ABERDEEN, Md. – For right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the Orioles and MLB's top pitching prospect, it was a big first step in his return from injury. He was back on a mound for the first time in three months last night and pitched into the second inning for high Single-A Aberdeen against Hickory at Ripken Stadium.
Rodriguez allowed one single and no runs in 1 1/3 innings, throwing 31 pitches, 17 for strikes with six swings and misses. His fastball topped at 98 mph on the stadium gun and he was pleased with his outing. He gave up some loud contact in the first and left his outing after one out back-to-back walks in the second.
But he was healthy and he was back.
“I felt great. It was a lot of fun to go back out there. My heart hadn’t pumped like that in a while, so good to get back out there,” said Rodriguez, who left a start on June 1 with Triple-A Norfolk with a Grade 2 right lat strain.
“It was tremendous. Being able to warm up, walk on the mound before the game. Smell the ballpark and see the lights and everything, it was fantastic,” he said.
He left the game after a long mound meeting with Aberdeen manager Roberto Mercado. It created at least mild curiosity as to whether anything was bothering Rodriguez, who went 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 12.86 K rate this year at Triple-A Norfolk.
“He was basically just telling me he was sorry, but I reached the pitch count,” Rodriguez said of the long mound meeting that led to that exit. “Obviously went out there with not a lot to work with (in terms of pitch count), but really the main thing was just getting out there and getting my feet wet again.
“I just wanted to be sure to throw pretty much every pitch. Just kind of getting back out there, really was not too worried about the results. But just getting back out there and spinning off-speed and changeups and cutters.”
Several pitches were at 96 mph on the gun in the second inning and the one was a tick higher in the first.
“More than happy with the velocity. Got the adrenaline pumping. It was great to be out there again,” said the 22-year-old Rodriguez, who is ranked as the No. 4 prospect in baseball by both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com.
Rodriguez said he expected this outing to be short but he is not sure of the plan the organization has for him going forward. But one hurdle was cleared. He was back on the mound. He added that any mental hurdles he had to clear in pitching again, he had cleared in the weeks leading up to this game.
“The first couple of times you are on the mound coming back you are working careful. You know really trying to feel it out and not injure yourself. But we’re way past that point now. I told the pitching coaches going out there tonight that I was going to let it eat. So we were able to do that. Was able to go 100 percent and everything feels good.
“I think the stuff was there. Pitching coaches were letting me know what it looked like analytically and everything was great. Better than I could have asked for. Obviously next outing we’ll focus more to be in the zone. You can throw all the bullpens you want but coming out here under the lights, gets the blood pumping. Lot of fun.”
He still would like this season to end with him in the major leagues. Something to shoot for.
“You know, I guess it’s not my decision. That’s my goal, definitely. But it's ultimately up to the Orioles and what they decide to do,” said Rodriguez.
And in Cleveland: The Orioles blanked the Guardians 3-0 to complete a 4-2 road trip that featured three shutouts and stunning pitching.
Right-hander Kyle Bradish pitched seven scoreless last night and is the first pitcher in team history to throw consecutive scoreless games of seven innings or more each time allowing two hits or less.
The O's team ERA was 1.56 on a trip where they allowed just nine runs in six games. They have pitched back-to-back shutouts with a 21 innings scoreless streak and 13 shutouts for the year heading into tonight's game at home with Oakland.
The Orioles (69-61) are 1.5 games back of the final AL playoff spot as they begin a 10-game homestand tonight against the A's, Jays and Red Sox.