Emotions run high after G-Rod's impressive debut

April 5th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- When was asked about the most special moment of his MLB debut, that moment may have not yet happened.

After his five-inning start was complete, the Orioles’ 5-2 loss to the Rangers at Globe Life Field had ended and his postgame interview with the media was finished, the right-hander reconnected with his supporters in attendance. His closest family members assembled in the game room just down the hallway from the visiting clubhouse.

It’s there where the 6-foot-5 Rodriguez extended his long arms, wrapped them around his father, Gilbert, and broke down. His head -- sporting his O’s cap backwards, as he always does off the field -- rested on his dad’s right shoulder.

The two had a long embrace. The tears flowed. The emotions of the day poured out.

His 23 years of work and dedication had helped him realize a lifelong dream. The kid from Nacogdoches, Texas, had pitched on an MLB mound for the first time, and it happened in Arlington, only 175 miles northwest of where he grew up. 

It was everything Rodriguez had thought it would be.

“I grew up watching the Texas Rangers. A lot of memories at the old ballpark,” said Rodriguez, the Orioles’ No. 1 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 overall prospect. “Getting to come and throw here is pretty special.”

It nearly didn’t happen this way. It didn’t seem like it would when Rodriguez was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on the final day of Spring Training, unable to claim one of the five spots in Baltimore’s rotation.

But unexpected turns of events always happen in baseball. So when the Orioles reshuffled their pitching plans due to a right foot injury to Kyle Bradish in the fourth game of the season, a perfect opportunity arose for Rodriguez to make his big league debut in his home state.

“Grayson was the next man up starting pitcher-wise,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We broke with five guys that had really good Spring Trainings. Grayson just missed out on breaking with us, but we knew he’d be up at some point soon, and it just worked out for him.”

Rodriguez, Baltimore’s first-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, found out he was getting his first call to The Show on Tuesday afternoon while playing catch in Norfolk. He let everybody close to him know, packed his bags and boarded a flight to Dallas.

“It happened quick, so emotions were definitely high,” Rodriguez said. “It was just kind of a whirlwind.”

On the opposing side of Wednesday’s pitching matchup was Rangers ace and two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom -- not an easy pace for Rodriguez to match. It didn’t help that when Rodriguez took the mound in the bottom of the first, he said he couldn’t really feel the baseball due to nerves and jitters.

Rodriguez had a bumpy first inning, giving up two runs on a pair of two-out hits -- an RBI double by Adolis García and an RBI single by Josh Jung.

“It could have really unraveled there,” said Hyde, who had seen Rodriguez lose control during some tougher innings in Spring Training.

After the first, though, Rodriguez settled in and showed exactly why he’s among the best pitching prospects in baseball. Following Jung’s RBI knock, Rodriguez retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced, yielding only two more singles and striking out five while blanking Texas from the second through fifth.

Rodriguez threw 83 pitches, 53 for strikes. He leaned heavily on his four-seam fastball, using it 41 times. The heater averaged 96.5 mph, maxed out at 98.2 and induced eight whiffs, per Statcast. Rodriguez also had great success with his slider, which he threw 19 times and used to induce four whiffs.

“The second inning felt like a normal game,” Rodriguez said. “The first inning I kind of felt like I was on an island.”

Catcher Adley Rutschman, Rodriguez’s longtime batterymate in the Minors, was there to help steer the outing in the right direction. The duo could be entrenched in Baltimore for years to come, and the 25-year-old backstop relished the opportunity to work with his close companion for the first time on a big league stage.

"I'm blessed to call him a friend now and to see him make his debut,” Rutschman said. “To be able to catch him today is something that we've always dreamed about. It's just cool for me to be a part of his journey.”

Where that journey goes next is uncertain. The Orioles had wanted Rodriguez to get back on track in the Minors following a rocky spring. He made only one start for Norfolk before he was needed in the Majors. Thursday’s off-day (created by weather pushing the home opener to Friday) could allow Baltimore to realign its rotation.

Hyde didn’t commit to Rodriguez making another start, but the righty proved that the time for him to stay in the big leagues could be now.

“If they want to give me another start,” Rodriguez said, “I’ll be ready for it.”