Sitting in the Orioles’ pitchers meeting before Monday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, Grayson Rodriguez listened intently. The Orioles’ 2018 first-round draft pick took note of the kinds of questions the pitchers asked and how detailed they were in their discussions of how to attack the opposing batters.
With the playoff-bound Delmarva Shorebirds — the Orioles’ Low-A affiliate — having the day off, Rodriguez was among the players who got to spend a day at Camden Yards, a reward for the success he and his team have had. His stay in the pitchers meeting meant he gained knowledge, too.
“That was really special, getting to listen, getting to interact with those guys,” Rodriguez said. “Being in there with them, the questions that they asked, it’s something new that we can learn.”
Rodriguez, 19, has posted a 2.59 ERA with 117 strikeouts across 83 1/3 innings for Delmarva. He allowed 13 of the 24 earned runs he has permitted in two of his starts. Over the other 16, the right-hander has a 1.27 ERA.
Ask middle infielder Adam Hall, and life is easy with Rodriguez on the mound.
“It’s a day off,” Hall said. “Nothing’s hit to me. Everything’s a strikeout.”
Hall, 20, is also performing well in his first year with a full-season affiliate. The Orioles’ 2017 second-rounder is slashing .307/.385/.410 with 30 extra-base hits and 28 steals.
Despite the natural turnover and division of playing time that occurs with a low-minors affiliate, the Shorebirds have thrived. They locked up a playoff spot with a 48-21 record in the first half and have kept it going with a 35-20 second-half mark that again has them atop the South Atlantic League.
“Even with the guys moving up, we can replace them,” said left-hander Drew Rom, the Orioles’ 2018 fourth-round pick who has a 2.49 ERA as a 19-year-old. “Maybe not in the clubhouse feeling but definitely with the talent and just being able to go out there every day and compete.”
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said experiences like the one the Shorebirds got Monday are the benefit of having most of the organization’s minor league affiliates within driving distance of Camden Yards. He also said the winning happening at Delmarva, Short-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie is valuable for the Orioles as a whole.
“You want to see your minor league clubs do well,” Hyde said. “One, that means players are doing well. Two, that they’re learning how to win. They’re learning how to play close games. I think playoffs in minor league baseball is really beneficial for those guys, playing for something. Instead of just playing for individual stats, playing for a ring and team baseball. Obviously, we want our guys have a ton of success. We’d love to see all those affiliates that are gonna be involved in the playoffs play as deep as they can.”
Hall said it hasn’t been difficult for the Shorebirds to stay motivated throughout the second half, even though they knew winning a post-break title wouldn’t better their playoff positioning.
Instead, they see it as the chance to build a winning mentality and start bubbling it up all the way to Camden Yards.
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“You’d rather be winning than losing,” Hall said. “I think that’s definitely good to have as our first full season because it definitely keeps the morale up. When it gets into August like it is now and it starts to get a little bit long, to kind of know that we’ve got playoffs ahead of us gives us something to look forward to.
“It’s a record-breaking year. Pretty much our game has just been winning. Any situation we’ve been in, we’ve never really felt like we’re going to lose a game.”
Rodriguez, in fact, said he feels he’s gotten better this month. The changeup he’s been developing this season is getting results. He said his fastball topped out at 98 mph during his prep days. He credits his offseason work at APEC gym in Tyler, Texas, for the highest velocity he’s posted this season coming at the end of the year, though it’s been in abbreviated starts to manage his innings while saving him for the postseason.
“Coming into August, I’ve started throwing the hardest I have all season, and to me, that means the world,” Rodriguez said. “Usually, it’s the other way around. The last couple starts, I’ve been up to 99, almost to 100, almost to that mark, and I’m going to keep working for it.”
The Shorebirds’ playoff run begins Sept. 4, and 2019 No. 1 overall pick Adley Rutschman will join them for it, set to make his South Atlantic League debut Wednesday. The Orioles’ top prospect joins Rodriguez (No. 3), Rom (No. 15) and Hall (No. 18) on a Delmarva team excited about what the future holds.
“We’ve had a great pitching staff, a stacked lineup,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been fun to win some games down there.”
Around the horn
Hyde said Chris Davis’ second straight absence from the lineup against a right-handed pitcher was because he wanted Trey Mancini to play first base as a reprieve from playing the outfield. ... The Orioles remain hopeful Mark Trumbo (knee) will play in September. ... Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. served as Triple-A Norfolk’s designated hitter in the second game of his rehab assignment Tuesday with the expectation he will play in the outfield Wednesday.