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Grayson Rodriguez is Finally Here

Grayson Rodriguez has been Baltimore’s top pitching prospect for years, and he is set to make his Major League debut.

The Baltimore Orioles called up SP Grayson Rodriguez to start Wednesday’s game against the Texas Rangers. Rodriguez, one of the top prospects in all of baseball, made his Major League debut in his home state.  To make room on the active roster, the O’s placed SP Kyle Bradish on the Injured List.

This day is a long time coming for Orioles fans, who have been anxiously awaiting Rodriguez’s arrival in The Show.  The 11th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, GrayRod has been the organization’s top pitching prospect since that day in June.  He made a quick and breezy ascent through the low minors before hitting a speed bump last season.

Recent History

In 2022, Rodriguez was cruising at AAA-Norfolk. He had an ERA in the low twos by the time June rolled around. He had nothing left to prove in the minors, and the team seemed like they would be promoting him at any moment.  But before that happened, Rodriguez suffered a lat strain, which sidelined him for three months.  Injuries are scary for anyone, but especially top pitching prospects.

When he returned in September, his stuff played down.  Rodriguez has a high-90’s fastball, a baffling slider, and a screwball-like changeup, but they did not move as much after the injury.  I wrote that off as rust more than anything, but the concerning trend continued in Spring Training. Entering camp, GM Mike Elias said the fifth starter role was Grayson’s to lose, and, well, he lost it.  In five starts and 15.1 innings last month, Rodriguez pitched to a disappointing 7.04 ERA with seven walks. Exhibition stats mean very little, but they do mean something when it comes to a position battle.

The Orioles sent him back to AAA to begin 2023 while carrying swingman Tyler Wells in the rotation.  It is possible the front office was messing with his service time, but the quick call-up shows they really thought he wasn’t ready a week ago.

Present Circumstances

A promotion in early-April begs the question of why he did not simply make the Opening Day roster. The answer is quite clear, as Bradish was hit by a hard liner and is now in a walking boot.  To cover his exit in the second inning Monday, Wells pitched five shutout innings in relief. Since Wells was no longer available to start Tuesday, Gibson moved up a day and threw seven innings on short notice. With no other obvious other, the Orioles called up Rodriguez to start Wednesday.

Coincidentally, Thursday’s home opener against the New York Yankees has been postponed due to an impending storm. While unfortunate, the extra day off gives the team a perfect opportunity to reset. In addition, Friday was a scheduled off day, so Manager Brandon Hyde could use more of his bullpen in case Rodriguez needed an early hook.

Rodriguez might not be up for long, but there are real contractual consequences at stake.  As a consensus top prospect who did not make the Opening Day roster, Rodriguez has much to gain.  If he finishes first or second in Rookie of the Year voting, he would earn a full year of service time.  Had the O’s included him and he finished highly in award voting, they could have received an extra draft pick.

Early Returns

Overall, Grayson Rodriguez pitched pretty well in his first ever MLB game.  He gave up two runs in the first inning while throwing 30 pitches.  He clearly struggled to locate in that frame, especially his slider. But then he came out in the second and looked like the ace prospect we’ve seen for four years.  Rodriguez got through the second and third innings on 24 combined pitches while recording his first career strikeout.

After that rough first inning, GrayRod really settled down. It is certainly possible he had some jitters from finally playing on the big stage. He got through five innings, allowing two runs on four hits and a walk.  He struck out five while throwing 83 pitches and receiving a no decision.  Rodriguez is not the ace of the Orioles at the moment, though he could be by the end of the season.

But Rodriguez also ran into some tough luck today, as SP Jacob deGrom started for the Rangers.  Unlike in his first start, deGrom looked like the man who has won two Cy Youngs.  He struck out eleven Birds across six innings while allowing two runs, one earned.  Rodriguez was not his equal on Wednesday, but maybe the rookie will match him in the trophy case someday.

Main Takeaway

Grayson Rodriguez was not at his best in his debut, but he showed that he can play in the Majors.  The coaching staff and fanbase should be encouraged by what they saw despite the early struggles.  Now, he might not be with the big club for long since this was a spot start.  But for the Orioles to have a shot at the playoffs, they will need Rodriguez putting up zeros at Camden Yards rather than Harbor Park.

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