Struggles 'a learning experience' for Grayson

March 18th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Watching  pitch against the Red Sox in the early innings at JetBlue Park -- aka Fenway South -- on Saturday, it was easy to envision the 23-year-old taking the mound at the old Boston ballpark up north.

But for the second consecutive outing, Rodriguez ran into some trouble after an impressive start to his game, allowing five runs (two earned) without making it out of the fourth inning. 

“The line’s not what we wanted,” Rodriguez said after Baltimore’s 9-6 loss to Boston. “We did some things right; obviously, some things wrong.”

Prior to the game, manager Brandon Hyde reflected on Rodriguez’s previous start on Sunday, when he retired nine of 10 Red Sox to open the game before allowing five straight batters to reach base, four of whom came around to score.

“Some good innings and some learning lessons, which is going to happen with a young pitcher, even with somebody that has the ability that he has,” Hyde said. “We’re looking to see him kind of rebound from his last start. It was two or three dominating innings, and then he started pitching off the edges in that last inning he pitched. I just want to see him be more aggressive in the strike zone, let his stuff play.”

Rodriguez worked around two singles in a scoreless first, striking out Rafael Devers in the process. He allowed a two-out single in the second but posted another zero on the scoreboard. 

Rodriguez and catcher James McCann went out for the third inning to face Boston’s lineup for a second time. Devers laced a one-out double down the left-field line, then Rodriguez left a ball up in the zone for Adam Duvall, who launched it over the would-be Green Monster in left.

“We had a plan seeing and reading their swings from the first time through,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously, we missed some pitches. Big league guys hit them.”

There wasn’t a whole lot to learn from Devers’ and Duvall’s hits; as Rodriguez said, Major League hitters are paid to do what they do. The fourth inning, however, was one the young right-hander would probably like to have back.

Following a leadoff walk to Bobby Dalbec, Rodriguez induced the ground ball he needed, getting Reese McGuire to hit one back to the mound. But the pitcher rushed his throw to second, and his error gave the Red Sox runners at first and second with nobody out. 

Rodriguez -- the Orioles’ No. 2 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 7 in the Majors -- got Raimel Tapia to hit another ground ball, this one going for a 5-4-3 double play. He was almost out of the inning, but he unleashed a changeup that sailed over McCann’s head, allowing Dalbec to score.

A walk and a double followed, ending Rodriguez’s day after just 3 2/3 innings.

“Being able to find a way to minimize damage, that’s the big thing,” McCann said. “For a young pitcher, that's one of the biggest learning curves. Big league hitters feast on those moments where it starts to unravel on a pitcher.”

This was another one of those learning lessons Hyde had spoken of, a message that was relayed to Rodriguez after he departed the game.

“That's what they told me in the dugout,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously, I don't enjoy them, but that's been the key -- it's all a learning experience. And for it to happen in Spring Training is obviously a lot better than during the season.”

“I'm a big believer that you learn more from failure than you do from success,” McCann said. “It's easy when you're having success; you don't have to make adjustments.”

As talented as Rodriguez is, it’s easy to forget that he’s 23 years old. Since being the 11th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Rodriguez has thrown a total of 292 innings in the Minors and has yet to toe a big league rubber.

“He’s still learning, but I think that he's got a very bright future,” McCann said. “His stuff is elite. He's got a chance to be very special.”

With less than two weeks until Opening Day, Rodriguez remains in position to make the Orioles’ season-opening rotation, though nothing is set in stone. 

“I've been with this organization for four years now, so I'm really not trying to go out there and show them anything,” Rodriguez said. “I'm just trying to go out, throw strikes and just get ready for the season.”