SARASOTA, Fla. — In Grayson Rodriguez’s first two starts this spring, he pitched on the road, facing lineups littered with major leaguers. Sunday’s outing, his first at Ed Smith Stadium, came opposite a Boston Red Sox split-squad team mostly absent noteworthy hitters.
But that group got to the Orioles’ top pitching prospect, who had his worst performance of the spring. After three dominant innings in which the 23-year-old right-hander retired nine of 10 Red Sox with six strikeouts, Rodriguez failed to retire any of the five batters he faced in the fourth inning. He said his issue in the frame was “just trying to throw strikes” instead of actually doing it, more frustrated he veered from the zone-attacking focus he’s had leading up to and throughout spring than his final line.
“I don’t think we’re necessarily worried about results,” Rodriguez said. “That’s something that’s kind of been our motto coming up through the minor leagues. It only matters what you do in the big leagues. Right now, obviously, spring training is the time we can get our work in, and right now, we’re just gonna keep attacking the zone.”
Manager Brandon Hyde echoed that idea, saying he viewed the fourth inning as a “good learning experience” and nothing more as Rodriguez tries to earn a spot in the Orioles’ season-opening rotation.
“I think it’s OK, honestly, to have those type of innings,” Hyde said, “and we’ll see how he bounces back.”
Rodriguez was especially pleased with the results of trying to throw his slider harder than he has. Catcher Adley Rutschman, whose opposite-field grand slam in the fourth gave him home runs in both games he’s caught Rodriguez this spring, said Rodriguez’s cutter was particularly sharp.
But Rodriguez bemoaned his changeup, his signature secondary pitch, in the fourth, saying he didn’t throw it in the strike zone to get chases when he didn’t.
“Honestly, if it’s not a strike, guys aren’t gonna swing at it,” he said. “That was kind of the thing here. When you don’t get ahead of hitters, you start to struggle.”
None of the three hits off Rodriguez in the fourth were put into play particularly hard, but Rodriguez didn’t help himself and also issued two walks.
“I think that’s just a good experience for him to learn from,” Hyde said. “The stuff is there. Now, it’s about really competing and using it in the strike zone more.”
Rodriguez agreed with Hyde’s assessment of his stuff, as did Rutschman. But that’s never been in question; of the pitchers in Baltimore’s rotation competition, Rodriguez’s repertoire stands out. The first three innings Sunday showed what’s possible when he harnesses it. The fourth showed that’s not guaranteed.
“He’s looked good all spring,” Rutschman said. “I love where he’s at right now. I love the way he carried himself today. He’s competitive out on the mound and was able to do some really good things today.”
Hyde said last week the only spring training stat he pays attention to for hitters are plate appearances, focused less on the results and more on approaches and quality of contact.
That was somewhat evident in how he responded when asked how he evaluates Rutschman’s spring, saying he’s simply focused on getting the catcher enough at-bats and making sure he’s “in game shape behind the plate and then get [him] the proper amount of at-bats before the season.”
“I’m not worried about Adley,” Hyde said. “He’s gonna be fine.”
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After Sunday’s grand slam, Rutschman is hitting .333 with a 1.059 OPS this spring, and despite striking twice, he has an even strikeout-to-walk ratio. Spring stats, and hits, only mean so much; Rutschman’s home run was heavily wind-aided and likely wouldn’t have reached, let alone cleared, Camden Yards’ left field wall had it been hit there.
But the early success from a player central to the Orioles’ playoff hopes is certainly welcomed.
“Anytime that you’re able to get in a game scenario here and able to get that adrenaline going is always good,” Rutschman said. “We’re always trying to win every time we step on the field as much as we’re trying to get our work in.”
Rutschman’s grand slam put the Orioles ahead 6-4, which ended up being the final score.
An opening day lineup projection
Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters Sunday there’s “a good chance” former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber will be Boston’s opening day starter against the Orioles on March 30. Knowing a right-hander will start against them simplifies the guessing game for what Hyde’s season-opening lineup could look like.
- Cedric Mullins, CF
- Adley Rutschman, C
- Gunnar Henderson, 3B
- Anthony Santander, DH
- Ryan Mountcastle, 1B
- Kyle Stowers, LF
- Austin Hays, RF
- Adam Frazier, 2B
- Jorge Mateo, SS
There are tweaks that could be made here, notably in terms of the outfield alignment and the use of the designated hitter spot; Stowers is not even necessarily guaranteed a spot on the team. Hyde could also strive to find a spot for Ramón Urías, though his status as a right-handed hitter leaves him on the outside of this guessing game.
Hyde said the Orioles won’t announce who will pitch until after Wednesday’s off day, though health is surely all that would prevent veteran right-hander Kyle Gibson from the assignment.