For Grayson Rodriguez less can be more: Fewer pitches could lead to more innings

For Orioles right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, an emerging talent in the O’s rotation, the process to get better is ongoing.

Recently Rodriguez, 24, may have made some nice gains right in front of our eyes. When he allowed seven hits and one earned run in 6 2/3 innings on June 3 at Toronto, manager Brandon Hyde was raving about his outing. He liked the results yes, but he most liked how Rodriguez got the results.

He needed just 86 pitches in that outing to get 20 outs. He was pitch efficient, something that allowed him to go deep into that game and something if he can repeat, that could help him throw more innings over the full season.

Rodriguez pinpointed pitch efficiency as an area where he needed to make gains coming into this year. He has.

Last season he averaged 17.2 pitches per inning and that is now down to 15.9. If he had enough innings to qualify for league leaders, he would be 16th in the American League stats in fewest pitches per inning. His teammate Corbin Burnes is 10th at 15.3 per inning. A nice role model for Rodriguez in a lot of different ways.

As a team the Orioles are one of the AL's best in pitch efficiency, ranking tied for second in the AL and tied for fourth in the majors at 16.0 pitches per inning. They were at 16.5 last season and then were ranked seventh in the league and 13th in all of MLB.

Was that Toronto game at Rogers Centre a bit of a turning point for Rodriguez to show he can be more pitch efficient moving forward?

“I think it was,” he said this week. “Knowing that you don’t have to get a strikeout. Obviously we have a really good defense behind us. If they are going to give us weak contact, we’re going to take it.

“I think it will allow me to throw a lot of innings. That is my goal – to give this club as many innings as I can. I think that will help the bullpen out in the long run.”

In 11 starts this year, Rodriguez is 7-2 with a 3.27 ERA and the O’s are 8-3 in his 2024 starts. His success really began in the second half of last year. And then this winter, coming off that strong second half, he realized less could be more. Less pitches could get him more innings.

“I think reflecting on last year, I had a lot of starts where I threw too many pitches and not enough innings,” he said. “Get to about the fifth inning and already at the 80 or 85-pitch mark. That is something I needed to do differently this year. Really just trying to help the bullpen out.

“I know when I can get my fastball established and teams are going to give me early contact, that is going to allow me to pitch deeper in games.”

So how does a pitcher with quality stuff – one currently with a 10.1 K rate - get early-count contact?

“I think it does start a lot with the fastball," said Rodriguez. "And then just attacking the strikezone more. The more you are out of the zone the more takes you will see. That is going to hurt your pitch count quickly. But really just being efficient, trying to get outs on two or three pitches. If you find yourself with two strikes, try for the punchout. Just before that, trying to get weak contact is a big thing.” 

Rodriguez has been pitching like an ace since about mid-year last year. From July 22, 2023 to now he is 12-4 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 23 starts. And yes, he has been most efficient in many of those games averaging 15.8 pitches per inning.

Grayson makes up a big three with Burnes and Kyle Bradish, who will start tonight versus Philadelphia. But he reminded a questioner this week that this rotation does well past the so-called big three.

“Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. But right now, it’s a lot more than just three of us. (Albert) Suárez, (Cole) Irvin, lot of guys throwing it well. And pretty incredible to see that no matter what the lineup is or who is throwing tonight, that we have a legit chance to win the game. Not just by one run but by multiple runs,” he said, speaking before Cade Povich threw six scoreless on Wednesday night.

“I think here shortly we are going to have someone go nine innings for the first time. It’s something we want to do. This staff – really excited to see how we stack up at the end of the year,” he said.

With a rotation ERA that is third in the majors at 2.99 through Thursday, the Orioles have a starting staff that could rank among the best in team history if they maintain such numbers.

“We got a long way to go, but hopefully that is what we’re saying at the end of the year,” said Rodriguez.



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