Is there time left for Rodriguez to enter Orioles rotation?

As infielder Gunnar Henderson proves that he belongs in the majors and the Orioles didn’t rush him or hinder their playoff chances based on his arrival - he's inflating their optimism like a bicycle tire - there’s one more prospect who could come along for the ride.

The No. 1 pitcher in the minors.

What’s the plan with Grayson Rodriguez?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many details for anyone seeking them except for the more immediate future. But at least it provides some drama beyond the quest for one of the three wild card spots.

Rodriguez is starting Friday night for Triple-A Norfolk against the Charlotte Knights at Harbor Park. He stays on regular rest after Sunday’s injury rehab start at Double-A Bowie.

The label has been removed from this outing. There’s no “injury rehab.” It’s just a good ol', normal start, his first since injuring his right lat on June 1.

Exactly three months passed until Rodriguez faced hitters again in an actual game, when he worked 1 1/3 innings at high Single-A Aberdeen. He lasted 2 2/3 on Sunday, charged with four runs on only one hit and three walks, and also striking out seven batters.

The Orioles aren’t closing the door on Rodriguez making his major league debut this year, but it isn’t held open, either. Time is running out. The former first-round draft pick is on the clock again.

The schedule consists of only 21 more games after today’s off-day. Rodriguez isn’t close to being stretched out. He’s got to make a few more starts just to reach five innings, perhaps as many as three.

We’re talking weeks here.

From what I can glean, the Orioles won’t push Rodriguez into a relief role. This isn’t a DL Hall situation.

Hall is on the 40-man roster. The Orioles needed to curtail his innings total after he appeared in only seven games last year. He probably couldn’t contribute much as a starter due to his walk totals and elevated pitch counts.

Rodriguez is at a different point in his career. He’s built to work deep into games.

The Orioles just wanted to get him back to Triple-A and back to his pre-injury form. The rehab will be deemed a success if it happens, and he can prepare later for spring training and a spot in the opening day rotation. Anything else is gravy.

The stars aren’t aligning well right now for a 2022 debut, but things change in this business. I remember when Tyler Wells was expected to be a reliever after his activation from the injured list. Now he’s stretching out as a starter in the Orioles rotation.

Where it gets real interesting with Rodriguez is how the wild card standings could wield some influence.

If Rodriguez is pitching five-six innings and there are important games remaining at the major league level, maybe he becomes the latest top prospect to get the call. Just maybe. And especially if there’s a specific need for him.

Rodriguez must go on the 40-man roster to be protected before December’s Rule 5 draft, so that isn’t a factor. There’s no incentive to wait except for his health and the dwindling number of games.

It’s fine to feel disappointed if the debut remains on hold, not that anyone needs my clearance. But Rodriguez is the top pitching prospect in baseball, and he was dominating like a No. 1 starter before the Grade 2 strain. Exactly what the Orioles wanted to see, what they needed to see.

Rodriguez is a huge part of the rebuild. It wasn’t too big for him and it’s no big deal if his first Orioles start comes in 2023.

He turns 23 in November.

In this case, time is on his side.

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