Rodriguez struggles in fourth, Rutschman hits grand slam as O's top Boston

SARASOTA, Fla. – In the first few innings today, Orioles right-hander Grayson Rodriguez was getting swings and misses, putting up zeros, hitting the high 90s at times and showing why he is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. But it got away from him a bit in the fourth as Boston scored four runs.

The Orioles ended the day with a win, thanks in large part to Adley Rutschman’s grand slam to left in the last of the fourth. That turned a two-run deficit into a 6-4 Baltimore lead and they won by that score. The Orioles improved to 6-8-2 in front of a sun-splashed crowd of 6,959 at Ed Smith Stadium.

Boston (9-3-3) lost for just the third time in 15 games.

Rodriguez fanned two batters in each of the first three innings. Through three he had faced one batter over the minimum with a shutout on one single allowed. He needed just 26 pitches the first two innings as his fastball touched 97 and 98 mph on the stadium radar gun.

But Boston put the first five batters on against him in the fourth, scoring twice to gain the lead. He left down 2-1 with the bases loaded and no outs. Right-hander Morgan McSweeney inherited the huge jam and two more runs scored on his watch, both charged to Rodriguez.

So his final line showed three innings plus five batters and he allowed four hits and four runs with two walks and six strikeouts. He threw 61 pitches, 35 for strikes as his ERA, which was 1.93 at game time, rose to 5.87.

Manager Brandon Hyde was not unhappy, actually, that Rodriguez struggled a bit in the fourth. He's not rooting for it, of course.

"Great first three innings, really showed his stuff," Hyde said. "Good learning experience, honestly, in that fourth inning for him. Behind in the count, couple walks that leads to big innings. Good experience to learn from. His stuff is there. See how he bounces back. That was his first time going out for the fourth. Hopefully, he learns from that."  

“The first three innings were great,” Rodriguez said. “Got after hitters. In the fourth, obviously ran into some trouble. Was just trying to throw strikes, trying to place the ball. That was our problem.

“Buried a lot of changeups and had some success with it. Should have been in the strike zone more with it. Other than that, they weren’t going to chase it.”

Hyde saw Keegan Akin's two scoreless innings, in the fifth and sixth, as a highlight today. Akin has pitched five scoreless innings this spring.

"Akin has thrown the ball as well as anyone in camp, this whole time," Hyde said. "Super aggressive in the zone with everything. Love the tempo. Fastball velocity is 95. Breaking ball is good. He's having a great camp so far." 

After facing a Boston lineup filled with non-regulars on a Red Sox split-squad day, Rodriguez pinned the blame on himself for walking two batters in the fourth around three somewhat soft singles he allowed that led to the big inning.

“You know, honestly, it’s not a strike, guys are not going to swing at it," said Rodriguez, who thought his stuff overall was crisp. He was happy with that aspect. "That’s kind of a thing here. When you don’t get ahead of hitters you start to struggle.

“Need to (moving forward) take the same mindset I had in the first three innings. Just keep the foot on the pedal. Obviously, you can’t take any at-bats off. But in terms of my stuff, everything feels good, feels great. Delivery has been good so far.”

Niko Goodrum and Narciso Crook produced RBI singles. McSweeney allowed a bases-loaded walk and RBI groundout in that fourth as Boston moved ahead 4-1.

Shortstop Jorge Mateo singled in a run in the Baltimore second for a 1-0 lead, and his RBI double in the fourth pulled the O’s within 4-2 before Rutschman’s second homer of the spring, that slam on the first pitch from reliever Ryan Miller. Rutschman's spring RBI total jumped to five on the swing, and the ball was hit into the wind to left and just cleared the fence.

“Anytime you are able to get in a game scenario here and get that adrenaline going it’s always good," Rutschman said. "We are trying to win every time we step on the field as well as get our work in.”

Rutschman said what he has seen of Rodriguez this spring has been solid.

“To be honest, I thought all of his pitches looked really good today. Cutter, he used it a little bit today, and struck two guys out on it. He was able to use all his pitches today. I think he’s looked good all spring. I love where he’s at right now."

Rodriguez had similar feelings about his spring.

“I don’t think we are necessarily worried about results," he said. "That is something that has kind of been our motto through the minor leagues (with focus more on the process). Right now, spring training is a time to get our work in, and now need to work on attacking the zone."

Rodriguez said one thing he wanted to work on today was throwing his slider harder, and he liked how that played out. 

Tomorrow the Orioles have the first of two split-squad days for them. Part of their roster will be in North Port to face Atlanta with Spenser Watkins starting. Others will be in Sarasota to host Detroit with Kyle Gibson getting that start. 

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