BALTIMORE — A little over two weeks before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the Orioles hope they’ll be adding upside to the back of their starting rotation for the second half.
Prior to the series finale with Miami, manager Brandon Hyde announced the organization would recall top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez to start Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It will be the 23-year-old’s first appearance in the majors since being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after a May 26 start against Texas in which he allowed eight earned runs and walked three in just 3 1/3 innings.
In 10 starts for the Orioles, the right-handed Rodriguez posted a 7.35 ERA and allowed 13 home runs over 45 1/3 innings. However, he’s pitched to a 1.69 ERA with 54 strikeouts and 15 walks over 37 1/3 innings for the Tides since his demotion, a body of work that satisfied general manager Mike Elias and the organization. Speaking on MASN’s telecast of Friday’s win over the Marlins, Elias hinted that Rodriguez’s return to the majors could be imminent.
“The reports have been awesome on how the command has improved,” Hyde said. “The stuff has always been there. It’s just all about command with him. He’s thrown the ball extremely well with command down in Triple-A. We’re excited for him to start [Monday].”
Rodriguez won’t have an easy task facing the Dodgers, who entered Sunday ranking third in the majors in runs scored per game and third in on-base plus slugging percentage. Los Angeles has the second-best record in the National League behind only Atlanta.
Despite entering 2023 as a consensus top 10 prospect in all of baseball, Rodriguez failed to make the Opening Day rotation after an uneven spring and carried that inconsistency over when he was promoted to replace injured starter Kyle Bradish in early April. The 2018 first-round pick allowed two or fewer runs in five of his 10 starts, but he wasn’t pitch efficient — completing no more than 5 2/3 innings in any outing — and had his two worst performances over his final three starts before being sent to the minors.
The Orioles were pleased with how Rodriguez responded to his first real failure in professional ball. In his last two full outings with the Tides, he allowed just one earned run, seven hits, and one walk while striking out 20 batters over 12 innings.
“I think the message was pretty clear when he went down on the reasons why and what we felt like he needed to work on,” Hyde said. “I think kind of out of the gate out there wasn’t as smooth, but his last few starts there have been really good. They’ve done a nice job kind of applying what we talked about up here before he went down. We feel comfortable where he is right now, and hopefully he can impact us positively the rest of the year.”
What isn’t clear is how the Orioles might manage Rodriguez’s workload as he’s already tossed a combined 86 2/3 innings between Baltimore and Norfolk, which isn’t far off the career-high 103 frames he pitched in the minors in 2021. Rodriguez missed roughly three months of the 2022 campaign with a Grade 2 right lat strain, which makes it difficult to gauge how the organization will handle the young pitcher’s innings for the remainder of 2023.
Of course, Rodriguez needs to pitch well enough in the majors for that potential dilemma to come into play, but there’s always the possibility of using him for shorter outings like how Tyler Wells was deployed last season or using off-days to periodically skip Rodriguez’s turn in the rotation.
“We’re in the mindset of winning games right now,” Hyde said. “Hopefully, he sticks in the rotation the rest of the summer.”
With Rodriguez returning to Baltimore, veteran lefty Cole Irvin will move into a long-relief role.