The Orioles showed confidence in rookie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez when they gave him the ball on Monday in the series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They brought the kid back from the farm knowing he would face one of MLB’s best offenses followed by a start against Tampa Bay, which comes this afternoon.
They knew his MLB stats this year showed a 2-2 record and 7.33 ERA. That his ERA when last seen in the majors was 11.14 over five starts in May.
They also knew he was pitching well on the farm, had made solid gains on his control and command and was also hitting 100 mph again when his heater topped out.
Rodriguez allowed four runs and seven hits in five-plus innings in that Monday game against the Dodgers, but the final line included two runs that scored after he left the game. He allowed just one run over the first five innings before he took the mound for the sixth.
It was sure an outing to build on and much better than when he was last seen on the O’s mound.
Rodriguez told me he made a pretty simple adjustment that helped him locate the ball better.
“Really just looking at the catcher a little bit longer throughout the delivery,” he said.
It was that easy. And it was a college baseball coach that had once recruited him in high school who passed along a tip.
“That is something Skip Johnson helped me out with, the head baseball coach at Oklahoma. Just really looking at the target, visualizing throwing the pitch there.
“Definitely was a focus aspect. When you are not looking where you're throwing, that can throw anybody off. So, paying real close attention to where the glove is at. He picked up on that in watching how my head moves.”
Getting that information, Rodriguez then went to work in Norfolk on seeing the catcher better, limiting his head movement during the delivery and throwing the ball more often where he intended it to go.
“Me and Justin Ramsey (Norfolk pitching coach) worked on that. Just picking the catcher up earlier," he said.
But there is more to the story than that.
There was also a change in his pitch mix. In his first 10 MLB starts before Monday, his two most used pitches, his fastball and changeup, he averaged throwing a combined 66 percent of the time. He threw the two pitches a combined 82 percent against the Dodgers. On May 26 his cutter was his most used secondary pitch and he threw it 18 percent. Monday night, of 91 pitches, he threw one cutter. Just one.
So the mix was different. Was that by design?
“Yeah. Really just getting back to myself. Keeping it simple. Doing the things that I know work best. That is something that we’re going to try this go around,” Rodriguez said.
In addition to that, Rodriguez seemed to find more velocity during his time at Triple-A. In his MLB starts before Monday, his four-seam fastball averaged 96.7 mph. On Monday the average was 97.9 mph and he topped at 101 mph, finding triple digits on six pitches in the first inning.
“We hit 100 a couple of times in the last two starts (at Triple-A). This was the third in a row. Obviously throwing in front of the home crowd, was amped up. But it was just sticking with our throwing program, rolling that into the summer. The temperature starts climbing and it’s easier to get warmed up,” he said.
So as he takes the mound at the Trop later this afternoon against Tampa Bay, he will pitch with renewed confidence after facing and holding his own against such a good-hitting team.
“Yeah, absolutely. That was a loaded lineup. It was cool to see guys like (Mookie) Betts, (Freddie) Freeman, Will Smith get in there. Obviously one of the best teams in baseball. So I’m glad to see where I stack up with that,” Grayson said.