Rodriguez's resurgence continues in Big A opener

September 5th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- The Orioles have taken the league by storm with a successful youth movement headed by a plethora of talented players on both sides of the ball. That same recipe for success was front and center yet again in their series opener against the Angels.

A common theme in the second half of the season, the O’s were led by , who has ascended to a new level and started to tap into the potential that made him a top pitching prospect. His six innings of two-run ball was the difference-maker in their 6-3 win on Monday night.

Games remaining: at LAA (2), at BOS (3), vs. STL (3), vs. TB (4), at HOU (3), at CLE (4), vs. WAS (2), vs. BOS (4)

Standings update: The Orioles (86-51) are 3 1/2 games up in the American League East over the second-place Rays (83-55), who lost to the Red Sox. Baltimore currently has the best record in the AL, meaning it would not have to play a Wild Card Series and would head to the AL Division Series as the No. 1 seed.

Rodriguez stymied an already-depleted Angels lineup that was without Shohei Ohtani, who was scratched from the lineup with right oblique tightness. As if Rodriguez, who has been one of baseball’s best pitchers in the second half, needed any extra help.

Since returning to the Majors on July 17 after being demoted to the Minors in late May, Rodriguez’s 2.85 ERA and 1.04 WHIP are top-15 figures among MLB starters with at least 50 innings pitched. After not throwing a single quality start in his first 10 outings in the Majors, Rodriguez has reeled off five straight consecutive starts.

His start against the Angels wasn’t perfect, however. After allowing a home run to Randal Grichuk in the fourth inning -- Rodriguez’s second run allowed of the game -- his outing turned around.

“I got a little mad,” Rodriguez said. “It woke me up a little bit. I didn’t really feel like myself at first. After that, I sharpened some things up.”

After that point, Rodriguez tossed two scoreless innings, including striking out the side in the fifth. It was a continuation of this dominant stretch that Rodriguez has been on for the better part of six weeks.

The path to this point certainly wasn’t easy. MLB Pipeline’s No. 7 overall prospect entering the season, Rodriguez was one of baseball’s most touted young pitchers. When the Texas native debuted in April, expectations were sky high.

The start to his career was a stark reminder of the difficulties of transitioning to the Majors as a young player. In his first 10 big league starts, the 23-year-old had a 7.35 ERA in 45 1/3 innings -- his ERA was the fifth-highest among pitchers with at least 40 innings through the end of May. While he struck out a healthy 26.5% of opposing hitters, he walked too many (10% walk rate) and allowed too many homers (2.58 HR/9).

Following a nine-run outing on May 26 against the Rangers, Rodriguez was demoted to the Minors. Despite the elite stuff, Rodriguez was struggling to keep runners off base and the baseball off the barrel of opposing hitters. After spending roughly six weeks back in the Minors, he’s emerged as a new pitcher since returning to the Majors on July 17.

The reasons for Rodriguez’s newfound success have been plentiful. For starters, he’s a talented pitcher who learned from his mistakes. From that learning experience came the necessary adjustments -- he tweaked his pitch mix, has seen more success with the fastball and started throwing more strikes. With that came budding confidence that slowly grew after each successful start in what has been a remarkable second half.

Rodriguez 1st half vs. 2nd half numbers
Starts: 10 vs. 9
Quality starts: 0 vs. 6
Innings pitched: 45 1/3 vs. 53 2/3
ERA: 7.35 vs. 2.85
WHIP: 1.75 vs. 1.04
Strikeout rate: 26.5% vs. 23.2%
Walk rate: 10% vs. 7.7%

“It’s not even close,” Rodriguez said about his confidence in his first MLB stint compared to his second. “It’s been a little more fun [in his second stint]. The first time I was up here, I wasn’t really having fun and I think it showed. Now, I can’t wait to get out there and get the ball.”

Rodriguez was just one of many young Orioles to shine on Monday night, a familiar theme for their winning ways in 2023. Up by a narrow 3-2 lead in the 7th inning, Gunnar Henderson crushed a three-run home run to all but put the game out of reach. It was the 23rd home run for the 22-year-old Henderson, who is looking like the clear AL Rookie of the Year front-runner.

“It definitely just takes time getting used to it,” Henderson said about making late-game contributions such as his home run on Monday. “I just really allowed myself to be smooth and go out there and not do too much in that situation.”

It was yet another rookie in Jordan Westburg who provided a highlight-reel play in the final inning to put the finishing touches on the game. With the outfield playing deep against the Angels’ Logan O’Hoppe, a 241-foot flyout to center field ended up being caught by the second baseman Westburg. He had to run a whopping 84 feet behind him to make a Willie Mays-style catch with his back to the infield.

“I saw that Cedric [Mullins] was playing pretty far back, so I knew that it was my ball to go after,” Westburg said of his spectacular catch. “I didn’t realize it was hit that deep into the outfield, but I just kept my eye on the ball and did whatever I could to catch it.”

Monday was also a special night for Orioles’ manager Brandon Hyde, who won his 300th game as a manager.

“It was a tough few years. A lot more fun these last two years,” Hyde said about his milestone win. “These last two years have been a lot of fun turning the corner and being able to compete with the good Major League teams.”

Monday’s win not only gave the Orioles the biggest AL East lead they’ve had this season, it was also a record-setting win of sorts. They set an AL record with 84 consecutives series of two-plus games of not being swept. That is a testament to a team that has gotten to this point by consistently playing good baseball, day in and day out.

On Tuesday, they’ll look to continue their winning ways by turning to Dean Kremer, who has a 3.12 ERA in 52 innings in the second half.