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Baltimore Orioles

Disappointed to not debut in 2022, Grayson Rodriguez hopes to make up for it by cracking Orioles’ opening day rotation

With Triple-A Norfolk’s season complete, Grayson Rodriguez waited to hear news of his next steps. Baseball’s top pitching prospect had worked his way back from a midseason lat muscle strain with enough time to join the Orioles for what would have been his major league debut.

Instead, his season-high 90th pitch of his Sept. 26 outing for the Tides, finishing off five innings of one-run ball, proved to be his last of the year.

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“Obviously, not getting the call I guess kind of lets you know that your season’s over,” Rodriguez said. “But I was waiting for it. It didn’t come. Obviously, from a player’s perspective, it was pretty disappointing. But all you can do is look forward to the next opportunity.”

Orioles top prospect Grayson Rodriguez said his approach throughout the offseason is to best position himself to make the opening day rotation, a possibility executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said in October has “a very high likelihood.”

That will come in spring training, when Rodriguez will try to shake the disappointment from the end of the season by breaking camp with the major league team. Speaking on a video call Wednesday — his 23rd birthday and the day after the Orioles added him and four other prospects to their 40-man roster — Rodriguez said his approach throughout the offseason is to best position himself to make Baltimore’s opening day rotation, a possibility executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said in October has “a very high likelihood.”

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“It’s full speed ahead,” Rodriguez said.

That seemed to be the case in June, when Rodriguez was dominating at Triple-A amid what he said in August was “hands down the best I’ve ever thrown the baseball in my life.” When tightness in his upper back forced him to exit in the sixth inning of his June 1 start, the right-hander had a 2.09 ERA for Norfolk, striking out 12.9 batters per nine innings.

He didn’t return until three months later, and after a start with High-A Aberdeen and two with Double-A Bowie, he rejoined the Tides, with his schedule lining up for a possible appearance for the Orioles in the final week of their regular season. He allowed four runs over 13 2/3 innings in his three starts back with Norfolk, but his season ended there. He was one of two pitchers to face more than 230 Triple-A batters and strike out at least 35% of them; the other was DL Hall, Baltimore’s No. 2 pitching prospect behind Rodriguez.

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Hall, who Baltimore drafted in the first round a year before taking Rodriguez 11th overall in 2018, spent September in the Orioles’ bullpen, and like Rodriguez, he’ll enter spring contending for a spot in a rotation that as of now is wide open. Neither reached the 100 innings mark in 2022, and Rodriguez said the organization will determine how many he’ll be afforded in 2023.

“If it was up to me, it would be as many as I could throw,” he said.

Baltimore adding Rodriguez to its 40-man roster Wednesday was largely to keep him from being available to other organizations in next month’s Rule 5 draft, but it will simplify the process of having him on the team out of spring training. By including Rodriguez, Hall and Gunnar Henderson on their opening day roster, the Orioles would position themselves well for possibly earning an extra draft pick should any of them finish as the American League Rookie of the Year.

But Rodriguez is firstly focused simply on making it to the majors. He’s working this offseason to strengthen his lat to avoid a repeat of last year’s injury, and he’s open to whatever pointers the Orioles provide when they review video of his bullpen sessions. Asked what particular areas of his game he feels he could improve, Rodriguez responded, “Everything.”

“This is a big project that’s nowhere near complete,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe we’ll look back at that on the end of my career and see that we were good, but right now, all aspects of the game.”

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He hopes to start the major league portion of that career on March 30, when the Orioles begin the 2023 season at Boston’s Fenway Park.

“It’s an honor to get put on anybody’s 40-man, especially ours,” Rodriguez said. “Pretty excited, pretty pumped up for it. I can’t wait for spring training, and really, just looking forward to what this year has in store.”


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