Rodriguez en route to 'being a better pro' after debut

March 21st, 2022

SARASOTA, Fla. -- For as much attention as Grayson Rodriguez has garnered over the past three years, it’s almost felt like the Orioles’ 2018 first-round Draft pick has been a secret still to be uncovered. He’s the top pitching prospect in baseball, but 2022 is his first taste of big league camp. He has dominated at every stop of his pro career, but he was limited in his game action in ’21.

So call Monday Act I in the Rodriguez show, as the 22-year-old made his Grapefruit League debut at the friendly confines of Ed Smith Stadium in a 10-8 win over the Twins. With it, Rodriguez learned a couple of important lessons. He learned how to dominate (he threw a perfect third inning) and he learned how to struggle (he earned four runs on his ledger while recording one out in the fourth).

But above all, Rodriguez got one out of the way.

“It's huge,” he said. “First outing of the spring, it's always good to see some other jerseys. We were able to get out there, throw some good spins. Unfortunately, they got runners on base and a few hits dropped in. But other than that, it's relatively a good day.”

At first, it appeared like a relatively excellent day. Rodriguez needed just nine pitches to carve through his first inning, initiated by a high fastball to induce a strikeout -- his first in an Orioles jersey -- of Kyle Garlick.

But then, he hit a rut. Rodriguez loaded the bases before recording an out in the fourth, seemed to buy himself some safety with a strikeout of former Twins top prospect Brent Rooker and then relented with back-to-back two-run doubles. He pitched behind in counts and let too many balls catch the plate, he said. But the sheer fact that he was allowed to try to pitch himself out of a jam? That was reassuring, especially against the backdrop of how closely policed his innings were last season.

“It's nice seeing the trust from the dugout,” Rodriguez said.

“I just thought he was just missing with a couple pitches there in that second inning that led to a couple of walks,” Hyde said. “I thought his stuff stayed really good throughout both innings. He had a great first inning, showed an electric fastball, really good slider. In the second inning, the command was just a tick off, and they got to a couple. I'm taking it as a positive; this is his first time out at Major League camp. He’ll learn from it and continue to get better.”

Adding layers to Monday’s outing is that Rodriguez, a Texas native, grew up with the Rangers’ playoff-ridden run from 2010-16, during which Robinson Chirinos served as backstop. On Monday, it was Chirinos behind the plate for Rodriguez.

Learning from Chirinos, the O’s small but experienced crop of veteran arms and the Major League coaching staff is central to this Spring Training as Baltimore charts Rodriguez’s path forward. The right-hander has stated his desire to make it to the big leagues at some point in 2022. His first career Grapefruit League outing won’t dictate if he breaks camp with the team (which appears unlikely) or impact his chances to debut later this season (which do appear likely). Rather, the O’s will take what Rodriguez provided on Monday in stride, knowing that the experience he sponged in big league camp can pay dividends when he’s no longer the newbie in the clubhouse.

“Grayson's got a ton of confidence,” Hyde said pregame. “He’s very aware of what's going on, I can see him during our games here in the dugout watching everything. He asks questions, there's good baseball dialogue. He's soaking it all in right now and [has] a high baseball aptitude. He’s enjoying this experience that he’s having.”

Next for Rodriguez is likely another outing in Grapefruit League action. The club has not yet made any cuts to its big league camp, and it’s likely that Rodriguez would survive the first round. The O’s want him to soak up as much as he can this spring in order to prepare him for both the 2022 season and the years that lie ahead. Whether he opens the year with Double-A Bowie, Triple-A Norfolk or on the off chance the Majors, the goals for the rest of his time in Florida are clear.

“Just being a better pro, seeing how these guys kind of go about their business day in and day out,” Rodriguez said. “Kind of picking their brains about pitches and what to throw and what counts and what to look for in hitters.”