At this time last year, the Orioles expected left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to be a big part of their future. The club's consensus No. 3 prospect — and best left-handed pitching prospect — Rodriguez was progressing through the Orioles' minor league system.
But on Tuesday, the 22-year-old Venezuelan will be making his third major league start for the division-rival Boston Red Sox — against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
Rodriguez, who was hesitantly dealt to Boston for left-handed reliever Andrew Miller at last year's trade deadline, has been marvelous in his brief time with the Red Sox, allowing just one run in 14 2/3 innings over two starts, yielding just five hits while striking out 14 and walking four.
Rodriguez comes to Camden Yards sporting a 2-0 record with a 0.61 ERA. Opposing hitters are batting just .102 against him. He began his big league career with 9 2/3 scoreless innings before Minnesota's Brian Dozier's solo homer off him in his most-recent start on Wednesday, which has essentially been his only blemish in the major leagues.
Over his first two starts, Rodriguez's fastball sat in the mid-90s, reaching as high as 98, complemented by a mid-80s changeup and a sweeping slider that have given him three out pitches.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette made it clear last July and emphasized again on Monday that the organization didn't want to trade Rodriguez, but given the position last year's team was in at the trade deadline, holding a three-game division lead, the team needed to make an impact acquisition at the deadline for a pennant push.
Miller was that guy. And he did make a huge difference as the Orioles won the American League East by 12 games and swept the Tigers in the AL Division Series before losing to the Royals in four games in the AL Championship Series.
"This trade would have been a terrific trade for the team if we won the pennant," Duquette said Monday. "Having not succeeded in our quest to win the pennant, it's not such a great deal today. I think that when you get that close, you owe it to your team and to your fans to take a shot at winning the pennant and then go out and try to sign some others."
Some 20 teams were interested in Miller at the trade deadline, so the Orioles out to outbid many others, including a Detroit team they beat in the playoffs. Boston wanted a young left-handed arm, and demanded Rodriguez to get a deal done.
"Obviously, Andrew Miller is an extremely talented pitcher and we knew at the time he had the kind of physical ability to help us get over the hump, if you will, and try to win the pennant," Duquette said. "We also knew that Eduardo Rodriguez was young and had good pitches and strength and youth on his side, but again, we were trying to win.
"At that point in the season, with the team that we had, we decided that we would give up a future asset for the opportunity to win the pennant last year. In many ways, it's the cost of doing business."
That cost could become greater, especially after Miller signed with the Yankees for a four-year, $36-million deal in the offseason. Miller has taken over the closer role in New York and is 17-for-17 in save opportunities
Miller posted a 1.35 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 20 innings down the stretch, giving the Orioles the lockdown left-handed arm the bullpen needed. He also posted 7 1/3 shutout innings and allowed just one hit in the postseason.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter echoed Duquette in saying it was a move the Orioles had to make at the time.
"When I was in the minor leagues, part of my job, the way I looked at it, was getting them to the point that another club might covet them to get the big league club what they needed," Showalter said. "This is an example of it. We're developing people for the Orioles, right? We're also developing assets. You can't hide talent. .. I don't think twice about it. We knew what we were giving up."
At the time of the deal, Rodriguez was 3-7 with a 4.79 ERA in 16 starts at Double-A Bowie, but his numbers immediately improved dramatically after the trade. In six starts with the Red Sox's Double-A team in Portland, Rodriguez was 3-1 with a 0.96 ERA, with his strikeouts (7.5 to 9.4) and walks (3.2 to 1.9) per nine innings numbers improving.
He continued his success this season in Triple-A, going 4-3 with a 2.98 ERA in eight starts at Pawtucket, allowing just 46 hits in 48 1/3 innings with 44 strikeouts and just six walks. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 6.29, the best of his pro career.
Like all of their prized pitching prospects, the Orioles handled Rodriguez with care. The club signed Rodriguez out of Venezuela three months shy of his 17th birthday in 2010. He gradually worked his way up the Orioles minor league system. In his first big league camp in 2013, Rodriguez was still just 19. His locker was placed between Miguel Gonzalez and Pedro Strop so he could learn about carrying himself like a major leaguer from the two players.
"I think they wanted to put him by a couple guys with a little more experience," Gonzalez said. "I think [we showed him] the way we went about our business, which is being professional and wearing the uniform the right way. …Those are the little things that are going to help guys like him mature as quick as possible."
When Rodriguez was dealt, there were whispers that he had fallen out of favor with some in the organization, that he was slow in recovering from an early season knee injury and had been out of shape. But Orioles player development director Brian Graham said that was completely untrue.
"Eduardo was always a great kid," Graham said. "He was always a hard worker and he did whatever we asked him to do."
When the Red Sox promoted Rodriguez, it was with the intent of giving him a spot start, but his debut earned him another, and now he's not going back to the minors for the foreseeable future.
"He's 22 now, he's successful and I'm happy for him," Gonzalez said. "He really has a good head on his shoulders. He's smart, he's aggressive. He loves the game. He wants to get better every day and that why he's at where he's at right now."
How much dealing Rodriguez comes back to haunt the Orioles remains to be seen, but Duquette stands by his decision of making the trade. He still believes it was the right thing to do at the time.
"He's had better control of his pitches since going over to the Red Sox," Duquette said. "His walks and strikeouts before were pretty good [with the Orioles]. He was highly rated. People liked him. We liked him. It was just the cost of doing business."