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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez begins rehab assignment with eye on reaching majors this year

ABERDEEN — Seated behind a table in the Aberdeen IronBirds’ team store with four versions of the High-A club’s caps in front of him, Grayson Rodriguez looked as if he was about to make a college commitment. But the Orioles’ top pitching prospect made no secret of where he wants to be.

“The goal hasn’t changed,” Rodriguez said Tuesday at Ripken Stadium. “Camden [Yards] is pretty close.”

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Rodriguez will have the majors in his sights Thursday when the top arm in the minor leagues will pitch in an official game for the first time in exactly three months after suffering a Grade 2 right lat muscle strain in his June 1 start for Triple-A Norfolk.

Rodriguez, Baltimore’s first-round draft pick in 2018, was seemingly on the cusp of a call to join the Orioles’ rotation when he pulled himself from the game with what he thought was a cramp but proved to be an injury that initially threatened to end his season. The outing left the 22-year-old right-hander with a 2.09 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 56 innings over 11 starts for the Tides.

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Orioles pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, addressing the media in Aberdeen on Tuesday, is scheduled to start for the IronBirds on Thursday, three months to the day after suffering a Grade 2 lat muscle strain while pitching for Triple-A Norfolk.

“That was hands down the best I’ve ever thrown the baseball in my life,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not my decision, but to me, it was any minute. It’s pretty challenging to go down at that time. But we battled, we got through it, and now we’re here.”

He described the strain as a “freak ordeal,” not something that could be traced back to any issue with his mechanics, and said it hasn’t caused any major changes to his pregame routine. He found it “pretty crazy” when it was deemed severe enough that it would keep him off a game mound until September, if not 2023, but he’s pleased to have made it back this year.

He felt the recovery process dragged until he was able to return to baseball activities, though he used the downtime to study his outings with Norfolk. He said the introduction of a cutter that became a weapon against both left- and right-handed hitters allowed him to have the success he did, along with his ability to consistently get to lefties’ back foot with his slider.

Last week, Rodriguez threw a bullpen, a live batting practice and a simulated game he said lasted about 40 pitches, completing what he said was similar to a spring training build-up while feeling “as close to 100% as I can get.” He was unsure how many pitches or innings he will throw in his rehab appearance for the IronBirds on Thursday, though he expects to start every fifth day the rest of the season.

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“I’m going to go out there and toss it until somebody takes it away from me,” Rodriguez said. “Being able to come back, get some more innings in, some more outings and seeing hitters again the last month, that’s pretty special.”

That schedule would put him on track for six starts, including Thursday’s, before the minor league season ends, with executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias saying Friday the organization’s goal is to get Rodriguez back to Triple-A and then “we’ll just take it from there.”

Even as the Orioles’ rotation enters this week amid its strongest stretch of the season, recording a 2.19 ERA and averaging more than six innings per start in the 12 games before Tuesday, adding an arm of Rodriguez’s caliber would undoubtedly be a boost to the team’s postseason hopes. The prime concern of both Rodriguez and the organization, however, is that he gets through this final month healthy.

Under Elias, the Orioles have prioritized a player’s development over the club’s needs in the majors, wanting to ensure a prospect “graduates” one level before moving to the next even if his presence would benefit the major league team.

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Rodriguez said he’s followed the Orioles’ successes closely, having “watched a lot of Orioles games in my hotel room.” He even made the trip from Sarasota, Florida, home of the team’s spring training and rehabilitation complex, to St. Petersburg to watch fellow top pitching prospect DL Hall’s debut with Baltimore.

Hall and catcher Adley Rutschman, who bookended Rodriguez as the Orioles’ first-round draftees from 2017 to 2019, began their march to the majors this season in Aberdeen, with Hall slowly building up from a stress fracture in his pitching elbow while Rutschman moved past a right tricep strain that prevented him from making the Orioles’ season-opening roster. Rutschman now finds himself amid the American League Rookie of the Year race, a key figure in the Orioles’ turnaround, while Hall will potentially enter their bullpen Thursday when rosters expand by two. The same day, Rodriguez will step back on the path to join them in Baltimore.

“Really trying to get there as fast as I can,” Rodriguez said. “The fire burns a little hotter now.”


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