Healthy G-Rod back on MLB's doorstep

March 2nd, 2023

LAKELAND, Fla. -- was on the doorstep of the Majors last June. Nine months later, he is finally taking the last steps toward his debut.

"We worked on some things this offseason and so far into Spring Training," Rodriguez said Thursday after pitching two scoreless innings against Detroit. "Right now, my stuff's better than it was last year. When we get a little bigger of a sample size, I can't wait to use it in a game."

, who caught most of Rodriguez's starts at Triple-A Norfolk in 2021 and a few more last spring before being called up to Baltimore, is also eager to see what Rodriguez can do.

"I think he's always had great stuff," Rutschman said Thursday after hitting his first home run of the spring. "So if he says he's got better stuff, then I'm really excited."

A 6-foot-5, 23-year-old right-hander who was the Orioles' first-round Draft pick in 2018, Rodriguez was all set for his first promotion to the Majors when he was sidelined by a lat strain on June 1, 2022. The injury derailed his prospects for reaching the big leagues in 2022, although he came back for 19 2/3 Minor League innings in September.

Now there’s another open starting job in Baltimore.

"There's no doubt he has Major League starter stuff," manager Brandon Hyde said. "Now it's just about command and seeing more Major League hitters."

Rodriguez threw only 20 pitches Thursday and reached 98 mph with his fastball. He gave up a walk to Austin Meadows leading off the second, but that was erased by a double play.

"I wish I would have thrown a little more first-pitch strikes, but other than that, everything was pretty good," he said. "I tried to treat it like any other start. I just tried to spin four seams in the zone and see how it plays."

He had to "basically simulate a third inning" in the bullpen just to reach a satisfactory workload.

"I haven't seen him pitch very much. Obviously what he has shown, and what he has done in his Minor League career, has put him in the position of having an opportunity to break with us," Hyde said. "I just want to see him throw a bunch of strikes. That's the biggest thing to me -- command of his pitches. He's obviously got the stuff. Now it's about seeing what he looks like against big league hitters."

Coming back for six outings in September was important to help Rodriguez get back to this point, he said. He was added to the 40-man roster in November.

"Being able to get to Triple-A and throw before the season ends, that was huge. Being able to have a healthy offseason and come onto Spring Training just like normal," Rodriguez said.

In total in 2022, he started 17 games and struck out 109 in 75 2/3 innings. But there was still a sense of disappointment over missing big league innings.

"Everyone had sympathy for him," Rutschman said. "I know what it's like to go through an injury, and a lot of guys in baseball unfortunately do. It was really unfortunate and I know it's tough when you have a guy that you are so excited for, to see that happen. But he looks great to me and I'm very excited to see what he does."