Rodriguez, Rutschman provide highlights in Orioles' 4-2 win (updated)

Grayson Rodriguez retired the leadoff batter of a game tonight for the first time in his seven major league starts. He needed nine pitches and a 99.1 mph fastball to get a called third strike on Tampa Bay’s Yandy Díaz. But he did it.

Wander Franco was next, and he launched another fastball to center field for his seventh home run of the season.

Rodriguez keeps experiencing the ups and downs that can nauseate a rookie pitcher. Nothing to do except ride it out.

For longer tonight than any other time with the Orioles.

The defense turned a couple of double plays behind Rodriguez, the offense sprung back to life and the Orioles held on to defeat the Rays 4-2 before an announced crowd of 10,017 at Camden Yards.

Yennier Cano recorded five outs before Luke Raley’s two-out single in the eighth and Kyle Stowers’ fielding error. Félix Bautista notched the four-out save after walking pinch-hitter Josh Lowe and Manuel Margot to open the ninth.

Rodriguez totaled a career-high 5 2/3 innings and 101 pitches before manager Brandon Hyde brought in Mike Baumann following Isaac Paredes' two-out single in the sixth. The crowd stood to cheer Rodriguez, who had gone exactly five innings in four starts.

"That was a lot of fun, especially to have a lot of Orioles fans at the ballpark getting loud," he said following the Orioles' 13th comeback win of the season. "It's a great atmosphere."

"That was his best start for me," Hyde said. "Thought he really competed well. Gave up the homer there early, but fastball had really good life throughout, and I thought his secondary was good. It was nice to see him get into the sixth inning. Was hoping he was going to finish that inning, but really gave us a chance to win and competed outstanding."

Adley Rutschman busted out of an 0-for-19 slump by hitting a two-run homer onto Eutaw Street in the third inning to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead. The 407-foot shot off Zach Eflin, clocked at a career-high 111.1 mph off the bat, was his first ball to clear the flag court, the 119th in the ballpark’s history and the 56th by an Orioles player.

Rutschman stayed in his same routine before and during games, knowing that he’d eventually snap out of it. Trust what got him here.

“Trying to take each at-bat as it comes. Just stick with the process. It’s part of baseball,” he said this afternoon.

“You’ve just got to stick with it. It’s ups and downs. Just have a short memory, learn from it and move on.”

Rutschman also drew his 29th walk, most in the American League, but the home run brought the smile to his face.

"No better feeling, no better feeling in baseball," he said afterward. "It was nice to square one up, get a good swing off."

The Orioles hadn’t scored since the 10th inning of Sunday’s game in Atlanta, a span of 13 frames, before Gunnar Henderson led off the third with a triple and came home on Jorge Mateo’s grounder. Cedric Mullins doubled with two outs and Rutschman obliterated a cutter.

Austin Hays had an RBI single in the fourth after Ryan Mountcastle led off with a single and Adam Frazier walked.

Rodriguez threw 23 pitches in the first inning, and it would have been more except he picked off Randy Arozarena after walking him with one out. He threw only 10 in the second, with Taylor Walls grounding into a 3-6-3 double play, and only eight in the third, with Díaz grounding into a 6-4-3 double play.

Mountcastle’s error in the fourth and a two-out walk didn’t hurt Rodriguez, but Walls led off the fifth by launching a changeup 404 feet to center field and reducing the Orioles’ lead to 4-2.

Back-to-back singles with two outs brought pitching coach Chris Holt to the mound and got Danny Coulombe warming in the bullpen. Rodriguez struck out Arozarena with high 98.3 mph heat, spun, put his glove to his face and yelled.

The 88th pitch of his start was his most satisfying.

"Yeah, I think the adrenaline was pretty high," he said.

Rodriguez scattered seven hits, walked two batters and struck out four. His ERA is 5.08 after his first home win, which came on a night when Rutschman homered. Just as the organization would draw it up.

"I'd like to see a lot more of that," Hyde said. "I think all the fans would."

"I've been throwing to Adley since I was 19, so he knows me pretty well," Rodriguez said. "It's pretty fortunate to have him behind the plate. And of course, when he's swinging the bat well, hitting the ball out of the yard, that's a lot of fun. Being a pitcher, it's something you love to see in the dugout. Helps a lot when you go out the next inning."

"I thought he pitched a great game," Rutschman said. "Was able to utilize all his pitches. Command the zone for the most part. I thought he did a great job tonight.

"He's improved a ton. Just to see him get comfortable, too, and do what he does has been fun to watch. And he's only going to continue to get better."

The Rays put runners on base against him in every inning but did minimal damage under the circumstances.

"Just keep attacking hitters," Rodriguez said. "Really, just working, getting extra reps throwing out of the stretch in the bullpen, just preparing yourself for tight situations before the start."

Asked about Rodriguez this afternoon during a dugout media scrum, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said, “He’s doing really good. … I think he’s been very gritty, even in the starts that haven’t had the best box scores, and overall, you look at his statistics and he’s helped this team win more than not since he’s been up here.

“I know our pitching guys are viewing this as a valuable learning experience for him, but it’s also, he’s not hurting us right now and he’s helping the team, so I think it’s been really good all around. I think he’s nowhere near the pitcher that we’re going to see when he kind of matures into his prime as a major league starter. I think we should all enjoy watching a gifted young pitcher like this pitch in the major leagues for the first time. And that’s not all going to be perfect.”

Cano inherited a runner from Baumann with no outs in the seventh, and Mateo started another double play after ranging to his left to snare Díaz’s ground ball. Cano struck out the first two batters in the eighth and hasn’t allowed a run or walked a batter in 17 2/3 innings.

