MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect had his full arsenal of pitches working on Sunday afternoon, striking out a career-high 12 batters and registering 21 swinging strikes over five innings against a loaded Erie lineup. Rodriguez allowed one unearned run on two hits and one walk for Bowie in its 6-2 victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader.
“We could kind of tell early when I was in the bullpen before the game," said Rodriguez. “The fastball command was there, so was the off-speed command. I felt real energized. Obviously, it’s been eight days in between starts with rainouts so I was ready to get out there, but I definitely felt good early."
Rodriguez took the mound with a 2-0 lead thanks to a first-inning two-run homer from Kyle Stowers. The right-hander struck out three of the first four batters he faced, punching out Detroit’s top three hitting prospects in Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Dillon Dingler before allowing a hit in the second.
"Those are big name guys and it’s definitely a confidence booster to have a performance like that,” said Rodriguez. "We figured out a plan on how to attack them, just sticking with the game plan and establishing my fastball.”
Seven of the 21-year-old’s first eight outs of the game came via the strikeout. The unearned run came in the bottom of the third on an error from Robert Neustrom, when the left fielder lost a high fly ball off the bat of Torkelson in the sun, which allowed Greene to score from first.
Rodriguez responded to the error by not allowing a hit for the rest of his outing and retiring seven of the final eight batters he faced, with Erie’s Josh Lester reaching on Bowie’s second error in the fifth. The 2018 Draft’s No. 11 pick struck out five of the eight batters to finish with a new career high.
“The Orioles do a good job of getting us data and all kinds of stuff like that, different kinds of numbers and stuff that we look for. We were prepared well,” said Rodriguez. He added that his mentality on the mound on Sunday was “Really not to worry about too much. Just kind of focus in on Adley back there, he called the game pretty dang well.”
Sunday’s start was Rodriguez’s second outing of the season with double digit strikeouts, his first coming on May 15 with a previous career-best 11 punchouts. It was his fourth start of the season allowing zero earned runs, and his ninth allowing one or less runs. After giving up a season-high three runs in each of his last two starts prior to Sunday’s performance, Rodriguez responded with the best outing of his season to date.
“I wouldn’t say much changed. Today, I started getting back and trusting my stuff. Not trying to overpower anybody with the fastball, or make a curveball or a slider break more than it should. Really just getting back to the roots," said Rodriguez. "I’m trusting my stuff, letting it be there and plan on packing in the strike zone.”
Rodriguez has proven all year why he is regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. In 13 starts and 63 innings across High-A (five starts, 23 1/3 IP) and Double-A (eight starts, 39 2/3 IP), he owns a 1.86 ERA and a 0.746 WHIP with 97 strikeouts to 13 walks, a K/BB ratio of 7.46, a K/9 of 13.9, a BB/9 of 1.9 and a strikeout percentage of 40.6%. Opposing hitters are batting .153 off Rodriguez with a .494 OPS, and he’s given up seven home runs on 34 hits.