Tate impresses in Orioles return, Rodriguez happy to "rip some fastballs" (O's win 5-2)

SARASOTA, Fla. – An exhibition game, with results that don’t really count, meant everything to Orioles reliever Dillon Tate.

Tate was back on the mound today after a right flexor forearm strain kept him away from it last spring. He didn’t pitch for the Orioles after experiencing a setback during a rehab assignment, but is in good health again and equipped to head north with the club.

Three Detroit hitters faced Tate in the third inning. Wenceel Pérez flied to left field, Ryan Kreidler took a called third strike and Parker Meadows bounced to the mound.

“It was just good to be out with my teammates,” he said later. “It’s been a while since I competed at this level, so it felt good.”

“Felt good” also is how Tate described his stuff. “Fill up the zone” was how he approached his outing. He was equally efficient with his answers.

The Orioles knew that Tate would be full-go after reporting early to the complex. He’s in 2022 workout mode and form at this early stage.

“It’s a normal camp for me at this point,” he said, “so just got to keep going forward.”

Included in this is how Tate still feels like he has something to prove.

“I feel like that every year that I’ve come in,” he said. “It’s been like that since I got here.”

* Grayson Rodriguez got in his work today.

That was the best part of his start, his first in 2024.

Rodriguez went two innings, allowing an opposite-field solo home run to Detroit’s Zach McKinstry on a two-strike pitch with two outs in the first. He threw 21 pitches in the first and 16 in the second, bringing him close to reaching his limit as Ryan Watson warmed in the bullpen.

“Didn’t really look at pitch count, just knew that I was going out there for two innings,” said Rodriguez, who threw 22 strikes. “It felt good really to just get out there and see some hitters, different uniform, and just rip some fastballs. I think that’s the big thing.”

The two-seamer that Rodriguez is incorporating made an extended appearance, varying the look of a heavy four-seam guy. He wants to show hitters, especially from the right side, something that has some run to it.

“I threw it a decent amount,” he said. “Something new. Still going to work on it. Felt a little bit different throwing a fastball with a different grip, but it’s something new to try and I think we’re going to keep doing it for this year.”

McKinstry’s fly ball wasn’t ominous when it left his bat, but this is Ed Smith Stadium with the wind blowing to left field.

“We were trying to go up with it,” Rodriguez said. “A little bit down in the zone. He was able to kind of take a two-strike approach to it, inside-out it down the line. It was a homer. I’d like to think that doesn’t happen in Camden. But it’s a good thing none of these count.”

The camp feels the same for Rodriguez as in 2023 but his circumstances don’t mirror it. He had to earn his way onto the Opening Day roster and failed, but the Orioles are holding a spot for him this spring.

“Just trying to work on keeping a consistent delivery,” he said. “Today, got out of whack a little bit there. Still early. Just over excited, I think.

“Really just going out there, kind of the same mindset. Still got to make the team. But really just making sure you get ready for the season, making sure you get through spring training healthy, ready to go out there and compete for 162 games.”

Rodriguez is receiving instruction from a new pitching coach, Drew French, formerly the bullpen coach in Atlanta.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Rodriguez said. “He brings good energy to the clubhouse, to the mound. Really looking forward to it this year.”

* Daniel Johnson tripled to lead off the third inning and scored with one out on Ryan Mountcastle’s ground ball. Johnson singled in the fifth, raced to third base on Jackson Holliday’s ground ball single into center field and scored with two outs when Tigers pitcher Devin Sweet dropped McKinstry's throw on Heston Kjerstad’s grounder.

Holliday struck out in his first two at-bats and was hitless this spring until his single.

James McCann followed with a two-run double, and pinch-runner Maverick Handley scored on Coby Mayo’s double for a 5-2 lead. Mayo had walked in his previous plate appearance and is an early camp standout.

How good? Mayo is 4-for-6 and has reached base in seven of nine plate appearances.

Johnson doubled in the sixth to leave him a home run short of the cycle. Nice spring invite.

Mike Baumann retired all three batters he faced on two ground balls to shortstop Jorge Mateo and a strikeout. The Tigers broke the tie against Nick Vespi in the fifth on Bligh Madris’ one-out single and Keston Hiura’s triple.

Chayce McDermott loaded the bases in the sixth on a double and two walks and reached his pitch count. Keagan Gillies, a 15th-round draft pick in 2021 out of Tulane University who’s listed at 6-feet-8 and 255 pounds, retired pinch-hitter Carlos Mendoza on a fly ball to left.

* Kyle Bradish played catch again today on one of the practice fields.

Bradish was extended again to 90 feet and threw with more force than in some previous sessions. This wasn’t soft tossing or lobbing. He was firing the ball to his partner.

* Gunnar Henderson took his rounds of batting practice today on the stadium field and didn’t appear to experience any discomfort. And he was swinging with full effort.

Henderson hasn’t played this spring due to soreness in his left oblique but seems to be getting close to making his spring debut. Manager Brandon Hyde hasn’t offered an exact date.

* Alex Pham retired all six batters he faced, striking out two and earning the save in a 5-2 win. He was Pham-tastic.

McDermott came back out for the seventh inning after Gillies stranded the three inherited runners – spring training rules – and he retired the side in order with a strikeout and two ground balls to shortstop Errol Robinson.

Hyde said he hadn’t seen Tate this good in a while.

“Great sinkers,” Hyde said. “He threw some nice sliders, also. The sinker was going straight down, it was low-to-mid 90s, and it looked like the D-Tate from a couple years ago.”

Hyde said Rodriguez was “OK.”

“A few too many deep counts, but his stuff was there,” Hyde said. “I just think the command wasn’t his best. Still really early in camp.”

Hyde also said Rodriguez’s fastball was clocked at 100 mph a few times.

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