G-Rod whiffs season-high 11, Adley homers

May 18th, 2022

For all the speculation surrounding Adley Rutschman’s impending promotion, the spotlight has shifted some in recent days from Grayson Rodriguez, his battery mate and the top pitching prospect in baseball.

But that doesn’t mean G-Rod isn’t still dealing.

Rodriguez was dominant again Tuesday, racking up a season-high 11 strikeouts across 5 1/3 scoreless innings in Triple-A Norfolk’s 4-1 win over Charlotte. Rutschman and Orioles No. 8 prospect Kyle Stowers pitched in with a two-run homer each in support of Rodriguez, who dialed his fastball up to 99.2 mph in the outing.

Through eight Triple-A starts, the 22-year old righty sports a 2.65 ERA and 57-13 strikeout-to-walk rate across 37 1/3 innings. The 87 pitches Rodriguez threw Tuesday were a season high, and his 5 1/3 innings also matched his season high. He leads the International League in strikeouts and is the first pitcher in the league to reach the 50-strikeout mark.

“I feel great — if it were up to me, I’d be throwing 100 pitches or up to 100 pitches every outing, “ Rodriguez said. “I’m just focused on getting a little bit better each start.”

In short, it’s been about as seamless a transition the Orioles could’ve hoped for for Rodriguez, the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball and the club’s No. 2 prospect behind Rutschman. The two have only been reunited for less than two weeks, since Rutschman returned from a triceps injury May 6 to increased speculation about when he will arrive in Baltimore. The homer was Rutschman’s second in five games; his remaining days in Norfolk could be down to the single digits at this point.

“It’s like he’s reading my mind back there,” Rodriguez said. “He knows my stuff just as well as I do.” 

For Rodriguez, the timeline is still probably a bit further off — but not much. The Orioles were careful not to rush Rodriguez last year coming off the COVID shutdown, giving him 18 starts at Double-A while he faced few hiccups at the level, pitching to a 2.60 ERA and 13.7 strikeouts per nine. He’s only tripped up once in eight Triple-A starts thus far, allowing five earned runs in 3 1/3 innings May 1 at Gwinnett.

In the three starts since, he’s allowed one run in 15 2/3 innings and amassed 24 strikeouts. On Tuesday, 11 of his 87 pitches registered over 98 mph. Two buzzed in at 99 mph or higher.

“I’m working on being able to control the zone with my fastball,” Rodriguez said. “Being able to put it up in the zone, down in the zone, more consistently.”

More importantly, Rodriguez has shown continued development of his secondary pitches after that was a focus at Double-A in 2021. His outing Tuesday was a prime example. Despite the near triple-digit velocity, Rodriguez elicited more than twice as many whiffs with his changeup and slider (7 each) than his fastball (3) against the Knights. He got as many called strikes with his curveball (4) as he did with the heater, showcasing the advanced four-pitch mix that, combined with his age and ceiling, make Rodriguez the highest-ranked pitching prospect in the sport.

“Being able to throw off-speed pitches for a first-pitch strike, or early in the count trying to pitch guys backwards, that’s also something I’m really getting a grasp of,” he said. “I’m really learning how to do it and it’s been working.” 

How long until that package arrives in Baltimore? If he keeps pitching like this, it won’t be long. And chances are Rutschman will be waiting there for him.