Unless the club’s decision on rookie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez includes significant information we are not yet privy to – which is certainly possible – I still think the Orioles should head north with the kid as the No. 5 in their season-opening rotation.
They have been pointing to the inclusion of Rodriguez in their rotation to begin this year since last season and especially since late last year when he returned to pitch on the farm in September after his lat injury.
On the final day of the 2022 season, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias addressed both Rodriguez’s comeback from injury and outlook for the 2023 season ahead.
Said Elias then: “With an injury like he had, it’s still something to be mindful of, even at this moment in time. I think he’s going to have it way in the rearview mirror when he comes into spring training next year, and I hope he makes our Opening Day rotation. I think that’s a very high likelihood.”
It seems the plan has been for Grayson’s debut to happen to start the 2023 season all along.
Now we wait to find out if a few spring training starts have changed any of that thinking. The 23-year-old right-hander, who is ranked as MLB’s No. 6 prospect by Baseball America and No. 7 by MLBPipeline.com, has pitched to an ERA of 7.04 in five spring starts. Over his past three games – where he had one poor inning each time – he has allowed 11 earned runs over 10 2/3 innings.
Having a bad inning has not been an issue for Rodriguez on the O’s farm. Of his 23 starts in the 2021 season, he allowed two runs or less 19 times. He gave up four runs or more just twice, so in just nine percent of his starts then. Last year he allowed two runs or less in 13 of his 17 starts and four runs or more just twice. So that was in 12 percent of his 2022 starts.
Having bad outings, or even bad innings, was not something that happened to him often. Now it has happened three games in a row. How much are the Orioles concerned about that, if at all? Was Rodriguez working on something that led to his struggles when they occurred? Was it just a matter of command briefly eluding him? How the Orioles internally answer those questions will have a lot to say about what they do with him to open this season.
If you look at his farm track record here, it is pretty solid to say the least. For his minor league career since the O’s selected him No. 11 overall in the 2018 draft, Rodriguez is 25-9 with an ERA of 2.47 in 68 starts. His batting average against is .173 and his WHIP is 0.95. Those again are career numbers.
In 14 Triple-A starts for Norfolk last year he was 6-1 with a 2.20 ERA. He allowed a .178 batting average and 0.93 WHIP. He was dominant and has said he was throwing the ball as well early last year as he has ever has.
It seems he has checked every box except maybe one – have a strong spring.
The Orioles have options here. And I don’t mean player options, but alternatives for the pitching staff. Righty Tyler Wells could claim a rotation spot and join Kyle Gibson and Dean Kremer, along with presumably Cole Irvin and Kyle Bradish in the first five. Unlike Rodriguez, Wells did throw well late in the spring. If he doesn't break north in the starting five it won't be because he gave any reason to doubt him. He did not. Does that make a difference in this decision the club has to make?
If the Orioles want Rodriguez to start the year in Triple-A, it’s a move they can make and then bring him up when he starts to get better results. Or they could stick to what seemed to be the long-term plan all along and have Rodriguez's MLB debut come to start this season.
It is a looming big question about the organization's top pitching prospect.
How should the club react to Grayson's spring?
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