Bautista threw a wild pitch and issued a walk in the eighth to increase the tension, but he escaped the jam by striking out Walls. Díaz grounded into his third double play, this one 5-4-3, in the ninth.

The Orioles evened the series and are 23-13 after terminating a three-game losing streak.

“I think we’re off to a good start here, and we’ve got a very good shot at making the playoffs, and we’ve got a long way to go for this season,” Elias said. “We’ve got to keep winning the games by and large and keep people healthy. Anything can happen from here. But we’re increasingly encouraged by where we’re at for 2023, and as we think about balancing short-term and long-term considerations, 2023 is increasingly going well. We’re going to keep leaning into that.”

Elias called games within the division “a measuring stick.”

“The league is measuring us against them at the end of the day, so these games count a little bit more than non-division games, and whether those games happen in April or September, the games count the same,” he said. “You have a little clearer idea of the urgency in the fall, but at the end, a loss in April or May or a win in April or May counts the same.

“These are very important. I think that with the new rules and the expanded playoffs, it seems like almost every series we’ve played in so far feels really important.”

* Dean Kremer closes out the series Wednesday night. The Orioles seem inclined to stick with their five-man rotation, though they have options in Triple-A and will keep monitoring the situation.

Cole Irvin has registered a 3.75 ERA and 1.292 WHIP in four starts with Norfolk since the Orioles optioned him. He’s allowed three runs in 13 innings in his last two outings.

“Absolutely a consideration,” Elias said. “I think we’re at this moment fine. We have five healthy starters. We want to keep a group of guys stretched out and starting in Triple-A, even if they could possibly be bullpen pieces. It’s important for us to have starting pitching depth. While he got kind of the unfortunate end of the pitching crunch after the first couple of starts and we needed a fresh arm after (Kyle) Bradish got hurt in Texas, and he ended up in Triple-A, we still view him as a member of this rotation, somebody who’s going to come help this rotation. But right now we’ve got five guys that are healthy and going pretty well.

“I can’t stress how long a baseball season is and how early we are in the baseball season. I am happy that we have a very strong 40-man roster right now. We’ve got a strong major league team that’s winning. We’ve got the Norfolk Tides with the best record in the minors or whatever. I just view this whole group as our team this year and we’re going to tap into every resource that we have in the majors and minors as needed.”

Elias is open to the idea of bringing back left-hander DL Hall in a bullpen role, though the organization wants to develop him as a starter.

“Definitely,” Elias said. “You look at today, we brought Drew Rom up as a reliever. He’s not getting a start. He’s going into the bullpen. Between Drew and DL and Cole Irvin and Spenser Watkins, although he’s on the IL right now, and Bruce Zimmermann, we’ve got starting pitchers on the 40-man that we trust that are in that rotation such that if something weird happens, we can look at who’s pitching at Norfolk the next day and can bring them in to help.

“While we’ve got some big ambitions and big development goals for DL Hall, on a day-to-day basis, we’re looking at him in that way, too. It’s sort of something that we’re going to balance throughout the year, and if a guy like Rom comes up and helps our bullpen for a while, it doesn’t mean that we’re no longer developing him as a starting pitcher, so we’ll just try to balance all that.”

* The Orioles emphasize development and the importance of everyday playing time, but they’ll summon prospects in certain spots, as they’ve done with Stowers and infielder Joey Ortiz, to help off the bench or in short spurts.

“I think it require a little more of a balancing act in developing their careers and maybe getting them some part-time play up, a taste of the major leagues, a little more sporadic playing time in the major leagues, but they’re brought up to help our team win in spots,” Elias said. “So, I think that part is relatively new for us kind of in the last calendar year where that balance is more at the forefront. I’m very happy that’s the situation because that means we’re winning.”

* Elias won’t venture into contract negotiation territory with the media. He was asked again today about locking up Rutschman or other young stars on long-term deals. No confirmation or denial was forthcoming.

“I’ve answered this a few times,” he said. “It may not be a real satisfying answer, but it’s a very honest answer. I don’t want to be out talking about it. I think these things are best if they’re not public. Sometimes, that happens, and if it does, we’ll deal with it then. But I don’t see any interest in my behalf as a negotiator or someone who does business with these agents over and over throughout my career for them to have the expectancy that something might get out in the news from me.

“So, I would just say that we’ve got a lot of people in our front office with a lot of business experience, experience with major league contracts, economics, and they’re all working on ways to keep our organization healthy all the time. And that absolutely includes looking at augmenting the contracts of young players that we have. But in terms of, like, what’s happening right now, I’m just not going to get into it. And we’re in the middle of the season, too. That’s the worst time probably to talk about things that we’re looking at in a public way.”

* Jordan Westburg hit his ninth home run for Norfolk, a three-run shot in the first inning that raised his RBI total to 32. Josh Lester had a two-run triple in the third to give the Tides a 10-2 lead.

Houston Roth allowed two runs and one hit in four innings for Double-A Bowie. Coby Mayo hit his first triple, and César Prieto had three hits from the leadoff spot.

Jean Pinto tossed 4 1/3 hitless innings for high Single-A Aberdeen, walking one batter and striking out seven. Jackson Holliday singled in his first at-bat at Ripken Stadium and homered in the eighth. Jud Fabian hit his fourth home run and TT Bowens hit his first.

Low Single-A Delmarva’s Moises Chace struck out eight batters in three innings. He allowed two runs and three hits.

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