O's game blog: Grayson Rodriguez faces Tampa Bay as Rays series continues

As the Orioles continue a stretch of games against some of MLB’s best teams tonight, hosting Tampa Bay in game two of a three-game series, they look for continued strong starting pitching.

O’s starting pitchers have an ERA of 5.31 for the year, ranking 11th in the American League. And their eight quality starts also ranks 11th in the AL, well behind the league leaders Toronto (18) and Seattle (17). 

But since facing Atlanta in a series that began on Friday night, O’s starters have pitched to an ERA of 2.86 over the last four games, allowing two earned runs or less in three of four games and throwing two of their eight quality starts. And most of that was against Atlanta, which has a team OPS of .804 – second in the majors only to Tampa Bay at .865. 

But the O’s starters have stepped up in this stretch, even as the Baltimore offense has scored just six runs in the last three games while going 2-for-29 with runners in scoring position. The O’s have been outscored 11-6 during the three-game losing streak.

Now 22-13 on the year, the Orioles remain in second place in the AL East, but are 6.5 games back of Tampa Bay, which sits at 29-7. Toronto is in third place, 7.5 out, with Boston 8.0 back and New York 10.0 games out. The Rays have been so good that the other four AL East teams are all closer to the cellar than to first place at this point.

Into the gauntlet steps rookie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (1-0, 5.46 ERA) tonight. He is coming off a poor outing Thursday at Kansas City where he gave up eight hits and six runs in 3 2/3 innings in his shortest outing of the year. He had a 4.07 ERA at game time that day but was hit hard, with an average exit velocity by K.C. of 92.5 mph, and 101.3 mph off his four-seam fastball.

Rodriguez entered the K.C. start with 14 consecutive scoreless innings but the streak ended in the second inning. The Orioles are 5-1 in Rodriguez’s six starts, but that includes 12-8 and 13-10 wins. 

Average exit velocity against in Rodriguez's starts this year:

April 5 at Texas – 84.6 mph

* April 11 vs. Oakland – 89.9 mph

* April 16 at CWS – 94.8 mph

* April 23 vs. Detroit – 94.8 mph

* April 29 at Detroit – 87.9 mph

* May 4 at Kansas City – 92.5 mph

In the Kansas City start, the Royals hit nine balls 95 mph or higher. For the year, Rodriguez’s average exit velocity against is in the bottom 20 percent of the majors at 90.8, and his hard-hit rate allowed is in the bottom 12 percent.

Opposing hitters know he has a premium velocity fastball and they have been geared up to hit his four-seamer, with a batting average against of .349 and a .674 slugging percentage. In four of his six starts, the exit velocity against that pitch was 98.3 mph or higher.

The Rays showed they are an aggressive hitting team last night, and perhaps the game plan tonight will call for some first-pitch secondary pitches from Rodriguez to offset Tampa Bay ambushing first-pitch fastballs as Josh Lowe did last night for a second-inning home run.

Right-hander Zach Eflin (4-0, 2.25 ERA) gets the start for Tampa Bay, which has won six of seven and nine of 11 games. Tampa Bay is 16-7 since its 13-0 start, with a run differential of plus-118.

The Rays are 5-0 in Eflin’s previous starts; his most recent came Thursday against Pittsburgh when he recorded seven scoreless on three hits, fanning 10 with no walks on 80 pitches. Over his past three starts, Eflin is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA and .579 OPS against.

Eflin has allowed 24 hits in 28 innings this year with just three walks and 31 strikeouts, producing a 1.0 walk rate and 10.0 strikeout rate. His WHIP is 0.964 and he has allowed two earned runs or less four times with two quality starts.  



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