie Savoy once said, “It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ‘em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT