G-Rod makes his roster case in final spring start
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Grayson Rodriguez’s Spring Training is complete, but the 23-year-old right-hander won’t speculate on whether he showed the Orioles enough to be among the five starting pitchers who will break camp with the team next week.
“I’m going to leave that up to them,” said Rodriguez, Baltimore’s No. 2 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 7 overall prospect. “I was just focused on going out every fifth day, making my starts, really just going out and competing.”
His fastball was as electric as advertised, often hitting 98-99 mph on the radar gun. His slider showed improvement each time out. His results? Well, those were mixed throughout his five Grapefruit League starts, including Rodriguez’s final outing in the Orioles’ 8-8 tie with the Tigers on Thursday night at Ed Smith Stadium.
Rodriguez retired six of Detroit’s first seven batters, pitching around a two-out error committed by third baseman Gunnar Henderson in the first. Then Rodriguez ran into some trouble -- a recurring theme for him late in the spring.
In the third, Rodriguez gave up a pair of consecutive two-out RBI singles to Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson. Then Nick Maton jolted a three-run homer to straightaway center field as Detroit put up a five-spot in the inning.
It was similar to what happened in Rodriguez’s previous two starts, both against Boston. On March 12, he was tagged for four runs in the fourth after he allowed the first five batters of the inning to reach, and he exited without recording an out. This past Saturday, Rodriguez allowed two runs in the third and three in the fourth, again departing without escaping the frame.
“Obviously, at this level, mistakes get capitalized on,” said Rodriguez, who finished Grapefruit play with a 7.04 ERA, a 1.57 WHIP, 19 strikeouts and seven walks over 15 1/3 innings.
Rodriguez rebounded Thursday night, though, delivering a strong closing statement. He retired the final four Tigers batters he faced, striking out both Jonathan Schoop and Andrew Knapp swinging to end the fourth inning, his night and his spring.
One of Rodriguez’s biggest takeaways from Spring Training was that he felt he left too many pitches over the center of the plate. Manager Brandon Hyde, who knows Grapefruit League stats are far from the most important numbers, remains confident in the youngster’s future.
“He’s had some good moments and he’s had some not so good moments this camp, but we have huge hopes for him and believe in him,” Hyde said.
With the O’s wrapping up Spring Training on Monday and then leaving for Boston -- where they’ll open the 2023 season vs. the Red Sox next Thursday -- the majority of their starting rotation appears set. Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin are locks. Dean Kremer has pitched well enough to secure a spot. Kyle Bradish mostly has, too.
Heading into the spring, Rodriguez appeared to have an inside track for a starting job. General manager Mike Elias stated numerous times this past winter that he felt Rodriguez was in a prime position to come to camp and show he belonged in the Opening Day rotation.
It will be a few more days before the club reveals whether Rodriguez did that, or if somebody else (such as Tyler Wells or Austin Voth) rounds out the rotation instead.
“We’re still evaluating, honestly,” Hyde said. “We still have other guys that are rotation candidates also, and so we’re going to make that decision at the end.”
In the meantime, Rodriguez will use his Spring Training performances as learning experiences to help him improve heading into the 2023 season, regardless of where he’s going next.
“As a pitcher, you want to go out and compete, throw well,” Rodriguez said. “But also, in the spring, it doesn’t matter as much as it does during the season. So really just taking the positives out of each outing and rolling with that.”