BALTIMORE -- Shortly before they opened their three-game series with the Royals on Monday, the Orioles welcomed a visitor into their daily pregame pitching meeting: right-hander Grayson Rodriguez. The club’s No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, became the latest in a line of blue chippers the club has hosted at Camden Yards this summer. At least as much as any other, the Orioles hope Rodriguez one day becomes a fixture in such settings.
“That was really special, getting to listen and interact with those guys, being in there with them,” said Rodriguez. “The questions they ask, it's something new you can learn.”
For all the struggles on the Major League mound, it’s been a banner year for pitching development at the lower levels of the Orioles' system, where no less than six of the organization's top 30 prospects have seen their numbers improve this season with a jump in level. They run the spectrum from intriguing trade return Dean Kremer, to breakout blue-chippers Michael Baumann and Zac Lowther, to former first-rounders DL Hall and Cody Sedlock. Rodriguez fits into that latter category, and he may have the highest higher ceiling in the group.
The 19-year-old right-hander has done little but dominate since the Orioles selected him No. 11 overall in 2018 out of Central Heights High in Necogdoches, Texas. Rodriguez breezed through a nine-game cameo in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last summer before heading to the South Atlantic League, where he’s spent this season as one of the circuit’s younger players.
Armed with a new changeup this year, Rodriguez is 9-3 with a 2.59 ERA and 117 strikeouts over 18 starts at Class A Delmarva. He’s allowed just three homers in 83 1/3 innings in his first full professional season.
“It’s a day off [when he pitches],” said shortstop Adam Hall, who along with lefty Drem Rom, also toured Camden Yards on Monday. “Nothing is hit to me. Everything is a strikeout. He’s a pretty special talent out there. Being able to witness it and be a part of it is cool to watch.”
With Rodriguez and Hall leading the way, the first-place Shorebirds are one victory away from setting its affiliate single-season record for wins.
“We’ve had a great staff and a stacked lineup,” said Rodriguez, who said his fastball recently touched 99 mph for the first time in his career. “It’s been fun to win some games down there.”
The Orioles will open Grapefruit League play next Feb. 22 against the Braves, with their home opener coming the next day against the Red Sox at Ed Smith Stadium, per the official 2020 Spring Training schedules released on Monday by Major League Baseball.
All told, the club’s Grapefruit League season will feature 16 home dates and conclude March 22 against the Phillies. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on Feb. 11, while the full-squad report date is set for Feb. 16.
From the trainer's room
A day after being struck with a foul ball between the legs in Sunday’s loss in Boston, Orioles catcher Chance Sisco was cleared to play by doctors. He is not expected to require a stint on the injured list, though the incident made the Orioles – and his former catcher manager – hold their collective breath.
“Been there, it really sucks,” Brandon Hyde said. “It’s awful, awful watching somebody go through that. It’s not even funny. It’s funny after the fact, but it’s not funny at the time. He was in so much pain, it’s just awful. I was expecting the worst. For him to be OK is great news for us.”
Sisco was not in the Orioles' starting lineup on Monday, but he was available off the bench if necessary.
Smith injury update
Monday brought further progress for injured outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., who began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Norfolk. By serving as the designated hitter for the Tides’ game against Gwinnett, Smith (left calf strain) saw his first game action since July 30. Smith was hitting .238 with a .708 OPS through 84 games at the time of his injury, having played through several minor leg ailments throughout the year.
The Orioles joined large portions of the baseball world in mourning the loss of former pitching coach Al Jackson, who died Monday at age 83.
Baltimore’s pitching coach from 1989-91, Jackson was more renowned for his five-decade long ties to the Mets, where he became one of the organization’s original players in '62.
Jackson, who went 67-99 with a 3.98 ERA for four teams from 1959-69, also coached the Red Sox from '77-79 and in New York’s system. The Mets confirmed his death in a statement.
Minor League moves
The Orioles on Monday released right-handers Josh Lucas and Matt Wotherspoon, who made 11 combined appearances at the big league level this season, from Triple-A Norfolk.