FORT MYERS, Fla. – The contact in the third inning was loud, and it rattled Grayson Rodriguez’s start.
Christian Arroyo led off with a line drive at shortstop Jorge Mateo. Rafael Devers ripped a double down the left field line and Adam Duvall homered over the “Faux Monster,” as it’s called here, for the game’s first runs.
The outing didn’t get any better from that point.
Rodriguez couldn’t make it through the fourth inning again, departing after Arroyo’s RBI double. An inherited runner scored on Devers' single off Eduardo Bazardo and the Red Sox led 5-0.
The three runs in the inning were unearned, leaving Rodriguez with two earned and six hits with two walks, three strikeouts and a wild pitch that allowed Bobby Dalbec to cross the plate in the fourth. He threw 70 pitches, only 44 for strikes.
“We did some things right, obviously some things wrong,” he said. “The line’s really, I guess, not like what we wanted, but in spring training going out there, we threw some better sliders. Changeups were in the zone this time, unlike last time. So just kind of being able to get off-speed in the zone a little better.
“I’m getting closer every day. That was kind of a big step for me was being able to start out hitters with strikes with changeup, curveball, and some different things.”
Catcher James McCann lauded the quality of the changeup.
“He used it really all times in the count,” McCann said. “When he was behind he used it to get back in the count, when he was ahead he used it as a putaway. And he used it to lefties and righties the same way. So guy’s got command of a pitch like that, it’s going to take him a long way.”
Dalbec drew a leadoff walk in the fourth and Reese McGuire bounced to the mound. Rodriguez fielded the ball, spun and threw low to shortstop Jorge Mateo, who couldn’t stop it from going into center field.
“Just kind of rushed the throw. That’s on me,” he said.
“Really next time, just kind of slowing it down, making a good throw to second base, not worrying about the double play. Just getting one out.”
Raimel Tapia grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, but the wild pitch on a spiked changeup, a walk and Arroyo’s double brought manager Brandon Hyde out of the dugout.
“I think the first two innings he was really sharp, we saw overpowering stuff,” Hyde said after a 9-6 loss.
“I think the fourth inning he may have tired a little bit, honestly. Saw a changeup go to the backstop and some misses there. Looked like fatigue for me.”
McCann also mentioned how Rodriguez began to tire in the final inning, “but overall I thought he threw the ball really well, especially early on.”
“And I think if he turns that double play in his last inning, he’s probably taking the ball for one more up,” McCann said.
The second time through the order bit Rodriguez again, as it did the last time he took the mound.
“We kind of had a plan, reading their swings from the first time through,” he said. “Obviously still we missed some pitches, big league guys hit them, and that’s kind of the takeaway from it.”
Arroyo and Duvall singled in the first inning. In between was a changeup that struck out Devers, who signed an extension in January for $331 million over 11 years.
Devers got his revenge in his next two at-bats.
Dalbec struck out leading off the second inning. Kyle Stowers made a nice catch in left field to deny McGuire, Raimel Tapia lined a single into left field and Greg Allen grounded out.
Rodriguez was cruising in his last start Sunday against the Red Sox but faced five batters in the fourth inning without recording an out. Four of them scored.
“I’d like to see him push through it, honestly,” Hyde said, “but he’s still really young and this is his first regular major league camp. Hopefully, he just improves from these and keeps going.”
Hyde referred to the previous struggles that inning as a good learning experience for Rodriguez.
“That’s what they’ve told me in the dugout,” Rodriguez said, smiling. “Obviously, I don’t enjoy them, but that’s been the key is it’s all a learning experience and for it to happen in spring training is a lot better than during the season.”
Rodriguez is figuring out how to step back and take a breath. The pitch clock is accelerating the pace of the game, with today’s ending in 2 hours and 51 minutes despite the combined 15 runs, 25 hits, and one injury replacement for Red Sox reliever Joely Rodríguez, the former Orioles farmhand who exited with pain in his right side.
“Really, just kind of realizing the situation that you’re in,” Grayson Rodriguez said, “and simplifying it down to just making one or two pitches.”
“I think the big thing is just being able to slow the game down,” McCann said. “In a moment like that, it’s different now with the clock because you don’t have the ability to step off the rubber and take a few deep breaths. But after not turning the double play, then he got the double play and followed it up with a wild pitch, it kind of unraveled from there for him. But just being able to find a way to minimize damage.
“For a young pitcher that’s one of the biggest learning curves is, big league hitters feast on those moments where it starts to unravel on a pitcher, and being able to slow that down and get himself out a jam is a big learning curve.”
Rodriguez has another exhibition start remaining, and then the decision must be made whether he heads north, which has been the assumption all along.
“I’ve been with this organization for (five) years now, so I’m really not trying to go out there and show them anything,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out, throw strikes and just get ready for the season.”
McCann said it’s above his pay grade to make the call whether Rodriguez is in the Opening Day rotation, but added, “He definitely has the stuff to do it.”
“I think everyone knows that. It’s not a secret. But I think he’s still learning. We’re all still learning at the end of the day, but I think that he’s got a very bright future,” McCann said.
“His stuff is elite and he’s got a chance to be very special.”
Said Hyde: “He’s got great stuff and he’s going to be a really good starter in this league for a long time. Just want to kind of see him relax and do well these last couple starts.”
* Austin Hays stayed hot with a leadoff double in the second inning, his 10th hit in 23 at-bats. He has a double, four home runs and 10 RBIs.
“What he’s been talking to you guys about is the right-center approach, the ability to use the whole field, which is what he did the first two months of the season last year,” Hyde said earlier today when asked what he’s seeing with Hays.
“Kind of got away from that the second half a little bit. I think a little bit had to do with, he was pretty banged up, tried to play through it. But just that approach of, he’s got so much bat speed and his ability to trust and let the ball get to him and use the whole field is a huge key for him.”
* The Orioles loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, but Ryan Mountcastle struck out. Oddanier Mosqueda walked the first two batters he faced after replacing starter Kutter Crawford and inheriting Nomar Mazara, who doubled, but he got Mountcastle swinging.
Nine batters came to the plate in the eighth and the Orioles scored four runs. Heston Kjerstad had an RBI grounder and Shayne Fontana, Franchy Cordero and Mark Koloszvary had run-scoring singles.
Two more runs scored in the ninth. Jordan Westburg singled for the second time in two at-bats, Kjerstad doubled, Maverick Handley had a sacrifice fly and Colton Cowser produced an RBI infield single.
Cionel Pérez tossed a scoreless fifth inning with one hit allowed and two strikeouts. He’s surrendered one run in five spring innings. Austin Voth struck out six batters in three innings, but the Red Sox scored four runs against him in the eighth – only one earned after Cordero’s error at first base. Jorge Alfaro hit a two-run homer.
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