Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said today that baseball's top pitching prospect, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, could return this year to pitch in September. He added that whether that happens or not, the club is very much expecting that Rodriguez will begin the 2023 season in the Orioles rotation from opening day on.
Rodriguez, who is 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA in 11 starts with Triple-A Norfolk, left his outing Wednesday after throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings on two hits. He was closing in on his major league debut when he walked off the mound with the trainer in what was described last night as a lat issue.
Elias confirmed the same today and said that, after additional medical review, Rodriguez has been diagnosed with a grade II lat strain.
“He’s going to, basically, have to rest and build back up, ramp back up, and it’s going to be a process that takes at least several weeks,” Elias told reporters in the Orioles dugout. “There is probably a lot of variability to the exact amount of weeks this takes to get back out to competition. It just kind of depends how it goes. He’s feeling really good right now, so that’s a good sign. But statistically, you look at these professional pitchers and I think that the bull's eye right now is on the month of September, when we would have the option of getting him back out on the field. We’ll see. He may beat that timeline, it may take longer than that.
“Whether or not we decide to pitch him again in September, or just let the season end, it’s going to be TBD (to be determined). So we’ll see. The good news is this is an injury we have a very, very high degree of confidence that it’s going to heal. And he’ll back to himself in no time. And at the very least put himself in position to join our rotation out of spring training. That’s our hope. We’re looking forward to getting him back to work. He’s a tough kid and a very hard worker, so I expect he’s going to do very well.”
Elias said Rodriguez is still with the Norfolk team today but will soon begin his rehab in Sarasota within a week or so.
Would it be important for Rodriguez and his peace of mind to make it back to the mound this year?
“I think there is a lot of positives to that,” he said. “There also may be some negatives, just from the baseball pitching side, that we’re just going to have to see where we’re at when we get there and make that decision. We’ll make it with Grayson and his camp. We’ll make it with our pitching guys, we’ll make it with our trainers and we’ll just do kind of the right thing overall. But the specifics of this case will drive it at this point in time, so I can’t predict either way.”
Elias confirmed again there are no issues with Rodriguez's shoulder and that the club did not do any additional MRIs. Rodriguez just saw more doctors to gather more opinions on his status.
Is there concern about his condition lingering or reoccurring?
“I think that there is a potential for it to reoccur that will we do our best to avoid,” said Elias. “And be as careful as possible. If you come back too quick, it can definitely reoccur. But if you handle this carefully and properly, the odds of this are greatly reduced.”
The timing was not great for the Orioles, who could have used another starter, especially one with so much talent who was pitching so well in recent weeks.
"It really stinks,” Elias added. “It’s kind of a repeat of what happened to (Adley) Rutschman, in terms of just the timing. He had put in so much work, and you are basically through your Triple-A experience and this happens. The positive takeaway from this is this is probably the most amount of adversity he’s had to deal with in professional baseball, so he will at least get that experience from it. Both he and Adley, I can’t say enough how well they are wired, mentally. So, I’m not worried about that. He’s going to be fine. To have this happen in the same season to two of our top guys, baseball is tough. That’s all I can say.”
So this is indeed a setback for the team, but again, Elias hopes Rodriguez is in the O’s rotation come opening day 2023.
“He was basically at the point of checking every box you can think of in terms of his minor league work," Elias said. "So, I think that he’s shown that, if he’s healthy and himself, we want him to be in position to help this team next year out of spring training. Assuming that’s the case, I think he will be position to help this team out of spring training, so that’s our goal for him and for us. … I think as we get on the back end of this injury the next several weeks that is going to be the primary consideration, I think, from all angles, but I definitely don’t want to rule out him pitching later this season if we think it’s the right thing to do.”
Elias said Heston Kjerstad is going to play in games “pretty soon this summer,” and will likely wind up with low Single-A Delmarva.
Meanwhile, the Orioles today added right-hander Dean Kremer back to the big league roster, and he will start today against Cleveland. Right-hander Denyi Reyes was optioned back to Triple-A after yesterday’s game.
In three rehab games between Double-A and Triple-A, Kremer pitched nine scoreless innings with two walks and 18 strikeouts. He pitched four innings and threw 60 pitches last Sunday for Norfolk.
“Threw the ball great in Norfolk, throwing a bunch of strikes,” manager Brandon Hyde said in his pregame media availability. “He’s not fully built up to the 80- or 100-pitch range, but hopefully will give us some innings today. He’s definitely in the mix as someone we like to see in our rotation and we’ll see how it goes.”
Hyde said that, with the off-day tomorrow, he can push a few guys in his bullpen today if he needs to.
Hyde confirmed that outfielder Cedric Mullins is just getting a day off from starting today.