ARLINGTON, Texas – With a large rooting section from his hometown of Nacogdoches, Texas, in the stands today, Orioles right-hander Grayson Rodriguez made a strong big league debut in his home state. But it didn’t start out great for him.
After allowing two runs and giving up some loud contact in the Rangers' first inning, he settled in nicely and at times looked very much like what he is: one of baseball’s best pitching prospects. And the pitcher who has gone 25-9 with a 2.49 ERA in 70 games on the Baltimore farm. The pitcher ranked No. 6 in the Baseball America top 100 and No. 7 by MLBPipeline.com.
He struggled as games got deeper in spring training, but not today.
Texas went 2-for-5 against him in its two-run first inning, then just 2-for-14 from the second through the fifth inning.
Right-hander Austin Voth replaced him to start the sixth in a 2-2 tie. But Texas third baseman Josh Jung took him to the opposite field for a two-run shot to right. That blast was enough for the Rangers to go on to win this one 5-2 as the Orioles failed to sweep the series.
They won the series, though, and now head home at 3-3. The home opener set for tomorrow has been postponed, and the Orioles will host the Yankees now on Friday at 3:05 p.m.
Texas had not led in this series. By scoring two runs in the first today, the Rangers tied their combined scoring output from the first two games here.
Rodriguez faced Marcus Semien to start his big league career and walked the Rangers second baseman on six pitches. Corey Seager grounded out on a fielder’s choice and moved to second on a wild pitch. He scored on Adolis García's two-out double to right. García scored to make it 2-0 on Jung’s single to left.
But down 2-0 early, Rodriguez then got locked in.
He needed just 11 pitches in a 1-2-3 second. He stranded a runner at second in the third inning and allowed one hit in the fourth but none in a 1-2-3 fifth. He got on a roll as the game progressed, the opposite of several of his spring outings.
“There were a lot of nerves," Rodriguez said of his shaky start to the day. "Really couldn’t feel the baseball. But having that first inning, getting that out of the way, that was pretty special in the second, being able to get after it. The second inning felt like a normal game. The first inning I felt like I was on an island.
“Having my friends and family here that will be the special part."
Added manager Brandon Hyde: “Yeah I got a little nervous there in the first (thinking Rodriguez) might not get out of it. He was really excited, little jumpy. Thought he just really did a great job of settling down, Adley worked well with him. He was throwing really good velocity. Mixed up his pitches extremely well after that first inning.
“I’m really happy for him. You give up two runs over five innings on the road, leave with the score tied. Did a great job. Great first experience and only get better."
It was a solid debut as Rodriguez went five innings, allowing four hits and the two runs, both earned, with one walk while striking out five. His command got locked in too, another big improvement from his spring training, where he posted a 7.04 ERA.
Rodriguez got 14 swings and misses and averaged 96.5 mph on his fastball, topping at 98.2. He used his four-seam fastball 49 percent of the time, his slider 23 percent, changeup 17, curveball six percent and cutter five, per Statcast.
Today he was throwing at times like he was early last season when he got a real roll at Norfolk before his lat injury on June 1.
“Yeah, absolutely. Finally just kind of getting into a groove, into a mode where just kind of out there throwing strikes and getting outs," Rodriguez said.
A challenge for him today was that Orioles hitters were facing two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom. And while deGrom allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings on Opening Day, he was on his game from the start today.
The Orioles finally broke through with two runs against him in the fifth to tie the game 2-2. But through four, deGrom had retired all 12 batters he faced on 48 pitches with eight strikeouts. He went six innings, allowing just two hits and the two runs while recording two walks and 11 strikeouts. He got 25 whiffs on 48 swings from O’s batters and averaged 98.7 mph, topping at 100.4 on his heater.
The Orioles tied it against the flamethrower in the fifth, though. Ryan Mountcastle’s double, at 102 mph off the bat, was their first hit. With runners on first and third and one out, he would score on a fielding error at second off the bat of Austin Hays. Adam Frazier’s RBI single to left followed and the O’s had life, generating a 2-2 tie.
But Jung’s second homer of the year broke that tie in the sixth, and an inning later Texas expanded its lead on Nathaniel Lowe’s RBI double to left to go up 5-2.
O’s pitching had allowed just two runs and eight hits on Monday and Tuesday as the Orioles won to win the series' first two games. Today, though, their eight-game win streak against Texas ended. Their offense was held to just two hits today.
But now as the O’s head home from their season-opening, two-city trip, they can feel a bit better about their pitching, even after a series when they lost starter Kyle Bradish to injury. Rodriguez’s outing today likely means he stays in the rotation for now.
The Yankees are on deck at home for the Orioles.
Hyde said "we are not there yet" when asked if Rodriguez would stay in the rotation. With tomorrow's rainout, he said, the Orioles expect to stay on turn in their rotation, meaning Dean Kremer would pitch Friday's home opener with Cole Irvin going Saturday. Right-hander Tyler Wells could then pitch Sunday in the turn that was taken by Kyle Bradish, who got hurt in this series and went on the injured list.
The Orioles went without a homer today after hitting one or more in each game this year and 11 total their first five games.