Orioles top prospect Gunnar Henderson homers in MLB debut

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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CLEVELAND — Gunnar Henderson quickly turned his major league debut into a success.

Henderson, called up by the Baltimore Orioles earlier in the day, homered in the fourth inning against the Cleveland Guardians. The 21-year-old hit a 2-2 pitch from Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie an estimated 429 feet to right-center field for his first big league hit.

Henderson’s helmet fell off as he rounded the bases. He looked to the sky after crossing home plate and was greeted at the top step of the dugout by teammates, who placed the Orioles’ home run chain around his neck.

Henderson, the game’s No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America, joins a Baltimore team that entered Wednesday three games out of the final wild card in the American League. A year after losing 110 games, the Orioles have been ahead of schedule in their rebuild, thanks in part to another top prospect, catcher Adley Rutschman.

Rutschman, the top pick in the 2019 draft, arrived in the majors earlier this season. Henderson was a second-round draft pick that same year. His stock has risen significantly this season. The 21-year-old shortstop hit 11 home runs in 65 games at Triple-A Norfolk.

Henderson said he called his parents and his girlfriend when he got the news so they could be in attendance along with other family members for Wednesday night’s game against the Guardians.

“My goal was to make it to the big leagues and send my girlfriend a text before the end of the year telling her I made it,” Henderson said. “She has the text. That was pretty cool to accomplish that, but the road is just now starting.”

The Orioles could use a boost offensively after being held to one hit in a loss to the Guardians on Tuesday night. Shortstop Jorge Mateo has 12 homers this year and has made some sparkling plays with the glove, but Henderson spent at least some time at every infield position while with Norfolk.

Henderson got the start at third base against Cleveland, batting sixth. He fouled out in his first at-bat.

“I’ll play him at multiple spots in the infield,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s something he’s been preparing for in Norfolk. Getting some reps at second base, shortstop, third base. We’re excited to have him.”

The 21-year-old Henderson tried to not get caught up in the hype that goes with being considered a top prospect as he progressed through the minor leagues.

“Just growing up my family really instilled, don’t let the outside noise get to you,” he said. “All throughout pro ball I felt like I had done a good job tuning that out.”

In addition to selecting Henderson’s contract, the Orioles also signed first baseman Jesus Aguilar to a minor league contract and added him to the major league taxi squad. The 32-year-old Aguilar was designated for assignment last week by the Miami Marlins. He hit .236 with 15 home runs for them this year.

Baltimore also optioned infielder Tyler Nevin to Norfolk, designated right-hander Denyi Reyes for assignment and assigned right-hander Travis Lakins to Norfolk after he cleared outright waivers.

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Atlanta Braves beat the New York Mets 5-3, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closed out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before 15-game winner Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).