Grayson Rodriguez Continues Growth Into Frontline Starter For Orioles


Image credit: Grayson Rodriguez (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif.—For the Orioles to go deep in the postseason, they are going to need their young pitchers to step up and pitch like frontline starters.

At precisely the right time, Grayson Rodriguez is doing just that.

Rodriguez pitched six innings with two runs allowed to lead the Orioles to a 6-3 win over the Angels on Monday night. The 23-year-old righthander allowed seven hits, walked two and struck out seven to record his fifth straight quality start and help the Orioles move a season-high 3.5 games ahead of the Rays for the best record in the American League.

The Orioles No. 1 prospect entering the season, Rodriguez struggled at the outset of his major league debut but has been a wholly different pitcher in the second half.

Rodriguez had a 7.35 ERA in his first 10 starts before the Orioles demoted him to Triple-A Norfolk in late May. He has a 2.85 ERA in nine starts since he returned to the majors on July 17.

“This second time around I kind of feel like myself,” Rodriguez said. “Going down to Norfolk, it just got me back to who I am and I think that’s starting to show.”

After struggling to find his rhythm early, Rodriguez dialed in and showcased his ace-caliber stuff against the Angels. He painted a 99 mph fastball on the outside corner to strike out Mike Stefanic looking in the fourth inning and spotted a 98 mph fastball on the opposite side of the plate to get Nolan Schanuel looking in the fifth. He located his slider perfectly on a trio of strikeouts, none prettier than an 83 mph late-breaker that dotted the bottom outside corner to freeze Brandon Drury in the fifth. His changeup was best of all, racking up eight swings and misses and diving hard under the barrel of Angels’ hitters all day.

Rodriguez left a hanging changeup over the plate that Randal Grichuk launched for a home run in the fourth inning. Other than that, he gave the Angels little to do damage against.

“After about the third, I thought the last three innings he really picked it up,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “You really saw the life to his fastball. He just makes that one mistake to Grichuk, gave him a chance with the changeup, but besides that, his last three innings he looked like the Grayson we know he can be.”

It was the latest step in Rodriguez’s continued growth into one of the American League’s most effective starters. His 2.85 ERA is the fourth-lowest in the AL since he returned from the minors on July 17. His .213 opponent average is fifth-lowest.

It’s a far cry from Rodriguez’s first stint in the majors, when batters hit .307/.374/.582 against him and left his confidence shaken.

“The first time I was up here I wasn’t really having fun and I think it showed,” Rodriguez said. “Now I can’t wait to get out there and get the ball when it’s my day.”

Rodriguez’s ascent is happening at just the right time. The Orioles declined to add a top-of-the-rotation starter at the trade deadline and acquired only struggling Cardinals righthander Jack Flaherty, who has a 6.66 ERA in five starts for the Orioles. Young righthanders Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer face workload concerns after already exceeding their previous career highs by more than 20 innings with a month still to go in the regular season. Fellow righthander Tyler Wells was demoted to Double-A at the end of July to manage his innings amidst similar concerns.

Rodriguez, for his part, is showing no signs of slowing. He’s completed at least six innings in six of his last seven starts. He averaged 97.4 mph on his fastball against the Angels, exactly in line with his season average. His slider and changeup were every bit sharp as they have been all year, as was his command once he dialed it in.

As the season is progressing, Rodriguez keeps getting better.

“There’s more conviction in his pitches,” Hyde said. “More on the attack in the strike zone, better tempo in his delivery, confidence. He’s had the stuff. It’s all about putting it together, and he has since he’s come back.”

The Orioles have climbed out of their rebuild and surged to the top of the AL largely on the strength of homegrown position players Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle. While there was never a doubt about the franchise’s position player core, the Orioles have long faced questions about whether or not they could build a playoff-caliber rotation to complement that dynamic lineup.

With Rodriguez pitching like he has been, they may just have that frontline starter who can carry them deep into October.

“The defense has been phenomenal (and) our guys can swing it,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys who can play and a lot of really good veterans. It’s a good combo. We’ve got some really good leaders in this clubhouse.

 “I guess coming up through the farm system I’ve seen this talent, and I think it’s finally starting to show.”

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