It wasn’t spotless -- and most certainly not dry -- but Grayson Rodriguez’s season debut for Triple-A Norfolk proved he can battle.
With precipitation -- sometimes rain, other times a persistent mist -- pelting the field in Durham, N.C., all evening, the No. 2 Orioles prospect allowed three runs (two earned) and struck out a pair in his four innings of work in a 6-4 win over the Bulls. The conditions did no favors for his command, as the right-hander walked four batters for the first time since 2019.
Opposing top Rays prospect Taj Bradley on Triple-A Opening Day, Rodriguez was nearly escaped the first inning unscathed but an 0-1 fastball to Bulls catcher René Pinto stayed over the heart of the plate and landed over the right-field fence for a two-run homer.
Rodriguez faced his toughest test of the night in the second inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, he stared down No. 2 Rays prospect Curtis Mead in the batters box. At risk of an early exit with the Norfolk bullpen in motion, the 23-year-old induced a weak pop out to shallow left field to quell the threat.
An error and two singles in the third frame led to an unearned run, but that was the extent of the damage. Rodriguez retired five of the final six batters he faced, ending his night at 75 pitches. He left with the lead, though, thanks to a three-run homer from No. 9 Orioles prospect Connor Norby and another from veteran first baseman Josh Lester.
Ranked as MLB Pipeline's No. 7 prospect in baseball, Rodriguez backed up his placement with his stuff, even if his final line was less than stellar. His fastball never quite approached the 99.5 mph it touched in the first inning in his later innings, but his heater managed to average 96.6 and he picked up 12 called strikes or whiffs (33%), per Statcast. The curveball was his most effective secondary offering, sitting in the high 70s and drawing chases out of the zone.
Up until the end of Spring Training, the International League seemed like an unlikely starting spot for Rodriguez. As the Orioles’ top pitching prospect since 2020, his proximity to the Majors is undoubtedly tantalizing, but his missed time due to injury in 2022 and a pair of rough outings at the end of camp convinced Baltimore to start him in the Minors.
In time, presumably as the weather warms, Rodriguez should find his way to Baltimore. The Houston native owns a 2.49 ERA and just under 13 strikeouts per nine innings in his pro career across five levels.