When he was last seen in the big leagues, O’s pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez was giving up nine runs over 3 1/3 innings on May 26 versus the Texas Rangers. After pitching to an ERA of 4.07 his first five big league starts, that number was 11.14 over his next five.
A reset was needed and Grayson was sent back to Triple-A Norfolk.
The marching orders for the staff there were mostly about getting his fastball control and command back to a level to get out big league hitters.
While his four-seam fastball averaged 96.7 mph in the majors, batters hit .395 with a slugging percentage of .750 off that pitch. That produced some loud contact and more work was needed.
“It is about shaping the slider a little bit and the fastball command was something with an emphasis as well,” Norfolk manager Buck Britton said of their work at Triple-A this month with Rodriguez. "In the big leagues, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw, if your fastball is sitting over the middle of the plate, guys will hit it.
“With him it’s such a weapon, he throws 100 (mph). If he can locate that heater and get guys to understand that is a pitch that is on the edge and then he tunnels a slider off of it, they’ve got to make quick decisions. With that fastball command kind of all over the place, he becomes hittable. So that is a huge emphasis for him.”
And back at Norfolk, Rodriguez has been getting solid results and making some gains on that command.
“Yeah. The start against Worcester (two walks, 11 strikeouts two starts ago) was really good. The thing about Grayson is that when he sets his mind to a task, he’s so talented, he will figure out a way to get it done. There will be ups and downs and bumps along the way, but he will eventually figure it out, I have no question,” Britton said.
They have been getting his pitch count each game in the 90-100 range. His most recent outing was his most pitch-efficient, as he went six innings Wednesday night on 88 pitches, allowing four hits and two runs (one earned) with one walk and eight strikeouts.
In five starts in June, since he was optioned back to the farm, Rodriguez is 4-0 with an ERA of 2.22. Over 28 1/3 innings he has allowed 18 hits and seven earned runs with 12 walks to 39 strikeouts.
Rodriguez's fastball in that most recent game sat often in the 96 and 97 mph range, hit 98 mph plus several times and topped at 99.1 mph. So the velocity is no issue.
In the five June starts at Triple-A, Rodriguez has allowed just a .184 batting average against and a WHIP of 1.06.
The O's are seeing the progress they hoped to see and the results have been there. At some point, maybe sooner than later, they need to find out if he is ready for most consistent big league success.
Speaking of the Tides: Norfolk picked up its 50th win of the year in very improbable fashion Thursday afternoon. The Tides trailed Charlotte at home 8-0 heading into the last of the sixth inning.
At that point in the game, Norfolk had only a 0.6 chance of winning. But they did win, 10-8 at Harbor Park, to improve to 50-26.
The Tides scored eight runs in the sixth inning to tie it and two in the seventh on their way to the victory. Colton Cowser's three-run homer in the sixth capped a big inning by the Tides and evened the score at 8-8. An inning later, Joey Ortiz doubled in the go-ahead run and scored on Josh Lester's single for the two-run lead.
Between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk this year, Heston Kjerstad has performed well in home games and continued the trend Thursday afternoon. Kjerstad went 2-for-4 with two runs scored, a double and an RBI. On the year he is hitting .362/.439/.696 with 10 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs and 21 RBIs in 36 home games at both levels.
Cowser came up with another multi-hit game, going 2-for-5 with two runs, a home run and three RBIs. It was his 10th blast of the year and was his first game-tying home run of the season. He becomes the fifth Tides player to reach the double-digit mark in homers this year.
Jordan Westburg, now with the Orioles, hit 18 with Norfolk followed by Lester with 14, Lewin Diaz with 12, Daz Cameron with 11 and Cowser with 10.