Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, who returns to the big leagues tonight for the Orioles to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, made eight starts this year for Triple-A Norfolk. Colton Cowser, who is starting in left field and batting seventh tonight, was in the Norfolk lineup for five of those games.
He saw Rodriguez return to the farm after going 2-2 with a 7.35 ERA in 10 starts with the Orioles. He saw a pitcher determined to get his command on point and one who did that back at Triple-A for the most part.
Rodriguez is currently ranked as the No. 15 prospect in the top 100 by Baseball America, one step below Cowser, actually, who is No. 14.
“He, I felt like, the thing that really was making it click for him was his fastball command,” Cowser said. “That is one thing I noticed being in center field, he was able to consistently work at the top (of the strike zone). And when he is really working at the top and really commanding it, his off-speed pitches play really well off of it. He was looking really good.
“I feel like he was doing a great job of pitching when he was in hitter's counts. Being able to steal strikes and worked counts well.”
Rodriguez got some run support in his previous O’s starts and the team went 7-3 in his 10 games. This despite his ERA of 11.14 in five starts in May.
The right-hander returns to the bigs tonight off an outing that was shortened to three innings on July 9, when he pitched scoreless ball. In his past four starts for the Tides, he allowed just two earned runs over 19 1/3 innings for an ERA of 0.93.
The Dodgers present a big challenge with a lineup that starts with Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. They rank third in the majors in runs per game (5.50) and are second in walks and fourth in slugging (.450) and OPS (.780).
The Orioles probably had hoped when Rodriguez made his big league debut on April 5 in Texas that he might be in the majors to stay. It didn’t work out that way. He had to go back to the farm and work his way back. Check your ego at the Triple-A door and get back to work.
“I think he handled it well," Cowser said. "When I was with him I feel like he went about his business the right way. The pitching coach down there, (Justin) Ramsey, I feel like they were always business. He really started to hit his stride down there.”
Cowser and others who have been teammates with Rodriguez indicate he has one fun and light personality they love on non-game days, but a different one on the days he takes the mound.
“I would say just the way he goes about his business," Cowser said. "He has a great personality in the clubhouse. But when he is out there working it’s business. He does a really good job of understanding who he is as a pitcher and maybe combat things he may be struggling with.”
A couple of weeks ago, I talked to Norfolk manager Buck Britton about several players, including Rodriguez. Britton said the right-hander made progress in a couple different areas while back in Triple-A.
“It is about shaping the slider a little bit, and the fastball command was something with an emphasis as well,” Britton said in that interview. "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.”