NEW YORK — Grayson Rodriguez had pitched the same way out of the stretch since 2019. But like many aspects of the young Orioles right-hander’s game, the majors have prompted an adjustment.
After allowing at least six runs while failing to get out of the fourth inning twice in a three-start span, Rodriguez altered his stance with runners on base, crediting the Orioles’ pitching department for identifying ways he was tipping his pitches.
“There were some things that I was doing that were a little obvious to the other teams,” Rodriguez said. “Without getting in-depth into too many things, just a minor mechanical adjustment, just to help me conceal the baseball more, keep a consistent delivery. Just keep guys on edge.”
When the 23-year-old came set in his old stance, he had his glove near his head, holding it atop the ball in his right hand. In limiting the Toronto Blue Jays to two runs and five base runners in five innings Saturday, Rodriguez lowered his glove to his chest, holding it such that it was between the batter and his right hand. After previously having a significant bend in his right knee and placing his left foot farther toward the first base side, he straightened up slightly and brought his feet closer together.
“I felt a lot better,” Rodriguez said. “I felt like the game was slowing down, that I could actually breathe on the mound. Just kind of making that little change, how it helps my mindset, it helped a lot.”
Noting that “there’s a lot of teams with a lot of video,” Rodriguez said he and the Orioles believed opposing teams were able to decipher what he was throwing based on aspects of his previous stance, with Rodriguez insinuating he was giving both the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels an idea of what was coming as they combined for 14 runs in seven innings facing him. After the Angels went 5-for-9 against Rodriguez with runners on base, the Blue Jays went 2-for-10 in an outing that lowered his ERA with the Orioles to 6.21. But excluding the starts against Kansas City and Los Angeles, Rodriguez has a 3.86 ERA.
Rodriguez said he and the team discussed changing how he worked out of the stretch during spring training but elected to stick with what had gotten him to that point. He started his previous stance while with Low-A Delmarva in 2019, a season that ended with him sharing the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year honors. He largely dominated in the minors en route to becoming baseball’s top pitching prospect, but he has experienced a mix of ups and downs in his first taste of the majors.
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“It was all to get the lower body moving, and obviously, it has done me pretty well,” Rodriguez said. “But the big leagues is a little bit different type of stage. Guys are looking to pick up some things when you’re throwing, so being out away from the body, I guess, gives the hitter a little bit more to look at. But now, just kind of bringing the glove back in really just brings consistency to my delivery.”
Consistency is among Rodriguez’s key pursuits. He’s allowed two or fewer runs in five of his starts while surrendering at least four in the four others. He’s still adjusting to the challenges major league pitchers present. In the minors, he could routinely throw his high-velocity fastball past hitters regardless of location, but he’s allowed a .368 batting average and .691 slugging percentage with that pitch for the Orioles.
Both he and manager Brandon Hyde have frequently referred to his outings as learning experiences.
“He made huge strides from the Angels start to the Toronto start,” Hyde said. “I loved his pitch mix. I thought that really improved. I loved that he trusted his fastball. He elevated, and he’s able to get his fastball by guys. He’s been able to out-stuff people his whole career so far, and the big leagues is just a different animal. You’ve got to be able to still command your fastball. You’ve gotta be able throw offspeed in hitters counts. You’ve got to be able to step on it when we get to two strikes, and Grayson really did that in Toronto.
“Every start is a little bit of a step forward and a little bit of a learning lesson. But I thought that his last start was the biggest step he’s taken so far.”
He’ll try to take another Friday, when he faces the Texas Rangers team he took on in his major league debut. The Rangers entered Wednesday leading the majors in run differential, presenting another test for the effectiveness of Rodriguez’s new motion.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Rodriguez said of his time in the majors. “It’s been a challenge, for sure. It’s been a challenge more than anything. This is something that I’ve never faced before, a lot of experienced hitters, and it’s a blast to show up to the park every day and just compete against the best. I think it makes your ability tick up a little bit more knowing that guys like [Vladimir] Guerrero and [George] Springer, whoever, might be stepping in the box. It’s a lot of fun.”